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MORE ABOUT LONDON.
COW long did you stay in London?” said I, the other day,
to my fellow-passenger on the Bothnia, Mr. McNally, of Rand, McNally & Co., of Chicago. “Two weeks,” he replied, “which was a week too long."
This little conversation was held in Paris, and it expresses the sentiment of nearly every American — after he has seen Paris. In what may be termed attractiveness, it is true that Paris maintains an immense superiority over London. The difference is as great as that between a factory and a theater. If you wish to be delighted and amused, go to Paris; if you wish to be instructed, go to London.
The "great sights" of London are nearly the same that they were fifty years ago. In my earliest youth I heard of the Tower, of Westminster Abbey, of St. Paul's, of the Zoölogical Gardens; and they are to-day, as they were in that remote period, the first things seen by every visitor. They have been so often described, that their appearance is familiar to every American — it only remains for me to give personal impressions.
I came upon Westminster Abbey the first day I spent in London, quite unexpectedly, and I was powerfully impressed by the gloomy majesty of its exterior. Those two great towers seemed to represent art defying time. Nothing can be grander in its way than the great Abbey. It strikes you, it seems to me, in the same way that the Yosemite does, or, to use a humbler simile, one of the great trees of California.
I visited the Abbey three times; once on Sunday, to hear Dean Stanley preach, in which attempt I was unsuccessful. At a short distance from the preacher, but hidden behind one of the great clustered columns, it was impossible to catch a word or syllable. In each of these visits I may as well confess the truth – I was disappointed. The interior of the Abbey, cut up into chapels, lacks the imposing dignity of the exterior; many of the monuments are in outrageous taste — many are defaced by time, and the appearance of everything is rusty and dusty. The great names that adorn the walls are the real glory of the Abbey. Take them away, and you might as well raze the building to the ground, for all the interest it would possess to a foreign visitor.
As an American, I was desirous of seeing the monument of General Wolfe, who fell on the Heights of Abraham. I found a huge pile of allegorical figures, in the midst of which, Wolfe was depicted naked –in the same style that Nelson appears in a bronze horror at Liverpool. In my experience, I have never known a major general to go into action in that light array; and I can conceive of no reason why any officer of any army or navy should be thus represented on a monument. Every American looks at the monument of the ill-fated Major Andre. It at first seems strange how fame preserves some comparatively humble
Andre was a young man, only a major in rank, and died (justly, I think) as a spy; yet I have looked with emotion upon memorials of him in two continents — at Philadelphia and at London. But then, he was young, brave, handsome and unfortunate - a combination that is not so easily forgotten in this world. Another monument that attracts trans-Atlantic attention, is that of Oliver Goldsmith, whose name has been made near and dear to us by the beautiful biography by Irving. His monument is disfigured by a Latin inscription, written, in spite of a protest, by that lumbering old pedant, Dr. Johnson. All that Latin is lost to the ordinary visitor, whose heart is stirred by four English words on another monument —“O, rare Ben Jonson.” In the shadow of the Temple church, in the heart of London town, there is the real monument -a flat, low-lying slab, on which you may read the words, “Here lies Oliver Goldsmith.”
Most of the modern monuments in the Abbey are plain but elegant in design. This description applies particularly to the monument to Sir John Franklin.
A very touching custom in the Abbey, and elsewhere in England, is that of hanging over the resting-places of soldiers the faded flags of their regiments. In the dim light, unstirred by any passing breath of air, covered with gathering dust, faded and worn, these banners hang as if they, too, were dead; as if life had departed from them, too, when it left the brave arms that could no longer defend them.
I would advise the visitor oppressed by the memories evoked by the Abbey, to visit the Houses of Parliament, close at hand. This great edifice is modern, and harmonious and beautiful throughout. The House of Lords is the finest room I have ever seen, or expect to see. Ninety feet long, forty-five feet wide, and high in proportion, its symmetry is perfect. Unlike our halls of Congress, it is admirably ventilated, and the air is as pure and sweet as that of spring in the country.
A curious compromise is seen in the paintings in one of the corridors. On one side are three pictures portraying the valor of the Cavaliers; on the other side are three scenes from the history of the Puritans. One of these represents the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers for America
-one of the very few artistic recognitions of the fact that the American Colonies were once “the brightest jewel of the crown.”
The Tower of London must of course be visited -- but the place smells of innocent blood. It is a dreadful thing to look upon a block scored by the ax, where men were beheaded only a few years before our own Revolution. A certain brass plate sickened me more than all the wax horrors of Madame Tussaud's exhibition, for it marked the spot where stood the scaffold on which the slender necks of women were severed by the brutal ax; where the Countess of Salisbury was dragged by her gray hair to the block — for so perished the last of the Plantagenets. The redeeming feature of the Tower is the beautiful arrangement of the modern arms, and the devices formed of old bayonets, sabers, cutlasses, and the like. One of these, representing the Prince of Wales's wedding cake, is a miracle of ingenuity. Speaking of cakes, the cake-baker to the royal family of England heats his royal oven at Chester. Then, of course, every one looks at the regalia-room, where the royal crowns, scepters, swords, etc., are kept. Looking at the splendid crowns, one cannot help wondering at the poor quality of the heads they usually cover.
I would advise every visitor to London to make much of the British Museum. It is in a gloomy building on a side street, but it is a constantly-growing wonder. I would advise reading people who
to stop in London to obtain access to the library, which contains over one million volumes, any one of which will be handed you inside of ten minutes from the application. The great circular room occupied by readers is a beautiful place, and all the arrangements for reading and writing are perfect. There are many thousands of volumes which you can take from the shelves yourself—and if others are needed, the attendants are uniformly polite and intelligent. A "liberal” education could be acquired in the British Museum alone. It is an art school, already. Many young persons may be seen copying the antique statues. The young ladies thus engaged were the prettiest I saw in England, and several of them were so handsome that they abundantly justified the necessity of the posted notices, “Visitors are requested not to crowd around the students."
In Paris all public rooms and buildings are bright with frescoes, mirrors and gilding, while the walls of the British Museum are as plain as those of a Quaker meeting-house. A long step in the direction of the ornamental has been made in the South Kensington Museum, which is really a beautiful place. I was most interested there in the manuscripts of Dickens's books. I thought I saw a growing change, running through the successive volumes. In “Oliver Twist,” the handwriting was bold, full and free, while "A Tale of Two Cities” was blotted, and full of interlineations and changes. The man's mind was wearing out.
The old “city” of London is the gloomiest place on earth. With the exception of St. Paul's, there is nothing that is not either positively, comparatively or superlatively ugly. The monument "in honor" of the great fire, is situated in a sort of hole. The top is surrounded by a railing, put there to check a growing furor for jumping off (at which I do not wonder much), and the bottom is covered with inscriptions, stating that you can