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by the merchants of London, as a resort in which to transact business?"
"You may well ask the question, indeed," answered Mr. Wilmot; "and, in replying to it, I shall first tell you, that, in the year 1441, the beautiful steeple of St. Paul's was struck by lightning; (it was the loftiest in the kingdom;) and, together with the bells and roof, was utterly destroyed. Never did parties in religion run higher than about this period of the reign of Elizabeth. The manner in which this accident was commented upon, by adverse disputants, not only marks the temper of the times; but informs us to how many purposes this building, professedly devoted to divine worship, was appropriated.
"A papist immediately dispersed a paper, representing this accident as a judgment from Heaven, for the discontinuance of the meeting, and other services, which used to be performed in the church, at different hours of the day and night. Pilkington, bishop of Durham, who preached at Paul's Cross, after the accident, was equally disposed to regard it as a judgment; but on the sins of London in general, and particularly on certain abuses, by which the church had formerly been polluted. In a tract, published in answer to that of the papists, he afterwards gave an animated description of the practices of which this cathedral had been the theatre; curious, in the present day, as a record of forgotten customs.
"He said, 'No place had been more abused than St. Paul's had been, nor more against the receiving of Christ's gospel; wherefore it was more wonderful that God had spared it so long, than that he overthrew it now. * * From the top of the spire, at coronations, or other solemn triumphs, some, for vain-glory, had thrown themselves down by a rope, and so killed themselves, vainly to please other men's eyes. At the battlements of the steeple, sundry times, were used their popish anthems, to call upon their gods, with the torch and taper, in the evenings. In the top of one of the pinnacles was Lollard's Tower, where many an innocent soul had been cruelly terminated and murdered. In the middest alley was their long censer, reaching from the roof to the ground; as though the Holy Ghost came down in their censing, in likeness of a dove. In the arches, men complained of wrong and delayed judgments in ecclesiastical causes; and divers had been condemned there by Annas and Caiphas, for Christ's cause. Their images hung on every wall, and pillar, and door, with their pilgrimages, and worshipping of them; passing over their massing and many altars, and the rest of their popish service.
"' The south-side alley was for usury and popery; the north for simony; and the horsefair in the midst, for all kinds of bargains, meetings, brawlings, murders, and conspiracies. The font, for ordinary payments of money, as well known to all men as the beggar knows his dish; so that without and within, above the ground and under, over the roof and beneath, from the top of the steeple and spire down to the floor, not one spot was free from wickedness.'
"How the divines of that age reconciled these violents philippics against those who differed from them in religious views, with the injunction left by the apostle, in his masterly delineation of Christian charity, is not for me to determine," said Mr. Wilmot. "You will observe, that the practice of making St. Paul's a kind of exchange, for transactions of all kinds of business, and a place of meeting for idlers of all sorts, is here alluded to: it is frequently mentioned by writers of this and the two succeeding reigns; and when, and by what means the custom was put an end to, does not appear.
"It was here that Sir Nicholas Throgmorton held a conference with an emissary of Wyatt's: it was here that one of the bravos, engaged in the noted murder of Alden of Feversham, was hired. It was in St. Paul's that FalstafFis made to say, he bought Bardolph.
"In bishop Earl's admirable little book, called, 'Microcosmography,' the scene is described with all the wit of the author, and somewhat of the quaintness of his age, which was that of James the First. He says, 'Paul's walk is the land's epitome, or you may call it the lesser isle of Great Britain. It is more than this; the whole world's map, which you may here discern in the perfectest motion, jostling and turning. It is the great exchange of all discourse; and no business whatever, but is here stirring and afoot. It is the synod of all pates politic joined and laid together, in most serious posture; and they are not half so busy at the parliament. It is the market of young lecturers, whom you may cheapen here at all rates and sizes. It is the general mint of all lies, which were, like the legends of popery, first coined and stamped in the church. All inventions are emptied here; and not a few pockets. The best sign of a temple in it, is, that it is the thieves' sanctuary.
"' The visitants are all men, without exception; but the principal inhabitants and possessors are, stale knights, and captains out of service, men of long rapiers and breeches, which, after all, turn merchants here, and traffic for news. Some make it a preface to their dinner; but thriftier men make it their ordinary, and board here very cheap.'"