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Progress of the Nation page 9


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The taste for Italian music was now every day increasing; singers of that nation appeared with great applause at our concerts. In 1703 Italian music was introduced into the theatres as intermezzi, or interludes, consisting of singing and dancing; then whole operas appeared, the music Italian, the words English; and, in 1707, Urbani, a male soprano, and two Italian women, sung their parts all in Italian, the other performers using English. Finally, in 1710, a complete Italian opera was performed at the Queen's Theatre, Hay- market, and from that time the Italian opera was regularly established in London. This led to the arrival of the greatest composer whom the world had yet seen. George Frederick Handel was a native of Halle, in Germany. He had displayed the most wonderful genius for music as a mere child, and having, at the age of eleven years, astonished the duke of Saxe-Weissenfels - at whose court his brother-in-law was a valet - by finding him playing the organ in the chapel, he was, by the duke's recommendation, regularly educated for the profession of music. At the age of ten, Handel composed the church service for voices and instruments; and after acquiring a great reputation in Hamburg - where, in 1704, he brought out his "Almira" - he proceeded to Florence, where he produced the opera of "Rodrigo," and thence to Venice, Rome, and Naples. After remaining in Italy six years, he was induced to come to England in 1710, at the pressing entreaties of many of the English nobility, to superintend the opera. But, though he was enthusiastically received, the party spirit which raged at that period soon made it impossible to conduct the opera with any degree of self-respect and independence. He therefore abandoned the attempt, having sunk nearly all his fortune in it, and commenced the composition of his noble oratorios. Racine's tragedy of "Esther," abridged and altered by Humphries, was set by him, in 1720, for the chapel of the duke of Chandos at Cannons. It was, however, only by slow degrees that the wonderful genius of Handel was appreciated, yet it won its way against all prejudices and difficulties. In 1731 his "Esther" was performed by the children of the chapel-royal at the house of Bernard Gates, their master, and the following year, at the king's command, at the royal theatre, in the Hay market. It was fortunate for Handel that the monarch was German too, or he might have quitted the country in disgust before his name had triumphed over faction and ignorance. So far did these operate, that in 1741, when he produced his glorious " Messiah," it was so coldly received, that it was treated as a failure. Handel, in deep discouragement, however, gave it another trial in Dublin, where the warm imaginations of the Irish caught all its sublimity, and gave it an enthusiastic reception. On its next presentation in London his audience reversed the fiat of his former one, and the delighted composer then presented the manuscript to the Foundling Hospital, where it was performed annually for the benefit of that excellent institution, and added to its funds ten thousand three hundred pounds. It became the custom, from 1737, to perform oratorios on the Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent, and this continued to a recent period. Handel whose genius has never been surpassed for vigour, spirit, invention, and sublimity, became blind in his latter years. He continued still to perform in public, and even to compose, till within a week of his death.

Whilst this progress in operatic and sacred music had been making, our church service had received some admirable additions. Jeremiah Clarke, the Rev. Henry Aldrich, D.D., dean of Christ Church, John Weldon, organist to queen Anne, and Georges I. and II., and the Rev. Dr. Robert Creighton, canon of Salisbury, composed many admirable pieces. William Croft, Mus. Doc., is the author of thirty-one splendid anthems, and Maurice Greene, Mus. Doc., of forty, which are still heard with solemn delight in old choirs. William Boyce, Mus. Doc., organist to Georges II. and III., added to these numerous anthems and services the oratorio of "Solomon," and many other compositions of a superb character - one of them the grand anthem performed annually at the Feast of the Sons of the Clergy. Boyce also composed a variety of secular pieces of rare merit.

In 1710 was established the Academy of Ancient Music, the object of which was to promote the study of vocal and instrumental harmony. Drs. Pepusch, Greene, and other celebrated musicians were amongst its founders. They collected a very valuable musical library, and gave annual concerts till 1793, when more fashionable ones attracted the public, and the society was dissolved. In 1741 was established the Madrigal Society, the founder of which was John Immyns, an attorney. It embraced men of the working classes, and held meetings on Wednesday evenings for the singing of madrigals, glees, catches, &c. Immyns sometimes read them a lecture on a musical subject, and the society gradually grew rich, and, we believe, still continues a very flourishing association. Though the English opera has never become popular, yet songs and musical pieces have been constantly introduced in the current plays. The composers of such pieces at this period were such men as Purcell, Eccles, Playford, Leveridge, Carey Haydn, Arne, &c. Public gardens became very much the fashion, and in these, at first, oratorios, choruses, and grand musical pieces were performed, but, by degrees, gave way to songs and catches. Vauxhall, originally called Spring Garden, established before the Revolution, became; all through this period the fashionable resort of the aristocracy, and to this was added Ranelagh near Chelsea College, a vast rotunda, to which crowds used to flock from the upper circles on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings, to hear the music and singing. These performances spread greatly the taste for music, and probably excited the alarm of the puritanically religious, for there arose a great outcry against using music in churches, as something vain and unhallowed. Amongst the best publications on the science of music during this period were Dr. Holder's "Treatise on the Natural Grounds and Principles of Harmony," 1694; Malcolm's " Treatise on Music, Speculative, Practical, and Historical," 1721; Dr. Pepusch's "Treatise on Harmony," 1731; Dr. Smith's " Harmonics; or, the Philosophy of Musical Sounds;" Avison's "Essay on Musical Expression," 1752. Avison also published twenty-six concertos for a band, which were much admired.

Architecture

At this period, both the grand old styles of architecture, the Gothic for ecclesiastical buildings, and the Tudor and Elizabethan for palaces and mansions, had, for a time, run their course. A classical or Italian fashion had come in, and the picturesque churches and halls of our ancestors were deemed barbarous. Men were now taught to see with different eyes; to regard classical architecture, or that which had sprung from it, as the modern Italian language has sprung from the Roman, as all that is beautiful in nature and art: and those lovely and inimitable Christian temples, in which the human mind has revealed its utmost reach of poetry and sublimity - those fabrics, both sacred and domestic, which stand here and there throughout England, like glorious dreams of imagination, or like the conceptions of archangels and the work of angels rather than those of humanity - stones reared into majesty and chiselled into fife and aerial lightness - were to the architects of this age masses of savagery, and the grotesque enormities of men in the dark ages. Inigo Jones had introduced the semi-classical style, and now Sir Christopher Wren and Vanbrugh arose to render it predominant. Wren had the most extraordinary opportunity for distinguishing himself. The fire of London had swept away a capital, and to him was assigned the task of restoring it, with all its streets and churches. Wren was descended from a clerical family. His father was chaplain- in-ordinary to Charles I. and dean of Westminster, and his uncle was bishop of Ely; and it was characteristic enough that Wren began his career under James II., by pulling down dissenters' chapels by royal order, before he tried his hand at erecting churches. He appears to have had no regular education for an architect, but he was even precociously learned in all the arts that are necessary to an architect. At the early age of thirteen, he was an inventor of an astronomical instrument, a pneumatic machine, and an instrument of use in gnomonics. At sixteen he was extraordinarily forward in mathematics and astronomy, and at eighteen he became one of the philosophers whose association gradually grew into the Royal Society, of which institution he was an original and leading member. At this time he is said to have been the author of fifty-three new theories, inventions, experiments, and improvements of more or less value. In 1651 he was appointed to the chair of astronomy at Gresham College; three years after to that of the Savilian professor at Oxford. In 1661 he was appointed by Charles II. to assist Sir John Denham, the surveyor-general, and in 1663 was commissioned to examine the old cathedral of St. Paul, with a view to its restoration in keeping with the Corinthian colonnade which Inigo Jones had, with a strange blindness to unity, tagged on to a Gothic church. The old church was found to be so thoroughly dilapidated, that Wren recommended its entire removal and the erection of another. This created a terrible outcry amongst the clergy and the citizens, who regarded the old fabric as a model of beauty. The clamour was only ended by the whole roof of the south cross tumbling in; but it was renewed again as violently as ever on Wren once more urging the removal of the ruinous mass. Not only the clergy and citizens, but some of the commissioners were bent on preserving the old tower, and these dissensions were only interrupted by the bursting out of the great fire of London.

Whilst these contentions were going on, Wren had entered fairly on his profession of architect. He built the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford, begun in 1663, and completed in 1669; and the fine library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the beautiful square, Neville's Court, to the same college. He also built the chapels of Pembroke and Emmanuel Colleges, in the same university. In the erection of these, he suffered, from the conceit and conflicting opinions of parties concerned, a foretaste of the squabbles and contradictions which rendered the whole period of the building of St. Paul's miserable. In 1665 he found leisure to visit Paris, and study the magnificent palaces and churches with which Louis XIV. was embellishing his capital. There he got a glimpse of the design for the Louvre, which Bernini, the architect, showed him, but only for a moment; and he was in communication with Mansard, Le Vau, and Le Pautre.

On his return, the contentions regarding pulling down old St. Paul's were rife as ever; but the following year the fire occurred, and Wren was commissioned to make a plan for the rebuilding of the city. He proposed to restore this on a regular plan, with wide streets and piazzas, and for the banks of the river to be kept open on both sides with spacious quays, like the banks of the Seine, at Paris, at the present time. But these plans were defeated by the selfishness of the inhabitants and traders, and the banks of the Thames became once more blocked up with wharves and warehouses, narrow and winding lanes once more sprung up, which are now being opened up at a vast cost; and Wren could only devote his architectural talent to the churches, the Royal Exchange, and Custom House. These latter buildings were completed in the three following years; they have since both been burnt down and rebuilt. Temple Bar, a hideous erection, was finished in the fourth year, 1670. All this time the commencement of the new St. Paul's was impeded by the attempts of the commissioners to restore the old tumbling fabric, and it was only by successive fallings-in of the ruins that they were compelled to allow Wren to remove the whole decayed mass, and clear the ground for the foundations of his cathedral. These were laid in 1675, nine years after the fire, and the building was only terminated in thirty-five years, the stone on the summit of the lantern being laid by Wren's son, Christopher, in 1710. The choir, however, had been opened for divine service in 1697, in the twenty-second year of the erection.

During this long period Sir Christopher had been busily employed in raising many other buildings; amongst these, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich; St. Bride's; St. Swithin's; the Gateway Tower, Christ Church, Oxford; St. Antholine's, Watling Street; the palace at Winchester, never completed; Ashmolean Museum, and Queen's College Chapel, Oxford; St. James's, Westminster; St. Clement's, Eastcheap; St. Martin's, Ludgate Hill; St. Andrew's, Holborn; Christ Church, Newgate Street; Hampton Court Palace, an addition; Morden College, Blackheath; Greenwich Hospital; St. Dunstan in the East, tower and spire; Buckingham House, since pulled down; and Marlborough House.

His plan for his chef-d'oeuvre, St. Paul's, like his grand plan for the City, with its principal streets ninety feet* wide, its second-rate streets sixty, and its third-rate thirty, was rejected. This cathedral was a composition compact and simple, consisting of a single general octagonal mass, surmounted by a dome, and extended on its west side by a portico, and a short nave or vestibule within. The great idea of Wren was to adapt it to protestant worship, and therefore he produced a design for the interior, the parts of which were beautifully grouped together so as to produce at once regularity and intricacy, yet without those long side aisles and recesses, which the processions and confessionals of catholic worship require. But the duke of York, afterwards James II., was already projecting the restoration of popery, and not only was the beautiful plan of Wren rejected, but the one for the present erection was altered to suit catholic purposes, to the intense chagrin of the architect, which he resisted even with tears, but resisted in vain. Escaped from royal opposition, Wren, however, only fell into that of the commissioners, every man of whom thought he knew better how to plan a national cathedral than the great architect himself. The whole long period of Wrens erection of this noble pile was one continued battle with the conceit, ignorance, and dogmatism of the commissioners, who made his life a bitter martyrdom; and when we read the admired inscription on his tomb in St. Paul's, "Si monumentum quceris, circumspice," we behold, on obeying its injunction, only what he did, not what he suffered in doing it.

The style of St. Paul's, and, indeed, of all Wren's churches, is neither Grecian nor Gothic, but Italian,- influenced by the fashion which Bernini, the Italian architect of Louis XIV., had introduced into France. It is a class of architecture of which the Grecian is the basis, but which is so freely innovated upon, as to leave little general resemblance. This we must seek in the parts where we have columns and pilasters of every Grecian and, indeed, Roman order, pediments, peristyles, architraves, and friezes, mingled up with windows of all kinds, and all kinds of recesses and projections, the facades and intercolumniations ornamented with festoons, and wreaths, and human masks, and the whole surmounted by a great eastern dome, or by campaniles partaking of all the compilations of the main buildings. St. Paul's itself is a noble building, notwithstanding all the manifest gleanings from the antique and the mediaeval, and their combination into a whole which has nothing original but their combination into one superb design. Besides St. Paul's, the rest of his churches are disappointing, and we cannot avoid lamenting that Wren had lost the sense of the beauty of Gothic architecture, especially when we call to mind the exquisite churches of that style which adorn so many of the continental cities. Whilst the exteriors of Wren's churches show heavily in their huddled-up situations in our City streets, their interiors, in which much more of the Grecian and Roman styles are introduced, are equally heavy, and wanting in that pliant grace which distinguishes the interiors of our Gothic cathedrals. Perhaps the noblest work of Wren next to St. Paul's is Greenwich Hospital, which is more purely Grecian, and therefore displays a more graceful and majestic aspect. The Palace of Hampton Court, attached to the fine old Tudor pile of cardinal Wolsey, is a great square mass, in which the Dutch taste of William is said to have set aside Wren's original design. But surely William did not compel him to erect that ponderous barbarism of a Grecian colonnade in the second quadrangle of Hampton Court, attaching it to a Gothic building. In fact, neither Wren nor Inigo Jones appear to have had the slightest sense of the incongruity of such conjunctions. Jones actually erected a Grecian screen to the beautiful Gothic choir of Winchester Cathedral, and placed a Grecian bishop's throne in it, amid all the glorious canopy-work of that choir. The return to a better taste has swept these monstrosities away; but not so in the grand old Saxon cathedral of Durham, where one of Jones's Greek absurdities still truly screens all the simple beauties of the choir.

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Pictures for Progress of the Nation page 9

Old House of Peers
Old House of Peers >>>>
Old East India House
Old East India House >>>>
Medal of the Seven Bishops
Medal of the Seven Bishops >>>>
William III
William III >>>>
Whitefield preaching
Whitefield preaching >>>>
Convocation house, St. Pauls
Convocation house, St. Pauls >>>>
Addisons walk at Oxford
Addisons walk at Oxford >>>>
The residence of Richardson
The residence of Richardson >>>>
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope >>>>
St. Pauls cathedral
St. Pauls cathedral >>>>
Harpsichord
Harpsichord >>>>
Tomb of Sir Christopher Wren
Tomb of Sir Christopher Wren >>>>
St. Pauls cathedral
St. Pauls cathedral >>>>
Greenwich hospital
Greenwich hospital >>>>
William Hogarth
William Hogarth >>>>
Coins
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Costumes
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Ladies
Ladies >>>>
Gentlemens
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London street
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