Leamington, November 14th, 1859. - J - - and I walked to Lillington the other day. Its little church was undergoing renovation when we were here two years ago, and now seems to be quite renewed, with the exception of its square, gray, battlemented tower, which has still the aspect of unadulterated antiquity. On Saturday J - - -and I walked to Warwick by the old road, passing over the bridge of the Avon, within view of the castle. It is as fine a piece of English scenery as exists anywhere, - the quiet little river, shadowed with drooping trees, and, in its vista, the gray towers and long line of windows of the lordly castle, with a picturesquely varied outline; ancient strength, a little softened by decay. . . . .
The town of Warwick, I think, has been considerably modernized since I first saw it. The whole of the central portion of the principal street now looks modern, with its stuccoed or brick fronts of houses, and, in many cases, handsome shop windows. Leicester Hospital and its adjoining chapel still look venerably antique; and so does a gateway that half bestrides the street. Beyond these two points on either side it has a much older aspect. The modern signs heighten the antique impression.
February 5th, 1860. - Mr. and Mrs. Bennoch are staying for a little while at Mr. B - - - 's at Coventry, and Mr. B - - - called upon us the other day, with Mr. Bennoch, and invited us to go and see the lions of Coventry; so yesterday U - - and I went. It was not my first visit, therefore I have little or nothing to record, unless it were to describe a ribbon-factory into which Mr. B - - - took us. But I have no comprehension of machinery, and have only a confused recollection of an edifice of four or five stories, on each floor of which were rows of huge machines, all busy with their iron hands and joints in turning out delicate ribbons. It was very curious and unintelligible to me to observe how they caused different colored patterns to appear, and even flowers to blossom, on the plain surface of a ribbon. Some of the designs were pretty, and I was told that one manufacturer pays 500 pounds annually to French artists (or artisans, for I do not know whether they have a connection with higher art) merely for new patterns of ribbons. The English find it impossible to supply themselves with tasteful productions of this sort merely from the resources of English fancy. If an Englishman possessed the artistic faculty to the degree requisite to produce such things, he would doubtless think himself a great artist, and scorn to devote himself to these humble purposes. Every Frenchman is probably more of an artist than one Englishman in a thousand.
We ascended to the very roof of the factory, and gazed thence over smoky Coventry, which is now a town of very considerable size, and rapidly on the increase. The three famous spires rise out of the midst, that of St. Michael being the tallest and very beautiful. Had the day been clear, we should have had a wide view on all sides; for Warwickshire is well laid out for distant prospects, if you can only gain a little elevation from which to see them.
Descending from the roof, we next went to see Trinity Church, which has just come through an entire process of renovation, whereby much of its pristine beauty has doubtless been restored; but its venerable awfulness is greatly impaired. We went into three churches, and found that they had all been subjected to the same process. It would be nonsense to regret it, because the very existence of these old edifices is involved in their being renewed; but it certainly does deprive them of a great part of their charm, and puts one in mind of wigs, padding, and all such devices for giving decrepitude the aspect of youth. In the pavement of the nave and aisles there are worn tombstones, with defaced inscriptions, and discolored marbles affixed against the wall; monuments, too, where a mediaeval man and wife sleep side by side on a marble slab; and other tombs so old that the inscriptions are quite gone. Over an arch, in one of the churches, there was a fresco, so old, dark, faded, and blackened, that I found it impossible to make out a single figure or the slightest hint of the design. On the whole, after seeing the churches of Italy, I was not greatly impressed with these attempts to renew the ancient beauty of old English minsters; it would be better to preserve as sedulously as possible their aspect of decay, in which consists the principal charm. . . . .
On our way to Mr. B - - - 's house, we looked into the quadrangle of a charity-school and old men's hospital, and afterwards stepped into a large Roman Catholic church, erected within these few years past, and closely imitating the mediaeval architecture and arrangements. It is strange what a plaything, a trifle, an unserious affair, this imitative spirit makes of a huge, ponderous edifice, which if it had really been built five hundred years ago would have been worthy of all respect. I think the time must soon come when this sort of thing will be held in utmost scorn, until the lapse of time shall give it a claim to respect. But, methinks, we had better strike out any kind of architecture, so it be our own, however wretched, than thus tread back upon the past.
Mr. B - - - now conducted us to his residence, which stands a little beyond the outskirts of the city, on the declivity of a hill, and in so windy a spot that, as he assured me, the very plants are blown out of the ground. He pointed to two maimed trees whose tops were blown off by a gale two or three years since; but the foliage still covers their shortened summits in summer, so that he does not think it desirable to cut them down.