Page images
PDF
EPUB

38

Removal of the Screen at York Minster.

their sanction to this wanton and faithless innovation. (Applause.) It was not in this city and county alone that monuments of ancient art had been uselessly and wantonly destroyed; and such destruction had always been followed by feelings of sorrow, repentance, and regret. He would ask them to travel with him to Rome, or to Athens, and when there, to view the devastation which the spoiler had committed on the monuments of their ancient greatness, the remains of their ancient art? Did they never hear around them a murmur, that these spoliations were committed by Goths, by Vandals, by barbarians? And if British hands had been stained by such offensive acts of plunder, there were not wanting immortal British poets to hand down with indignation to posterity the wanton spoilers. Let them hope the example would not be followed here :

"Dull is the eye that would not weep to see The walls defaced, the mouldering shrines [hov'd,

remov'd

By British hands, which it had best beTo guard those relics, ne'er to be restored." The Rev. W. V. Vernon said, he held in his hand a full refutation of all that was said on the subject of the pledge. (Hear.) He admitted that the question of the Screen was never called to his mind till he received a letter from Lord Egremont offering a most munificent subscription, if the Screen was entirely removed. He replied, that this was a measure that had never been considered; and that there appeared many objections to it. (Hear.) The pledge he gave to the meeting was in accordance with Mr. Smirke's report. Now, in consequence of an offer munificently made by the Government, of a quantity of teak for the roof, that wood had been actually employed in the construction of it. Luckily the words "or teak" had been introduced into Mr. Smirke's report, or the use of this wood would have been made a matter of charge. Of this wood the ribs and frame-work of the roof were made; and on them were laid ornaments of that light American wood which had been so erroneously described, and so unjustly reprobated. If the passage so often alluded to, was taken with its context, it would be seen that he was pledged to nothing respecting the Screen. It ran thus, "Upon the report I have only to remark, that the Dean and Chapter entirely concur in the principles of absolute and perfect restoration which Mr. Smirke has recommended; and that, should the means of finishing the work immediately on these principles be withheld from them, they would even prefer protracting its completion to abandoning them in any respect. They will not depart from a model more excellent and beautiful than any thing which they can substitute in its place; they will not, in the reparation of this noble and venerable

[Jan.

inheritance from past ages, pay less attention to grandeur of effect, and durability of material, than was bestowed on these great objects in its original construction." He would ask this meeting whether it conveyed any other meaning than, that in effecting the restoration the same regard should be paid to the durability of materials as had been shewn in the ancient fabric, and also to the pattern!

In the midst of clamour the Lord Mayor (The Hon. Edward Petre), was heard to speak in favour of the alteration. His remark, however, in reference to the Minster, commenced with a mistake, he said, "all had the same object;" i. e." THE MOST PERFECT RESTORATION of what might be considered the pride of England; let them come to such a decision then as would show the world their determination to effect that object." This was hitting his own party a very hard blow. In fact, he spoke with the best taste and voted with the worst.

now.

There were now loud calls for the " question;" and Lord Harewood read the original motion and the amendment, and then said, There is a matter connected with this discussion which I will submit to the meeting I consider this meeting to be for the purpose of collecting the sense of the subscribers to the fund. Some of the subscribers have sent their opinions in writing, containing their objections to the measure, or otherwise; and it seems reasonable to me that those persons who have so sent their opinions should be considered as parties present.

A long discussion then offered on the right of the dissentients to the removal of the Screen, or to withdraw their money, should that innovation take place.

Mr. Morritt could not consent to the reception of the opinions of the absent subscribers, because they are founded on prints which are deceptive, and many persons who had formed an opinion in favour of removal from those prints, altered it when on the spot.

The Rev. W. V. Vernon.-There are deputations here from Leeds and from Sheffield, who have brought over the written opinions of the subscribers in those towns. I wish they should be heard as to the maner in which these opinions were obtained. (Astounding cries of No, no!)

A long conversation then followed on the propriety of receiving the written opinions. A very general call for "Question," now took place. The Lord Mayor and Mr. Scott were nominated Tellers; the numbers appeared to be,

... 119

[blocks in formation]

For Mr. Scott's Amendment For the Original Resolution The Earl of Harewood.-If the Chair is called upon, the Chair is here to answer it; and I shall do it in the same tone in which I have spoken throughout; and I say, that

1831.]

Removal of the Screen at York Minster.

if there is any desire to deal fairly towards the absent subscribers, their proxies will be taken. They were invited to send them; and if they thought that they would not have been received, they would have been here. It will be a delusion to them if they are not, and a proceeding to which I will be no party.

A considerable confusion took place, in which the different parties loudly contended for their respective opinions.

The Chairman was again called upon to declare the numbers; but he still urged the reception of the written opinions.

George Strickland, Esq. then moved the thanks of the meeting to the Chairman; which being seconded, three cheers were called for by the victorious party, and being given, they were leaving the room; but were called upon to stay, as the Chairman did not feel inclined to dissolve the meeting.

Thanks were again moved to the Chairman; who said, he would not allow the proxies to be neglected, but should go straight forward to do what was right. They might do with them what they pleased; they might place them where they pleased; but he should recognize them. His Lordship theu, amidst loud cries of "shame," gave out the numbers as follows:

Present. For Mr. Scott's Amendment 119

For the Original Resolution 92 Proxies. For Mr. Scott's Amendment 106

For the Original Motion.. 823 Thanks were now a third time moved to the Earl of Harewood; but this time the proposal was received with overwhelming disapprobation; and loud cries of "No, no!" and "He deserves a vote of censure." The meeting thus broke up at half-past six o'clock; both parties claiming the victory.

Thus concluded the meeting of the 28th of December. The Chairman entered on the subject with the strictest impartiality, but at the conclusion, when it was ascertained that the majority were opposed to the scheme of innovation, he determined to do that which ought not in fairness to have been done; namely, to receive the proxies for the purpose of throwing the preponderance on the other side of the question. But it is useless to particularise; the removalists have gone all lengths to carry their point, they are bent on deforming aud defacing the Minster which was spared by the barbarians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They despise the cathedral as it was before the fire, and wish to make it something new. This is their notion of "perfect restoration,' -a term which certainly did not include a non-descript pulpit and throne, seats, or rails, or the chequered floor, but a perfect restoration of its aucient features, for none but the ancient forms and ornaments were ever admired, or alluded to in the first report, or otherwise. But realilution is not the question on which so

39

much difference exists; it is alteration and mutilation, it is the taking down of an ancient and perfect part of the building from its original and proper situation, and removing it to a place where no screen ever stood in an ancient church, for obvious reasons; 1st. because it would not have stood at the boundary of the choir; 2d. because it would have destroyed the unity of the design across the transepts; 3d. because there would have been a striking incongruity in the effect when viewed from the choir, owing to the Screen standing twenty or more feet before the great arch of the lautern, the intended western limit of the choir.

"I consider (says Mr. Etty) that the mutilation of the choir-screen, which from its most intricate and elaborate ornament must necessarily attend its removal (notwithstanding what may be said to the contrary), to be the least part of the injury our cathedral would receive. It would, in its new situation, be mostly in shadow, and some of it lost altogether; but the vital blow, by these alterations, given to its graudeur, would be in the choir! that mighty heart' of our temple. Imagine twenty or thirty feet cut off its majestic length, and will any one tell me that will not diminish its grandeur? It carries its own condemnation along with it. Grandeur and magnificence arise not only from a just proportion of parts in relation to each other, but also not a little belong to length and magnitude.

The long drawn aisle' is spoken of with delight by Milton, that model of all that is grand and elevated. The advocates of the measure tell you the choir will not be shortened, because what is lost at one end is to be taken off oure Ladye's Chapelle,' where the tombs are. Believe them not; the length of the choir is from the present situation of the organ screen to the grand east window, and any diminution of that great and lenthened space would, I maintain, be a diminution of the choir to the eye, and consequently fail to fill the mind with those mixed sensations of vastness, awe, and delight, which all of any feeling must have experienced on entering that divine place. All who recollect it before the fatal blow struck at it by the cunning and cowardly incendiary who set it on fire, and stabbed the peace of millions at a stroke, must have been forcibly struck with these things, with the grand and noble proportions of its parts, the effect these arrangements of distance had on the mind, and consequently the heart, lifting up the imagination, and by that the soul to Him who made and sustains us. First, on the entrance through this beautiful Screen, which, like the gate which was called "Beautiful" of the Temple of Jerusalem, was but the threshold of greater, more "sacred and home-felt delights" and glories. Then

40

Removal of the Screen at York Minster.

its receding length to the foot of the first
flight of
steps; then a platform; and then
another flight of steps to another broad
platform. The gradual approach to the
altar in its beautiful simplicity behind it;
the elegant altar Screen (when I think of all
this lost, my wounds bleed afresh, my heart
and my eyes are full); and when an ample
space beyond, till the eye in the distance
is filled with the magnificence of the great
east window, forming altogether a coup-
d'ail unequalled in the world, a space, a
combination in which the eye and the mind
are filled with images of majesty, splendour,
beauty, and extent beyond any thing I ever
witnessed, and I have seen many of the
most celebrated cathedrals in Europe.

Cut off the space proposed, you throw back the steps, the platforms, the altar under the east window, at least twenty feet. The altar now forms, as it should, a prominent, elegant, and delightful medium between the choir and that splendid mass of light; put it under the east window and the matchless beauty and harmony of these parts are destroyed, and unillumined. The Arab proverb says, 'Under the lamp it is dark;' under that splendid window its beauties must be eclipsed, and the whole balance of the choir overthrown."

"The alteration of an ancient cathedral is justifiable only on one ground, viz. the improvement of the choir for the purposes of religion. This was not the reason for the alterations at Salisbury and Lichfield, or the dilapidations of Durham: nor can it be alledged by Mr. Vernon in support of his proposed innovations at York. Thirty-five years have made considerable changes in taste as to architecture; and the capricious fancy of an individual is not sufficient now, as it was formerly, to command the disarrangement of the interior of a cathedral, to demolish or dilapidate whatever his whim disapproves, or to lengthen views and vistas in a church as he would cut down hedges in a landscape. One would have thought that the innovators would have made good use of their time since July in collecting accurate and useful information from other cathedrals and aucient churches in support of their measure, but they gave no proofs of their fesearches in this way; they did not, of course, ascertain that "the screens of our Norman churches were commonly placed across the second or third division of the nave, owing to the plan or proportions of the constituent members of the building, resembling in shape the Christian cross. But when the change of taste in architecture took place the plan also was altered; the choir, as at York, being elongated, and the nave shortened; and by these alterations a sufficient space for the purpose was obtained, and the choir became a distinct portion of the building. The Screen was removed from the nave to the eastern pillars

[Jan.

of the lantern, or central tower, the natural boundary of the choir in churches built after the change of taste of which I have spoken. But there is no example of a Screen being situated further east than the line I have mentioned. Bristol is quite out of the question, the nave of that church having been destroyed, and the Screen removed to its present position within the ancient choir, subsequently to the Reformation.” *

He is a bold innovator who would first lay his hand on York Minster to disorder the harmony of its arrangement and destroy its principal Screen. Mr. Vernon is labouring to distinguish himself in this way; but he has encountered difficulties which he did not foresee. He undervalued the veneration which the inhabitants of the county, and those of the " good city" especially, feel for their glorious Minster; and it is to be hoped that no lawful means to defeat this daring scheme of sacrilege will be left untried. Opposed to it is a constellation of names which will for ever be associated with correct taste, and with those of the preservers of our ancient architecture; of Morritt, Markham, Wellbeloved, Strickland, Currer, Etty, and Scott, whose observations on the distinctive characteristics of the style of the choir; on the propriety and beauty of the position of the Screen; on the sublimity of the effect produced by the combination of just and elegant proportion and occasional enrichment; on the utter disregard of ancient authority evinced by the removalists; and on the use of an inferior material in the ornamental work of the roof; † should be read and treasured by all who wish to form a correct taste on the subject of our ancient architecture. It is certain that the pamphlets and speeches of these gentlemen are among the most valuable essays on architectural innovation.

"Were I to, offer (writes the highly gifted artist Mr. Etty), to repaint and improve the Cartoons of Raffaelle, or the Last Judgment of Michael Angelo, would it not be regarded as a piece of madness, folly, or presumption; and most justly so? Now, I say the case is a parallel one: York Minster is as perfect in its kind, or more, than the great work in question is of the same epoch, the fifteenth century; has the same hallowed feeling of antiquity to make all but Vandals respect, venerate, and hallow it."

* Private Letter.

† Mr. Smirke stated that he had heard of a building partly composed of American pine remaining solid and perfect after the assaults of forty seasons; but to convince the meeting of the indestructible property of the said material, he stated that he had seen a building composed of it quite perfect after sixty years' standing! This is indeed a date worthy of being compared with the antiquity of York Minster!

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]
« PreviousContinue »