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Canterbury Tower
by [?]

To-day I had a singular pleasure heightened by an intermingled strangeness and even terror–qualities which bring out the quality of pleasure in the same way that a bourdon in a pedal-point passage brings out the quality of what a German would, I think, call the over-work. I was at Canterbury, where the great central tower is wreathed with scaffolding, and has a dim, blurred outline from a distance, as though it were being rapidly shaken to and fro. I found a friendly and communicable man who offered to take me over it; we climbed a dizzy little winding stair, with bright glimpses at intervals, through loop-holes, of sunlight and wheeling birds; then we crept along the top of a vaulted space with great pockets of darkness to right and left. Soon we were in the gallery of the lantern, from which we could see the little people crawling on the floor beneath, like slow insects. And then we mounted a short ladder which took us out of one of the great belfry windows, on to the lowest of the planked galleries. What a frail and precarious structure it seemed: the planks bent beneath our feet. And here came the first exquisite delight–that of being close to the precipitous face of the tower, of seeing the carved work which had never been seen close at hand since its erection except by the jackdaws and pigeons. I was moved and touched by observing how fine and delicate all the sculpture was. There were rows and rows of little heraldic devices, which from below could appear only as tiny fretted points; yet every petal of rose or fleur-de-lys was as scrupulously and cleanly cut as if it had been meant to be seen close at hand; a waste of power, I suppose; but what a pretty and delicate waste! and done, I felt, in faithful days, when the carving was done as much to delight, if possible, the eye of God, as to please the eye of man. Higher and higher we went, till at last we reached the parapet. And then by a dizzy perpendicular ladder to which I committed myself in faith, we reached a little platform on the very top of one of the pinnacles. The vane had just been fixed, and the stone was splashed with the oozing solder. And now came the delight of the huge view all round: the wooden heights, the rolling hills; old church towers rose from flowering orchards; a mansion peeped through immemorial trees; and far to the north-east we could see the white cliff of Pegwell Bay; endeared to me through the beautiful picture by Dyce, where the pale crags rise from the reefs green with untorn weeds. There on the horizon I could see shadowy sails on the steely sea-line.

Near at hand there were the streets, and then the Close, with its comfortable canonical houses, in green trim gardens, spread out like a map at my feet. We looked down on to the tops of tall elm-trees, and saw the rooks walking and sitting on the grey-splashed platforms of twigs, that swayed horribly in the breeze. It was pleasant to see, as I did, the tiny figure of my reverend host walking, a dot of black, in his garden beneath, reading in a book. The long grey-leaded roof ran broad and straight, a hundred feet below. One felt for a moment as a God might feel, looking on a corner of his created world, and seeing that it was good. One seemed to have surmounted the earth, and to watch the little creeping orbits of men with a benevolent compassion, perceiving how strait they were. The large air hissed briskly in the pinnacles, and roared through the belfry windows beneath. I cannot describe the eager exhilaration which filled me; but I guessed that the impulse which bids men fling themselves from such heights is not a morbid prepossession, not a physical dizziness, but an intemperate and overwhelming joy. It seems at such a moment so easy to float and swim through the viewless air, as if one would be borne up on the wings of angels.

But, alas! the hour warned us to return. On our way down we disturbed a peevish jackdaw from her nest; she had dragged up to that intolerable height a pile of boughs that would have made a dozen nests; she had interwoven for the cup to hold her eggs a number of strips of purloined canvas. There lay the three speckled eggs, the hope of the race, while the chiding mother stood on a pinnacle hard by, waiting for the intruder to begone.

A strange sense of humiliation and smallness came upon me as we emerged at last into the nave; the people that had seemed so small and insignificant, were, alas! as big and as important as myself; I felt as an exile from the porches of heaven, a fallen spirit.