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Removal of the Screen at York Minster.
not that which it originally occupied."— (Mr. Morritt, "No, no.")-His Lordship owned, if it was made out that this was the original and constant position of the Screen, and if it was also proved that this was the position of screens in all existing cathedrals, still if it could be proved to him that neither the stability of the fabric, nor its utility for public worship, would be endangered-and it appeared they would nothe said if this could be shewn, and it could be shewn too that the general appearance would be improved, he should say let it be removed. (Applause, and cries of, No, no.) Mr. Morritt talked of the destruction of the Screen; but who thought of such a thing? It would merely be removed to a place where it would stand in ALMOST as good a light, and in BETTER PROPORTIONS. (Hear, and applause.) If the Screen was brought into competition with the general effect of the pillars and the great tower, its minuter beauties must give way, if it were even to be demolished entirely, instead of being removed further back 30 feet. He should say the same if the beauty of the Screen were ten times greater than it were, if its materials were ten times richer, if all its statues were the work of Phidias or of Chantrey. Take a stranger to the Minsterand, after all, first impressions were most decisive in questions of taste-and which would he have his attention rivetted by, the beautiful littleness of the Screen, or the bold and magnificent columns, the vast and springing arches of the lantern tower? For himself, he must always prefer the awfully vast to the elegantly little."-This is the kind of feeling and taste which is to decide the fate of an ancient cathedral!
George Strickland, Esq. combatted his Lordship's arguments. He grappled at once with the bad taste of the proposed alteration. He thought that the want of ornament and high finish in the interior of the Minster was obviated by the elaborate Screen which was placed in the centre, in the full blaze of light, and took away that feeling of voidness which must meet the eye, if it had nothing to rest upon but naked walls, and bare pillars. (Loud applause.) Then what constituted the charm of that magnificent choir, which was totally unequalled in any part of the world. (Hear.) What was it but, to use the language of the immortal Milton, "the long-drawn aisle," where was seen pillar after pillar, and arch after arch, in the vast perspective, till the eye rested upon the magnificent and gorgeous east window? (Applause.) If this innovation be carried, what will be the effect? Can we then stand at the foot of the lantern tower and see at one view all the beauties of the choir? No, it will be broken; it will be two; it will not be one! (Applause.) He thought it impossible to pass over the question of pledges. He was present at the first meeting in Lon
don. At that meeting strong disapprobation was expressed at the hasty manner in which Mr. Smirke had been placed over the heads of the admirable workmen who had hitherto conducted the repairs of York Minster with such credit, such immortal credit to themselves; so much so, that when other cathedrals wanted repairing, it was considered that they could not be properly done unless some of those workmen were sent for. (Hear.) At that meeting the Dean, and all who spoke on the part of the Chapter, spoke only of perfect restoration; and the meeting was particularly congratulated upon the fact that the Screen was so little injured, and that so small a part of the subscriptions would be required for its reparation. (Hear, hear.) Then came the meeting which was held in this room on the 5th of March, 1829; previous to which a report had been drawn up by Mr. Smirke, in which he says, "it appears to me on every account most desirable, that the work should be re-constructed in every part with materials of the same durable quality as those employed in the original construction of the fabric; and that the same design, in all the ancient ornamental parts, should be strictly adhered to, as far as it can be ascertained." He hoped that the report which had gone abroad was totally false, that the ornamental parts of the roof were made of the cheap American pine, the softest, the cheapest, and the most worthless of all wood. This report was published in a pamphlet, and along with it a speech delivered by Mr. Vernon, in which he stated, that "the Dean and Chapter entirely concurred in the principles of absolute and perfect restoration which Mr. Smirke had recommended." There was an absolute feeling of delight at this second declaration; and at the reflection that the persons in whom the management of the money was vested, had now bound themselves by pledges which they could not depart from. The subscriptions poured in; and the munificent sum of between 50 and 60,000l. was soon raised. Now, although Mr. Vernon might not consider himself bound by this pledge, nor by the decision of the meeting, yet he would state what the law was on the subject. It was, that if money was subscribed for any particular object, and if the person into whose hands that money comes use it for any other object whatever, then the subscribers are entitled to recover their money back again. Or there was another mode. If a design was manifested to make use of money so subscribed in such an improper manner, the subscribers might apply for an injunction to prevent it being gone on with. (Hear.) No decision of a majority of the meeting in favour of a removal of the Screen could bind the minority in the face of those pledges; and himself, and the subscribers who thought with him, were bound not to give
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.
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.
"Dull is the eye that would not weep to see The walls defaced, the mouldering shrines remov'd [hov'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 reparation of this noble and venerable
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 dis. cussion which I will submit to the meeting now. 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 innovatiou 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,
For Mr. Scott's Amendment...119 For the Original Resolution... 92 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
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.
Removal of the Screen at York Minster.
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 then, amidst loud cries of "shame," gave out the numbers as follows:
Present. For Mr. Scott's Amendment 119
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.
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 and 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 ancient features, for none but the ancient forms and ornaments were ever admired, or alluded to in the first report, or otherwise. But restitution is not the question on which so
"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 coutrary), 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 6 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 leathened 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
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 coupd'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."
Removal of the Screen at York Minster.
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.
"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 ancient churches in support of their measure, but they gave no proofs of their researches 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 from the nave to the eastern pillars
"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."
+ 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!*