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Crossing the Border, and the Old Abbeys.
"Within the quiet of the convent cell,
The well-fed inmates pattered prayer, and slept,
HIS last day of summer has met us with a most delightful sunshine in this capital of North England, the ancient city of York. It comes, too, upon the holy day, when the air is hushed. A quietude of unaccustomed delight seems showered upon field and grove, minster and wall, as the sunlight glances upon the earth. The cool air, which has so long followed us through Scotland, and down to this city, gently gives way before the warming radiance. The influence woos one from the fireside.
Through manifold turnings, the ancient walls of the city are gained, and easily ascended. How exhilarating is the Sabbathmorning walk along the gray battlements! Spring hath come again in seeming. The birds in the apple-trees below are almost as numerous as the fruitage, and twitter with so transporting a melody, that Silence herself seemeth to listen. It is indeed a 'merry, merry sunshine.' The green hedges glisten with the freshening morning. The lowing of the kine, ever and anon, is borne toward the walls from the country beyond; while, as I turn, the city appears to rest solemnly and still as the gray walls themselves. Chimney-stacks no longer stream with smoke. Their week-day work is done. They join the spires in their
silent gesture upward. The Minster-that old York Minster, so celebrated in annals, and so glorious in structure—stands out prominently in the glistening air, with its lofty tower of solid masonry, companioned by two other towers, 'with spiry turrets crowned,' high above the Gothic arches and niches which grace the body of the immense pile. The eye glances at many an old and humble church, with stained windows and blackened stone, half hid in the green copses and red-tiled houses which, intermingling, give the city a rural aspect. The slate roofs here and there may be seen by the dazzling glance of the sun upon them, which, upon this last summer day, makes all nature shimmer in the grateful sheen. The chimes begin their morning hymn, inundating the glittering landscape with viewless waves of sound.
This is a scene that awakens many a memory which the English classics have implanted by their faithful delineations of English town and country. Cowper and Thomson are beneath my eye in their placid, bright, original features. How blessed is that country which can boast so glorious a landscape-so green, so goodly, so pleasing,' that the harp of Orpheus is not more charming! How doubly blessed is that country whose native genius hath painted, in undying language, the quiet beauty and cheerful spirit that brood over field and city, dale and hill!
There is a similar pensive beauty clinging to the country throughout the North of England and the South of Scotlandand which may be called 'the Border'-that pleases, and engenders a deep devotional spirit while it pleases. Was it not this peculiarity which led to the erection of such piles as Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey, and Fountain Abbey? But of these by and by, when we take the reader over the border.
The tramp of many feet upon the pavements indicates the church-going crowd. We have been too long absent from worship not to wish for an hour's communion in the house of God. A stranger need not inquire the way to York Minster; for it is its own great guide to its own great temple. It cannot be sur
veyed with as much effect from any other point as from the large green upon the north. Buildings surround it upon the other sides, which forbid a view commensurate with its extent and grandeur. Its form is that of a cross; and its appearance, except in a small portion; is rather new, compared with other minsters of England.
We spent some time under an ivy shade, upon a seat of stone, busying the eye in climbing from point to point, and unravelling the Gothic complexity which binds the whole. If you take it apart, you may form numerous large churches and chapels, each one a marvel; each one having its Gothic arches and niches, with windows whose dull colors from the outside inadequately foretell the resplendent beauties which are revealed within. Flowers and leaves, obdurate to frost, bedeck each pinnacle; while spire after spire rise around like a petrified forest. Festoons of stone, richly carved, grace the different arches, while in the niches stand the forms of prophet and saint. Quaint, grim, and humorous heads are protruded at different points. Together, the immense structure constitutes a maze, in which the sight may wander and in grateful variety be lost.
There can be no question but that the Gothic sprung from the green alleys and branching trunks which beautify nature. If we go within, and note the lofty vault, with its intertwisted and adorning branches and foliage, the idea of a forest of giant trees interlaced, cannot be repressed. But as we enter, other thoughts are ours. The organ swells in grand symphony, filling the large temple with a harmonious complexity of music, which well befits such a Gothic pile. Service has begun. The choir is full of worshippers. The chanting floats mildly "upon the easy bosom of the air." The bishop enters the chancel with two other ecclesiastics, preceded by an usher bearing a silver rod. I am a novice in these ceremonies, having been reared in "Dissent," and cannot call things by their right names. But that does not prevent an appreciation of the beautiful service in
choice English, which issues from the lips of the venerable prelate, and finds reponse in the choir, from the lips of a score of youths in white dresses, whose tenor voices, under some mastertone, rise and fall sweetly in unison with the organ's swell and cadence. Near by, the unresting eye discovers a saintly and martial company, wholly unmoved by this discourse of praise. In stony immovableness they repose upon, and kneel over their own graves-these abbots and bishops in strange uncouth dress, and those soldiers and knights invested with mail and uniform. The light, colored by the stained glass, irradiates their fixed features, fills the air with its purple hue, rests against the huge pillars, and tips the canopies of carved wood which overhang so fitly the Gothic seats.
I noticed here, as at Westminster, that much of the old manner and form is preserved. The ceremony which we heard and saw at Rome was here translated into English, and pruned of many of its formulas; but to us it appeared ceremony still. The tendency at present in the English church is decidedly toward the formal, and, consequently, from the spiritual. good Archbishop of Canterbury has given notice to many of those who minister under his charge, that he will summon them into his court, unless they cease certain practices not "set down" in the Book of Common Prayer: to wit, lighting candles at the altar, turning from the congregation, chanting "certain parts of the service, et cætera. Well, let the prelates fix the forms of their church as best they may. We simple-worshipping Puritans can only hope that in the form they will ever enshrine, as they have often enshrined, the sincere spirit; and that we may never be ashamed of our plain service and plain meetinghouses, wherein the GREAT OBJECT of all worship is as accessible as in Gothic minsters or Italian basilicas. Nay, have we not what our ancestry had, and what all mankind in common have, that temple which no human art can adorn, where no exclusiveness reigns, and where no intercessor intervenes between GOD and the soul except the SAVIOR? Have we not the temple
"What a structure is it; and what a glorious adorning is put upon it, to touch the springs of imagination and feeling, and to excite the principles of devotion! What painted or gilded dome is like that arch of blue that swells above us! What blaze of clustered lamps, or even burning tapers, is like the lamp of day hung in the heavens, or the silent and mysterious lights that burn for ever in the far-off depths of the evening sky! And what are the splendid curtains with which the churches of Rome are clothed for festal occasions, to the gorgeous clouds that float around the pavilion of morning or the tabernacle of the setting sun! And what mighty pavement of tessellated marble can compare with the green valleys, the enamelled plains, the whole variegated, broad and boundless pavement of this world's surface, on which the mighty congregation of the children of men are standing! What, too, are altars reared by human hands, compared with the everlasting mountains-those altars in the temple of nature; and what incense ever arose from human altars like the bright and beautiful mountain mists that float around those eternal heights, and then rise above them and are dissolved into the pure and transparent ether, like the fast-fading shadows of human imperfection, losing themselves in the splendor of heaven! And what voice ever spoke from human altar like the voice of the thunder from its cloudy tabernacle on those sublime heights of the creation! And what anthem or pæan ever rolled from organ or orchestra, or from the voice of a countless multitude, like the dread and deafening roar of ocean, with all its "swelling multitude of
For the last few days we have been visiting the ruins of other temples, those made with human hands, in the middle ages. We have been admiring the elegance of art, as it sprung from the hands of the old freemasons, and the spots where burned the singular devotion of those early scholars and monks whose power evoked such beautiful structures. We look at them more curiously than at the great temple of Nature. Why?