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THE CURSE OF "RESTORATION
had not any representative in the world!" No respect was paid to the artistic genius of the old iron-workers or to the skill of the mediaeval mason.
There is more beauty in the work of a great genius who is ignorant of all the rules of art, than in that of a little genius who not only knows, but scrupulously observes them; and whilst the restorers knew, or were supposed to know, the various styles, they entirely failed to realize that in destroying features which they considered incongruous they were obliterating the record of continuity which connected the past with the present.
There has been no such artistic curse as "Restoration" since the days of Cromwell; without doubt it has done more harm to the churches than his troopers, rough and brutal as they seem to have been.
In the Sixties of the last century one of the four pinnacles of the tower of the restored church at Withernsea was blown down. A parish meeting was called to determine upon the best course to be taken in consequence of this disaster. There was a long and an animated discussion; and ultimately it was resolved, "That the three pinnacles still standing should be taken down!" This church, it should be added, had only been restored three or four years before.
The careless way in which church restoration was conducted during Victorian times was little short of a scandal.
At Hanbury, near Burton-on-Trent, for instance,
on the completion of the restoration of the church, the workmen employed obtained permission to sound the bells in honour of the architect. One of them, by way of a practical joke, thinking to deaden the sound, suddenly clasped his legs around one of the bells at the moment when his comrade struck it. He succeeded beyond his wishes; for the bell cracked on receiving the blow, and had to be recast.
Small reverence was shown for memorials of the past. In one case a clergyman went so far as to pave his coach-house with fine old tombstones torn up to make way for the encaustic tiling so dear to the restorer's heart.
In their zeal to substitute sham Victorian Gothic for fine Jacobean and Georgian work, the restorers, besides destroying much priceless woodwork, robbed hundreds of grey old churches of their ancient charm. Even when they were fairly judicious the result was rarely satisfactory; for whilst the outward form was destroyed the inward spirit, which had animated the old builders, was generally lost.
You may spend enormous sums in the erection of buildings in the style of a long-past age, nevertheless there is little charm in architectural structures, of which we have seen the stones placed one by one, comparable to the charm of ancient monuments, filled with memorials of a chivalry long passed away.
The craze for renovation in some cases reached a quite ridiculous pitch. A conspicuous instance was that of a generous though indiscriminating lady who
QUAINT OLD CUSTOMS
became really annoyed because (though she offered to pay all expenses) she was not allowed to make a level lawn round an old village church, serious objections being raised to the obliteration of the humble mounds marking the last resting-places of the rude forefathers of the hamlet, whose untidiness offended her fastidious eye.
In addition to the mere æsthetic loss, it is more than doubtful whether the restoration mania did not harm the Church of England in rural districts. Those who knew the old-fashioned rustics must be more than half inclined to think that numbers of them were driven into the ranks of the Dissenters by what seemed to them the new-fangled arrangements introduced into the village churches where their forebears had worshipped for generations past.
The old-fashioned services of that day would seem strange to the present generation. How quaint were the prayers which had to be said in commemoration of the Gunpowder Plot, the Martyrdom of Charles I, and the restoration of Charles II. In January of 1859, rather needlessly, I think, a Royal warrant abolished the use of all these services, and ordered them to be eliminated from the Prayer Book.
Curious old ways and customs prevailed in many churches; for instance, within the memory of people alive fifty years ago, the congregation in the parish church of Kingston-upon-Thames were accustomed to crack nuts during Divine Service, on the Sunday before the eve of St. Michael's Day (29th September).
Young folks and old alike joined in the cracking; and the custom is thought to have had some connexion with the choosing of the Corporation officers on Michaelmas Day, and of the annual feast attending it. Still, the oddity was not peculiar to Kingston; for Goldsmith makes his Vicar of Wakefield say of his parishioners: "They kept up the Christmas carol, sent true-love knots on Valentine morning, ate pancakes at Shrove-tide, showed their wit on the 1st of April, and religiously cracked nuts on Michaelmas Eve."
Many clergymen then hunted; not a few were very unorthodox in their ways. In dress, however, then as now, black was the colour which they usually affected. From Luther is it that the clergy have derived this tint?
When, in 1524, he laid aside the monk's costume, and dressed according to the fashion of the world, he chose black clothes. His reason for choosing this colour was: the Elector of Saxony took an interest in him, and occasionally sent him a piece of black cloth, which at that time was in fashion at Court. Luther's scholars thought it became them to wear the same colour as their master, and since then black has been the colour mostly worn by the clergy.
Many of the old country parsons were very bluff and blunt. One whose peculiarities of preaching were proverbial, and who was blessed with a temper of great value, was one day told by a parishioner
OTHER MEN'S BRAINS
that he did not like his sermons. "Well," said the old man, "I don't wonder at it; I don't like 'em myself."
Others, well aware of their shortcomings, made little secret of the fact that they were in the habit of purchasing their sermons. Some, however, tried to pass off the product of other men's brains as their own.
A divine, celebrated for his powers as a preacher, was once astounded to hear one of his own published sermons delivered in an obscure village. At the close of the service he accosted the clergyman, and said:
"That was a fair sermon. How long did it take you to write it?"
"Oh, I tossed it off one evening when I had leisure," was the reply.
"Indeed, it took me much longer than that to think out the very framework of the sermon." "Then I suppose I am speaking to the writer?" "Yes," was the reply.
"Well, then," said the unabashed preacher, "all that I have to say is, that I am not ashamed to preach one of your sermons anywhere."
"Look at him," whispered a wag whilst another clergyman whose sermon was one long string of unacknowledged and barefaced plagiarisms was preaching, "I declare his very whiskers are curving into inverted commas."
Bought or original, I fear the sermons made little