DESIGNING ST PAUL’S

BUILDING ST PAUL’s

 

A group of which I am a member was discussing the work of the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-
1804).   One of us had, as part of his philosophy degree, written a long piece on Kant and was therefore more
knowledgeable than some of the rest of us, especially me.   I had heard of Kant, knew he was a philosopher, but little else.    Being of a rather lazy disposition, and Kant being both obscure and convoluted, I was grateful to have someone else who had grafted away at the hard study.   A few penetrating questions (it’s knowing what to ask!) from your correspondent and others produced a concise and cogent
explanation, and I thought a reasonably attractive picture of the views of the philosopher emerged.

I thought I would attempt to read a biography and the expert colleague recommended a study by Roger Scruton which, somewhat to my surprise, was available for Kindle.

As a diarist, blogger and would be novelist, I appreciate the diverse skills a good biographer must
possess, and which I myself do not have.   He must have patience and persistence to undertake the necessary
research, and charm to winkle out documents and letters from reluctant owners.   He must have powers of
organisation to sort his material, and judgement-  not all evidence will be reliable.   He has to have empathy for his subject but also maintain detachment.    He himself should have an elegant, but self effacing, writing style.   (Margaret Drabble’s biography of Arnold Bennett seemed to me to be principally about Margaret Drabble.)   Imagination is obviously required, but it must be exercised with restraint – it is most annoying to read conjecture presented as fact, especially when the scene described had no witnesses.

This made me wonder what would happen if a biographer’s research uncovered something so distasteful
about the subject that the writer had to revise his opinion completely, and reminded me of my own feelings concerning Sir Christopher Wren.

As someone interested in architecture, I was an admirer of Wren.    He is the creator of many beautiful buildings and it has been said that his architecture still dominates the skyline of London (if you discount the
high rises.)   Dining as a guest at the High Table at Wadham, drinking the finest Nuit St Georges I have ever tasted –  (when Elisabeth graduated from Oxford), under the benign gaze of the portrait of Sir Christopher Wren, perhaps its most illustrious alumni, I felt an affectionate pride in him.

I liked the amusing ditty by Ogden Nash:

Said Sir Christopher Wren

I’m going to dine with some men.

If anyone calls,

Say I’m designing  St Paul’s.

I was watching a programme on something entirely unrelated – I think it was about how medical progress was made.   The narrator recounted how Wren wished to prove that the brain was more necessary to the survival of the body than the spleen.   He took a spaniel, tied it down, cut it open, removed its spleen, and sewed it up again, all entirely without anaesthetic (none being available then.)   The spaniel survived for some time.

Now I could be a cartoonist if only I could draw.   But in the absence of the necessary skill on my part – picture if you will the Pearly Gates of Heaven.   As the would be entrant approaches, the Gates have already parted slightly and St Peter, all smiles and affability, has come out to greet the new arrival.    Behind him, all the predeceased architects  of history have gathered to clap the hero in.     Wren advances with brisk confidence, carrying in his arms a magnificent  model of St. Paul’s Cathedral.     St  Peter is just about to give the signal for the gates to be swung wide open, and  the leader of the heavenly orchestra grips his baton when round the corner, very slowly but with great determination, creeps a small dog.     Right in Sir Christopher’s path he stops  and lies down in the dust.   He stretches  his paws out in front of him and lays his face upon them, with his great brown  eyes fixed steadily on the face of St Peter.

Will designing St Paul’s  be enough to swing the gates open for Sir Christopher Wren?   I do not know.   Who am I to judge?    But for what it’s worth, I’m for the  spaniel.

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About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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