Canterbury Cathedral II

By William Morris

I am sorry to trouble you again in the matter of the proposed restoration of Canterbury Cathedral, but the Dean's letter shows that he has misunderstood both Mr Loftie and myself somewhat seriously, I think. He is mistaken in reading my letter as an approval of the schemes of restoration now afoot:on the contrary, I implied that the removal of the stalls now proposed would practically destroy a worthy work of art, which I value pretty much as Mr Loftie does, and I expressed a dread, which I still feel, that changes would not stop there, but would spread to the ancient fabric of the choir: I believe myself to be justified in that fear by the well-known fact that assurances of the kind the Dean is now giving are impossible to be kept to when restoration once begins. I am glad to hear from the Dean that he dreads paint in restoration, though it is by no means the only thing to fear; but I protest strongly against the charge that I consider the ancient painted work of our churches coarse daubing. I look on it rather with the greatest interest, and know that the art in it is often great, however rude it may be: it is the unfeeling and dead imitation of it so rashly practised in restoration that I condemn.

But the Dean's most serious misunderstanding both of Mr Loftie's letter and mine and of the general aim of our Society is in supposing that we wish our ancient buildings reduced to the state of ruins, whereas we earnestly press of their guardians the duty of keeping them in sound and orderly repair, so that they may never want restoration. Where Canterbury Cathedral has been [left] unrestored it is in as good a state as in the thirteenth century, and, man's work as it is, has hardly begun to perish yet, nor will it for many a hundred years, if only the roofs be well kept: where it is restored - well, let the ghost of the Norman tower tell that tale.

The Dean's argument about divine worship I do not understand, coming from him; in the mouth of an ultra-montane priest I should take it to mean, `Yes, we know our doings are in bad taste, but we don't heed that, since they beguile the Vulgar - let them be beguiled.' For my part,remembering well the impression that Canterbury Cathedral made on me when I first stood in it as a little boy, I must needs think that a great building which is obviously venerable and weighty with history is fitter for worship than one turned into a scientific demonstration of what the original architects intended to do: I think that these learned restorations are good on paper to be kept in portfolios, but not good in new stone for the use of people who are busy and in earnest.

Letter to the Times, 7 June 1877.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology