The presiding churchman on the occasion was Dean Cockburn a tall, portly old man, fresh complexioned and silvery haired and better fitted than most men to enact the part of an imposing figure in a piece of impressive ceremony. 1 looked at the dean with some little interest: he had been twice before the public during the previous five years once as a dealer in church offices, for which grave offence he had been deprived by his ecclesiastical superior, the archbishop, but reponed by the Queen and once as a redoubtable assertor of what he deemed Bible cosmogony, against the facts of the geologists.
The old blood boltered barons who lived in the times of the Crusades used to make all square with Heaven, when particularly aggrieved in their consciences, by slaying a few scores of infidels apiece; the dean had fallen, it would seem, in these latter days, on a similar mode of doing penance and expiated the crime of making canons residentiary for a consideration, by demolishing a whole conclave of geologists.
The Cathedral service seemed rather a poor thing on the whole. The coldly read or fantastically chanted prayers, common placed by the twice a day repetition of centuries the mechanical responses the correct inanity of the choristers, who had not even the life of music in them the total want of lay attendance, for the loungers who had come in by the side door went off en masse when the organ had performed its introductory part and the prayers began the ranges of empty seats, which, huge as is the building which contains them, would scarce accommodate an average sized Free Church congregation all conspired to show that the Cathedral service of the English Church does not represent a living devotion, but a devotion that perished centuries ago. It is a petrifaction a fossil existing, it is true, in a fine state of keeping, but still an exanimate stone.
Many ages must have elapsed since it was the living devotion 1 had witnessed on the previous evening in the double bedded room if, indeed, it was ever so living a devotion, or aught, at best, save a mere painted image. Not even as a piece of ceremonial is it in keeping with the august edifice in which it is performed. The great organ does its part admirably and is indisputably a noble machine; its thirty two feet double wood diapason pipe, cut into lengths, would make coffins for three Goliaths of Gath, brass armour and all: but the merely human part of the performance is redolent of none of the poetry which plays around the ancient walls, or streams through the old painted glass. It reminded me of the story told by the eastern traveller who, in exploring a magnificent temple, passed through superb porticoes and noble halls, to find a monkey enthroned in a little dark sanctum, as the god of the whole.
I had a long and very agreeable walk along the city ramparts. White watery clouds still hung in the sky; but the day was decidedly fine and dank fields and glistening hedgerows steamed merrily in the bright warm sunshine. York, like all the greater towns of England, if we except the capital and some two or three others, stands on the New Red Sandstone; and the broad extent of level fertility which it commands is, to a Scotch eye, very striking.