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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 20
    Previous Chapter
    Salisbury Revisited

    Since that visit to Salisbury, described in a former chapter,
    when I watched and listened to the doves in those cold days in
    early spring, I have been there a good many times, but never
    at the time when the bird colony is most interesting to
    observe, just before and during the early part of the
    breeding-season. At length, in the early days of June, 1908,
    the wished opportunity was mine--wished yet feared, seeing
    that it was possible some disaster had fallen upon that unique
    colony of stock-doves. It is true they appeared to be long
    established and well able to maintain their foothold on the
    building in spite of malicious persecuting daws, but there was
    nothing to show that they had been long there, seeing that it
    had been observed by no person but myself that the cathedral
    doves were stock-doves and not the domestic pigeon found on
    other large buildings. Great was my happiness to find them
    still there, as well as the daws and all the other feathered
    people who make this great building their home; even the
    kestrels were not wanting. There were three there one
    morning, quarrelling with the daws in the old way in the old
    place, halfway up the soaring spire. The doves were somewhat
    diminished in number, but there were a good many pairs still,
    and I found no dead young ones lying about, as they were now
    probably grown too large to be ejected, but several young
    daws, about a dozen I think, fell to the ground during my
    stay. Undoubtedly they were dragged out of their nests and
    thrown down, perhaps by daws at enmity with their parents, or
    it may be by the doves, who are not meek-spirited, as we have
    seen, or they would not be where they are, and may on occasion
    retaliate by invading their black enemies' nesting-holes.

    Swallows, martins, and swifts were numerous, the martins
    especially, and it was beautiful to see them for ever wheeling
    about in a loose swarm about the building. They reminded me
    of bees and flies, and sometimes with a strong light on them
    they were like those small polished black and silvery-white
    beetles (Gyrinus) which we see in companies on the surface of
    pools and streams, perpetually gliding and whirling about in a
    sort of complicated dance. They looked very small at a height
    of a couple of hundred feet from the ground, and their
    smallness and numbers and lively and eccentric motions made
    them very insect-like.

    The starlings and sparrows were in a small minority among the
    breeders, but including these there were seven species in all,
    and as far as I could make out numbered about three hundred
    and fifty birds--probably the largest wild bird colony on any
    building in England.

    Nor could birds in all this land find a more beautiful
    building to nest on, unless I except Wells Cathedral solely on
    account of its west front, beloved of daws, and where their
    numerous black company have so fine an appearance. Wells has
    its west front; Salisbury, so vast in size, is yet a marvel of
    beauty in its entirety; and seeing it as I now did every day
    and wanting nothing better, I wondered at my want of
    enthusiasm on a previous visit. Still, to me, the bird
    company, the sight of their airy gambols and their various
    voices, from the deep human-like dove tone to the perpetual
    subdued rippling, running-water sound of the aerial martins,
    must always be a principal element in the beautiful effect.
    Nor do I know a building where Nature has done more in
    enhancing the loveliness of man's work with her added
    colouring. The way too in which the colours are distributed
    is an example of Nature's most perfect artistry; on the lower,
    heavier buttressed parts, where the darkest hues should be, we
    find the browns and rust-reds of the minute aerial alga, mixed
    with the greys of lichen, these darker stainings extending
    upwards to a height of fifty or sixty feet, in places higher,
    then giving place to more delicate hues, the pale tender
    greens and greenish greys, in places tinged with yellow, the
    colours always appearing brightest on the smooth surface
    between the windows and sculptured parts. The effect depends
    a good deal on atmosphere and weather: on a day of flying
    clouds and a blue sky, with a brillaint sunshine on the vast
    building after a shower, the colouring is most beautiful. It
    varies more than in the case of colour in the material itself
    or of pigments, because it is a "living" colour, as Crabbe
    rightly says in his lumbering verse:

    The living stains, which Nature's hand alone,
    Profuse of life, pours out upon the stone.

    Greys, greens, yellows, and browns and rust-reds are but the
    colours of a variety of lowly vegetable forms, mostly lichens
    and the aerial alga called iolithus.

    Without this colouring, its "living stains," Salisbury would
    not have fascinated me as it did during this last visit. It
    would have left me cold though all the architects and artists
    had assured me that it was the most perfectly beautiful
    building on earth.

    I also found an increasing charm in the interior, and made the
    discovery that I could go oftener and spend more hours in this
    cathedral without a sense of fatigue or depression than in any
    other one known to me, because it has less of that peculiar
    character which we look for and almost invariably find in our
    cathedrals. It has not the rich sombre majesty, the dim
    religious light and heavy vault-like atmosphere of the other
    great fanes. So airy and light is it that it is almost like
    being out of doors. You do not experience that instantaneous
    change, as of a curtain being drawn excluding the light and
    air of day and of being shut in, which you have on entering
    other religious houses. This is due, first, to the vast size
    of the interior, the immense length of the nave, and the
    unobstructed view one has inside owing to the removal by the
    "vandal" Wyatt of the old ponderous stone screen--an act for
    which I bless while all others curse his memory; secondly, to
    the comparatively small amount of stained glass there is to
    intercept the light. So graceful and beautiful is the
    interior that it can bear the light, and light suits it best,
    just as a twilight best suits Exeter and Winchester and other
    cathedrals with heavy sculptured roofs. One marvels at a
    building so vast in size which yet produces the effect of a
    palace in fairyland, or of a cathedral not built with hands
    but brought into existence by a miracle.

    I began to think it not safe to stay in that place too long
    lest it should compel me to stay there always or cause me to
    feel dissatisfied and homesick when away.

    But the interior of itself would never have won me, as I had
    not expected to be won by any building made by man; and from
    the inside I would pass out only to find a fresh charm in that
    part where Nature had come more to man's aid.

    Walking on the cathedral green one morning, glancing from time
    to time at the vast building and its various delicate shades
    of colour, I asked myself why I kept my eyes as if on purpose
    away from it most of the time, now on the trees, then on the
    turf, and again on some one walking there--why, in fact, I
    allowed myself only an occasional glance at the object I was
    there solely to look at. I knew well enough, but had never
    put it into plain words for my own satisfaction.

    We are all pretty familiar from experience with the
    limitations of the sense of smell and the fact that agreeable
    odours please us only fitfully; the sensation comes as a
    pleasing shock, a surprise, and is quickly gone. If we
    attempt to keep it for some time by deliberately smelling a
    fragrant flower or any perfume, we begin to have a sense of
    failure as if we had exhausted the sense, keen as it was a
    moment ago.

    There must be an interval of rest for the nerve before the
    sensation can be renewed in its first freshness. Now it is
    the same, though in a less degree, with the more important
    sense of sight. We look long and steadily at a thing to know
    it, and the longer and more fixedly we look the better, if it
    engages the reasoning faculties; but an aesthetic pleasure
    cannot be increased or retained in that way. We must look,
    merely glancing as it were, and look again, and then again,
    with intervals, receiving the image in the brain even as we
    receive the "nimble emanation" of a flower, and the image is
    all the brighter for coming intermittently. In a large
    prospect we are not conscious of this limitation because of
    the wideness of the field and the number and variety of
    objects or points of interest in it; the vision roams hither
    and thither over it and receives a continuous stream or series
    of pleasing impressions; but to gaze fixedly at the most
    beautiful object in nature or art does but diminish the
    pleasure. Practically it ceases to be beautiful and only
    recovers the first effect after we have given the mind an
    interval of rest.

    Strolling about the green with this thought in my mind, I
    began to pay attention to the movements of a man who was
    manifestly there with the same object as myself--to look at
    the cathedral. I had seen him there for quite half an hour,
    and now began to be amused at the emphatic manner in which he
    displayed his interest in the building. He walked up and down
    the entire length and would then back away a distance of a
    hundred yards from the walls and stare up at the spire, then
    slowly approach, still gazing up, until coming to a stop when
    quite near the wall he would remain with his eyes still fixed
    aloft, the back of his head almost resting on his back between
    his shoulders. His hat somehow kept on his head, but his
    attitude reminded me of a saying of the Arabs who, to give an
    idea of the height of a great rock or other tall object, say
    that to look up at it causes your turban to fall off. The
    Americans, when they were chewers of tobacco, had a different
    expression; they said that to look up at so tall a thing
    caused the tobacco juice to run down your throat.

    His appearance when I approached him interested me too. His
    skin was the color of old brown leather and he had a big
    arched nose, clear light blue very shrewd eyes, and a big
    fringe or hedge of ragged white beard under his chin; and he
    was dressed in a new suit of rough dark brown tweeds,
    evidently home-made. When I spoke to him, saying something
    about the cathedral, he joyfully responded in broadest Scotch.
    It was, he said, the first English cathedral he had ever seen
    and he had never seen anything made by man to equal it in
    beauty. He had come, he told me, straight from his home and
    birthplace, a small village in the north of Scotland, shut
    out from the world by great hills where the heather grew
    knee-deep. He had never been in England before, and had come
    directly to Salisbury on a visit to a relation.

    "Well," I said, "now you have looked at it outside come in
    with me and see the interior."

    But he refused: it was enough for one day to see the outside
    of such a building: he wanted no more just then. To-morrow
    would be soon enough to see it inside; it would be the Sabbath
    and he would go and worship there.

    "Are you an Anglican?" I asked.

    He replied that there were no Anglicans in his village. They
    had two Churches--the Church of Scotland and the Free Church.

    "And what," said I, "will your minister say to your going to
    worship in a cathedral? We have all denominations here in
    Salisbury, and you will perhaps find a Presbyterian place to
    worship in."

    "Now it's strange your saying that!" he returned, with a dry
    little laugh. "I've just had a letter from him the morning
    and he writes on this varra subject. 'Let me advise you,' he
    tells me in the letter, 'to attend the service in Salisbury
    Cathedral. Nae doot,' he says, 'there are many things in it
    you'll disapprove of, but not everything perhaps, and I'd like
    ye to go.'"

    I was a little sorry for him next day when we had an
    ordination service, very long, complicated, and, I should
    imagine, exceedingly difficult to follow by a wild
    Presbyterian from the hills. He probably disapproved of most
    of it, but I greatly admired him for refusing to see anything
    more of the cathedral than the outside on the first day. His
    method was better than that of an American (from Indiana, he
    told me) I met the following day at the hotel. He gave two
    hours and a half, including attendance at the morning service,
    to the cathedral, inside and out, then rushed off for an hour
    at Stonehenge, fourteen miles away, on a hired bicycle. I
    advised him to take another day--I did not want to frighten
    him by saying a week--and he replied that that would make him
    miss Winchester. After cycling back from Stonehenge he would
    catch a train to Winchester and get there in time to have some
    minutes in the cathedral before the doors closed. He was due
    in London next morning. He had already missed Durham
    Cathedral in the north through getting interested in and
    wasting too much time over some place when he was going there.
    Again, he had missed Exeter Cathedral in the south, and it
    would be a little too bad to miss Winchester too!
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