The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 5 Westminster Abbey

South Transept and Poets' Corner

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Poets' Corner, taking its name from the tombs of Chaucer and Spenser, is, strictly speaking, the south end of the east aisle of this transept; but the tombs of the poets have overflowed into the south end of the central aisle also, and have carried with them the name. The west side of the transept is known as they 'learned' wall. 'I have always observed that the visitors to the Abbey remain longest about the simple memorials in Poets' Corner. A kinder and fonder feeling takes the place of that cold curiosity or vague admiration with which they gaze on the splendid monuments of the great and the heroic. They linger about these as about the tombs of friends and companions.' Washington Irving. On the left side of the east aisle as we enter is a bust of John Dryden (1631 -1700), by Scheemakers (1731), behind which is the chapel of St. Benedict. In the pavement in front of Dryden is a slab believed to commemorate Robert Hawle, who was slain in the choir in 1378 by the retainers of John of Gaunt, in defiance of the right of sanctuary. The Abbey remained closed for four months until the violent deed was purged. Near Dryden are buried Francis Beaumont (1584-1616), the dramatist, and his less famous brother Sir John Beaumont (1583-1627); Richard Hakluyt (died 1616), famous for his collection of 'Voyages,' is supposed to rest near here also. By the next pillar (1.) is a bust of Henry west Longfellow (1807-82), by Brock, placed by the English admirers of the American poet in 1884. Abraham Cowley (1618-67), the poet, by Bushnell. Beneath the next window is the Gothic Tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 ?-1400), the poet of the 'Canterbury Tales,' erected 155 years after his death by Nicholas Brigham, a poet not otherwise remembered, who is supposed to have brought the small altar-tomb and the Purbeck canopy above it from some dismantled City church. The space at the end of the altar-tomb is perhaps a prayer recess. The Chaucer window above was inserted in 1868. Beneath the pavement in front of Chaucer's tomb are the graves of Alfred Tennyson (1809-92), Robert Browning (1812-89), and the earlier poet Sir John Denham (1615-69); on the pillar to the west is a bust of Tennyson at the age of 48, by Woolner. On the same wall as Chaucer's tomb, John Philips (1676-1709; buried at Hereford), author of 'The Splendid Shilling,' and Michael Drayton (1563-1631), author of 'Polyolbion.' On the south wall, and above a door leading to the chapter house crypt, is a medallion of Ben Jonson (1573 ?-1637; buried in the nave), by Rysbrack, from a design by Gibbs, put up about 90 years after the poet's death. Farther on, Edmund Spenser (1552-99), the poet of 'The Faerie Queene'; the present monument is a copy (1778) of the original one. Above, Samuel Butler (1612-80), the satirical author of 'Hudibras.' John Milton (1608-74; grave), by Rysbrack (1737), a memorial delayed by political feeling for over 60 years after the poet's death. Below, Thomas Gray (1716-71), by Bacon. On the partition wall, Matthew Prior (1664-1721), poet and diplomatist; the monument, designed by Gibbs and executed by Rysbrack, includes a bust of Prior by Coysevox, presented to him by Louis XIV. On the next pier, beyond Tennyson's bust, Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), the poet, by Marshall. In the floor a little to the north is marked the tomb of Thomas Parr (died 1635; 'Old Parr'), said to have lived 152 years and under ten sovereigns, while farther south are those of Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-84), Garrick, and Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905). On the west side of the partition wall, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), by Thornycroft. Robert Southey (1774-1843; buried at Crosthwaite), by Weekes, with an epitaph by Wordsworth. William Shakespeare (1564-1616; buried at Stratfordon-Avon), by Scheemakers, from a design by Kent. On the monument, which was erected in 1740, are inscribed some lines from 'The Tempest,' and at the corners of the pedestal are heads representing Queen Elizabeth, Henry V., and Richard III. James Thomson (1700-48), author of 'The Seasons' and 'Rule Britannia.' Above, Robert Burns (1759-96; buried in Dumfries), by Sir John Steell (1885). On the south wall, Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), the dramatist and poet, by Rysbrack. John Gay (1685-1732), the poet; the monument, by Rysbrack, bears an epitaph by Pope as well as a somewhat flippant couplet by Gay himself. Above the door to the Chapel of St. Faith, Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74; date of birth given wrongly in the epitaph), by Nollekens, with an epitaph by Dr. Johnson. The Chapel of St. Faith, formerly the revestry, is reserved for private devotion, except on Monday. It retains its original flooring. At the west end is a kind of bridge with a door at either end, by which the monks descended from the dormitory for the night service (see below). The remarkable early-Gothic painting over the altar was probably executed in the 13th century by one of the monks (depicted at the side). To the right of the chapel. Sir Waller Scott (1771-1832; buried at Dryburgh); the bust, a replica of one by Chantrey, was placed here in 1897. Above, John Ruskin (1819-1900; buried at Coniston), by Onslow Ford. The large monument (by Roubiliac) to the Duke of Argyll (1678-1743), the duke of 'The Heart of Midlothian,' blocks the door by which the monks entered the church from their dormitory for the night service (see above). On the west wall, Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt (1820-87), the Swedish singer. Above, George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), by Roubiliac. A slab in the floor marks his grave, and one beside it that of Charles Dickens (1812-70). By the pier, William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-63), by Marochetti. Joseph Addison (1672-1719), by Westmacott. Lord Macaulay (1800-59). by Burnard. Beneath our feet is the slab marking his grave, and close by is the grave of Henry Cary (1772-1844), translator of Dante. In the next bay, Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), the classical scholar; below the inscription are the initials I. W. and the date 1658, said to have been inscribed by Izaak Walton. William Camden (1551-1623), the antiquary. Above, David Garrick (1717-79), by Webber. Bishop Thirlwall (1797-1875), by Davis, and George Grote (1794-1871), by Bacon, two historians of Greece.