WESTMINSTER ABBEY. (Page 376.)
THE Plate contains a view of the north side of this noble specimen of Gothic, or rather Saracenic, architecture; for, as Sir Christopher Wren justly observes*, "The Goths were rather destroyers than builders, whereas the Saracens wanted neither arts nor learning: and after we, in the west, had lost both, we borrowed again from them, out of their Arabic books, what they, with great diligence, had translated from the Greeks."
The present structure was begun by King Henry the Third, who pulled down the old Saxon pile. It was however far from finished in his life-time; the great tower and two western towers remaining incomplete at the Reformation; after which the two present towers arose; but they were left extremely imperfect, one being much higher than the other, until Sir Christopher Wren perfected them in their present elegant form.
It is much to be lamented that the Norman architects, who were originally employed in building this beautiful structure, chose a species of Caen stone, which is more beautiful than durable, and so extremely tender that the finer ornaments are speedily destroyed by the weather. When Sir Christopher Wren made his survey, in order to complete the whole structure upon a regular plan, he found the stone decayed four inches deep; and his first care therefore was to cut away all the ragged stone, and supply it with better. The great north window, commonly called the Rose Window, seen in the Plate, he entirely rebuilt of Portland stone, to answer to the south Rose Window, and restored it to its proper shape: but his design of building a tower over the centre of the cross, which would have finally completed the whole structure according to the plan of the original architect, has never been executed.
This magnificent pile was formerly adorned on the outside with the statues or figures of those Princes who had contributed to the building; they were placed in niches cut in the buttresses, but few of them now remain. The windows were also formerly all of painted glass, but some only remain at the east and west ends. In the south-west window is the portrait of Edward the Confessor, with his arms. The paintings with which the walls were formerly adorned are now defaced, or obscured by the numerous monuments which, as Mr. Pennant observes, "furnish materials for an excellent lecture upon the progress of these efforts of human skill, from the simple altar tomb to the most ostentatious proofs of human vanity."
On the left of the Plate is seen the tower of St. Margaret's church. It was built in the time of Edward the Fourth; and in 1735 the tower was cased, and the whole almost rebuilt, at the expense of 3, 5001. granted by Parliament, it being the church in which the House of Commons attend divine worship. In this church are deposited the remains of the ill-fated Sir Walter Raleigh, who was interred here the day on which he was beheaded in Old Palace-yard. It was left to a sensible churchwarden to record the fact, who inscribed it on a board about fifty years ago. The east window, of fine painted glass, is particularly worthy of notice, being a beautiful composition of figures. The principal subject is the Crucifixion. In a compartment on one side is Henry the Sixth kneeling, and above him his patron St. George; on the other is his queen, and above her St. Catherine.
The Dean and Chapter of Westminster, with the most laudable spirit, have very recently given directions to pull down a number of old ruinous houses which totally obscured the north side of Henry the Seventh's chapel, and part of the east end of the Abbey. These disgraceful incumbrances were loudly complained of by Sir Christopher Wren, but their total demolition was reserved for the present day.
The total length of the Abbey within the walls is 489 feet, and the height of the middle roof is 92 feet.
* Parentalia, p. 297.