Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 6

SOME OF THE "SIGHTS" OF LONDON.


In the course of time we came to anchor in the stream; skiffs from the shore pulled alongside, and after some little quarrelling, we were safely deposited in one, with a party who desired to be landed at the Tower Stairs. The dark walls frowned above us as we mounted from the water and passed into an open square on the outside of the moat. The laborers were about commencing work, the fashionable day having just closed, but there was still noise and bustle enough in the streets, particularly when we reached Whitechapel, part of the great thoroughfare, extending through the heart of London to Westminster Abbey and the Parliament buildings. Further on, through Leadenhall street and Fleet street--what a world! Here come the ever-thronging, ever-rolling waves of life, pressing and whirling on in their tumultuous career. Here day and night pours the stream of human beings, seeming amid the roar and din and clatter of the passing vehicles, like the tide of some great combat. How lonely it makes one to stand still and feel that of all the mighty throng which divides itself around him, not a being knows or cares for him! What knows he too of the thousands who pass him by? How many who bear the impress of godlike virtue, or hide beneath a goodly countenance a heart black with crime? How many fiery spirits, all glowing with hope for the yet unclouded future, or brooding over a darkened and desolate past in the agony of despair? There is a sublimity in this human Niagara that makes one look on his own race with something of awe.

We walked down the Thames, through the narrow streets of Wapping, Over the mouth of the Tunnel is a large circular building, with a dome to light the entrance below. Paying the fee of a penny, we descended by a winding staircase to the bottom, which is seventy-three feet below the surface. The carriage-way, still unfinished, will extend further into the city. From the bottom the view of the two arches of the Tunnel, brilliantly lighted with gas, is very fine; it has a much less heavy and gloomy appearance than I expected. As we walked along under the bed of the river, two or three girls at one end began playing on the French horn and bugle, and the echoes, when not too deep to confuse the melody, were remarkably beautiful. Between the arches of the division separating the two passages, are shops, occupied by venders of fancy articles, views of the Tunnel, engravings, &c. In the middle is a small printing press, where, a sheet containing a description of the whole work is printed for those who desire it. As I was no stranger to this art, I requested the boy to let me print one myself, but he had such a bad roller I did not succeed in getting a good impression. The air within is somewhat damp, but fresh and agreeably cool, and one can scarcely realize in walking along the light passage, that a river is rolling above his head. The immense solidity and compactness of the structure precludes the danger of accident, each of the sides being arched outwards, so that the heaviest pressure only strengthens the whole. It will long remain a noble monument of human daring and ingenuity.

St. Paul's is on a scale of grandeur excelling every thing I have yet seen. The dome seems to stand in the sky, as you look up to it; the distance from which you view it, combined with the atmosphere of London, give it a dim, shadowy appearance, that perfectly startles one with its immensity. The roof from which the dome springs is itself as high as the spires of most other churches--blackened for two hundred years with the coal-smoke of London, it stands like a relic of the giant architecture of the early world. The interior is what one would expect to behold, after viewing the outside. A maze of grand arches on every side, encompasses the dome, which you gaze up at, as at the sky; and from every pillar and wall look down the marble forms of the dead. There is scarcely a vacant niche left in all this mighty hall, so many are the statues that meet one on every side. With the exceptions of John Howard, Sir Astley Cooper and Wren, whose monument is the church itself, they are all to military men. I thought if they had all been removed except Howard's, it would better have suited such a temple, and the great soul it commemorated.

I never was more impressed with the grandeur of human invention, than when ascending the dome. I could with difficulty conceive the means by which such a mighty edifice had been lifted into the air. That small frame of Sir Christopher Wren must have contained a mind capable of vast conceptions. The dome is like the summit of a mountain; so wide is the prospect, and so great the pile upon which you stand. London lay beneath us, like an ant-hill, with the black insects swarming to and fro in their long avenues, the sound of their employments coming up like the roar of the sea. A cloud of coal-smoke hung over it, through which many a pointed spire was thrust up; sometimes the wind would blow it aside for a moment, and the thousands of red roofs would shine out clearer. The bridged Thames, covered with craft of all sizes, wound beneath us like a ringed and spotted serpent. The scene was like an immense circular picture in the blue frame of the hills around.

Continuing our way up Fleet street, which, notwithstanding the gaiety of its shops and its constant bustle, has an antique appearance, we came to the Temple Bar, the western boundary of the ancient city. In the inside of the middle arch, the old gates are still standing. From this point we entered the new portion of the city, which wore an air of increasing splendor as we advanced. The appearance of the Strand and Trafalgar Square is truly magnificent. Fancy every house in Broadway a store, all built of light granite, the Park stripped of all its trees and paved with granite, and a lofty column in the centre, double the crowd and the tumult of business, and you will have some idea of the view.

It was a relief to get into St. James's Park, among the trees and flowers again. Here, beautiful winding walks led around little lakes, in which were hundreds of water-fowl, swimming. Groups of merry children were sporting on the green lawn, enjoying their privilege of roaming every where at will, while the older bipeds were confined to the regular walks. At the western end stood Buckingham Palace, looking over the trees towards St. Paul's; through the grove on the eminence above, the towers of St. James's could be seen. But there was a dim building, with two lofty square towers, decorated with a profusion of pointed Gothic pinnacles, that I looked at with more interest than these appendages of royalty. I could not linger long in its vicinity, but going back again by the Horse Guards, took the road to Westminster Abbey.

We approached by the general entrance, Poet's Corner. I hardly stopped to look at the elaborate exterior of Henry VIIth's Chapel, but passed on to the door. On entering, the first thing that met my eyes were the words, "OH RARE BEN JONSON," under his bust. Near by stood the monuments of Spenser and Gay, and a few paces further looked down the sublime countenance of Milton. Never was a spot so full of intense interest. The light was just dim enough to give it a solemn, religious appearance, making the marble forms of poets and philosophers so shadowy and impressive, that I felt as if standing in their living presence. Every step called up some mind linked with the associations of my childhood. There was the gentle feminine countenance of Thompson, and the majestic head of Dryden; Addison with his classic features, and Gray, full of the fire of lofty thought. In another chamber, I paused long before the ashes of Shakspeare; and while looking at the monument of Garrick, started to find that I stood upon his grave. What a glorious galaxy of genius is here collected--what a constellation of stars whose light is immortal! The mind is completely fettered by their spirit. Everything is forgotten but the mighty dead, who still "rule us from their urns."

The Chapel of Henry VII., which we next entered, is one of the most elaborate specimens of Gothic workmanship in the world. If the first idea of the Gothic arch sprung from observing the forms of trees, this chapel must resemble the first conceptions of that order, for the fluted columns rise up like tall trees, branching out at the top into spreading capitals covered with leaves, and supporting arches of the ceiling resembling a leafy roof.

The side-chapels are filled with tombs of knightly families, the husband and wife lying on their backs on the tombs, with their hands clasped, while their children, about the size of dolls, are kneeling around. Numberless are the Barons and Earls and Dukes, whose grim effigies stare from their tombs. In opposite chapels are the tombs of Mary and Elizabeth, and near the former that of Darnley. After having visited many of the scenes of her life, it was with no ordinary emotion that I stood by the sepulchre of Mary. How differently one looks upon it and upon that of the proud Elizabeth!

We descended to the Chapel of Edward the Confessor, within the splendid shrine of which repose his ashes. Here we were shown the chair on which the English monarchs have been crowned for several hundred years, Under the seat is the stone, brought from the Abbey of Scone, whereon the Kings of Scotland were crowned. The chair is of oak, carved and hacked over with names, and on the bottom some one has recorded his name with the fact that, he once slept in it. We sat down and rested in it without ceremony. Passing along an aisle leading to the grand hall, we saw the tomb of Aymer de Valence, a knight of the Crusades. Near here is the hall where the Knights of the order of Bath met. Over each seat their dusty banners are still hanging, each with its crest, and their armor is rusting upon the wall. It seemed like a banqueting hall of the olden time, where the knights had left their seats for a moment vacant. Entering the nave, we were lost in the wilderness of sculpture. Here stood the forms of Pitt, Fox, Burke, Sheridan and Watts, from the chisels of Chantry, Bacon and Westmacott. Further down were Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Godfrey Kneller--opposite Andre, and Paoli, the Italian, who died here in exile. How can I convey an idea of the scene? Notwithstanding all the descriptions I had read, I was totally unprepared for the reality, nor could I have anticipated the hushed and breathless interest with which I paced the dim aisles, gazing, at every step, on the last resting place of some great and familiar name. A place so sacred to all who inherit the English tongue, is worthy of a special pilgrimage across the deep. To those who are unable to visit it, a description may be interesting; but so far does it fall short of the scene itself, that if I thought it would induce a few of our wealthy idlers, or even those who, like myself, must travel with toil and privation to come hither, I would write till the pen dropped from my hand.

More than twenty grand halls of the British Museum are devoted to antiquities, and include the Elgin Marbles--the spoils of the Parthenon--the Fellows Marbles, brought from the ancient city of Xanthus, and Sir William Hamilton's collection of Italian antiquities. It was painful to see the friezes of the Parthenon, broken and defaced as they are, in such a place. Rather let them moulder to dust on the ruin from which they were torn, shining through the blue veil of the Grecian atmosphere, from the summit of the Acropolis!

The National Gallery, on Trafalgar Square, is open four days in the week, to the public. The "Raising of Lazarus," by Sebastian del Piombo, is considered the gem of the collection, but my unschooled eyes could not view it as such. It is also remarkable for having been transferred from wood to canvass, without injury. This delicate operation was accomplished by gluing the panel on which it was painted, flat on a smooth table, and planing the wood gradually away till the coat of hardened paint alone remained. A proper canvass was then prepared, covered with a strong cement, and laid on the back of the picture, which adhered firmly to it. The owner's nerves must have had a severe trial, if he had courage to watch the operation. I was enraptured with Murillo's pictures of St. John and the Holy Family. St. John is represented as a boy in the woods, fondling a lamb. It is a glorious head. The dark curls cluster around his fair brow, and his eyes seem already glowing with the fire of future inspiration. There is an innocence, a childish sweetness of expression in the countenance, which makes one love to gaze upon it. Both of these paintings wore constantly surrounded by ladies, and they certainly deserved the preference. In the rooms devoted to English artists, there are many of the finest works of West, Reynolds, Hogarth and Wilkie.

We spent a day in visiting the lungs of London, as the two grand parks have been called. From the Strand through the Regent Circus, the centre of the fashionable part of the city, we passed to Piccadilly, culling on our way to see our old friends, the Iowas. They were at the Egyptian Hall, in connexion with Catlin's Indian collection. The old braves knew us at once, particularly Blister Feet, who used often to walk a line on deck with me, at sea. Further along Piccadilly is Wellington's mansion of Apsley House, and nearly opposite it, in the corner of Hyde Park, stands the colossal statue of Achilles, cast from cannon taken at Salamanca and Vittoria. The Park resembles an open common, with here and there a grove of trees, intersected by carriage roads, it is like getting into the country again to be out on its broad, green field, with the city seen dimly around through the smoky atmosphere. We walked for a mile or two along the shady avenues and over the lawns, having a view of the princely terraces and gardens on one hand, and the gentle outline of Primrose Hill on the other. Regent's Park itself covers a space of nearly four hundred acres!

But if London is unsurpassed in splendor, it has also its corresponding share of crime. Notwithstanding the large and efficient body of police, who do much towards the control of vice, one sees enough of degradation and brutality in a short time, to make his heart sick. Even the public thorough fares are thronged at night with characters of the lowest description, and it is not expedient to go through many of the narrow bye-haunts of the old city in the day-time. The police, who are ever on the watch, immediately seize and carry off any offender, but from the statements of persons who have had an opportunity of observing, as well as from my own slight experience, I am convinced that there is an untold amount of misery and crime. London is one of the wonders of the world, but there is reason to believe it is one of the curses of the world also; though, in fact, nothing but an active and unceasing philanthropy can prevent any city from becoming so.


Aug. 22.


I have now been six days in London, and by making good use of my feet and eyes, have managed to become familiar with almost every object of interest within its precincts. Having a plan mapped out for the day, I started from my humble lodgings at the Aldgate Coffee House, where I slept off fatigue for a shilling a night, and walked up Cheapside or down Whitechapel, as the case might be, hunting out my way to churches, halls and theatres. In this way, at a trifling expense, I have perhaps seen as much as many who spend here double the time and ten times the money. Our whole tour from Liverpool hither, by way of Ireland and Scotland, cost us but twenty-five dollars each! although, except in one or two cases, we denied ourselves no necessary comfort. This shows that the glorious privilege of looking on the scenes of the old world need not be confined to people of wealth and leisure. It may be enjoyed by all who can occasionally forego a little bodily comfort for the sake of mental and spiritual gain. We leave this afternoon for Dover. Tomorrow I shall dine in Belgium!


Bayard Taylor