London: A Pilgrimage
By the Abbey.
By the Abbey.
From our pleasant window in the eastern angle of the Palace Hotel we have watched the bright side of London life on many a May morning, as it drifts gayly past the shadows of the venerable Abbey. Venerable indeed: its foundations lost in the tangled, indistinct records of the remote past. Was it erected, as Sporley, a monk of the Abbey, records, at the period when King Lucius is said to have become a Christian--nearly centuries ago? Was it a Temple of Apollo under the Roman Emperor Diocletian; or later, as John Flete implies--in the , or perhaps the , century, when the Pagan Saxons and Angles overran the island? Or was the story of the Apollo merely a spiteful invention, as Wren surmised, got up by the Abbey monks in rivalry to the
|traditions of Diana and ? We shall never know, let us fondly trust, whether foundations of a Pagan shrine lie below the Christian ground. Suffice it for us that we may reverently pace the ancient Abbey, and day by day mark the life that passes within and without. Now gala carriages, in stately line, wind to the gates; and we are present at a splendid wedding. Now crowds of happy boys, the favorites of fortune of the land, are coming from School for confirmation by the bishop. It is an imposing and a beautiful scene. These lads--the flower of the country, whose paths tend to the senate and the council-chamber, and who will be among the future governors of the Empire--are ranged and gowned as my fellow- Pilgrim has with his pencil described them. The bishop lays his hands upon their sunny, comely heads. It is a day and time of high hopes, that stir the imagination vividly. Thackeray used to say that London had no grander sight to show the stranger than the charity children in . The boys in the Abbey may be accepted, it seems to me, as a companion picture.|
From that scene of holy brightness we may profitably stray into the solemn by-ways of the Abbey, and to the corner where the honored dust of great Englishmen is laid. We came morning upon an open grave, about which silent, grieving hosts were gathered; and in which the flowers obscured the coffin. It was the narrow bed of Charles Dickens, wherein he had been plainly laid, in obedience to his own commands, early in the morning. It has been said, and by no mean authority, that Dickens was perhaps the most widely popular man who ever lived; and it was while we watched the crowds pass, in bitter grief, past his grave that we realized the force of the observation. His death appeared to be a personal loss
|to every Englishman and Englishwoman. They grieved over him as though he had left an empty chair at their own fireside. For many days afterwards loving groups were stationed about the newly laid slab upon which was to be plainly cut the world-honored name. The Great and Good whom we loved are gathering fast in this corner of immortal shadow. The noble head of Thackeray is thrown out from the gray of the venerable Minster walls; and the latest of the company of the world's benefactors is Professor Maurice.|
Again and again we opened a morning's pilgrimage with half an hour on this holy ground, under the lofty groined roofs, and threading the stately pillars; observing the wondrous points of light and shade--the mullioned windows, the storied monuments, the exquisite triforiums, the chapels-and the groups of verger-led people of all classes and climes who pass, shadows in the solemn shade, over the dust of the great. The tendency of all footsteps, however, is to Poets' Corner, where the imagination is most excited. We,
humble Pilgrims of this later day, are in the company of the Canterbury Pilgrims. The air is filled with immortal spirits, and the memory snatches at the gems of each. Rare Ben, Shakespeare, |
Dryden, the singer of
Pope, Sheridan, Gray, Addison, Handel, the voice that charmed and gave cheeriness to
Macanlay, Grote, the parent of Pendennis, and the gentle heart that hymned an immortal
to the world, crowd upon the thoughtful spectator, and keep his feet leaded to the ground. It is, as it were, the whispering-gallery of the Great of our country, whence they are speaking to far-off posterity. Hard by lie the ashes of the great Chatham and of Sir Isaac Newton: immortal memories, that compel the reverence of pilgrims from every clime. Each day, each hour, in the Minster has charms to the serious and sensitive creature. The choir thrills to the heart; the organ lifts the feet from the earth, as it vibrates through the chapels filled with the dust of kings, and trembles through the shadowy; meditative cloisters. Or the soul is stirred, and the eyes are gladdened, when, to the stately cadences of the Wedding March, a marriage procession, like a beam of light, glides from the western entrance to the altar rails.
Henry the 's Chapel; the ; Jerusalem Chamber, wherein Henry the died; the Confessor's Chapel, with its pure English chancel, and its coronation chairs, in which country cousins love to sit for an instant-all within and without and round, about the Minster, that the Roundheads have left free from their hammers, sword-hilts, and heels, tempts the pilgrim to linger, and to come again--as we lingered and came again--to the silent meeting of the poets, to the morning service, and
|to those grand gatherings of the people which are drawn under the ancient roof by the sermons of the Minster's eloquent Dean.|
And from these gatherings with what painful ease we could wander far away from the shrine and the monumental urn to some of the saddest of London's scenes! The Devil's Acre is, happily, almost a solitude now. The light of heaven has been admitted through the pestilent dens, the foul by-ways, the kens and fences of wicked . Yet there are terrible highways and passages round about the Abbey still--as there are, indeed, about all the fairer parts of the metropolis. We appear to delight in violent contrasts. At the back of and are alleys of houses where some among the most miserable of London's citizens abide. There are purlieus in Kensington, Belgravia, Westbournia, and the as heart-sickening as those that skirt the highway of . The Palace looks out upon the common Lodging-house. From the brightest of our roads the traveller has only to make a few steps aside to light upon the haunt of the costermonger, the rough, the cadger. Worse company than that to be picked up within minutes' walk of the Houses of Parliament is not within the metropolitan postal district, as the detective force, whose headquarters are at hand, would willingly testify.
said a new member, repeating an old boast.
was the reply;
was the retort,
Coming from the Abbey, in a shower, and making for for a cigar, we were amused morning with a general scamper under the florid drinking-fountain: a bit of modern Christianity-pure as the fountain, at which the foot-sore wanderer is bidden to slake his thirst.
The stolidity of the policeman in the storm was excellent.