England – Winchester

” I AM glad Ballad is tired and hot ; we can go as slow as we like,” I said, as we began to mount the hill.

” You mean as slow as he likes. He is, as you have justly observed, an admirable walker. As a walker I think he would bear off the prize in any slow-go-as-you-please gait ; and like most of us, what he does best he does oftenest.”

“Now, I call that ungrateful. He’s done particularly well to-day. Just think how quick we’ve come ! And all those hills ! ”

” Which we’ve walked up, all three of us.”

” And who liked the walking, pray, and would get out again and again to see views and things ? ”

” Well, never mind Ballad ; he ‘s done well enough. But this is pretty nice, is n’t it ? Ballad may walk, the slower the better.”

I should hardly have selected the word nice to describe the scene about us ; but men have a constitutional distaste for forcible or pictorial phraseology. I suppose the superlatives came in when women began to talk.

The prospect was, in truth, enchanting. We were slowly making the ascent of a hillside which, at first an elm-shaded country-road, became gradually a city street. Above, glistening in the pink sunset, were a mass of red roofs and a tall tower on the summit, the latter rising into the sky like a tinted plume on some warrior’s head-gear; for the city, in spite of its rosy light, looked gray and armor-encased. There were bits of old walls and ancient towers and turrets, with lancet loop-holes to remind one of mediaeval contests. The jagged teeth on the crenèllated towers were set against the pink sky, like lion’s claws in velvet.

Of the general topography of the city we could only be certain of a few conspicuous features: first, that it was built along the banks of the Itchen, watering its feet pleasantly in the pretty stream ; then, that it took an upward bend along the steep sides of a long hillside ; and finally, that it cooled its brow on the summit, after its tortuous climb. Opposite, on the other side of the river, was the famous St. Catherine Hill, a long line of chalky ridges. Our own way led us more and more into a series of thickly settled, picturesque, but citified-looking streets. The bustle and traffic of a busy town-life were besetting our ears as we drove under the arched doorway of our inn, the ” White Horse.”

Three waiters in white ties helped us to descend. A vision of a French cook coifed in his white cornered hat, seen through the vines that screened the kitchen from the courtyard, assured us that the cuisine felt it had a reputation to sustain.

” Winchester has, I believe, always had the reputation of living well,” remarked Boston, complacently, after we had ordered a dinner designed as a delicate compliment to the only nation that under-stands making good soups.

“Yes; a city of bishops may be trusted to do that much. I suppose they imported their French cooks along with the taste for Norman arches. But do look at those chairs and at all the furniture ! Hasn’t it a preposterously ecclesiastic air ?”

Boston laughed, and said he should be mistaking the buffet for an altar-piece and the bed for a chantry, he was certain, now that I had suggested the resemblance.

There was, in truth, an absurdly impressive appearance about the furniture of our two stately rooms. All the furniture had a high-church, episcopalian aspect. There appeared to have been a pronounced taste for Gothic chairs and severe perpendicular outlines in the tables and sofas selected. No prints more profane than an assemblage of celebrated church councils or cathedral interiors adorned the walls. It was just the sort of room in which a bishop might rehearse, with suitable gravity, scenes to be enacted later in the chapter-house ; he need not look in the mirror to see a reflection of his own dignity.

The soup and the entrées were up to the approved ecclesiastical standard ; they were also worthy of the nationality of their maker. Only an English-man, however, can be trusted to cook Southdown mutton, we regretfully confided to each other as we looked upon the joint done to a crisp.

Better than the French soup was the view from our windows. We were in luck again. The windows of our sitting-room opened upon the city’s chief thoroughfare.

It was a beautiful and perfect little jewel of an old street. It was delightfully irregular, wandering up the hill with the undulatory, uneven progress we had noticed as a characteristic of the Arundel High Street. It began its existence, as we found on a later inspection, at a bridge which covered the little river near an old mill. At the top of the hill it was crowned by a noble gateway and a fine mass of famous old buildings. In character the street had retained its mediaeval aspect in a wonderful degree. It had the bulging façades, the projecting casements, and the gabled roofs which the earlier builders knew so well how to combine. They had divined the secret that the beauty of a street, like the charm of the human face, depends more on expression than on any mere perfection in symmetry. The street is lined with palaces, shops, hospitals, gateways, a sixteenth-century piazza, beneath whose open arcades nineteenth-century citizens still lounge and gossip, a market cross, and the old-fashioned open butchers’ stalls, whose warm meats communicate a pleasantly carnivorous odor to the atmosphere. The western gateway at its summit seems to cut off Winches-ter from the rest of the world, as it did in reality of old when it had its own private little sins to commit. The Itchen, at its feet, is still the slender umbilical cord connecting the city with the rest of the kingdom, on whose destiny Winchester has had so powerful an influence.

To write the history of this street would be to write the history of most of England’s stirring events.

It can be, indeed, with no ordinary tourist’s set of commonplace emotions that one wanders about Winchester. The city is as full of historical suggestiveness as any in England. It has made enough history to suffice for a very respectable national career. It is an epitome of all the English virtues, and has possessed its share of English capacity for crime. It has been murderous, treacherous, imperious, dictatorial, tyrannical ; it has founded some of the finest charities, has built some of the noblest buildings, and perpetuated some of the most admirable educational systems in the world. While its murders have left a brilliant stain on its palace steps, and its lighter crimes have peopled its halls with a whispering-gallery of ghosts, in the midst of its wickedness Winchester experienced brief returns to virtue, when enough good was done to make the blot on its escutcheon seem dim by comparison.

Winchester could not have been English if it had not conscientiously erected buildings enough to commemorate its goodness, knowing, with the prescience of a bad conscience, that its wickedness could safely be left to historians. It is the office of history to be the embalmer of human frailty. The passion for building was doubtless invented when the great found their virtues were in danger of being buried with them.

” I think, on the whole, architecture and the virtues have the best of it here in Winchester,” remarked Boston, as I propounded to him the above conclusion.

” Wait till you re-read its history.”

” I don’t intend to. Virtue and beauty are good enough for me. After all, why should we care how wicked they were when they’ve left us this ?” with a comprehensive sweep of his hand.

The gesture included a distant group of turrets, the gateway at the top of the hill, the King’s Cross, a great iron arm stretching half-way across the street holding the town clock, and a beautiful old arched doorway, which was too tempting not to end by luring us to pass beneath it; for we were out once more to take a twilight walk about the city.

The archway led us into a quaint, perfect little bit of a street. It was filled up at one end by a curious old church, which we learned later was named St. Lawrence, whose portal was almost hidden out of sight, tucked away amid a lot of tiny shops and queer low-browed houses. In the half-dusk of the twilight hour there was some-thing indescribably mysterious about this assemblage of closely packed old buildings. They had the air of conspirators. The silence added to the secrecy of the effect ; the , archway seemed to separate this retired little corner from the bustle and activity of the broader thoroughfare.

A rustle of trees in the sweet dusky air made us hasten our steps. The little street ended as abruptly as it had begun. We had soon passed into a large open space. Then, directly in front, at an oblique angle, there loomed up into the gloom of the coming night a superb avenue of elms. Beyond them loomed something else so vast and stupendous it could be nothing save the great cathedral itself.

We passed under the green arch of the elms, over the short sweet grass of the close. Grave-stones were dimly glistening here and there in the fading light, while the delicate mystery of twilight melting into night was thickening about us. A few steps farther on, the green arch above us came to an end, and the huge façade of the cathedral rose into the sky. In the rich gloom its stupendous outlines seemed almost to touch the stars that were coming out to light it. All details were lost; only the mass as a whole was defined for us by the mingled play of the gloom and the tender glow. A splendid sweep of shadowy light swept the length of the long nave, girdling it with darkness, — a darkness which had deepened in the great buttresses till they looked like fissures in a hill-side. All the light there was in the sky had focussed itself on the southern transept and the low square central tower, beating the marble into a dulled jewelled iridescence. The sloping roof, as it rose into the light, looked like the pyramidical line of some great mountain ridge, tenderly etherealized as it neared heaven.

It was not its size which made this first view of the cathedral so penetratingly impressive. It was the grandeur and the unspeakable majesty which the influences of the hour bestowed. The silence, the quiet stars, the dark mantle of the night, made an isolation as remote from the pro-fane surroundings of the outer world as if the great cathedral had been transported to some Egyptian desert and were resting on those silent sands.

If the modern sight-seer fails to be impressed by some of the great spectacles of the world, and finds his emotional activities but feebly stirred before some of the shrines of beauty the world holds sacred, I am convinced it is because the moment of observation is rarely rightly chosen. Art, like Nature, has her poetical moods, when she can be studied under perfect conditions. The artist comes to learn the workings of these rare and fitful periods. If he sees deeper into beauty and lives nearer to it, it is because he has grown to know intuitively this moment of its tenderest, loveliest bloom.

How different, for instance, would have been our impressions of this famous cathedral had we seen it first under the disenchanting influences of our next morning’s approach ! The broad sunlight made the conspiracy of the little old buildings a very prosaic array of bric-à-brac shops. On the greensward of the close, among the gravestones, on a very cheerful footing of intimacy, apparently, with these solemn reminders of death, were some children and goats playing at hide-and-seek. At the rear of the cathedral, near some rather shabby-looking buildings, hung some washing,—irreverent garments fluttering their new-born whiteness in the very face of their magnificent neighbor.

Even the cathedral partook, at a first glance, of the general disillusionment. It was great, it was magnificent, both from its size and because of its noble proportions. But at first, and before one comes to the period of accepting its defects and looking only for the beauties which end by making one oblivious of the former, a vague feeling of disappointment ensues ; it comes from the sense that the vast mass is lacking, as a whole, in those qualities of the picturesque which are among the pre-eminently essential qualifications of an impressive architectural ensemble. The eye unconsciously searches somewhat restlessly over the huge pile for a finished tower or for some imposing turret or spire, whose spring and lightness will float the mass and lift it into the sky.

Once within the cathedral, however, one is only conscious of an overwhelming delight and admiration. The fact that the entrance through the western front had seemed insignificant as the approach to so splendid a building, is forgotten now. The glorious flood of light pouring in through the great western window, to which the entire façade was sacrificed by Bishop Edington, makes one oblivious to all else save the sense of the splendid lighting that makes the farthermost perspectives clear as a noonday forest. It is due to this famous Edington window that the cathedral, the largest this side of the Alps, is the least gloomy in all the world. It has an open-air, sunlit atmosphere I remember in no other of the great English or continental cathedrals.

A curious story is told of the glass in this window. After Cromwell’s soldiers had run their swords through each jewelled figure that filled the splendid old windows, some industrious and pains-taking citizen went about collecting the broken fragments that lay on the floor. These were by him carefully preserved ; and after the restoration had made it safe for them to be produced, this discreet and far-seeing preserver returned his valuable collection to the cathedral. The bits were carefully arrayed in a heterogeneous mosaic, and now form a kind of crazy-quilt pattern in the traceries of the huge window. The rich reds, the deep purples, and the golden ambers gleam with all their old famed jewelled lustre. The sunlight, imprisoned in those nests of color, escapes to carry the secret of its luminous brilliancy into the farthermost shadows, tinting the dusk under the great roof, and flecking in ” patterns of fine gold” the uneven tomb-paved floor. Through the maze of that prismatic morning light we passed slowly down the great nave under its glorious perpendicular archings ; we lingered for a long half-hour in the rough, unfinished Norman transepts, remains of the Cyclopean work left by the early Norman bishop-builders. The warrior has left the impress of his military taste on all these early Norman cathedrals. It is easily seen to be the work of men who were accustomed to build fortresses as well as cathedrals, when the cathedrals, indeed, were fortresses and must be strong before they could be beautiful. These grand old transepts might have resisted any number of sieges. There are centuries of significant change in manners and in men to be read in the tremendous contrast afforded between those delicate, perpendicular, branching traceries out yonder in the nave, and these giant fortress-like transepts. Think of the audacity of the man who should dare to transform those stern features into the elegance and symmetry of the later Gothic ! The man whose genius and daring made him divine that such a transformation was possible, was William of Wykeham. His predecessors, in order to complete the beauty of the great cathedral, had added either entirely new portions, such as the Lady Chapel, built by Bishop de Lucy, or the original Norman structure had been taken down and entirely reconstructed, as was done under Bishop Edington in the presbytery, the western portion of the nave, and the triforium. But it was reserved for the original genius of Bishop Wykeham to deliberately change the old Norman work to the soaring perpendicular into which the Gothic of his day had only just begun to bloom. So triumphant was the success of this stupendous venture that not a trace of the Norman structure in the long nave, the most beautiful in England, or in the aisles, is to be discovered. This triumphant feat probably stands unrivalled in the history of architectural transformations. The three great features of the interior of Winchester — the elaborate perpendicular nave and side aisles, the rude colossal Norman transepts, and the lovely Early English of De Lucy’s work in the presbytery — combine in producing such. an ensemble of striking architectural contrasts as makes this interior perhaps unrivalled in interest in England. It would certainly be difficult to conceive of a result more remarkable in the union of the grand and the picturesque. Part of this picturesqueness is due to its being so richly furnished with tombs, chantries, statues, monuments, and banners. The chiselled monuments and stately airy chantries branch in their upshooting lines towards the great roof, like slender tree-trunks beneath the shade of loftier forest-heights. Under one of the stateliest of the throne-like chantries we came upon William of Wykeham’s tomb. Only some semblance of a throne would have sufficed to enshrine the memory of so autocratic a spirit. He was one of those magnificent prelates who during his life ” reigned at court,” according to Froissart, “everything being done by him, and nothing without him.” With such superlative pre-eminence during a long and triumphant earthly career, when he ” reigned ” as courtier, wit, engineer, architect, bishop, and chancellor, he would hardly have been human if he had not wished to carry something of this state with him beyond the shades of death ; so that it is no surprise to learn that between the busy hours of so varied and brilliant a career Wykeham found time to arrange it with his architectural genius to raise a monument in his own behalf. This chantry, with its rich and yet regally majestic elegance and severity of style, was designed by him and built on the spot where, as a boy, he had been wont to offer up his childish prayers to the Virgin. One can forgive much of that foolish yet harmless human frailty, the vain longing for eternal remembrance, to a man whose transcendent genius peopled England with some of its noblest buildings, and who, it is supposed, was the real inventor of perpendicular tracery, that last and richest fruit to bloom on the lovely Gothic stem.

Chantries, tombs, monuments, and mortuary urns succeed one another in such bewildering variety, blazoning forth such a wealth of virtue, such a multitude of military achievements, such an in-exhaustible array of talents and capacities, that genius and goodness and greatness come to appear as commonplace here as mediocrity elsewhere. Winchester lias, indeed, been so rich in great men that even the largest cathedral in England is found none too large in which to bury them. Greatness under its aisles dwindled into such dwarfed proportions that in the presbytery yon-der, above the screens, in those quaintly curious mortuary chests, the bones of Saxon kings and bishops lie comfortably mingled together.

King Rufus might himself be in very grave doubt as to the authenticity of his own osseous frame-work, since what are supposed to be the royal fragments of that monarch were picked up after the fall of the tower, and somewhat promiscuously handled later by irreverent Parliamentary troops. Verily the wearing of a crown has not been found to be the most stable performance even in an English burying-ground.

Some among the wearers of ecclesiastical crowns have been suffered to lie in more comparative peace. Even in death the hand that carries the pastoral staff seems to hold within its grasp heaven’s hidden thunderbolt of vengeance. To connect the staff with any idea of spiritual guidance in the case of some among these bishops would be to demand some very athletic gymnastics on the part of one’s imagination. With Henri de Blois, for instance,— that fine old martial prelate who ” wore arms, mingled in war, and indulged in all the cruelties and exactions of the time;” who, when he was not fighting or king-making or stealing benefices or castles, pleased his leisure with the refined amusements of building ; who also could found the noblest charities as easily as he could ” convey,” in Pistol’s phrase, a foot of Saint Agatha or the thumb of Saint James for his cathedral when the latter was in need of some really notably holy relics, — one would hardly go to such a middle-age combination of ferocity, genius, and unscrupulousness for a delicate adjustment of one’s spiritual relations with Deity.

Under the masses of the stone embroideries which cover almost every inch of the great Beaufort’s chantry yonder, lies the stately recumbent figure of the Cardinal, whose portrait Shakspeare has immortalized with even more vivid force than the sculptor’s chisel. It is a dark portraiture, with Rembrandtish shadows of iniquity in it ; but that picturesque mingling of the good and the bad there was in the all too “rich Cardinal,” the stately Beaufort, will survive all attempts of the historian to produce a more faithful and lenient delineation.

It was a relief to turn away from the vices of the great, and even from the magnificence of the state in which their dark glory of achievements lies buried, to the unostentatious, simple tombs about us, — to those poorer tablets and monuments which commemorate the gentler lives of some whom we have all grown to love as a part of our nobler, sweeter lives.

Under a white tablet, as pure and snowy as her spirit, in the north aisle, lies the body of Jane Austen. The inscription is characterized by a directness and simplicity so admirable she her-self might have been the writer thereof : ” Jane Austen, known to many by her writings, endeared to her family by the varied charms of her character, and ennobled by Christian faith and charity, was born at Steventon, in the county of Hants, Dec. 16, 1775, and buried in this cathedral July 24, 1817. She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

A soul as gentle, and one whose delicate genius for discovering the hidden joys that dwell in the world has made him the immortal companion of every lover of the woods and streams, is buried in the opposite transept. Izaak Walton, that ” prince of fishermen,” lies under a plain black marble slab, as humbly as he doubtless walked among his inferiors, in his shabby hose and neglected wig, during his peace-loving life. As he is known to have died in the house of his son-in-law, who was a prebendary of Winchester, all the streams and river-banks near the city must have been the scenes of his sylvan experiences, and the inspiration of that genial philosophy which has made the delicate flame of his genius light up so many of our dull hours.

But with the best disposition in the world to linger among the tombs of these lesser great ones, whose immortality has been won by the more plebeian birthright of genius, so richly incrusted is this cathedral with the memorials and reminders of those whom destiny and history in combination have crowned with fame, that one is confronted at every turn with some new name or device which arrests the eye and stays the step.

We had turned into the Lady Chapel to look at some particularly lovely bacchic ornamentation on some of the capitals, — vines, grapes, leaves, and tendrils as tenderly carved as if meant to crown a god instead of a column, — when we chanced on a faded chair. The chair in itself was not remark-able either for beauty or grace ; but in that moon-shaped curve and on that now worn and faded velvet Queen Mary had sat when in this chapel she gave her hand to Philip of Spain. It was the wickedest hand-clasp ever interchanged ; for it was the pledge of those two cold-blooded fanatics to make English heretical blood flow farther than English rivers run. English beauty, however, as if foreseeing its decimation, had, at this wed-ding ceremony, a moment of brilliant triumph before the lights were put out and the fagots were fired ; for the historians of the period tell us that the English court beauties put the darker olive-cheeked Spanish women under a total eclipse in the beautiful little chapel. Their fresh complex-ions made their Southern sisters look sallow. They completed their revenge later at the marriage banquet and ball, where their stateliness made Spanish grace seem wanting in elegance.

Even a little persecution could be endured with equanimity after such a triumph. A few years later, the Gallic saying “Il faut souffrir pour être belle ” needed, presumably, no translator.

In spite of this unhallowed association, it is impossible not to return again and again to this apsidal portion of the cathedral. The wealth of ornamentation and the inexhaustible variety of beauty in the choir, presbytery, chapels, and chantries, together with the marvellously lovely lighting, or rather darkening, from the effect of the deep shadows, make this eastern end full of peculiar fascination. In the choir one lingers longest, perhaps, over the carved stalls, whose delicate foliaged ornamentation seems to have been carved by the sun and the wind rather than by the chisel. Beyond is the magnificent reredos, so ingeniously elaborate as to make the minutiae of lace-work insignificant by comparison. Behind this great altar screen-work of embroidery is a series of shrines known as the feretra, or shrines, of patron saints. Here the glory of workmanship has given place to the strictly professional necessities of the place ; for here, in early superstitious days, sick persons, awaiting some miraculous cure, were allowed to remain over night, that they might the more obstinately wrench their salvation from the saints enshrined above, — from Saint Swithun, Saint Birinus, and other sainted workers of cures.

With the superstition something also of that olden talent for religious enthusiasm lias vanished. Those ardent troops of pilgrims, who were so sure of their saints, are now replaced by pilgrims bent on a very different mission. The pilgrims in search of the picturesque, who level opera-glasses at the stone effigies whose feet those earlier pilgrims bathed with the passion of their believing tears, are more numerous now, on week-days at least, than the worshippers. We came again and again, at all hours and at all seasons, to morning and evening service, in the hours when the whole of the vast interior should resound only to the echo of devout footsteps, and it always was the tourist, rather than the worshipper, who formed the conspicuous plurality among the visitors. The Englishman and the Englishwoman (who is the better saint) do not go to church to pray. The closet is a place more in conformity with the national reserve and the abhorrence of emotional parade. Thus these great and magnificent cathedrals are as empty and as silent as deserted palaces. At evening service, it is true, dark drab-colored figures, old ladies with sweet pious faces and an air of subdued provincial calm, a few younger women, among them sometimes a lovely fair-faced girl, and a child or two, passed within the choir screen and formed the little band of worshippers, for whom the long line of deans, choristers, and vergers, with their elaborate vestments, seemed a useless and wasted pageant. One misses the troops of beggars — the squad of the ill-clad, the cold, the hungry, and the homeless — who flock under the great roofs of the continental cathedrals as to a natural refuge. One misses also the earnest passionate faces, the lips moving in half-audible prayer as the fingers slip over the worn pater-nosters, the bowed forms, and the bonded knee of those more spectacular-loving worshippers who love to make their piety a public thing.

Here, on the contrary, there is the dignity of reserve, there is order, there is the holy calm of silence. Even the chairs under the great aisles are placed in precise lines. They can safely be left there ; none will come to disturb them. The priests issue from their vestry clothed in the majesty of their dignified calm ; the lessons are intoned with beautiful but cold correctness; the boy-choristers’ voices rise up under the great arches with sexless purity and unimpassioned ac-cent ; the prayers are whisperingly responded to by the little group of the devout ; and then all silently rise and pass out, and God’s temple is as silent as a tomb.

One must come to England to see what Protestantism really means as a religion,—how deep the religious feeling may be, and yet how calm and unmoved, ahnost to the point of seeming in-difference, the outward bearing remains. I have sometimes wondered if the tenacious English reverence for decency may not be a strong and potent element in their religious observance ; if in the logical make-up of even the dullest and poorest there may not be some vague notion of the relation that ought to exist between a clean shirt and a conscience pure enough to approach its Maker. Certain it is that one rarely if ever sees a tattered worshipper under these vast aisles. It is a pity, because, once within, the beggar would find himself in a company of his fellows. The saints wear their rags and ruined draperies very complacently. But then they were canonized for it; and enforced impecuniosity, in search of eleemosynary pennies, cannot always be sure of earning an aureole to make its poverty glorious.