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A CITY IN WAR TIME, Issue 15688, 30 December 1914
A CITY IN WAR TIME
LONDON BY NIGHT. [By St. John G. Ervine, in the j ' Daily News.'] I The war has caused all of us to make many strange discoveries. Tilings which had seemed of immense importance to us during many years became in an instant so trivial that we forgot about them, while things to which we had not paid any attention became dominant in our lives. I walked into Trafalgar square a night or two ago with some thought such as that in my mind, and when I had crossed the road by St. Martin's Church and was about to pass along the pavement in front of the National Gallery I suddenly realised that I was seeing Trafalgar square in a light in which 1 had never seen it before that moment. That shapeless place which is called a square, although it is neither square, nnr round, nor oblong, looked lovely in the dimness of the dusk. The uncouth buildings and the dispirited statues and the great strips of concrete pavement wore softened and refined by tho shadows and half-lights of the. evening; and the sky line of the high houses I that stand where Northumberland avenue meets Whitehall had lost the rigid look that they have in daylight. Imperceptibly the buildings became merged in the •clouds. Trafalgar square had the look of an Alvin Langdon Coburn photograph—that is to say, it had that night, in my eyes, the look that it really has, the loolc w'-hich none of us had ever 'scon and might never have seen but for the war. —The City Beautiful.--I could not understand why it was that T had never seen the beauty of this place before, and I turned to a friend whom 1 met by chance and asked him if he could explain the mystery to me; but he, too, was without understanding. All we knew was that for the first time in our lives we had seen tho beauty of Trafalgar square at night ; we had seen with our own eyes the miracle of the transfiguration of tho National Gallery and that lifeless statue of King Charles the First, which is annually decorated by the Jacobites, though a clearer veneration for that monarch would cause them to destroy the miserable monument. . . . And quite suddenly, while, wo stood leaning over the parapet of tho square itself, we learned why it was that we aro now able to see the'beaiity of the place. All the flaring flames had been put out by the war, because they made London too plain a mark for any hostile airmen who might be hovering over it; and we who have lived in this city for years, and have loved it because we could not do otherwise, had discovered for the first time how beautiful is our town at night. —The Discovery of London. — I went down to the Embankment, remembering wrathfully that the river has for years been defiled by running lights and flaming advertisements. These lights, too, were extinguished, and the beauty of the river was unstained. Nothing, indeed, can ever wholly destroy the loveliness of the Thames Embankment, but many of the appendages of commerce have '. contrived to throw a jarring note into the ' peculiar harmony of that wide, bending river. Now, however, when the night is down, there is nothing to disturb the evenness of the composition. The tramears [ move along the Embankment like glow- i worms or "ships of light," as .Air W. 71. ! Davis once styled them in a pleasant poem, j and they do not assault the eye as the ; ugly advertisements do. liven Charing j Cross railway station and that horrible iron bridge which serves to cany the trains across tho Thames become beautiful these nights, when the war hn« extinguished the sky-signs. The bridge lies like a big, thick shadow on the river, and the dusk and dark- cover up its harsh lines. None of us has ever seen this Lon- j don before, and had it not been for the | war none of us ever would have seen it. I ' have read of men discovering a great piece j of painting hidden under the clumsy work | of some incompetent painter who has not | scrupled to cover a masterpiece with his I messy daubs. 1 feel that the war has \ served as a scraper. The London we have j seen and known all our lives, a thing of ; harsh, artificial lights, a clumsy, affronting thing, has suddenly been scraped off the canvas, and the beautiful old picture that was there all the time has been revealed. It is as though someone had discovered a picture by Velasquez underneath a picture by a Gifted Young Lady. Preserving a .Masterpiece. May we not hope that this real and very ' beautiful London may be. preserved to us? Wo have found it "by an extraordinary \ accident, just as a masterpiece has some- j times been found because the varnish or ; the paint of the covering picture has j cracked or chipped. Will we permit the i bunglers to cover it again? Are the sky- • signs to' be relit when the war is over? Is the sky to be affronted once more? It often happens that a nation is careless of . its beauty, and it mav be that we will le content to let the dusky beauty of London ' at night be destroyed by raw lights. To do that will be as horrible a crime against | Beauty as if one were to permit a Gifted : Young Lady to paint a View of the Welsh Mountains over a Turner sunset. If there is any love of London in tho hearts of Londoners those sky-signs will never be relit. ' [
A CITY IN WAR TIME, Issue 15688, 30 December 1914
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