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Where shall I begin my round of hidden and
forgotten old churches in the City of London?

It is twenty minutes short of eleven on a
Sunday morning, when I stroll down one of the
many narrow hilly streets in the City that tend
due south to the Thames. It is my first experiment,
and I have come to the region of
Whittington in an omnibus, and we have put down a
fierce-eyed spare old woman, whose slate-
coloured gown smells of herbs, and who walked
up Aldersgate-street to some chapel where she
comforts herself with brimstone doctrine, I
warrant. We have also put down a stouter and
sweeter old lady, with a pretty large prayer-
book in an unfolded pocket-handkerchief, who
got out at the corner of a court near Stationers'
Hall, and who I think must go to church there,
because she is the widow of some deceased Old
Company's Beadle. The rest of our freight were
mere chance pleasure-seekers and rural walkers,
and went on to the Blackwall railway. So
many bells are ringing, when I stand undecided
at a street corner, that every sheep in the
ecclesiastical fold might be a bell-wether. The
discordance is fearful. My state of indecision is
referable to, and about equally divisible among,
four great churches, which are all within sight
and sound, all within the space of a few square
yards. As I stand at the street corner, I don't
see as many as four people at once going to
church, though I see as many as four churches
with their steeples clamouring for people. I
choose my church, and go up the flight of steps
to the great entrance in the tower. A mouldy
tower within, and like a neglected washhouse.
A rope comes through the beamed roof, and
a man in a corner pulls it and clashes the
bell; a whity-brown man, whose clothes
were once black; a man with flue on him,
and cobweb. He stares at me, wondering
how I come there, and I stare at him, wondering
how he comes there. Through a screen of
wood and glass, I peep into the dim church.
About twenty people are discernible, waiting to
begin. Christening would seem to have faded
out of this church long ago, for the font has the
dust of desuetude thick upon it, and its wooden
cover (shaped like an old-fashioned tureen cover)
looks as if it wouldn't come off, upon requirement.
I perceive the altar to be rickety,
and the Commandments damp. Entering after
this survey, I jostle the clergyman, who is
entering too from a dark lane behind a pew of
state with curtains, where nobody sits. The
pew is ornamented with four blue wands, once
carried by four somebodys, I suppose, before
somebody else, but which there is nobody now
to hold or receive honour from. I open the
door of a family pew, and shut myself in; if I
could occupy twenty family pews at once, I
might have them. The clerk, a brisk young man
(how does he come here?), glances at me
knowingly, as who should say, "You have done it now;
you must stop." Organ plays. Organ-loft is in
a small gallery across the church; gallery
congregation, two girls. I wonder within myself
what will happen when we are required to sing.

There is a pale heap of books in the corner of
my pew, and while the organ, which is hoarse and
sleepy, plays in such fashion that I can hear
more of the rusty working of the stops than of
any music, I look at the books, which are mostly
bound in faded baize and stuff. They belonged,
in 1754, to the Dowgate family; and who were
they? Jane Comport must have married Young
Dowgate, and come into the family that way;
Young Dowgate was courting Jane Comport
when he gave her her prayer-book, and recorded
the presentation in the fly-leaf; if Jane were
fond of Young Dowgate, why did she die and
leave the book here? Perhaps at the rickety
altar, and before the damp Commandments, she,
Comport, had taken him, Dowgate, in a flush of
youthful hope and joy, and perhaps it had not
turned out in the long run as great a success as
was expected?

The opening of the service recals my wandering
thoughts. I then find, to my astonishment,
that I have been, and still am, taking a strong
kind of invisible snuff, up my nose, into my eyes,
and down my throat. I wink, sneeze, and cough.
The clerk sneezes; the clergyman winks; the
unseen organist sneezes and coughs (and
probably winks); all our little party wink, sneeze,
and cough. The snuff seems to be made of the
decay of matting, wood, cloth, stone, iron, earth,
and something else. Is the something else, the
decay of dead citizens in the vaults below? As
sure as Death it is! Not only in the cold damp
February day, do we cough and sneeze dead
citizens all through the service, but dead
citizens have got into the very bellows of the
organ, and half choked the same. We stamp
our feet, to warm them, and dead citizens arise
in heavy clouds. Dead citizens stick upon the
walls, and lie pulverised on the sounding-board
over the clergyman's head, and, when a gust of
air comes, tumble down upon him.

In this first experience I was so nauseated by
too much snuff, made of the Dowgate family,
the Comport branch, and other families and
branches, that I gave but little heed to our
dull manner of ambling through the service; to
the brisk clerk's manner of encouraging us to
try a note or two at psalm time; to the gallery-
congregation's manner of enjoying a shrill duet,
without a notion of time or tune; to the whity-
brown man's manner of shutting the minister
into the pulpit, and being very particular with
the lock of the door, as if he were a dangerous
animal. But, I tried again next Sunday, and
soon accustomed myself to the dead citizens
when I found that I could not possibly get on
without them among the City churches.

Another Sunday. After being again rung for
by conflicting bells, like a leg of mutton or a
laced hat a hundred years ago, I make selection
of a church oddly put away in a corner among
a number of lanesa smaller church than the
last, and an ugly: of about the date of Queen
Anne. As a congregation, we are fourteen
strong: not counting an exhausted charity school
in a gallery, which has dwindled away to four
boys, and two girls. In the porch, is a benefaction