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TRAFALGAR SQUARE AND THE NATIONAL
I ET us find ourselves again at Charing Cross, which L forms the south-eastern angle of Trafalgar Square, a dreary expanse of granite with two granite fountains, intended to commemorate the last victory of Nelson. Its northern side is occupied by the miserable buildings of the National Gallery; its eastern and western sides by a hideous hotel and a frightful club. Where the noble Jacobian screen of Northumberland House (which was so admirably adapted for a National Portrait Gallery) once drew the eye away from these abominations by its dignity and beauty, a view of the funnel-roof of Charing Cross Railway Station forms a poor substitute for the timehonoured palace of the Percy's! In the centre of the square is a Corinthian pillar of Devonshire granite, 145 feet in height, by W. Railton, erected in 1843. It supports a statue of Nelson by E. H. Baily, R.A., a very poor work, which, however, does not much signify, as it can only be properly seen from the top of the Duke of York's column, which no one ascends. The pedestal of the column is decorated by reliefs.
North. The Battle of Nile by Woodington.
The noble lions at the foot of the column were added by Sir E. Landseer in 1867. Only one of them was modelled : a slight variation in the treatment adapted the others to their pedestals. Their chief grandeur lies in their mighty simplicity.
At the south-west angle of the square is a statue of Sir
C. S. Napier by Adams; at the south-east angle a statue of Sir Henry Havelock by Behnes. On a pedestal at the north-west corner is an equestrian statue of George IV. by Chantrey, intended to surmount the Marble Arch when it stood in front of Buckingham Palace. The corresponding pedestal is vacant, and likely to remain so : there has never been a pendant to George IV.
On the east side of Trafalgar Square is its one ornament. Here, on a noble basement, approached by a broad flight of steps, rises the beautiful portico of the Church of St. Martin in the Fields. It is the masterpiece of Gibbs (1721—26), and is the only perfect example of a Grecian portico in London. The regular rectangular plan on which Trafalgar Square was first laid out was abandoned simply to bring it into view; yet, in 1877, the Metropolitan Board of Works, for the sake of giving uniformity to a new street, seriously contemplated the destruction of the well-graded basement to which it owes all its beauty of proportion, and which is one of the chief features of a Greek portico. However, Parliament happily interfered, and the portico survives.
“Beautiful for situation, elegant in proportion, and perfect in construction, it is precisely the kind of building that the angle of Trafalgar Square requires. It is thoroughly in its place, is in harmony with all its surroundings, and lends more grace than it receives to the finest site in Europe.' From whatever point it is seen, it impresses the beholder as a work of art, impelling him to draw nearer and examine it in detail, and unlike many other architectural structures it does not disappoint upon examination."--Morning Post, Feb., 1877.
The building of St. Martin's is commemorated in the lines of Savage
“O Gibbs! whose art the solemn fane can raise,
But its portico is its best feature, and the effect even of this is injured by the tower, which seems to rise out of it. The sides of the church are poor ; "in all,” as Walpole says, “is wanting that harmonious simplicity which bespeaks a genius.” The vane on the handsome steeple bears a crown, to show that this is the royal parish. In its upper story is preserved a "sanctus bell” from the earlier church on this site ; it was rung at the point when the priest said “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth,” that the Catholic population outside might share in the feeling of the service.
The existence of a church here is mentioned as early as 1222. Henry VIII. was induced to rebuild it by the annoyance which he felt at the funerals constantly passing his windows of Whitehall on their way to St. Margaret's, and his church, still really “in the Fields," to which a chancel was added by Prince Henry in 1607, became a favourite burial-place in the time of the Stuarts. It may be called the artists' church, for amongst those interred here were Nicholas Hiliard, miniature-painter to Elizabeth, 1619 ; Paul Vansomer, painter to James I., 1621 ; Sir John Davies the poet, author of “ Nosce teipsum," so much extolled by Hallam and Southey, 1626; Nicholas Laniere the musician, 1646 ; Dobson, the first eminent portrait-painter of English birth, called “the English Vandyke," 1646; Nicholas Stone the sculptor, 1647; and Louis Laguerre, 1721. The Hon. Robert Boyle (1691), the religious philosopher, author of many theological works, was buried here, and his funeral sermon was preached by Bishop Burnet, who was his intimate friend. Two of the tombs from the ancient church, those of Sir Thomas Mayerne, physician to James I. and Charles I., 1655–56, and of Secretary Coventry, 1686, are preserved in the vaults of the present edifice. The register of the church records the baptism of the great Lord Bacon, born hard by at York House, in 1561. It has been said that Prince Charles Edward renounced the religion of his forefathers here.*
Walpole's Letters to Sir Horace Mann.