Gateway to the Classics: Tales from Westminster Abbey by Mrs. Frewen Lord
Tales from Westminster Abbey by  Mrs. Frewen Lord

Epilogue: 1917

Several years have passed since this little book was written, and others have now been laid to sleep in their "Abbey's friendly shade." Close to the grave of Sir Isaac Newton, in the Nave, is the grave of Lord Kelvin. It could not be in a more appropriate place, for William Thomson, who was made Lord Kelvin by Queen Victoria, on New Year's Day, 1892, was a true disciple of the great Sir Isaac Newton, who died on the 20th of March, 1726. Just 181 years later Lord Kelvin (who was born in 1824, and died in 1907) was laid beside him. He, too, had made wonderful discoveries in science. Lord Kelvin will always be gratefully remembered by seamen, for he did much to improve "the mariner's compass." He also invented an apparatus by means of which the depths of the water in which a ship was sailing or steaming could be taken with absolute certainty, so that even in a fog she would not run aground. It is said that to prove its success he navigated his own yacht in a thick fog safely from the Bay of Biscay to the Solent. When we telegraph to friends beyond the seas, we again think of Lord Kelvin, who superintended the laying of the Atlantic and many other submarine cables. Up to the year 1900 Lord Kelvin had patented fifty-six inventions, and yet he, like Sir Isaac Newton, felt that he had only explored a tiny bit of "the great ocean of Truth." Lord Lister, whose mural tablet is close by, in the North Aisle of the Nave, would have felt the same. Yet his wonderful discoveries in antiseptic surgery have brought him the gratitude of hundreds of thousands. In these days of the great war we think specially of him.

On the monument to Lord Shaftesbury, in the Nave, we read the words, "Love—Serve." They might equally well be written about the Baroness Burdett Coutts, whose grave is close to his monument, and below the recumbent figure of Lord Salisbury—Prime Minister of England from 1886 to 1892 and from 1895 to 1902. Miss Burdett Coutts, who was made Baroness Burdett Coutts by Queen Victoria in 1871, spent all her life, as Lord Shaftesbury did, and most of her money (and she, too, was very rich), to make the lives of all around her happier, and better, and more comfortable. Not only in England did she build churches, schools, markets, garden cities, and open-air spaces, but all over the world she spread happiness. She died on the 30th December, 1906, in her ninety-first year, and was buried in the Abbey on the 5th January, 1907. Just two years before one of her oldest friends had been laid to rest in Poet's Corner. This was Sir Henry Irving, the great actor, who sleeps well close to the monument to Shakespeare, and not far from the grave of Lord Tennyson. He was acting Lord Tennyson's play, "Becket," the very day he died, 13th October, 1905, and was buried here on the 20th. Henry Irving will always be remembered as the actor who interpreted, in the most perfect possible way, the plays of our two great patriot poets—Shakespeare and Tennyson. There is one more thing to be seen here, to-day, that would have rejoiced the hearts of all these three. Those who visit the Abbey, in these days of the greatest war the world has ever known, can, and do, see what they will be proud all their days to remember, and to relate to those who come after them. In the North Ambulatory of the Choir is the monument to General Wolfe. It is just 158 years since France and England were fighting against one another in Canada. On the 13th of September, 1759, was fought the Battle of the Heights of Abraham, when Montcalm, the French General, and Wolfe, the English General, were killed. Six days later, on the 18th September, Quebec, which had belonged to France, surrendered to England. To-day Canada has come in her thousands to fight with France, and the other Allies, to uphold whatsoever things are true, and honest, and of good report. And the Colours of some of the Canadian regiments now at the Front, have been left in the safe keeping of the Dean and Chapter, and on the monument to General Wolfe. There they are—the King's Colours and the Battalion Colours of thirteen infantry, and one artillery regiment—making a most magnificent blaze of colour, and reminding us of all those who, in the present, as well as in the past, give all they have—even to their lives—for God, King, and country. It is very fitting that the Colours should be here in our Abbey. As in the old days, when our cathedrals were built, all that was most precious was enclosed in the shrine or chantry, which was looked upon as the heart of the cathedral, so may the whole of Westminster Abbey, where our kings and queens are crowned, and where many of those who have served their country are commemorated, be looked upon as the Shrine of the Empire. And what can be more precious than this "outward and visible sign" of the spirit that is in all those who have done so much for our Empire—the spirit of service. As long as this spirit remains amongst us, so long do we know that the foundation stone of our Empire is secure.

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