Sir Christopher Wren was born in 1632; so at the time he began to build St. Paul's Cathedral he was between forty and fifty years old. His father was a clergyman, and Christopher was born in a country parsonage. He was quite a small boy when he was sent to Westminster School, for he was only fourteen when he left there and went to Oxford. In those days Oxford and Cambridge were almost like great public schools, and boys often went to college at the age at which they are now sent to Eton or Winchester. This boy already knew so much, and was such good company, that clever men liked to go and talk to "young Mr. Christopher Wren." While he was at Oxford he made several inventions—among other things a new kind of weathercock, and a pen with which two letters could be written at the same time. But these things are now useless and almost forgotten; and he had not at that time shown any sign that he would one day be a great architect, and build houses and palaces and churches, which would make his name always remembered in England.
But when he left Oxford he went abroad, and it was perhaps during his travels that he made up his mind as to what he would like to do, for soon after he came back his uncle, Bishop Wren, asked him to build a chapel for one of the colleges at Cambridge.
After the Great Fire, King Charles II., as I told you, sent for Christopher Wren, who had by that time become a well-known man, and had been made Sir Christopher Wren, and asked him to make a plan for rebuilding all that part of London which had been burnt down. This plan, if it could have been carried out, would have made London one of the most splendid cities in the world. But, unfortunately, there was not enough money, and at that time people did not much care what kind of buildings were put up, so long as they had houses to live in, and shops and warehouses in which to carry on their business. But, as it was, Sir Christopher was asked to build most of the churches of London and St. Paul's Cathedral.
On the 21st of June, 1675—nearly nine years after the Great Fire—the new cathedral was begun; and it was not till the year 1709, that Sir Christopher's son, Christopher, who had been a baby of one year old when his father laid the first stone, and who was now a grown-up man of thirty-five, laid the last stone of the "lantern," as it is called, above the dome, and old Sir Christopher, who was there, saw the great church finished at last. Soon afterwards he went to live at Hampton, but once every year he used to be driven up to St. Paul's Cathedral, and there he would sit under the dome, looking round him at this his greatest work, of which he was so fond and so proud. One winter day he caught cold in going there, and on the 25th of February, 1723, he died, and was buried in his own cathedral. When you go round St. Paul's you will see his tomb in the crypt, close by that of his daughter who had died some years before. He lies under one of the windows, and a plain stone slab covers his tomb. Over the north-transept door are put up, in letters of gold, these words in Latin which were written by his son—
"Beneath is laid the builder of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived more than ninety years, not for himself, but for the good of the State. Reader, if thou seekest his monument, look around thee."