A Canterbury Pilgrimage
MOST of my readers probably know that the head of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury ; but I have been led to believe that many intelligent and generally well-informed people, even in England, do not know why he is so. By the head of the church, I mean the sacerdotal head, — the Primate, as he is called. The nominal and secular head is at present her most gracious royal and imperial majesty Victoria, who holds this position as the successor, although not the descendant, of that long-suffering and tenderconscienced monarch, Henry, the eighth of that name, who was so sorely tried by the sex through which came death and all our woe,—an assertion for which I hasten to say that Moses and Milton are alone responsible. And as the afflictions of that exemplary monarch in the matter of wives form an important part of the history of the Reformation, about which it is becoming to all people who would seem well educated to be exact, I venture to offer a little rhyme, not generally known I believe, which will help to keep the facts in mind, and be at any time convenient for reference — to those who can remember it: —
One died, one survived, two divorced, two beheaded.”
This is not thoroughly original, it being manifestly framed on the model of “ Thirty days hath September,” etc.; but like that most frequently repeated of all English stanzas, to which I confess that I am obliged to recur for much-needed assistance at least twelve times in every year, it may save many worthy people from being put, by ignorance, to open shame.
The reasons why the Archbishop of Canterbury is the priestly head of the Church of England are the very reasons why I was particular to visit the little city from which his see takes its title. Canterbury is the cradle of English Christianity ; and not only of English Christianity, but of the Christianity of the whole Teutonic race, — that great race which has done more for morality and for freedom than any other known to history, and more for literature and for philosophy, although not for the fine arts, than any other since the decadence of ancient Greece. It may be worth our while to glance at the events which gave this place a position so elevated and so extraordinary.
Almost all names of places in England have the admirable quality of a meaning. They were given for a good reason ; and that reason, if not apparent in their modern clipped and curtailed form, may be extracted by a little patience. Very little patience is needed in the case of Canterbury, which is merely a condensed form of the 11 Anglo-Saxon ” Cantuarabyrig; that is, the burg, or stronghold (“ Eine feste burg ist unser Gott ”), of the men of Kent. Kent is the part of Britain which first became English. Its position would naturally make it so, it being that part of the island which is nearest to the continent of Europe, from which the English or “ Anglo-Saxon ” people came; and such history as we have of their migration from the country now known as Schleswig-Holstein tells us that in Kent Hengist and Horsa made their landing. But the Angles and the Saxons did not bring Christianity into Britain. They were heathen; and soon extinguishing a little flame of Christianity, of Roman lighting, that they found there, they worshiped for centuries the gods whose names are upon our lips almost hourly, because they are embodied and embalmed in the English names of the days of the week, which were respectively consecrated to their service.
The interesting story about the English captives, whose fair faces, blue eyes, and long golden hair caused the monk Gregory to say of them, “ Not Angles, but angels ” (non Angli, sed angeli), — to which story I referred in the first of this series of articles, as early evidence of the beauty of the English race,1 — has a direct connection with the christianizing of England, and therefore also with our present subject. Gregory, learning that these beautiful Angles that so charmed and interested him were heathen, earnestly desired to convert them to Christianity, and set out on a mission himself for that purpose ; but he was stopped on his way to England, and he turned back to Rome, to become afterwards known as Pope Gregory the Great. But the Pope did not forget the benevolent scheme of the monk, and he sent as his apostle a priest named Augustine, who was afterwards known as St. Augustine; albeit he was not a very saintly personage. Augustine, if he should make converts, and succeed in establishing a Christian church in England, was to be the first English bishop and archbishop. But Gregory also intended that there should be another archbishop in England, one at York (he knew about as much of Kent and York, and of their relative positions, we may be sure, as most English bishops nowadays seem to know of New York and Chicago, and probably supposed them to be a few miles asunder) ; and this double intention of his produced an ecclesiastical complication, of which more hereafter. His intention in regard to York was the consequence of the fact that the young Englishmen by whom he was so captivated came from Deira, in the then great province or kingdom of Northumbria, which included what is now Yorkshire.
It was in A. D. 597 that Augustine set out upon the mission that was to have such important results, not only in England, but on the continent of Europe and in North America. He landed with his ecclesiastical suite on the Isle of Thanet, then as now the extreme eastern point of Kent, but then, as not now, really an island ; being made so by an estuary formed by the sea and the river Stour, upon which the land has so encroached during the succeeding centuries that it has almost disappeared. The Italian priest and his followers disembarked, as Hengist and the Danes had disembarked before them, at a place called Ebbe’s Fleet, a little southwest of Margate. The word fleet is Old English for a creek or small shallow water, where boats can float. It is preserved in the name of Fleet Street in London ; that street having been so called because it passed by Fleet ditch, a little water-course which in old times had the place now held by the Thames, as the chief receptacle of the city’s sewage. Nor has the name Ebbe’s Fleet disappeared in thirteen hundred years, notwithstanding that the water which gave it its name was long ago displaced by the land. Just where Hengist and the Danes and Augustine landed, on a strip of high ground rising out of the marsh, and plainly once a little promontory, is a farm-house, known as Ebbe’s Fleet.2 Such records of the past, in its names, is one of the charms of England. All students of early English history know that Ethelbert. the king of England at that time, had a Christian wife named Bertha, the daughter of the king (so called) of Paris. There was then no king of France, nor for centuries afterward. Ethelbert allowed Bertha to live as a Christian ; and she worshiped at a little chapel which stood just outside the town of Canterbury, and which had been used as a place of worship by British Christians. Whether she persuaded her husband to receive Augustine favorably is not known ; but he did so receive the missionary, and, after a conference with him in the open air at Thanet, gave him an old heathen temple near Canterbury for temporary use, and at last permitted him and his followers to worship with the queen at her chapel, which was even then called St. Martin’s. Erelong Ethelbert yielded to the power of precept and example, and received baptism; and before the year was over, on Christmas Day, 597, ten thousand Englishmen were baptized, two by two, in the Swale, the couples reciprocally immersing one another, at the word of command from St. Augustine. How many forefathers of those who now call themselves “ Americans ” thus dipped each other into Christianity it may not be within the power of statistics and the law of chances to discover. The royal convert now gave Augustine his own palace in Canterbury as a dwelling, and an old pagan temple hard by for a church, building himself a new residence a few miles off, at Reculver. Christianity was thus planted in England, and Augustine, the first bishop, established his see in Canterbury, where it has remained from the year 601 to this day. Thus it is that the Archbishop of Canterbury, as the lineal successor of St. Augustine, is chief priest of the Church of England.
Not only did English Christianity take its rise in Canterbury, but, as we have seen, hard by in that part of Kent was the very beginning of the English nation in the first landing there of the Saxons. Moreover, its great cathedral was the scene of a political murder which was of graver consequence to England than any other, even of a royal victim, recorded in her annals, — that of Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was slain by partisans of Henry II. for his resistance to the king’s encroachments (in the interests of law and of justice) upon the privileges of the clergy. Within the walls of this noble church lie the remains of the Black Prince, whose name and whose glory are known to all school-bred people of English race, even to those who are ignorant of his history and of his real character.3 To Canterbury went that train of pilgrims whose figures were wrought into an immortal life by the first great English poet in one of the greatest of English poems. To Canterbury came Oliver Cromwell, England’s last real king and last tyrant, and bore away from the Black Prince’s tomb the sword which had pointed the way to victory at Poictiers. There is no place in England, excepting London and Westminster, which is so enriched by memories and by memorials of the past. And yet I found intelligent, well-educated men in London and elsewhere, not three hours away, who had never seen Canterbury and its great cathedral. I can understand this, for I was myself in England six weeks before I made my Canterbury pilgrimage; and if I had been born in England to live there, I too might have postponed the journey indefinitely.
I went to the Rose inn, because I had heard that it was clean, comfortable, unpretending, and old-fashioned. It deserved all those praises. No place open to the public could be less like the American notion of a hotel. On the principal street, which is narrow, and which was meant to be straight, but which happily neither street nor road in England is but for a very short distance, the snug hostelry stands, distinguished in no way from the other old but not antique houses of the neighborhood except by a lantern over the door and the name of the inn. I went in, and found sitting by an inner window of a room that opened on one side into the passage-way, and on the other into the kitchen, a pleasant-faced woman of years between youth and middle age, who asked if I would like a room. On my answering Yes, she said, " Please walk up-stairs, sir, and the chambermaid will show you one.” I did so, and the maid met me at the first landing, and took me to a snug, clean, comfortable room, where my trunk was soon brought, and where she quickly returned with warm water; and that was all. Oh, the ease and comfort and privacy of these English inns ! — where you are not called upon to write your name and your address in a big book for any curious idler to read, and any reporter to copy and publish, and bring upon you calls when you would be private; where you do not perform all the offices of life, except sleeping and dressing, in the eyes of all your fellow lodgers, and of half the loungers of the neighborhood ; where you do not feel as if the house were a mere continuation of the street, except the paving-stones and the carts and horses. They would be improved by “ coffee-rooms ” a little more bright and cheery, for the coffee-room of an English inn on a dark, damp day is not a place of enlivening and inspiriting influence ; and by a little parlor or modest receiving room (as unlike as possible that concentration of glare and vulgarity known to us as a hotel parlor), in which lodgers who have not a sitting-room could receive those whom they do not wish to ask into their bedrooms. But these are comparative trifles. A man in health who could not be contented at the Rose must have in himself the causes of his discontent.
The city of Canterbury (city in virtue of its bishop’s see) is a small town, irregular in every way, and old-fashioned without being very antique. It lacks the effect produced, for instance, in Coventry and in Chester by houses of the sixteenth and the seventeenth century. Dwellinghouses which are, on their outsides at least, more than a hundred or a hundred and fifty years old are comparatively rare. But nearly the whole town seems to be composed of houses of about that age ; and mingled with these are the few which are older, and an unusual number of old churches and other buildings more or less ecclesiastical. These old towns in England had a never-failing charm for me; not because of their antiquity, of which I am no blind worshiper, nor because of their beauty, for of that they commonly have very little, but because of their naturalness. They have manifestly grown, and were not made to order. Even the streets most nearly straight were plainly once paths, which are never straight. One house was built in a certain place and in a certain way, because its builder chose to build it there and in that way; another was built in another place, in another way, because at another time another man so chose to build it; another was built between these in another way, because its builder perhaps could do no better. The town does not look as if it were put up in sections by contract. There is no air of pretense, and the place seems like an aggregation of homes. The resulting difference between these towns and one in the United States is like the difference between a crowd of men, each one of whom has his individuality of feature and of expression, and an array of puppets or lay figures all cast in one mold.
Over all in Canterbury rise the three towers of the great cathedral church, which dominates the city and the surrounding country. Seen from a distance, this great building seems larger than it does near by. It dwarfs the whole city, like a great growth in stone rising from amid a little bed of rubble. It is an architectural expression of the ecclesiastical supremacy which it embodies.
As soon as I could do so I went to the cathedral, approaching it through a short, narrow street called Mercery Lane, which has its name from the little shops which have lined its sides for centuries. I entered the nave, and walked its whole length beneath its lofty roof all alone. At once it took me captive; it swallowed me up in its immensity. The effect of grandeur is much increased by the elevation of the choir to a great height above the floor of the nave, from which there is an ascent by a lofty and broad flight of steps. As I walked slowly up the nave and mounted this majestic stairway, the tones of the great organ and the voices of the choristers chanting the morning service fell upon my ears, seeming to come from the dusky void above my head. I found that I could not enter the choir ; the grated gates were closed. I stood and listened. The singers were invisible who were taking part in the worship from which I was shut out. Was it only by the gate? Should I have worshiped if I had been within ? Could I have worshiped even in that sacred place as I should have done if I had come there when I was a child ?
Moved by the solemn strains within and the thoughts which they awakened in me without. I forgot for the moment why I was there. The music rose and fell; it swelled and soared ; and died away among the lofty arches. Breaking forth anew, it became a cry for mercy and for salvation, a passionate entreaty to be received into the joys of heaven. As I leaned against the iron barrier between me and the holy place within, the tones of the unseen singers pierced my heart and seemed to cleave it in sunder. But my soul did not answer to them. I knew that I was moved only by a sensuous thrill, by the vast and solemn gloom, and by the charm of sweet association. I felt that there was more between me and those sacred rites than the iron which stayed my steps. Alas ! those bars only figured to me the hard and stern realities which stood between me and those rites which I had been taught were pledges and a foretaste of the heavenly life. I might stand and look across the threshold of that paradise; but from its enjoyment, except as an intellectual and sensuous pleasure, almost as an exhibition, I was shut out forever. At every note my heart grew sadder, and the music became to me only the requiem of a buried faith.
Turning away with a sense of self-inflicted banishment, I descended the steps and wandered through the nave, musing, and oppressed even more by my thoughts and by thick-coming memories than by its grandeur, or by the sense of loneliness that came upon me in its vast silence, until the service was ended. Tho gates were opened. A few commonplace people came out: maiden ladies with umbrellas ; matrons with chattering children, already familiar with that which was so strange and impressive to me; a nondescript man or two, one of whom was pale and damp and peevish. They had performed one duty, and now they went forth to others. I watched them as they passed through the door-way into the world, and then turned back to make the tour of the great church.
The choir of Canterbury cathedral is more imposing than that of any other` ecclesiastical edifice that I ever saw. It combines in a rare degree those two great elements of architectural effect, extent and elevation. It alone is very much larger than our largest churches. Its length is one hundred and eighty feet. From the steps of the altar you look down the nave through a vista of arched stone, which stretches before you for more than five hundred feet. The grandeur of the elevation of the choir above the nave is repeated and enhanced within the choir itself by the elevation of the altar, which rises before you with a majesty which is almost oppressive. From the first entrance into this noble religious building the eye is led upward, and again upward, in long reaches of solemn beauty. The light comes to you only from above, softened and enriched by the marvelous hues of the stained glass windows of the clere-story. With the light Caen stone of the walls and piers and arches is mingled another of a dark, rich color, which, warmly tempering the somewhat cold gray hue of the former, produces an effect of color all the more admirable because it is not excessive and does not seem to be elaborate.
As I stood upon the steps of the altar, I observed that a few knots of people here and there in the choir began to approach each other ; and presently a verger in his gown, whom they were following, stepped up to me and asked if I wished to see the cathedral. The other visitors joined themselves to us, and we set off upon our round. I shall not describe what I saw, or tell what I was told. To do so would occupy at least all the space that I could ask for my whole article ; and then I should have told no more than may be found in a good guide-book, Nor do I hold such descriptions in high estimation. They are useful to those who are just about to see the objects described; and to those who have seen them they serve as aids to recollection. To all other persons they have really little value. In the course of three quarters of an hour I had stood by the tomb of the Black Prince, and had seen hanging over it the surcoat, the helmet, and the gauntlets that he wore at Poictiers ; I had seen Archbishop Chichely’s strange twostoried tomb, on one slab of which he is represented in health, clothed in his archiepiscopal robes and wearing his mitre, while on the other he is, by his own directions, represented in his dying state, attenuated to a skeleton; I had looked with a sentiment of retrospective wonder and pity at the stone staircase to à Becket’s shrine, worn in hollows by the knees of the pilgrims who were obliged to ascend it painfully, in the humble attitude of prayer ; I had followed the course of the murderers of this arrogant and tyrannical priest to the place where they struck him down, and had stood over the spot where they scattered his brains upon the pavement; and I had peered through the dim light upon the sombre beauty of that crypt, distinguished from all others even less by its varied architecture than as the scene of one of the most extraordinary and yet most characteristic transactions of past ages. For here, in 1174, two years after à Becket’s slaying, Henry II., in whose interest, although not by whose command, the deed was done, did a second penance in expiation of that crime and sacrilege. After having lived upon bread and water for some days, and after walking barefooted to the cathedral, where he knelt in the transept of the murder (called the martyrdom), he was led into the crypt where à Becket’s tomb then was. Upon this he bowed his head, and, his lower garments having been removed, the king of England, a Plantagenet, received five strokes from the rod of each bishop and abbot who was present, and three from each of the eighty monks ! After this he stood the whole night barefooted upon the bare ground, resting only against one of the rude stone pillars of the crypt; and thus he passed the whole night, fasting. A belief in the efficacy and the merit of such performances did not die out for six hundred years ; and it shows us the arrogant, ungainly figure of Samuel Johnson standing in the streets of Litchfield, bareheaded and exposed to the weather, for hours, in “ expiation ” of an act of disrespect to his father. Perhaps even yet, among enlightened people who are freed from the sacerdotal tyranny to which Henry II. succumbed, there may be some who believe that a wrong that they have done may be atoned for by a suffering on their part which can do no good to the person they have wronged. To them I would recommend a meditation in the crypt of Canterbury cathedral.
I was pleased with my verger, and I found that he was not displeased with me. He was a middle-aged man, with a fine, intelligent face and a very pleasant manner, and he talked well as he led us from one spot of interest to another. If he had introduced himself to me as the dean, I should have accepted him as such without a doubt, and have been perfectly satisfied. And yet this man expected a shilling. Had it not been for my previous experience, I should as soon have thought of offering him broken victuals.4 He evidently was pleased with the great interest in the cathedral which I could not conceal (and why should I have concealed it?), and plainly rejoiced in the questions which I alone asked ; for the rest of the group was composed of the average British Philistine; and when I asked him to tell me where I could find three little arches, two of which were pointed and one round Norman, he led me to the spot with alacrity and a face lighted up with something like gratified vanity. Well might he be proud of his cathedral. But when, on passing a stately, elevated seat, half pulpit, half pew, he said, “ The archbishop’s throne when he attends service,” the word throne grated on my ears, and I thought of Him who had not where to lay his head.
After my guide and I had parted at the choir entrance, I went alone through the precincts of the cathedral, wandering at my will, inquiring my way, and asking information as I needed it; and always receiving the kindest attention, often from persons more or less ecclesiastical, to whom I should not have ventured to offer a shilling. In these extensive precincts, beautiful buildings in perfect preservation are mingled with ruins which have been ruins for centuries, — pillars and arches which form aisles that now are roofless and lead no whither ; grand gateways, the only remnants of buildings to which they were once the mere entrance, and which are now put to humble uses ; libraries now in use, and the houses of the dean and chapter. As I wandered about I came suddenly upon an object with the forms of which I was familiar, and the sight of which had been one of the expected pleasures of my visit, the Norman staircase leading up to the building known as the King’s School. I thought that I knew it too well to find anything surprising in it, notwithstanding my admiration ; and yet, seeing it unexpectedly as I turned a corner, I felt a little shock of delight. And why ? Why does that small structure give the eye such joy? It is but a porch of three round arches resting upon heavy pillars, and a succession of some five or six small arches supported by graduated pillars ; the detail shows little fancy, and the workmanship little finish; but the whole is such a beautiful imagination that among lovers of architecture it is as well known as a perfect poem is in the world of literature, or as a masterpiece of musical composition, like Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata or the Andante of Mozart’s quartette in C, is to lovers of music. Description of it is quite in vain ; for a description which should be quite correct might, like a similar description of a musical composition, apply equally well to a work the design and the informing ideas of which were utterly without beauty. That which constitutes the real charm in any work of fine art can never be described bywords, although its effect may be expressed.
My next visit was to St. Martin’s church, the mother church of England, the oldest ecclesiastical building in that land, the memories of which go back thirteen hundred years, and which bears in its walls memorials of a time yet earlier. St. Martin’s I found perched on a little hill on the outskirts of the town. The hill has been cut down around the old church, which is left standing upon a slight elevation supported by a stone wall. Around it are ancient yew-trees; and its tower is so covered with ivy as to be almost wholly concealed. The stem of this gigantic parasite is like the trunk of a large tree. I found the same great growth at other places. We have no notion of the size to which this “ vine ” attains in England. The chancel end of this little church is evidently much older than the tower end ; and here it was plainly that Bertha worshiped. Not necessarily within even this older part of the building, but where that portion of it stands, and not improbably between the foundation walls. The British chapel is gone ; but in its place and on its site was built the little Early English church which now forms the chancel of St. Martin’s. Its walls are composed in part of the material of the walls of its predecessor; red Roman tiles being built into it freely with the rubble and shale and mortar.
After I had looked at the outside of this venerable memorial of English Christianity alone to my content, I made inquiries for the key, and was directed to one of a row of small houses not far off. Thither I went, and found a kindly woman with two or three children around her, who each accepted a penny with round-eyed joy. The eldest was sent off after the goodman, while I sat talking with the goodwife in the little parlor. She was such a comfortable, cheery, simple creature, so far from pretending to be anything but what she really was, that I liked her, and homely as she was in feature I did not think her husband was long in coming with the key. The interior of the church contains little to gratify the eye. It has none of the charms of St. Andrew’s, near Windsor, or even of the characteristic evidences of antiquity which I found at the old church at Harbledown, which I visited also on this day. In appearance it is the least interesting of these three churches, which are the oldest in England, and of which it is the senior. There is a clever but shabby attempt, by a rude stone coffin and a Latin inscription, to produce the impression that Bertha’s body was entombed there ; but it lies in the great cathedral. A rude font is shown as that in which Ethelbert was baptized. It is certainly of very great antiquity ; but I observed that the upper part of it was certainly Norman work, although the lower seemed to me to be Saxon, an opinion in which I afterwards found that I had but coincided with others much better able to form an opinion on such a point; and indeed I could have expected nothing else. Even the lower part, however, I am inclined to think is of a period much later than Ethelbert’s reign. Moreover, I suspect that he, instead of being baptized in full dress and from a font, as the friends of Voltaire’s Ingenu expected that their young convert would be, received the rite in the waters of the Stour in that perfectly natural and unadorned condition in which the Huron (who had read only the New Testament) awaited it on the banks of a similar rivulet, while his priest-taught friends and sponsors fretted for him at the church in their best bibs and tuckers.
The modern pilgrim to Canterbury, if he is at all interested in ancient ecclesiastical architecture and in the early history of England, should not neglect to visit Harbledown. It is but two miles away, and the view of the cathedral from the road on the return is alone well worth the little journey. The old village, apparently no larger than it was twelve hundred years ago, lies in a hollow, and is now seen by the traveler and now hidden from him, as the road rises and falls with the undulation of the country. Chaucer’s pilgrims passed through it; and this effect of its position is the origin of the whimsical perversion of its name by which the poet refers to it.
Which that i-cleped is Bob-up-an-down,
Under the Ble in Canterbury way ? ” 5
(Prol. to the Manciple’s Tale, 1.1.)
Here Lanfranc founded a lazar house or hospital, and the hospital is still there, although it has been twice rebuilt; but the old church or chapel, where service is performed once a week, stands nearly as it was originally built, somewhat dilapidated by time, but little injured by restoration. As I neared the village I asked one or two persons that I met for the old church there (I preferred to go about thus, inquiring my way and talking with the people), and I was directed to a church upon a little hill, which was indeed an ancient and an interesting building; but after a brief examination of it I was dissatisfied both with its appearance and its position, and I learned afterwards that, venerable as it was, it lacked six hundred years of the age of that which I was seeking!
The ground about here is very irregular, and at one place the road is split into two parts, one of which, used only by wayfarers on foot, passes over an elevation, from which there is a steep descent to the part used by carriages. As I walked along the lower road, a carpenter, with his tools over his shoulder, called down to me, and asked me to please to tell him where Mr. Pangborn lived. With malice prepense I made him repeat his request; for I always enjoyed these inquiries put to me in places where I found myself for the first time, — places three thousand miles from that where I and my kindred had been born and lived for more than two centuries. They began, these inquiries, before I had been on English soil two days. In Chester, the day after my arrival, I was driven, by a heavy shower, under an old pent-house where I was soon joined by a man who was evidently a gentleman, and one who I conjectured from the cut of his jib was a “ horsey” squire. We chatted as the rain poured down ; and when the clouds began to break a groom came down the street on a fine spirited horse, which he checked and irritated by his impatient handling. My temporary companion, who had received with favor a remark that I made upon the horse’s clean fetlocks and the fine fall of his haunches, who fretted almost as much as the poor beast did under his rider’s irritating hand, presently broke out to me, “ Now, sir, if that was my horse, I should dismount that fellow, and discharge him on the spot; would n’t you ? ” I assented. By this time the rain had stopped, and he, preparing to go on his way, said, “ And now, would you be kind enough to tell me the way to ”— I forget where. I answered, “ I would with pleasure, sir, but I’m an entire stranger in the country. I arrived from America but yesterday.” He turned upon me a look of puzzlement and wonder, hesitated a moment, and then bade me good-morning. It was an early beginning of a series of similar experiences. But I am far away from Harbledown.
I found the hospital and the old church sooner than I fear my carpenter found Mr. Pangborn. An old man was at work in a sort of garden in front of the hospital. I asked him where I should find the key of the church. He looked me full in the face, but without any expression of intelligence, and bawled out, “ I can’t hear a word you say ! I’m as deaf as a stone. But I know what you want. Just knock at that door,” and he pointed to one of two or three in the hospital. I remark here that I found many more deaf people in England than I ever met in America. I have remarked before upon the greater number of rheumatic and otherwise disabled old people that I saw there. I was soon in the old church. It is about as large upon the ground as a good-sized country school-house, but very interesting. The pillars and arches on one side are Norman ; on the Other Early English. The roof is open timbered, like that of St. Andrew’s, but much ruder and heavier. Some pillars are round, some square, and the capitals have ornaments which brought to mind those in Saxon missals. On the wall on one side are the shadowy remains of an ancient painting, in which the ghostly figures, life-sized, of a king and a bishop may be discerned. No place that I saw in England took me quite so far back into the past. Here, indeed, f seemed to have got before the Conqueror, and among my forefathers whom he found in England when he and the rabble of fierce robbers whom he had sharked up landed there and fought and took possession. How did I know but that upon the floor where I was standing some man or woman whose blood was flowing in my veins had knelt a thousand years ago? It was more than possible.
In the hospital are some relics ; but in those I felt little interest, and I was soon on my way back to Canterbury, where I passed the rest of the day in wandering from one old building or quaint nook to another. I did not undertake to “do” the town systematically; and I avoided professional guides and eschewed guidebooks.
As I was walking about the town at night, I came upon a strange sight. I stood upon an elevated street, and looked down upon one lower; which, indeed, was rather a small open place than a street. There I saw an assemblage of large wagons, most of them covered; and there were some booth-like stands, built or in building. Here and there were lights, and figures were moving about in the darkness with lanterns. As I leaned against a railing and looked down upon this theatrical little spectacle, I turned to a man who had taken a place beside me, and asked him what this was. He told me that it was the beginning of the preparations for a fair, which was to take place in a day or two. The fair used to be an important event, but its interest had diminished, and only the lowest orders of people took any part in it, By his speech and his manner, and a fustian coat he wore (I could not see his face, the night was so dark; and, besides, he kept looking straight before him), I discovered that he was a respectable artisan, or person in that condition of life, and we soon fell into talk together. I found him intelligent and even thoughtful. The hoarse voices of men and the shriller tones of women speaking in strange accents came up to us from the lights and the wagons. I asked him who these people were, and where they came from. He did not know. They were n’t Canterbury folk ; they came from the country around, no one knew whence ; some of them from far enough away. “It’s sad to think, sir, that there must be such people in a country like ours; that they must live, and that they will, one way or another.” The tone of his voice was more monotonous than that of most Englishmen ; it was the monotone of sadness. He seemed willing to talk, and I led him on. He was evidently oppressed by desponding thought, and his voice and manner suited the gloaming, gray-hued darkness. He was well enough to do himself, he said, and was always comfortable, and had a pound or two laid by for a rainy day; but he plainly brooded over the condition of those who were not comfortable, and who had no pound or two, and could n’t get even shillings. “ What is to become of them, sir ? ” he said. “ There are so many of them ; and there are more every year.” He always said “ them,” as if he were not thinking of himself or his own. “ It’s something that gentlemen like you, sir, know nothing about, except what you see in the newspapers; but I’m nearer to it, and I see it for myself. They call ’em dangerous classes ; but they ’re dangerous because they ’re poor; and if there were n’t people, many of them, so much richer than they, there would be nobody to be in danger.” I asked him if he thought there was any danger to the government. “ Oh, no, sir; how could that be in England? The government’s well enough. It’s a good government; and an Englishman’s a free man, and always has the law on his side. And there must be rich people and poor people; and lords, too, for the matter of that. I don’t mind there being lords. And I know that what a man gets honestly he’s a right to keep, little or much. But what’s to become of the people that get nothing, — not enough to eat ? And there ’s so many of them, — so many.” I asked him if he thought the matter would be helped by taking the land from the great landholders and giving it to the people. “ Lord bless you, sir, no ; leastways only for a little while. Some people will get poor; and if a man has a little land and no money, he ’ll sell his land ; he must; and the men that have land and money too will buy more land. You can’t stop that.” Alas! I thought, as he uttered this truism; this poor, sad-hearted fellow sees the inevitable law.—to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away that which he hath ; and remembering that those who had least money always, as a class, had the most children, I could say nothing to encourage him. I suggested emigration ; but he replied, “ Yes, sir, that’s all very well, although it’s a hard thing for a man to go away from the place he was born in. But to emigrate a man must have some money ; and I’m thinking about the people that haven’t enough to last from day to day; and England’s full of them, and is getting fuller and fuller every year.” He had never heard of Malthus or of Ricardo, and Mrs. Besant’s little book was not yet published ; but he was plainly in sympathy with them all. Our talk became more desultory, and it was growing late. I bade him good-night. We had touched the gravest question of the day for England, the crucial question of the time, and we parted without having seen each other’s faces. We were one to the other only a voice speaking out of the darkness.
The next day I went again to the cathedral. The gloomy sky of the night had harbingered a heavy mass of clouds which were now descending in a copious but fine and gentle rain. The cathedral was deserted. Even the verger was not there. He was represented by his daughter, a pretty, slender girl. He had evidently remembered my interest when he went home; for she stepped up to me, and asked with a little emphasis, “ Would you like to see the cathedral again, sir?” I said Yes, of course; and she went with me to the gate of the choir, which she opened. All at once the wish arose to be there without even her attendance (there was not another person in sight), and I asked her, with no expectation of consent, if she could not let me go in by myself. She looked at me a moment with sweet, steady blue eyes, and said, “ I think I may let you go, sir.” She shut the gate behind me. As I turned away I heard the key creak and the bolt shot. Then a great silence fell upon me; I walked slowly on until I stood before the high altar; and there I was, alone in that dim magnificence.
I made little use of my liberty. I was not there to mouse among antiquities, or to study architecture. Details seemed petty to me enveloped in that vastness, and whelmed in the flood of those associations. I did go to the Black Prince’s tomb, and, although I am no relic-monger, as I stood by it I longed to touch one of those gauntlets. To clasp even that glove would have done something toward bridging the gap of five centuries, and placing me by Edward’s side at Poictiers. I wish that I had asked that blue-eyed girl if I might do so. I verily believe the good creature would have helped me to a ladder. But I soon wandered back to the great altar, and sat down upon the steps. The day was dark, and notwithstanding the pale color of the walls the vast space was filled with the dusk of twilight. I did not people this grand gloom with figures; and indeed I doubt if that is ever done by any one; but I did think, as on the day before I could not have thought, of all the much good and the little ill to me and mine of which that noble church was a sign and a witness. Here Chaucer’s pilgrims came ; but what was their pilgrimage to mine ! They made a three or four days’ journey to do, for their own profit, reverence to the tomb of a crafty, ambitious churchman : I had come three thousand miles to stand upon the spot where my people were born to civilization and baptized into Christianity. But for what happened here and hard by I should have been, not a savage, indeed, nor a heathen, because the world has taken all men on in the course of thirteen hundred years, but something other than I am ; and I fear not something better. For me there might have been no Alfred, no Chaucer, no Wicliffe, no Sidney, no Bacon, no Shakespeare, no Milton, no English Bible, no Bunyan, no habeas corpus, no bill of rights, no English law; and what a man is, who does more than eat and sleep and wear apparel out, depends hardly more upon the nature that he has inherited from his forefathers than upon what they did for him. A man is a result, — result of forces which were tending toward him centuries before he appeared ; a result over which his own will and his own work have but a modifying influence. And, thus sitting alone in Christ Church at Canterbury, I felt that I was near what was for me, except as a mere animal, the beginning of all things, — certainly the beginning of all things good.
But I was to leave the town that afternoon, and calling my pretty portress I walked with her for a little while under the gray arches, and then said good-by. At the Rose, when I told my friend who sat by the window that I was going directly, and by such a train, she said, “ Oh, I’m sorry ; our ’bus does n’t go to that train.” I then asked her to get me a fly. “ Oh. no, sir,” she said, “ no need of that. I 'll send to the - [naming another inn] and get them to send their ’bus here for you. Cost you only sixpence, sir.” Did any one of my readers ever have his sixpences or even his dollars looked after so carefully at a hotel in America? After a cheery good-by from this good housekeeper, I got into the rival ’bus, and was soon at the station. Not until I had bought my ticket, did I discover that I had left my hat at the Rose. I had put on my traveling hat in my room, and in my haste had forgotten my chimney-pot. It was the identical preposition which had excited the professional jealousy of the Surrey hatter. I could not do without it. Looking at my watch, I found that I had twelve minutes before the arrival of my train. I hailed the fly with the best-looking horse, and told the driver, “ Double fare to get me to the Rose and back again, for the next train.” We dashed through old Coventry at a pace that would have astonished Chaucer’s Prioress, and did somewhat alarm some good Kentish women. At the inn my hurried entrance caused great surprise; but I had hardly said what brought me, when the chambermaid flew past me, and, shooting up-stairs like an arrow feathered with petticoats, in an instant she met me with the hat in her hand. She had no shilling to expect, and I no time to give her one. I jumped for my fly, and was set down at the station just as the train was coming in ; and in five minutes I was steaming off to Rochester.
Richard Grant White.
- English Men. The Galaxy, April, 1877.↩
- I make this statement on the authority of Dean Stanley. I did not visit Ebbe’s Fleet. Dean Stanley, now of Westminster, was once Dean of Canterbury, a fact to which we owe his interesting Historical Memorials of the place.↩
- The Black Prince was not, what many suppose him to have been, a dark man. Edward of Woodstock had a fair skin, blue eyes, and yellow-brown hair. He was called the Black Prince from the color of the armor he usually wore.↩
- We should not, however, judge him and such as he by our standard in this matter. These gratuities are looked upon in the light of honoraria or fees, and are reckoned as a part of the regular income of the places to which they pertain. A verger receives his shilling just as Mr. Barnum receives twenty-five cents for seeing one of his shows, and with no more feeling of obligation or dependence. And as to the possible independence of a man in such a position, I had an example of that in my Windsor Castle warder.↩
- The origin of this perversion has not been pointed out, I believe, by any of the editors of Chaucer. Indeed, one of the latest and most eminent of them gravely remarks, “I cannot find a town of that name in any map; but it must have lain between Boughton, the place last mentioned, and Canterbury.” The only place between Boughton and Canterbury is Harbledown, the name of which is easily, naturally, almost inevitably corrupted into Hobble-down, a form of it which I heard there, and which is itself suggestive of a jocose perversion. But besides this, Hob is one of the nicknames of Robert, the other being Bob. With these suggestions it would have been strange if the little town which seemed to rise and fall had not been called Bob-up-and-down by rustic wits six or eight, hundred years ago. The Ble is the wooded hill of Ble or Blean which rises just above Harbledown.↩