« PreviousContinue »
We entirely agree with our author that the arrangement of a church is a matter much too serious to be treated as a question of taste. Churches, he says, should be contrived so that all can hear and all can see. Yet every day, in defiance of what might appear a truism, plaster is scraped away to expose dark grey or red stone, and internal walls are made to exbibit red brickwork, which, by some strange confusion of thought, is supposed to be a more 'real' material than other combinations of lime and clay ; and the result of all this is, that, except on a very bright day towards noon, it is impossible to see to read. This in some churches, where the ritualistic arrangements' are such that the congregation cannot follow them, is of little consequence. But it seems that even the officiating minister may be doomed to darkness. The Ecclesiologist' (No. cxiii. p. 160) mentions a report that a certain curate has put a skylight into the roof of his church, and his excuse seems to be considered an aggra. vation of his offence. The man alleged (we are told) that the light had been so excluded by donations of painted glass, that he could not see to read. The • Ecclesiologist’ will not vouch for the fact, but seems charitably disposed to suspend his belief of this enormity till positive proof is adduced.
But even if architecture of a certain class were as effectual in influencing the feelings as its warmest admirers have ever dreamed, it would not be right, even in order to secure so great an advantage, to set aside those rules which it is thought dishonest to violate in the ordinary concerns of life. When the managers of a charitable fund get into debt by carrying out their own notions of architectural propriety, they are hardly acting fairly by the rest of the contributors. If, for instance, the building committee of a school believe that sound instruction can be communicated only under a roof of true Gothic pitch, and that piety and mullioned windows are inseparable, let them say so, and diligently canvass the neighbourhood for increased subscriptions, but let them not recklessly accept an estimate which exceeds by one-half the amount of their funds.
We will take an example of actual occurrence and general notoriety. Some sixteen years ago the inhabitants of the diocese of Hereford were informed by a circular letter that the tower of their beautiful cathedral was in a dangerous state ; a subscription was consequently opened, and a large sum was raised. Shortly afterwards those who visited Hereford found that the choir was dismantled, the additions of later date had been swept away, the tombs of several generations had been torn down and lay smashed together in the cloisters in confusion that defied, and it might be suspected was intended to defy, all future restorations. In the nave also great alterations were projected, and the diocese were asked for a second contribution. For a long time divine service was suspended. At last the nave was completed. The roof of the side aisles has been painted with a light scroll pattern which contrasts as strangely and disagreeably with the stern plain masonry of the walls as a French lace cap with the naked limbs of a Grecian Venus. But it is not the taste of this proceeding with which we are now concerned. We complain that the questionable and the superfluous parts of the design were finished first, in the belief, as we must infer, that what was essential must of necessity, by some means or other, be provided for. If this was the calculation it has failed. The funds are long since exhausted, and the choir still remains unfinished. Divine service is performed in the nave by the help of some clumsy woodwork belonging to the old choir, and of a canvas screen which shuts out the unfinished part of the building. We profess to give no more of the history of these repairs than may be learnt by a perusal of the circulars and a visit to the cathedral. The dean, under whose superintendence these works were carried on, is no more. We charge his memory with no heavier imputation than an excess of ecclesiological zeal; and the more amiable and upright his character may have been, the more instructive is the warning his example conveys.* We beg it may not be supposed we are finding fault with the necessary repairs or the restoration of one of our noblest monuments. The subject of restoration, it is true, is not the simple matter which it appears to many; it is full of difficulties, and much mischief has been perpetrated in its name; but this is a question of taste, and, though well deserving attention, does not belong to our present subject. We are now making our protest only against the improvidence which begins an undertaking without funds to complete it, and the disingenuousness which asks for subscriptions in the name of charity and necessity, and applies them to the purposes of taste.
That we may not, however, freeze all zeal into the methodical prudence of a bill-broker, we will admit that there may be cases of such urgent need that the Christian is justified in throwing himself headlong into a host of liabilities from which he can be rescued only by the exertions of the charitable, just as of yore the Roman leader has been known to throw the eagle into the thickest of the fight, in the desperate confidence that the legionaries must rush forwards to redeem it. But such cases are rare, and must each be judged on its own merits ; and, above all, to ensure an acquittal for the insolvent philanthropist, it must be proved not only that the necessity was great, but that nothing has been wasted on superfluities.
* We understand that the present chapter are about to complete the repairs at a considerable sacrifice.
Our concession thus guarded will, we fear, in practice be found to exempt but few cases from ou censure. Those who will take the trouble to examine the statements containing the piteous tale of deficits and debts which they weekly receive, will be struck by the want of care, and want of knowledge of business, which have for the most part led to these entanglements. Half the amount of patience, ingenuity, and perseverance which are displayed in begging might have prevented the necessity for begging. The time that is lost in poring over the Court Guide and the charity lists, might be profitably spent in acquiring a practical knowledge of business, which, of all accomplishments, is the most useful to those engaged in works of charity.
It would surprise those who have never served on building committees to find how much money may be saved, not merely by the judicious choice of an architect, but by severely scrutinizing his plans, and taking care to ascertain that they provide the accommodation wanted at the cheapest rate compatible with durability and good workmanship. In the case of a metropolitan hospital, we have been assured that an estimate was reduced from 10,0001. to 60001. by a member of the committee who had firmness enough to insist on the duty of economy. It is still more surprising how great is the difference between the tenders of different builders, all responsible and trustworthy men, for the same contract. The cause of this difference is not that one is content with a much lower rate of profit than another, but that the different circumstances of each at the time, arising out of the accidents of trade, alter the combinations out of which he is to make his profit. But be the cause what it may, fact is notorious, and should be turned to account by those who have the superintendence of charitable funds. We are not now alluding to the evils of jobbing or favouritism. No doubt we should steadily keep in mind the possibility of their occurrence, though we trust it is rare, and to be apprehended chiefly in the case of long-established and highly-endowed charities. Our present protest is against honest and well-intentioned error alone, and we must urge the credulous and indolent not to resign themselves supinely to the first architect's plan and the first builder's estimate as to an inevitable necessity, and then to reserve all their energies for levying contributions subsequently by circulars, bazaars, and dinners.
It is to be regretted that public boards show as little disposition to economize the resources of the charitably disposed
as private committees or as single individuals. The rules of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners seem framed with the view of making gifts to the Church as onerous and expensive to the donors as possible; they act as a tax and a check on liberality; and had Rome shown as little worldly wisdom, the statute of mortmain would never have been needed. The Committee of the Privy Council of Education seem only to fear that they should not impose enough of expense as the price of their patronage and assistance. It is natural that the rector of the parish should treat the school, the building of which he is superintending, as his hobby and plaything, and that he should hear with jealousy any proposal for curtailing its cost. But my Lords' have the cause of education throughout the country to promote, and should extend their views. One of their first steps, we might expect, would have been to offer to public competition a premium for the plan of a schoolhouse which should combine all their requirements with the cheapest form of construction ; but, on the contrary, their model plan is framed without any special regard to economy, and an impression generally prevails that it would be by no means easy to obtain their sanction for any less expensive design. Among the most prominent of their requirements is a boarded floor, a point which has met with much resistance, and to which the committee attach more than proportionally great importance. They even condescend to reason the point, though we must say with something of the looseness with which Dives, who holds the purse-strings, will always argue with Lazarus, who begs. It is unnecessary, say their Lordships, to prove that wooden floors are better than those of brick or stone, because all use wooden floors who are sufficiently well off to pay for them,' a mode of argument which would be quite as valid for the introduction of Turkey carpets. But admitting the premises, which are not quite unassailable, and admitting further the conclusion that those who (like all others who live in their kitchens) must pass their lives on a brick floor ought nevertheless to be educated on a wooden one--for we do not deny that the sedentary habits of school may make a difference-can any reason be given, we would ask, why the simple expedient would not answer of placing a foot-board to the forms and tables at which the scholars are seated, and a wooden platform or a few yards of cocoa-nut matting for the teacher ?
It would be a startling calculation could we ascertain how many schools this rule of their Lordships has caused to be rebuilt; and this perhaps in the eyes of many is its principal merit. When a school-committee receive an order to construct a wooden floor in reply to their request for assistance, the builder who is
consulted is (of course) of opinion that it is not worth while to effect so expensive an alteration in so “tumble-down a building. Of course, too, her Majesty's Inspector coincides in this decision, and the old school-house is condemned. It is true that their Lordships make liberal grants in aid of the expense they impose. This is an answer to the complaints of the individual contributors; but it is no answer to us. We complain that by the local subscribers and by the public, whose stewards their Lordships are, an aggregate sum, varying from about 8001. to 15001., is spent. We do not say it is all thrown away--the new schools are undoubtedly better than the old; but can any one who has studied the subject of charity, who is aware of the social wants of the country, and its charitable resources-can such an one tell us that it has been laid out to the best advantage ?
The system of begging, to which we have so often been obliged to allude, has grown to a magnitude which threatens to be highly injurious to the cause of charity. Applications come in such numbers as to excite little or no attention; their language is so pressing and so importunate that it has become as difficult to find phrases to carry the conviction of real distress as to impress a belief of the virtues of the defunct in an epitaph. They come to us from the most remote districts, without one guarantee of the truth of the statements, or even of the genuineness of the application; and it is an important consideration that the professional writers of begging-letters have already availed themselves of this method of levying contributions on the credulous public.
Supposing that a reference to the clergy-list proves that there is such an incumbent and such a parish, and that we take care, by a post-office order, to convey our contribution to the person intended, and to no other, who is to guarantee that the need is as great as is stated, or that the money will be judiciously employed? We have never heard of a case in which such applications have been corruptly made, nor have we ever heard and the fact greatly redounds to the credit of the clergy) that such a suspicion has been entertained. But though there may be no fear of corruption, there is no certainty that the case is one of those which are most deserving of assistance. Moreover the drain on the time and resources of the incumbent is no trifling consideration. reverend gentleman, the minister of a suburban district, informs us, in his circular, that he intends to ask 10,000 persons for one sovereign each ; and many, whether by mistake or by design we know not, address their applications again and again to the same individuals. We can easily understand that the ecclesiastical authorities