York And Lincoln Compared
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The towers of Lincoln, simply as towers, are immeasurably finer than those of York; but the front of York, as a front, far surpasses the front of Lincoln.
As for the general outline, there can be no doubt as to the vast superiority of Lincoln. Lincoln has sacrificed a great deal to the enormous pitch of its roofs, but it has its reward in the distant view of the outside. The outline of York is spoiled by the incongruity between the low roofs of the nave and choir and the high roofs of the transepts. The dumpiness of the central tower of York—which is, in truth, the original Norman tower cased —can not be wholly made a matter of blame to the original builders. For it is clear that some finish, whether a crown like those at Newcastle and Edinburgh or any other, was intended. Still the pro-portion which is solemn in Romanesque becomes squat in perpendicular, and, if York has never received its last finish, Lincoln has lost the last finish which it received. Surely no one who is not locally sworn to the honor of York can doubt about preferring the noble central tower of Lincoln, soaring still, even tho shorn of its spire. The eastern transept, again, is far more skilfully man-aged at Lincoln than at York. It may well be doubted whether such a transept is really an improvement; but if it is to be there at all, it is certainly better to make it the bold and important feature which it is at Lincoln, than to leave it, as it is at York, half afraid, as it were, to proclaim its own existence.
Coming to the east end, we again find, as at the west, Lincoln throwing away great advantages by a perverse piece of sham. The east window of Lincoln is the very noblest specimen of the pure and bold tracery of its own date. But it is crusht, as it were, by the huge gable window above it—big enough to be the east window of a large church—and the aisles, whose east windows are as good on their smaller scale as the great window, are absurdly finished with sham gables, destroying the real and natural outline of the whole composition. At York we have no gables at all; the vast east window, with its many flimsy mullions, is wonderful rather than beautiful; still the east end of York is real, and so far it surpasses that of Lincoln.
On entering either of these noble churches, the great fault to be found is the lack of apparent height. To some extent this is due to a cause common to both. We are convinced that both churches are too long. The eastern part of Lincoln—the angels' choir-is in itself one of the loveliest of human works; the proportion of the side elevations and the beauty of the details are both simply perfect. But its addition has spoiled the minster as a whole. The vast length at one unbroken height gives to the eastern view of the inside the effect of looking through a tube, and the magnificent east window, when seen from the western part of the choir, is utterly dwarfed. And the same arrangement is open to the further objection that it does not fall in with the ecclestiastical arrangements of the building. .
In the nave of York, looking eastward or west-ward, it is hard indeed to believe that we are in a church only a few feet lower than Westminster or Saint Ouens. The height is utterly lost, partly through the enormous width, partly through the low and crushing shape of the vaulting-arch. The vault, it must be remembered, is an imitation of an imitation, a modern copy of a wooden roof made to imitate stone. This imitation of stone construction in wood runs through the greater part of the church; it comes out specially in the transepts, where a not very successful attempt is made to bring the gable windows within the vault—the very opposite to the vast space lost in the roofs at Lincoln. Yet with all this, many noble views may be got in York nave and transepts, provided only the beholder takes care never to look due east or west. The western view is still further injured by the treatment of the west window—in itself an admirable piece of tracery-which fits into nothing, and seems cut through the wall at an arbitrary point. But the nave elevation, taken bay by bay, is admirable. Looking across out of the aisle —the true way to judge—the real height at last comes out, and we are reminded of some of the most stately minsters of France. . . .