The great religious house which had grown up thus with England, continued its great career right through the Middle Ages, about forty nuns serving there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, though this number had dwindled to twenty-three at the time of the Surrender in 1539. How this surrender was made we do not know; but whether with or without trouble the result was the same, the great convent was utterly destroyed. Many of the lands passed to Sir Thomas Seymour, and the people of Romsey, who had always had a right to the north aisle of the church, which indeed they enlarged at their own expense in 1403, bought the whole from the Crown, for one hundred pounds, in 1554.
I have said that there was undoubtedly a great Saxon church here, where the Norman Abbey of Romsey now stands, and part of the foundations of this great building were discovered in 1900. That building, founded by Edward the Elder, rebuilt by Edgar and restored by Canute, stood till the building of the present church in 1125. The older part of this building (1125-1150) is to the east of the nave, and consists of sanctuary and transepts: the nave was begun towards the end of the twelfth century, the church being finished in the beginning of the thirteenth. The church is cruciform, two hundred and sixty-three feet long and one hundred and thirty-one wide; it consists of a great sanctuary with aisles ending in chapels, square without, apsidal within, wide transepts each having an eastern apsidal chapel, nave with aisles, and over the crossing a low tower which was once higher, having now a seventeenth century polygonal belfry. To the east of the sanctuary stood two long chapels destroyed since the Suppression. We have here, as I have said, one of the most glorious Norman buildings in the world, Norman work which at the western end passes into the most delightful Early English. The cloister stood to the south of the nave, to the north stood of old the parish church, growing out of the north aisle as it were, built so in 1403. This has been destroyed and the north aisle wall has been rebuilt as in 1150.
The church possesses more than one thing of great interest. The old high-altar stone is still in existence, and is now used as the communion table. In the south transept is a fine thirteenth century effigy of a lady, carved in purbeck. At the end of the south aisle of the choir is a remarkable stone Crucifix that evidently belonged to the old Saxon church; about the Cross stand Our Lady, St John and the Roman soldiers, above are angels. A later Rood is to be seen in the eastern wall of the old cloister which abutted on to the transept; this dates from the twelfth century. In the north aisle of the choir is a very fine painting which used to stand above the high altar in Catholic times. There we see still the Resurrection of Our Lord with two angels, above are ten saints, among them St Benedict and St Scholastica, St Gregory, St Augustine of Canterbury, St Francis and St Clare. This fine work, which of old showed, above, Christ in Glory, is of the end of the fourteenth century.
Now when you have seen Romsey Abbey thus as it were with the head; then is the time to begin to get it by heart. In all South England you may find no greater glory than this, nor one more entirely our very own, at least our own as we were but yesterday. It may be that such a place as Romsey Abbey means nothing to us and can never mean anything again. But I'll not believe it. For to think so is to despair of England, to realise that England of my heart has really passed away.
There are two ways by which a man may go from Romsey, in the valley of the Test to Winchester, in the valley of the Itchen. The more beautiful, for it gives you, if you will, not only Otterbourne, Shawford and Compton to the west of the stream, but Twyford to the east, the Queen of Hampshire villages, is that which makes for the Roman road between Winchester and Southampton, and following up the valley of the Itchen enters Winchester at last, by the South Gate, after passing St Cross in the meads. The shorter road, though far less lovely, is in some ways the more interesting; for it passes Merdon Castle and Hursley, where the son of Oliver Cromwell lies, and for this cause I preferred it.
Merdon Castle, of which some few scanty ruins remain, was built by the Bishop Henry of Blois about 1138, and no doubt it served its purpose in the anarchy of Stephen's time, but thereafter it seems to have become rather a palace than a fortress. The manor of Merdon had always belonged to the See of Winchester, it is said, since 636, when it was granted to the Bishop by King Kinegils. It remained with the Bishopric until the Reformation, when it was granted to Sir Philip Hoby to be restored to the Church by Queen Mary, and then again regranted to the Hoby family about 1559. The manor had passed, however, by 1638 to Richard Major, a miser and a tyrant, who "usurped authority over his tentant" and more especially, for he was a fanatic Roundhead, "when King Charles was put to death and Oliver Cromwell was Protector of England and Richard Major of his Privy Council, and Noll's eldest son, Richard, was married to Mr Major's Doll." Thus Merdon came into the Cromwell family, another piece of Church property upon which that very typical sixteenth-century family had already grown exceedingly wealthy. Richard Cromwell (as he called himself) lived at Merdon a good deal, till he succeeded his father in the usurped governance of England. But when he was turned out in 1660 he found it safer to return to Merdon, but only for a little while, France offering him, as he wisely thought, a more secure asylum, not only from a charge of High Treason, but from his creditors. While he was abroad, we learn he went under another name; not a new experience for one of his family, which seems to have had no legitimate name of its own, its members, Oliver amongst them, signing in important personal matters such as getting hold of the dowries of their wives, "Williams alias Cromwell." It would, therefore, be interesting to know under what alias this latest descendant of the infamous minister of Henry VIII. corresponded with the wife and family he had left at Merdon. He did not return to Merdon till 1705, upon the death of his son Oliver. His wife had died in 1676, and his time was soon to come. He died at Cheshunt in 1712, and was buried with considerable pomp in Hursley church, where we may still see his monument, moved from the old church and re-erected in that built by the efforts of John Keble, vicar of this parish for thirty years, from 1836 to 1866.
And so considering all these strange things I went on to Winchester.
I do not know what it is that moves me so deeply in the old cities of Southern England, in Canterbury, Rochester, Chichester, most of all, perhaps, in Winchester, unless it be that they sum up in a way nothing else can do the England that is surely and irrevocably passing away. How reverently we approach them, with what hesitation and misgiving we try to express what we feel about them! They are indeed the sanctuaries of England, sanctuaries in which it is wiser to pray than to exult, since their beauty and antiquity, their repose and quietness, fill us with an extraordinary uneasiness and amazement, a kind of nostalgia which nothing really our own can satisfy. For if Winchester appeals to us as the symbol of England, it is not the England of our day for which she stands. Let Manchester or Sheffield stand for that, places so unquiet, so meanly wretched and hopeless, that no one has ever thought of them without a kind of fear and misery. Alas, they are the reality, while Winchester gradually fades year by year into a mere dream city, as it were Camelot indeed, too good to be true, established, if at all, rather in the clouds, or in our hearts, than upon the earth we tread. And if in truth she stands for something that was once our own, it is for something we are gradually leaving behind us, discarding and forgetting, something that after four centuries of disputation and anarchy no man any longer believes capable of realisation here and now. Yet Winchester endures in her beauty, her now so precarious loveliness, and while she endures it is still possible to refuse to despair of England. For she is co-eval with us; before we knew ourselves or were aware of our destiny she stood beside the Itchen within the shadow of her hills east and west, in the meads and the water meadows. She saw the advent of the Roman, she claims to be Arthur's chief city, as later she was the throne of the Saxon kings; in her council chamber England was first named England.
Of what indeed she was before the Romans came and drew us within their great administration, we are largely ignorant; but we know that they established here a town of considerable importance, which they called Venta Belgarum, larger than Silchester, if we may believe that the mediaeval walls stand upon Roman foundations, and certainly a centre of Roman administrative life. Four Roman roads undoubtedly found in her their goal and terminus, coming into her Forum from Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum) upon the west, from Calleva (Silchester) upon the north, from Porchester upon the south, and from Clausentum upon the south-west. Her chief Temple in Roman times, before the advent of Christianity, was that of Apollo, which is said to have occupied the site of the Cathedral, close by was the Temple of Concord, while it is impossible to believe that a town so plentifully supplied by nature with water was without considerable baths. Legend has it indeed that Winchester was the capital of the King Lucius, who is said in the second century to have introduced Christianity into Britain. The first Christian church, which he erected, traditionally stood upon the site of the Cathedral. But alas, Lucius is a myth, his cathedral a church never built with hands. We know nothing of any Christian church in Roman Winchester, and though we may be sure that such a building certainly existed, no excavation has so far laid bare its foundations. Indeed we are almost as ignorant of Roman as we are of Celtic Winchester. Even the lines of its walls are conjectural, we suppose them to be the same as those of the Middle Age, yet such foundations of Roman buildings as have been discovered, lie not only within an area much more restricted than that which the mediaeval walls enclosed, but in certain instances outside them. No discoveries of Roman foundations have been made to the north of the High Street. This fact, however, formidable though it be, does not of itself prove that the Roman walls did not coincide with the mediaeval fortifications; it is even probable that they did, except at the south-west corner, where stood the mediaeval castle. In any case, the Roman walls, built we may think in the fourth century, enclosed an irregular quadrilateral, and possessed four gates out of which issued those four roads to Old Sarum, to Silchester, to Clausentum and to Porchester.
In the beginning of the fifth century the Roman administration which had long been failing, to which one may think the building of those walls bears witness, collapsed altogether, and with the final departure of the Legions full of our youth and strength, Britain was left defenceless. What happened to Winchester in the appalling confusion which followed, we shall never know. It is said that in 495, three generations that is to say after the departure of the Legions for the defence of Rome, Cerdic and his son, Cymric, landed upon the southern coast, and presently seized Winchester within whose broken walls they established themselves. In the year 519, according to the "Saxon Chronicle," "Cerdic and Cymric obtained the kingdom of the West Saxons; and the same year they fought against the Britons where it is now named Cerdicsford. And from that time forth the royal offspring of the West Saxons reigned." That is all we know about it, and it is not enough upon which to build an historical narrative or from which to draw any clear idea even of what befell. All we can say with any sort of certainty is that the Saxons, through long years of probably spasmodic fighting, very gradually established themselves in southern England, and out of it carved a dominion, the kingdom of Wessex, whose capital was Winchester. Until the year 635 this kingdom, such as it was, was pagan. In that year St Birinus converted the West Saxons and their King Kynegils to Christianity. Though Kynegils seems immediately to have begun to build a church in Winchester in which he established monks and endowed it with the whole of the land for a space of seven miles round the city, Winchester did not become an episcopal See until the year 662. Till then, Dorchester in the Thames Valley had been the seat of the Bishop of Wessex, but in that year Kynewalch, the son and successor of Kynegils, completed the church of Winchester, in which he had been crowned, and his father buried, as for the most part were their successors, and there he established a bishop.
It was now that Winchester began her great career. She rose with the fortunes of the Wessex kingdom until, in the time of Egbert, she appears as the capital of the new kingdom of England which is so named, and for the first time in her witan.
The com kyng Egbryth Ant wyth batyle ant fyht Made al Englond yhol Falle to ys oune dol; Ant sethe he reignede her Ahte ant tuenti folle yer: At Wynchestre lyggeth ys bon, Buried in a marble-ston.
Egbert triumphed and established England none too soon. As early as the year 787, according to the "Saxon Chronicle," "ships of the Northmen" had reached our southern coasts, and Egbert had scarcely named his new kingdom when they imperilled it. His son, Ethelwulf, who came to his throne in 836, was to see Winchester itself stormed before the invaders were beaten off; but beaten off they were, and it was in Winchester that Alfred was to reign, to give forth his laws and to plan his campaigns against the same enemy. He was victorious, as we know, and at Ethandune not only broke his pagan foes, but dragged Guthrum, their leader, to baptism. And in his capital he made and kept the only record we have of the Dark Ages in England, the "Saxon Chronicle," begun in Wolvesey Palace; founded the famous nunnery of St Mary to the north-east of the Cathedral in the meads; and provided for the foundation, by Edward his son, of the great New Minster close by, where his bones at last were to be laid. The three great churches with their attendant buildings must have been the noblest group to be seen in the England of that day. Thus Winchester flourished more than ever secure in its position as capital, so that Athelstan, we read, established there six mints, and Edgar, reigning there, made "Winchester measure" the standard for the whole kingdom: "and let one money pass throughout the king's dominions, and let no man refuse; and let one measure and one weight pass, such as is observed at London and Winchester."
Such was Winchester at the beginning of the ninth century; before the end of that century she was to suffer violence from the Danes; and in the first years of the tenth century to fall with the rest of England into their absolute power, and to see a Danish king, Canute, crowned in her Cathedral. There, too, at last, that Danish king was buried. He was a generous conqueror, and a great benefactor to his capital, and with him passes much of the splendour of Winchester. Edward the Confessor, though hallowed at Winchester, looked upon London as his capital and there built the great abbey which was thenceforth to see the crowning of England's kings. For St Edward was at heart a Norman, and Winchester, beside summing up in itself all the splendour of pre-Norman England, had been given by Ethelred to the widow of Canute, Emma, the mother of St Edward. She allied herself with the great Earl Godwin to oppose the Norman influence which St Edward had brought into England, and it was only when she died that the king came again into Winchester for Easter, and to hold a solemn court. During that Easter week Earl Godwin died, and was buried in the Cathedral. He was the last champion of Saxon England to lie there.
Nothing marks the change that England had passed through during the first half of the eleventh century more certainly than the fact that William Duke of Normandy was crowned King of England, not in the old Minster of Winchester but in that of St Peter, Westminster, which Pope Nicholas II. in King Edward's time had constituted as the place of the inauguration of the kings of England. It is true that William was later crowned again in Winchester, as were Stephen and Coeur de Lion, but the fact remains that from the time of William the Conqueror down to our own day, as the Papal Bull had ordered, Westminster and not Winchester has been the coronation church of our kings. This Bull marks, as it were, the beginning of the decline of Winchester. Little by little, in the following centuries, it was to cease to be the capital of England. Little by little London was to take its place, a thing finally achieved by Edward I., when he removed the royal residence from Winchester.
Norman Winchester was, however, by no means less splendid than had been the old capital of the Saxon kings. There Domesday Book was compiled, and there it was kept in the Treasury of the Norman kings, and the only name which it gives itself is that of the "Book of Winchester." There the great Fair of St Giles was established by the Conqueror, which attracted merchants from every part of Europe, and there in 1079 Bishop Walkelin began, from the foundations, a new cathedral church completed in 1093, of which the mighty transepts still remain. In 1109 the monks of New Minster, which had suffered greatly from fire and mismanagement, removed to a great new house without the walls upon the north, and since this new site was called Hyde Meads, New Minster was thenceforth known as the Abbey of Hyde; and certainly after the fire in 1141, if not before, the great Benedictine Nunnery of St Mary was rebuilt.
As for the Castle of Wolvesey, Bishop Henry of Blois rebuilt it in 1138. It was indeed in his time that Winchester suffered the most disastrous of all its sieges, as we may believe, and this at the hands of the Empress Matilda in 1141. The greater part of the city is then said to have been destroyed; the new Abbey of Hyde was burned down not to be rebuilt till 1182; the old Nunnery of St Mary was destroyed also by fire; and we are told of more than forty churches which then perished. "Combustibles were hurled from the Bishop's Castle," William of Malmesbury tells us, "in the houses of the townspeople, who, as I have said, rather wished success to the empress than to the bishop, which caught and burned the whole abbey of nuns within the city and the monastery which is called Hyde without the walls. Here was an image of Our Lord crucified, wrought with a profusion of gold and silver and precious stones, through the pious solicitude of Canute, who was formerly king and presented it. This being seized by the flames and thrown to the ground was afterwards stripped of its ornaments at the command of the Legate himself; more than five hundred marks of silver and thirty of gold, which were found in it, served for a largess to the soldiers."
It would, perhaps, be untrue to say that Winchester never really recovered from the appalling sack and pillage which followed the flight of Matilda; but it is true to assert that time was fighting against her, and that the thirteenth century did not bring the splendid gifts to her that it brought to so many of our cities. One great ceremony, the last of its kind, however, took place in her Cathedral in 1194; the second coronation of Coeur de Lion. "Then King Richard," we read, "being clothed in his royal robes, with the crown upon his head, holding in his right hand a royal sceptre which terminated in a cross, and in his left hand a golden wand with the figure of a dove at the top of it, came forth from his apartment in the priory, being conducted on the right hand by the Bishop of Ely, his Chancellor, and on the left by the Bishop of London. ... The silken canopy was held on four lances over the King by four Earls. ... The King being thus conducted into the Cathedral and up to the High Altar, there fell upon his knees, and devoutly received the archbishop's solemn benediction. He was then led to the throne, which was prepared for him, on the south side of the choir. ... When Mass was finished the King was led back to his apartments with the solemnities aforesaid. He then laid aside his robes and crown, put on other robes and a crown that were much lighter, and so proceeded to dinner, which was served in the monks' refectory."
Winchester's next glory was the birth of Henry III., known to the day of his death as Henry of Winchester—this in 1207. In 1213 the city was the scene of the reconciliation of King John and Archbishop Stephen, but in 1265 she was sacked by the younger de Montfort, and this seems finally to have achieved her overthrow. When Edward I. came to the throne in 1272 he abandoned Winchester. The city never regained its place, London was too strong for it both geographically and economically. Its trade, which remained very considerable until the latter part of the fourteenth century, chiefly owing to its wool and cloth, was, however, slowly declining, and politically the history of the city becomes a mere series of incidents, among the more splendid of which were the marriage of Henry IV. with Joan of Navarre in 1403; the reception of the French ambassadors by Henry V. before Agincourt in 1415; the rejoicings for the birth in Winchester of Arthur Tudor the son of Henry VII. and Elizabeth of York in 1457; the meeting of the Emperor Charles V. and Henry VIII. in 1522; and the marriage of Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain in 1554. At that great ceremony, the last Catholic rite the old Cathedral was to witness, there were present, according to the Venetian Envoy, "the ambassadors from the Emperor, from the Kings of the Romans and Bohemia, from your Serenity, from Savoy, Florence, and Ferrara and many agents of sovereign princes. The proclamation was entitled thus: Philip and Mary, by the grace of God, King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem, Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Prince of Spain, Archduke of Austria, etc."
But when Queen Elizabeth visited the city in 1560 (she was there four times during her reign), she said to the mayor, "Yours Mr Mayor is a very ancient city"; and he answered, "It has abeen, your Majesty, it has abeen," and in spite of bad grammar he spoke but the truth, Winchester's great days were over. Yet it saw the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603, and the town having been taken by Waller in 1644 the Castle was besieged by Cromwell himself in 1645. "I came to Winchester," he writes, "on the Lord's Day the 28th of September. After some disputes with the Governour we entered the town. I summoned the Castle; was denied; whereupon we fell to prepare batteries, which we could not perfect until Friday following. Our battery was six guns; which being finished, after firing one round, I sent in a second summons for a treaty; which they refused, whereupon we went on with our work and made a breach in the wall near the Black Tower; which after about two hundred shot we thought stormable; and purposed on Monday morning to attempt it. On Sunday morning about ten of the clock the Governour beat a parley, desiring to treat, I agreed unto it, and sent Colonel Hammond and Major Harrison in to him, who agreed upon these enclosed articles."
Cromwell presently departed and the city caught a glimpse of the Royal Martyr, the victim of the great families, as he passed from Hurst Castle to Windsor and the scaffold in Whitehall. With the Restoration, which was most gallantly welcomed in the old royal city, Charles II. came to Winchester, and having been burnt out at Newmarket was, according to Evelyn, "all the more earnest to render Winchester the seat of his autumnal diversions for the future, designing a palace there where the ancient castle stood.... The surveyor has already begun the foundation for a palace estimated to cost L35,000...." But Charles died too soon to finish this new house, which, it is said, Queen Anne wished to complete, liking Winton well, but again death intervened.
In spite of these royal fancies, however, Winchester, which had suffered badly in the plague of 1667, continued to decline in importance and in population, and to depend more and more upon the two great establishments which remained to it, the Cathedral, founded by Kynegils in 635 and re-established under a new Protestant administration in the sixteenth century, and the College of St Mary of Winchester founded by William of Wykeham in connection with the College of St Mary, Winton, in Oxford, called New College, for the education of youth and the advancement of learning. Winchester is, of course, as it ever has been, the county-town of Hampshire, but it still maintains itself as it has done now these many years chiefly by reason of these two great establishments.
Certainly to-day the traveller's earliest steps are turned towards these two buildings, and first to that which is in its foundation near eight hundred years the older—the Cathedral church once of St Swithin, the Bishop and Confessor (852-863) and now since the Reformation of the Holy Trinity.
To come out of the sloping High Street past the ancient city Cross, through the narrow passage-way into the precincts, and to pass down that great avenue of secular limes across the Close to the great porch of the Cathedral, is to come by an incomparable approach to perhaps the most noble and most venerable church left to us in England. The most venerable—not I think the most beautiful. No one remembering the Abbey of Westminster can claim that for it, and then, though it possesses the noblest Norman work in England and the utmost splendour of the Perpendicular, it lacks almost entirely and certainly the best of the Early English. Its wonder lies in its size and its antiquity. It is now the longest mediaeval church not only in England, but in Europe, though once it was surpassed by old St Paul's. It is five hundred and twenty- six feet long, but it lacks height, and perhaps rightly, at least I would not have it other than it is, its greatness lying in its monotonous depressed length and weight, an enormous primeval thing lying there in the meads beside the river. Winchester itself might seem indeed to know nothing of it. The city does not rejoice in it as do Lincoln and York in their great churches; here is nothing of the sheer joy of Salisbury, a Magnificat by Palestrina; the church of Winchester is without delight, it has supremely the mystery and monotony of the plainsong, the true chant of the monks, the chorus of an army, with all the appeal of just that, its immense age and half plaintive glory, which yet never really becomes music.
And Winchester, too, has all and more than all, the surprise of the plainsong; the better you know it the more you are impressed. No one certainly has ever come by the narrow way out of the High Street, down the avenue of limes to the West Front without being disappointed; but no one thus disappointed has ever entered into the church without astonishment, wonder and complete satisfaction. It was not always so. That long nave was once forty feet longer and was flanked upon either side by a Norman tower as at Ely. Must one regret their loss? No, the astonishment of the nave within makes up for everything; there is no grander interior in the world, nor anywhere anything at all like it. Up that vast Perpendicular nave one looks far and far away into the height, majesty and dominion of the glorious Norman transept, and beyond into the light of the sanctuary. It has not the beauty of Westminster Abbey, nor the exquisite charm of Wells, but it has a majesty and venerable nobility all its own that I think no other church in England can match.
Of the old Saxon church, so far as we really know, the only predecessor of the present church, nothing really remains. This, as I have said, had been founded by King Kynegils upon his conversion, by St Birinus in 635. We know very little about it, except that it was enlarged or rebuilt in the middle of the tenth century by St Aethwold, and if we may believe the poetical description of Wolstan, we shall be inclined to believe the church was enlarged, for it appears to have been a very complex building with a lofty central tower, having a spire and weathercock, in accordance with the Bull of Pope Urban, and a crypt, both the work of St Elphege. This church, which, like its successor until the Reformation, was served by monks, stood till the year 1093, when it was destroyed as useless, for the new Norman church of Bishop Walkelin begun in 1079 was then far enough advanced to be used. It is thus practically certain that the two churches did not stand on the same site, the newer, it would seem, rising to the south of the older building. But the sacred spot which, it would seem, every church, that may ever have stood in this place, must have covered is the holy well, immediately beneath the present high altar in the crypt of the Norman building. This surely was within the Saxon building as it must have been within any church that may have stood here in Roman times?
The two great shrines of the Saxon church were, however, those of St Birinus, the Apostle of Wessex, and of St Swithin, Bishop of Winchester in the ninth century, the day of whose translation, July 15th, was, till the Reformation, a universal festival throughout England. In his honour the Saxon church, till then known as the church of SS. Peter and Paul, was rededicated in 964.
The great Norman church which Bishop Walkelin built to take the place of the Saxon minster cannot fundamentally have differed very much from the church we see, at any rate so far as its nave and transepts were concerned. The eastern arm was, however, different. It consisted of four bays, with north and south aisles at the end of which were rectangular chapels, an apse about which the aisles ran as an ambulatory, and beyond the apse an eastern apsidal chapel. Of this church all that really remains to us is the crypt and the transept. In the crypt we divine the old eastern limb of the church, and are doubtless in the presence of the earliest work in the Cathedral. It is, however, in the double aisled transepts that we can best appreciate how very glorious that first Norman church must have been; there is nothing in England more wonderful; and so far as I know there is nothing in Europe quite to put beside them. If only the whole mighty church could have remained to us!
The first disaster that befell Bishop Walkelin's building was the fall of the central tower in 1107, which all England, at the time, attributed to the burial beneath it of William Rufus. The tower was rebuilt, though not to its original height, but in the reconstruction, the parts of the transept nearest to the tower were also rebuilt, and thus we have here two periods of Norman work; the main building of 1107 and the reconstruction after that date.
Of the Transitional work of the second half of the twelfth century very little is to be seen at Winchester. It was for the most part the period of that great Bishop Henry of Blois, and he was probably too much immersed in the brutal politics of his time, too busy building and holding his castle to give much thought to the Cathedral. The font, however, dates from his time, and perhaps a door in the north-western bay of the south transept.
The earliest Gothic work in the Cathedral is the chapel of St Sepulchre, which was built upon the northern wall of the choir before the north transept. There we may still see wall paintings of the Passion of Our Lord. Not much later is the retro-choir. This consists of three bays, and is the largest in England. It was begun in 1189 by Bishop Godfrey de Lucy, and we must admit at once that it is wholly without delight, and yet to build it the Norman apse was sacrificed. According to Mr Bond, this was probably a very popular destruction. The reversion, says he, "to the favourite square east end of English church architecture was popular in itself. Almost every Norman cathedral ended in an apse; and in the apse, high raised behind the high altar, sat the Norman bishop facing the congregation; the hateful symbol of Norman domination." This may have been so, but considering that the monastic choir of Winchester occupied not one, as the choir does to-day, but three bays of the nave from which it was separated by a vast rood screen, though the Bishop had been as high as Haman, he would have been scarcely visible to the populace in the western part of the nave. Popular or no, however, the apse was sacrificed and the low retro-choir built with the Lady Chapel in the Early English style.
The next thing undertaken was to place in the old Norman choir the magically lovely choir stalls (1245-1315) which happily still remain to us. Perhaps it was their enthusiastic loveliness which led about 1320 to the rebuilding of the Presbytery and the lovely tabernacle in the back of the wall of the Feretory. When all this was done there remained of the old Norman church only the transepts and the nave. The transepts remain to us still, but the nave was transformed, in the very beginning of the Perpendicular time. It was transformed not rebuilt. Bishop William of Wykeham has obliterated Bishop Walkelin, but fundamentally the nave of Winchester remains Norman still. The Perpendicular work is only a lovely mask, or rather just the sunlight of the fourteenth century which has come into the dark old Norman building. The most notable change is the roof, in Norman times a flat ceiling, now a magnificent vault. But that century was not content with transforming the nave, it littered it with the first of its various delights, those chantries which are among the greatest splendours of this Cathedral, and which still, in some sort, commemorate Bishop Edingdon (1366), Bishop Wykeham (1404), Bishop Beaufort (1447), Bishop Waynflete (1416), Bishop Fox (1528) and Bishop Gardiner (1555) the last Catholic Bishop to fill the See.
The transformation of the nave, which occupied full an hundred years, was not, however, the last work undertaken in the Cathedral before the change of religion. Bishop Courtenay, in the last years of the fifteenth century, lengthened the Lady Chapel, and finally Bishop Fox in the very beginning of the sixteenth century began the transformation of the early fourteenth century Presbytery, but got little further than the insertion of the Perpendicular windows. He did, however, transform the Norman aisles there, and screened them, and upon the screens in six fine Renaissance chests he gathered the dust of the old Saxon saints and kings.
But apart from its architecture the church is full of interest. Where can we find anything to match the exquisite iron screen of the eleventh century which used to guard St Swithin's shrine but which, now that is gone, covers the north-west doorway of the nave? Is there another font in England more wonderful than that square black marble basin sculptured in the twelfth century with the story of St Nicholas? Is there any series of chantries in England more complete or more lovely than these at Winchester, or anywhere a finer fourteenth century monument than that of Bishop Wykeham? Nowhere in England certainly can the glorious choir stalls be matched, nor shall we easily find a pulpit to surpass that in the choir here dating from 1520. If the restored retablo over the high altar is disappointing in its sophistication, we have only to pass into the Feretory to discover certain marvellous fragments of the original reredos which are so beautiful that they take away our breath—that broken statue of the Madonna and Child, for instance, perhaps the loveliest piece of fourteenth century sculpture to be found in England. No, however we consider the great church of Winchester, it stands alone. As a mere building it is more tremendous and more venerable than anything now left to us upon English soil; as a burial place it possesses the dust not only of the Apostle of the heart of England but of the greatest of the Saxon kings, while beneath its mighty vault William Rufus sleeps, the only Norman king that lies in England. And as a shrine of art it still possesses incomparable things. It stands there as the Pyramids stand in the desert, a relic of a lost civilisation; but by it we may measure the modern world.
It is, too, when you consider it, utterly lonely. The revolution we call the Reformation upon which the modern world turns and turns as upon a pivot, while it spared Winchester Cathedral, though reluctantly, swept away all the buildings which surrounded it. The great monastery is gone, scarcely a sign of it remains. Nothing at all is left of the famous nunnery of St Mary. Of Wolvesey Castle there are a few beautiful ruins, of Hyde Abbey, all has been swept away, even the stones, even the bones of Alfred. Nor have the other and later religious houses, with which Winchester was full, fared better. It is difficult to find even the sites of the houses of the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Austin Friars, the Carmelites. And what remains of the College of St Elizabeth, and, but for a Norman doorway, now in Catholic hands, of the Hospital of St Mary Magdalen? Only the Hospital of St John remains at the east end of the High Street, still in possession of its fine Hall and Chapel, and the great school founded by William of Wykeham in 1382, "for seventy poor and needy scholars and clerks living college-wise in the same, studying and becoming proficient in grammaticals or the art and science of grammar." It remains without compare, the oldest and the greatest school in England, whose daughter is Eton and whose late descendant is Harrow.
To say that the Cathedral, the College and the Hospital of St John are all that remains of mediaeval Winchester would not, perhaps, be strictly true; but it is so near the truth that one might say it without fear of contradiction. Most of the old churches even have perished. There remain St John Baptist, which can boast of Transitional arcades, and fifteenth century screen and pulpit; St Maurice with a Norman doorway; St Peter with its twelfth and thirteenth century work; St Bartholomew with some Norman remains near the site of Hyde Abbey; and in the High Street there is more than one fine old house. The fact that so little remains cannot altogether be placed to the discredit of the Reformation and the Puritan fanatics. Until the eighteenth century something remained of Hyde Abbey, much of the Hospital of St Mary Magdalen; the city walls were then practically perfect, having all their five gates, north, south, east and west, and King's gate; now of all these only the Westgate of the thirteenth century remains to us with the King's gate over which is the little church of St Swithin.
But in spite of vandalism, forgetfulness and barbarism, often of the worst description as in the mere indifference and ignorance that scattered Alfred's bones, no one has ever come to Winchester without loving it, no one has ever been glad to get away. Its innumerable visitors are all its lovers and the most opposite temperaments find here common ground at last. Walpole praises it, and so does Keats. "We removed here," writes the latter in 1819 to Bailey, "for the convenience of a library, and find it an exceedingly pleasant town, enriched with a beautiful cathedral and surrounded by fresh-looking country.... Within these two months I have written fifteen hundred lines, most of which, besides many more of prior composition, you will probably see next winter. I have written two tales, one from Boccaccio called the 'Pot of Basil' and another called 'St Agnes Eve' on a popular superstition, and a third called 'Lamia' (half-finished). I have also been writing parts of my 'Hyperion,' and completed four acts of a tragedy."
"This Winchester," he writes again, "is a place tolerably well suited to me. There is a fine cathedral, a college, a Roman Catholic chapel ... and there is not one loom or anything like manufacturing beyond bread and butter in the whole city. There are a number of rich Catholics in the place. It is a respectable, ancient, aristocratic place, and moreover it contains a nunnery." "I take a walk," he writes to his family, "every day for an hour before dinner, and this is generally my walk; I go out the back gate, across one street into the cathedral yard, which is always interesting; there I pass under the trees along a paved path, pass the beautiful front of the cathedral, turn to the left under a stone doorway—then I am on the other side of the building—which, leaving behind me, I pass on through two college- like squares, seemingly built for the dwelling-place of dean and prebendaries, garnished with grass and shaded with trees; then I pass through one of the old city gates and then you are in College Street, through which I pass, and at the end thereof, crossing some meadows, and at last a country of alley gardens I arrive, that is my worship arrives, at the foundation of St Cross, which is a very interesting old place.... Then I pass across St Cross meadows till I come to the most beautiful clear river."
That walk, or rather that over the meads to St Cross, is for every lover of Winchester that which he takes most often I think, that which comes to him first in every memory of the city. Its beauty makes it sacred and its reward is an hour or more in what, when all is said, is one of the loveliest relics of the Middle Age anywhere left to us in England, I mean the hospital and church of St Cross in the meads of the Itchen.
Doubtless we are the heirs of the Ages, into our hearts and minds the Empire, the Middle Age and the Renaissance have poured their riches. Doubtless we are the flower of Time and our Age, the rose of all the Ages. That is why, in our wisdom, we have superseded such places as St Cross by our modern workhouses.
St Cross was founded by the great Henry of Blois in 1133 for the reception, the clothing and the entertainment of thirteen poor men, decayed or past their strength, and the relief of an hundred others; it was a mediaeval workhouse, called a hospital in those days, and in its beauty and its humanity and its success it cannot, of course, compare with the institutions which, since we have not been able to abolish poverty altogether, we have everywhere established for the reception of our unfortunate brethren. It would be odd indeed if eight hundred years of Christian government, four hundred of them enjoying the infinite blessings bestowed by the Reformation and the Protestant religion, had not vastly improved these institutions for the reception of the very poor. It is, in fact, in such establishments as our workhouses that our "progress" is to be seen most clearly.
Well, it is something to be assured of that; and yet, let me confess it, St Cross has a curious fascination for me. I feel there, it is true, that I am in a world different from that in which we do so well to rejoice, but such is my perversity I cannot help preferring the old to the new. This is a mere prejudice, quite personal to myself, and comes perhaps of being a Christian. When I look at St Cross I am vividly reminded that this was once a Christian country with a Christian civilisation; when I look at one of our great workhouses I know that all that has passed away and that we have "progressed" so fast and so far that Christianity has been left some four hundred years behind us. St Cross is, as it were, a rock of the old Christian time still emerging from the grey sea of the modern world.
Bishop Henry de Blois intended, as I have said, to provide, by the foundation of the Hospital of St Cross, for the maintenance of thirteen poor men and the relief of an hundred others. His design was perverted in the thirteenth century, but gloriously restored by the founder of Winchester College and his successor in the Bishopric, Cardinal Beaufort, who added to the original foundation the almshouse of Noble Poverty, in which he hoped to support thirty-five brethren with two priests and three nuns to minister to the inmates. The hospital, by the merest good fortune, escaped suppression at the Reformation, but during most of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and through many years of the nineteenth its revenues were enjoyed by men who, as often as not, had never seen the place, and so the poor were robbed. Perhaps the most insolent abuse of the kind occurred between 1808 and 1815. In the former year Bishop Brownlow North, of Winchester, appointed his son Francis, later Earl of Guildford, to be master. This man appropriated the revenues of the place to the tune of fourteen hundred pounds a year, and when at last the scandal was exposed, it was discovered that between 1818 and 1838 he had taken not less than fifty-three thousand pounds in fines on renewing leases, a manifest and probably wilful breach of trust, that ought, one may think, to have brought him to the Old Bailey. The exposure of this rascal led to a reformation of the administration, which is now in the hands of trustees who elect thirteen brethren provided for by Bishop Henry of Blois. These wear a black gown with a silver cross. St Cross also still maintains certain brethren of Noble Poverty, and these wear a red gown, and not less than fifty poor folk, who do not live within its walls, while a very meagre wayfarer's dole is still distributed to all who pass by so far as a horn of beer and two loaves of bread will go. Each of the Brethren of St Cross beside a little house and maintenance receives five shillings a week.
All this sounds, if you be poor, too good to be true. It is too good to owe its origin to the modern world, but not extraordinary for the Middle Age, which was eagerly and even violently Christian. And just as the institution seems in itself wonderful to us in our day, so do the buildings, which, if one would really understand how gloriously strange they are, should be carefully compared with the county workhouse.
One enters the Hospital by a gate, and, passing through a small court, comes to the great gatehouse of Cardinal Beaufort, consisting of gateway, porter's lodge and great square tower. Here and there we still see Cardinal Beaufort's arms and devices, while over the gate itself are three niches, in one of which a kneeling figure of the Cardinal remains. Within this gatehouse is a large quadrangle, about three sides of which the hospital is set with the church upon the south, between which and the gatehouse runs a sixteenth century cloister. The whole is wonderfully quiet and peaceful, a corner of that old England, England of my heart, which is so fast vanishing away.
The noblest building of this most noble place, and the only one now left to us which dates from its foundation by Bishop Henry of Blois is the church. This is a great Transitional building, one of the finest examples of that style in England, and dates from about 1160 to 1292. It is a cruciform building with central tower, the nave and chancel being aisled, the transepts, aisles and all, vaulted in stone in the fourteenth century. The earliest part of the church is the chancel, which has a square eastern end, and the lower parts of the transepts probably date from the same time. These transepts were finished a little later, when the nave was begun and finished, and the north porch built in the thirteenth century. The clerestory of the nave dates from the first half of the fourteenth century, and so does the great western window. Much of the furniture of the church is interesting, such as the fourteenth century tiles, the curious Norman bowl that does duty as a font, the fourteenth century glass in the clerestory window of the nave, and that, little though it be, of the fifteenth century in the north transept, the fine fifteenth century screen between the north- choir aisle and the chancel, the foreign sixteenth century woodwork in the south-choir aisle, the curious wall painting of the Martyrdom of St Thomas in the south transept, and the old Purbeck altar stone that now serves as the communion table. Here, before the altar, lies John de Campeden, appointed Master of St Cross by Bishop William of Wykeham in 1383, his grave marked by a good brass.
Much, too, within the hospital is interesting, and the old men who eagerly show one all these strange and beautiful things are most human and delightful. Nevertheless, though the church would anywhere else claim all our attention for a whole morning, and an afternoon is easily spent poking about the hospital, it is not of the mere architecture, beautiful though it be, that one thinks on the way back into Winchester, across the meads beside the river which has seen and known both the Middle Age and this sorrowful time of to-day, but of that wondrous institution where poverty was considered honourable and destitution not an offence or even perhaps a misfortune, where it was still remembered that we are all brethren, and that Christ, too, had not where to lay His head. All of which seems nothing less than marvellous to-day.
I set out from Winchester early one June morning by Jewry Street, as it were out of the old North Gate to follow, perhaps, the oldest road in old England towards Alton, intending to reach Selborne more than twenty miles away eastward on the tumble of hills where the North Downs meet the South, before night.
I say the road by which I went out of Winchester and followed for so many miles, through King's Worthy and Martyr Worthy, Itchen Abbas, New Alresford and Bishops Sutton, is perhaps the oldest in England; in fact it is the old British trackway from the ports of the Straights and Canterbury to Winchester and Old Sarum, the western end, indeed, of the way I had already followed from Canterbury to Boughton Aluph up the valley of the Great Stour, known to us all as the Pilgrim's Way. For though it is older than any written history, it was preserved from neglect and death when the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were making all new, here as elsewhere, by the pilgrims, who, coming from Western England, from Brittany and Spain to visit St Thomas' shrine, used it as their road across Southern England from Winchester to Canterbury.
Now, though for any man who follows that road to-day it is filled with these great companies of pilgrims, there are older memories, too, which it evokes and which, if the history of England is precious to him, he cannot ignore.
To begin with the exit from Winchester: there in Jewry Street a Roman road overlies the older British way, not indeed exactly, but roughly, certainly as far as King's Worthy, whence it still shoots forth straight as an arrow's flight over hill over dale to Silchester. The very street by which he leaves the city, as it were, by the now destroyed North Gate, is Roman, one of the four roads which met in the Forum of Venta Belgarum and divided Roman Winchester into four quarters, though, perhaps because of the marshes of the Itchen, not into four equal parts as in Chichester. The present name of this road, Jewry Street, indicates its character all through the Middle Ages, when here by the North Gate, upon the road to London, the Jews had their booths, and the quarter of Winchester which this road served was doubtless their ghetto, the richest quarter of the city.
It was not, however, of the Middle Age, but of the Dark Age I thought as I issued out of Winchester where, not much more than a hundred years ago, the old North Gate still held the way. In the year 1001, after the battle of Alton, in which the men of Hampshire were utterly broken by Sweyn and his Danes, this road was filled with the routed Saxons in flight pouring into the city of Winchester. The record of that appalling business is very brief in the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle," a few lines under the date 1001. "A. 1001. In this year was much fighting in the land of the English, and well nigh everywhere they (the Danes) ravaged and burned so that they advanced on one course until they came to the town of Alton; and then there came against them the men of Hampshire and fought against them. And there was Ethelward the King's high-steward slain, and Leofric at Whitchurch and Leofwin the King's high-steward and Wulfhere the bishop's thane, and Godwin at Worthy, Bishop Elfry's son, and of all men one hundred and eighty; and there were of the Danish men many more slain, though they had possession of the place of slaughter." A mere plundering expedition, we may think, but it foretold with certainty the rule of the Danes in England, which as we know came to pass, and was not the catastrophe it might have been, because of the victory of Alfred at Ethandune, a century and a half before, when he had made Guthrum and his host Christians. Till the year 1788 Alfred's bones lay beside this very gate through which the beaten Saxons poured into his city in 1001. For though Hyde Abbey was destroyed at the Reformation his bones seem to have been forgotten, to be discovered in the end of the eighteenth century in their great leaden coffin and sold, I know not to whom, for the sum of two pounds.
I considered these unfortunate and shameful things as I went on along this British, Roman, Saxon and English way, the way of armies and of pilgrims into Headbourne Worthy, whose church stands by the roadside on the north.
This little church dedicated in honour of St Swithin is all of a piece with the road, and illustrates it very well. Its beauty alone would recommend it to the wayfarer, but it also possesses an antiquity so great that nothing left to us in Winchester itself can match it. For in plan, and largely in masonry too, it is a Saxon sanctuary, though a late one, dating as it would seem from the early part of the eleventh century. What we see is a beautiful little building consisting of nave with curious western chamber, chancel, south-western tower and modern south porch. The original church probably did not differ very much in plan from that we have, but only the north and west walls of the nave of the original building remain to us; the latter having the original doorway of Binstead stone. The south wall of the nave and the tower were rebuilt in the thirteenth century, as was the chancel, which is now a modern building so far as its north and eastern walls are concerned. In the late fifteenth century the western chamber was added to the nave as in our own day the south porch. The best treasure of the church is, however, the great spoilt Rood, with figures of our Lady and St John, upon the outside of the west wall of the Saxon nave, to preserve which, in the fifteenth century, the western chamber was built. The western chamber was originally in two stages, the lower acting as a porch to the church, the upper as a chapel with an altar under the Saxon rood. It is needless to say that the Reformers, Bishop Horne of Winchester it is said, the accursed miscreant who ordered the destruction of all crucifixes in his diocese, defaced this glorious work of art and religion, cutting the relief away to the face of the wall so that only the outline remains. Nevertheless it is still one of the most imposing and notable things left to us in southern England.
Headbourne Worthy, granted to Mortimer after the Conquest, was the most important of the three little places grouped here in a bunch which bear that name. King's Worthy, where the road first turns eastward and where the church, curiously enough, stands to the south of the way, [Footnote: According to Mr Belloc (The Old Road) this modern road does not exactly represent the route of the Pilgrim's Way which ran to the south of King's Worthy church] was but a hamlet and of Martyr Worthy, Domesday knows nothing. Little that is notable remains to us in either place, only the charming fifteenth century tower of King's Worthy church and a fourteenth century font therein.
Much the same must be said of Itchen Abbas, Itchen A Bas, where the road falls to the river, the small Norman church there having been both rebuilt and enlarged in or about 1863, while an even worse fate has befallen the church of Itchen Stoke, two miles further on, for it has disappeared altogether. Nor I fear can much be said for the church of New Alresford or the town either, for apparently, owing to a series of fires, it has nothing to show us but a seventeenth century tower, a poor example of the building of that time, the base of which may be Saxon, while the windows seem to be of the thirteenth century.
New Alresford would seem only to have come into existence as a town in the end of the twelfth century, when it was re-established by Bishop Godfrey de Lucy (1189-1204). The old road did not pass through it as the modern road does; for as Mr Belloc seems to have proved the Pilgrim's Way, which descended to the river at Itchen A Bas as we have seen, crossed the ford at Itchen Stoke, Itchen Stakes that is, and proceeded east by south where the workhouse now stands, coming into the modern road again at Bishop Sutton. But though the Pilgrim's Way knew it not, New Alresford is of high antiquity. Local tradition has it that it owes its existence, as distinct from Old Alresford, "to a defeat inflicted by the Saxons on a party of Danes near the village of West Tisted about five miles (south) east of Alresford. The Saxons granted quarter to the defeated enemy on condition that they went to the ford over the River Alre [Footnote: It is curious that Guthrum was baptised at Aller and then his Danes in the Alre] to be baptised. In commemoration of the victory a statue of the Virgin was then erected in the churchyard of Old Alresford." [Footnote: V.C.H., Hampshire, vol. 3, p. 350.] Local tradition cannot, at any time, be put lightly aside, and when as here it preserves for us one of the great truths of the early history of modern Europe we should rejoice indeed. For here we have the obvious reality of the eighth century when Europe, slowly recovering itself and beginning to realise itself as Christendom, was everywhere attacked by hordes of pagans. The work of Charlemagne, of Offa and of Alfred was not merely the conquest of the barbarians, but really since they could not be wholly destroyed, their conversion, and thus alone could Christendom be certainly preserved. So after Ethandune Guthrum must be christened at Aller, and after the fight here on the Alre the defeated heathen must be christened at the ford. Since New Alresford has preserved for us a memory of this fundamental act we can easily forgive her lack of material antiquity.
The little village thus founded, certainly still existed in the time of the Conquest, and such it would always have remained but for Godfrey de Lucy, Bishop of Winchester, who, among his many achievements, numbers this chiefly that he made the Itchen navigable not only from Southampton to Winchester but here also in its headwaters, and this by means of the great reservoir, known as Alresford Pond, into which he gathered the waters of many streams to supply his navigation. In return, King John not only gave him the royalty of the river, but a weekly market here for which he rebuilt the place and called it New Market a name which was soon lost, the people preferring their old name New Alresford. So the market town of New Alresford came into existence, and, but for the unfortunate fires of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, would bear upon its face the marks it now lacks of antiquity.
Bishop Godfrey de Lucy was constantly in residence at Bishop Sutton in the palace there. The road passes through this delightful village a mile or more to the east of New Alresford and something remains, the ruins of the kennels it is said, of the palace. This was doubtless "the manour-house ... a verie olde house somtyme walled round aboutte with stone now decaied well waterid with an olde ponde or moote adjoyning to it," of which we hear in the time of Edward VI. It seems to have been destroyed in the Civil war, but even in 1839 much remained of it. "Within the memory of many persons now living," writes Mr Duthy in 1839, "considerable vestiges of a strong and extensive building stood in the meadows to the north of the church, which were the dilapidated remains of an ancient palace of the Bishops of Winchester. The walls were of great thickness and composed of flints and mortar, but it was impossible to trace the disposition of the apartments or the form of the edifice." Bishop Sutton had belonged to the church of Winchester since King Ine's day, but in the early part of the eleventh century it was held by Harold, and after the Conquest by Eustace of Boulogne. Bishop Henry de Blois regained it for the church by exchange, in whose possession it has remained but for a few brief intervals in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in one of which John Evelyn bought it, until to-day.
It is probably to this fact we owe the beauty and preservation of the church here, with its fine twelfth century nave, not fundamentally altered, and its chancel still largely of the thirteenth century. Especially notable are the two Norman doorways in the nave and curious supports of the belfry there, four naked and massive posts.
Bishop Sutton was the last place I was to see upon the old road, for a mile beyond that village I left it where it turned northward, to go east into Ripley and so by the byways to climb into the hills, and crossing them to descend steeply at evening into the village of Selborne by the Oakhanger stream just before it enters that narrow brief pass into the Weald. There in the twilight I stayed for awhile under the yew tree in the churchyard to think of the writer, for love of whom I had made this journey all the way from Winchester.
"In the churchyard of this village," writes Gilbert White in "The Antiquities of Selborne," "is a yew-tree whose aspect bespeaks it to be of great age; it seems to have seen several centuries and is probably co-eval with the church, and therefore may be deemed an antiquity; the body is squat, short and thick, and measures twenty-three feet in the girth, supporting a head of suitable extent to its bulk. This is a male tree, which in the spring sheds clouds of dust and fills the atmosphere around with its farina.... Antiquaries seem much at a loss to determine at what period this tree first obtained a place in churchyards. A statute was passed A.D. 1307 and 35 Edward I., the title of which is "Ne rector arbores in cemeterio prosternat." Now if it is recollected that we seldom see any other very large or ancient tree in a churchyard but yews, this statute must have principally related to this species of tree; and consequently their being planted in churchyards is of much more ancient date than the year 1307. As to the use of these trees, possibly the more respectable parishioners were buried under their shade before the improper custom was introduced of burying within the body of the church where the living are to assemble. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, was buried under an oak—the most honourable place of interment —probably next to the cave of Machpelah, which seems to have been appropriated to the remains of the patriarchal family alone. The further use of yew trees might be as a screen to churches, by their thick foliage, from the violence of winds; perhaps also for the purpose of archery, the best long bows being made of that material, and we do not hear that they are planted in the churchyards of other parts of Europe, where long bows were not so much in use. They might also be placed as a shelter to the congregation assembling before the church doors were opened, and as an emblem of mortality by their funeral appearance. In the south of England every churchyard almost has its tree and some two; but in the north we understand few are to be found."
Even in that passage, full as it is of all the quietness of the English countryside, something of the secret of Gilbert White, his ever living incommunicable charm may be found: his extraordinary and gentle gift of becoming, as it were, one with the things of which he writes, his wonderfully sympathetic approach to us, his so simple and so consummate manner. The man might stand in his writings for the countryside of England, incarnate and articulate. He not only leads you ever out of doors, but he is just that, the very spirit of the open air, the out- of-doors of a country where alone in Europe one can be in the lanes, in the meadows, on the hills under the low soft sky with delight every day of the year. He teaches, as Nature herself teaches; we seem to move in his books as though they were the fields and the woods, and there the flowers blow and the birds sing. It is not so much that his observation is extraordinarily wide and accurate, but that we see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and the phenomena, beautiful or wonderful, which he describes, we experience too, and because of him with something of his love, his interest and carefulness. What other book ever written upon Natural History can we read, who are not Naturalists, over and over and over again, and for its own sake, not for the myriad facts he gathered through a long lifetime, the acute observation and record of which have won him the homage of his fellow scientists, but for the pure human and literary pleasure we find there, a pleasure the like of which is to be found nowhere else in such books in the same satisfying quantity, and at all, only because of him.
And so on the next morning the first place I went to see was The Wakes, the house where this great and dear lover of England of my heart lived, dying there in 1793, to lie in his own churchyard, his grave marked by a simple headstone bearing his initials "G.W." and the date. In the church is a tablet to him and his brother Benjamin, who has also placed there in memory of him the seventeenth century German triptych over the altar. But he needs no memorial from our hands; all he loved, Selborne itself in all its beauty, the exquisite country round it, the hills, the valleys, the woods and the streams are his monument, the very birds in their songs remind us of him, and there is not a walk that is not the lovelier because he has passed by. Do you climb up through the Hanger and admire the beeches there? It is he who has told us what to expect, loving the beech like a father, "the most lovely of all forest trees whether we consider its smooth rind or bark, its glossy foliage or graceful pendulous boughs." Do you linger in the Plestor? It is he who tells you of the old oak that stood there, and was blown down in 1703 "to the infinite regret of the inhabitants and the vicar who bestowed several pounds in setting it in its place again; but all this care could not avail; the tree sprouted for a time then withered and died." Or who can pass by Long Lythe without remembering that it was a favourite with him too. For he loved this place so well, that as Jacob waited for Rachel so he for Selborne. He had been born there, where his grandfather being then vicar, aged seventy-two years and eleven months, he was to die in 1720. He went to school at Farnham and Basingstoke, and then in 1739 to Oriel College, Oxford, where in 1744 he was elected to a Fellowship. Presently benefice after benefice was offered him but he refused them all, having made up his mind to live and die at Selborne. Selborne must then have been a very secluded place, the nearest town, Alton, often inaccessible in winter one may think, judging from the description Gilbert White gives of the "rocky hollow lane" that led thither, but it is perhaps to this very fact that we owe more than a few of those immortal pages ever living and ever new. Since he was cut off from men he was able to give himself wholly to nature. He is less a part of the mere England of his day than any man of that time; he belonged only to England of my heart. Yet the events of his time, though they touched him so little, were neither few nor unimportant. The year of his birth was the year of the South Sea Bubble. When he was a year old the great Duke of Marlborough died. His eighth birthday fell in the year which closed the eyes of Sir Isaac Newton. He was twenty-five in the "forty-five," when Prince Charles Edward held Edinburgh after Preston Pans. He saw the change in the calendar, the conquest of India by Clive, the victory and death of Wolfe at Quebec the annexation of Canada, the death of Chatham, the loss of the American Colonies, the French Revolution. And how little all this meant to him!
But anything connected with Selborne interested him, and he wrote of and studied its "antiquities" as well as its "natural history." Nor were these antiquities so negligible as one might think. In his day the church was still an interesting building, and he has left us an interesting account of it. But he does not forget to tell us, too, of the Augustinian Priory of Selborne, that was founded in 1233 and stood to the east of the village, the way to it lying through his beloved Long Lythe, and the site of which is now occupied by Priory Farm, a few ruins remaining. Nothing, indeed, that concerned his beloved village was to him ungrateful. It is, without doubt, this careful love of his for the things that were his own, at his door, common things if you will, common only in England of my heart, that has endeared him to innumerable readers, many of whom have never set foot upon our shores and would only not be utter strangers here if they did, because of him. Such at least is the only explanation I can give of his immortality, his constant appeal to all sorts and conditions of men.
Day by day as I wandered through the lanes and the woods that he had loved with so wonderful and unconscious an affection, in a repose that we have lost and a quietness we can only envy him, I tried to discover, I tried to make clear to myself, what it really is that on a dull evening at home, in a sleepless night in London, or in the long winter evenings anywhere, draws me back again and again to that curious book. But even there in Selborne the secret was hidden from me. In truth one might as well inquire of the birds why they delight us, or of the flowers why we love them so; for in some way I cannot understand Gilbert White was gently at one with these and spoke of them sweetly like a lover and a friend having a gift from God by which he makes us partakers of his pleasure.
And so spring drew to a close as I lingered in Selborne, for I could not drag myself away. And when, at last, I determined to set out, the Feast of St John was already at hand, so that I made haste once more across the hills for Winchester on my way to Old Sarum and Stonehenge, where I would see the sunrise on midsummer morning.