Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wren, Christopher (1632-1723)
WREN, Sir CHRISTOPHER (1632–1723), architect, born at East Knoyle, near Tisbury, Wiltshire, on 20 Oct. 1632, was son of Christopher Wren (1591–1658), rector of East Knoyle. The father, son of Francis Wren, a London mercer, was educated at Merchant Taylors' school (1601–9) and St. John's College, Oxford. He was a well-known clergyman, acting as chaplain successively to Bishop Lancelot Andrewes [q. v.] and to Charles I. He became rector of Fonthill, Wiltshire, in 1620, and of East Knoyle in 1623. Subsequently, on 4 April 1635, he was installed dean of Windsor, in succession to his elder brother, Matthew Wren [q. v.], bishop of Hereford, Norwich, and Ely, and held that dignity till his death. In 1639 he was also appointed dean of the collegiate church of Wolverhampton and rector of Haseley, Oxfordshire. He died at Bletchingdon, Oxfordshire, on 29 May 1658. The architect's mother, Mary, daughter of Robert Cox of Fonthill Abbey, died when he was very young. The exact date has not been recovered; that she lived, however, at least two years after his birth is evident from the baptismal register at East Knoyle of her daughter Elizabeth, born 26 Dec. 1634. The boy's father lived to help and watch his progress for twenty-six years, and an elder sister took the mother's place. He was also from the first very intimate with his cousin, Matthew Wren, a son of the bishop [see under Wren, Matthew].
When Wren was eleven, his father's sister Susan married William Holder [q. v.] the mathematician, who undertook the instruction of his nephew in that branch. During his boyhood Wren's constitution was very delicate; he grew up short in stature. At nine years of age, after preliminary instruction from a private tutor, he was sent to Westminster school, then under Dr. Busby. At Westminster Wren learnt to write Latin well, and after only one year's residence he sent a letter to his father good both in its latinity and in its filial sentiments. But it was to natural science and mathematics that he was chiefly drawn. Some extant Latin verses addressed to his father in 1645 show in elegant Ovidian metre his predilection for astronomical research (Parentalia, p. 182). In 1646, at the age of fourteen, he left Westminster. In the interval between leaving school and going to college he was chosen by Dr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Scarburgh [q. v.] as his assistant, demonstrating and making anatomical preparations and various experiments (ib. p. 187) for his lectures on anatomy at Surgeons' Hall. Shortly afterwards he was recommended to William Oughtred [q. v.] to translate into Latin his work on geometrical dialling. On 25 June 1649 or 1650 he was entered at Wadham College as fellow-commoner (R. B. Gardiner, Reg. of Wadham, i. 178). The master of the college was John Wilkins [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Chester. At Oxford Wren joined a society of philosophical inquirers with whom he fully sympathised, and with whom he conducted many valuable experiments between 1646 and 1660. He graduated B.A. on 18 March 1650–1, and M.A. on 11 Dec. 1653. Shortly before the last date he was elected fellow of All Souls' College. He resided there till 1657, mainly engaged in scientific study and experiment. In that year Wren, being then twenty-five years old, succeeded Lawrence Rooke [q. v.] in the chair of astronomy at Gresham College, London. His rooms at Gresham College soon became a meeting-place of those men of science who subsequently founded the Royal Society.
On 5 Feb. 1660–1 Wren was elected Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford, and he then resigned his chair in Gresham College and his fellowship at All Souls'. In 1661 Wren graduated D.C.L. at Oxford, and LL.D. at Cambridge. He retained the Savilian professorship till 9 March 1673, but before that date he had largely abandoned science for the practice of his profession of architecture.
Wren's fame rests chiefly on his architectural achievements; but had his philosophical pursuits not been interfered with by the absorbing work of the arduous profession to which he devoted himself in later life, he could not have failed of securing a scientific position higher than was attained by any of his contemporaries, with of course one exception—Newton. Before he became an architect he was acclaimed as a prodigy by reason of his scientific attainments. In 1662 Isaac Barrow [q. v.], on becoming professor of geometry at Gresham College, spoke in his Latin inaugural oration of Wren, thus: ‘As one of whom it was doubtful whether he was most to be commended for the divine felicity of his genius or for the sweet humanity of his disposition—formerly, as a boy a prodigy; now, as a man a miracle, nay, even something superhuman!’ The justification of this eulogy rests on what he did during the first thirty years of his life. Apart from more juvenile work, he contributed when scarcely nineteen years old to the ‘Prolegomena’ of the fifth edition of Helvicus's ‘Theatrum Historicum,’ published in 1651, a treatise on the Julian era, which is still useful. When twenty-one years old he had made elaborate drawings to illustrate Dr. Thomas Willis's work on the ‘Anatomy of the Brain’ (ib. p. 227). He was some years afterwards specially requested by Charles II to prepare some drawings of insects microscopically enlarged. This talent of fine and accurate drawing must have been of great use to him in the profession which he subsequently adopted, and indeed may have had much to do with his choosing it. With reference to his skill in this and in experimental manipulation, Hooke writes of Wren in the preface to his ‘Micrographia:’ ‘I must affirm that since the time of Archimedes there scarce ever met in one man in so great a perfection such a mechanical hand and so philosophic a mind.’ Probably about the same period he invented the planting instrument, which, ‘being drawn by a horse over land ploughed and harrowed, shall plant corn equally and without waste, and a method of making fresh water at sea’ (ib. pp. 183 n. and 198), and produced his clearly explained and illustrated scheme for the graphical construction of solar and lunar eclipses and occultation of stars, which was afterwards published in 1681 in Sir Jonas Moore's ‘System of Mathematics,’ p. 533. About 1656 he solved a problem proposed by Pascal to the geometers of England, and retorted by sending a challenge to the French savants—one which had originally been issued by Kepler, and which Wren had himself solved. This challenge was not answered.
Four tracts on the cycloid by Wren were published by John Wallis (1616–1703) [q. v.] in 1658 among his ‘Mathematical Works’ (see i. 533), which Wren had communicated to him; one of these was Kepler's problem, which Wren had solved by means of a cycloid. These tracts on the cycloid show Wren's powerful handling of the old geometry. Demonstrations of this curve are given which are now considered to be proper subjects for the differential calculus; but Wren's solutions preceded by many years the publication of Newton's fluxions or the equivalent method of Leibnitz. It is much to be wished that more records had been preserved of Wren's geometrical demonstrations. The few that do exist quite justify Newton's high opinion (quoted below) of Wren as a geometrician. Hooke in his ‘Cometa’ preserves a beautiful geometrical method of Wren for one of the steps in the graphical determination of a comet's path (see the diagram and text, Elmes, App. p. 60).
Wren seems to have taken very little pains to secure for himself the merit of his various inventions, and it was generally believed that Henry Oldenburg [q. v.], the secretary to the Royal Society, was in the habit of communicating Wren's inventions to his friends in Germany, who passed them off for their own. It is through Flamsteed that we are enabled to give Wren the credit of his method of graphical construction of solar eclipses, and it is through Hooke that we learn of his geometry respecting the comet's path (Hooke, Posthumous Works, p. 104).
While Wren was still at Oxford, he initiated some experiments (see Boyle, Works, i. 41; Ward, Lives, p. 97) on the subject of the variations of the barometer, to test the opinion of Descartes that they were caused by the action of the moon. Observations for the same purpose had taken place near Clermont in France, at the instance of Pascal, about ten years earlier; but the practical use of the instrument as connected with the weather is attributed to Wren, and was so recorded at a meeting of the Royal Society in February 1679 (see also Derham's account of Hooke's experiments published in 1726). About the same date he made experiments which led him to the invention of a method for the transfusion of blood from one animal to another. This appears from a letter of Boyle, dated 1665, in which he speaks of the experiments ‘started by Wren at Oxford about six years agone, long before others, as we know, thought of such a thing.’ At the time very great results were expected from this invention; nor is it now entirely obsolete. Anatomical and medical subjects seem to have always engaged much of Wren's attention. To this he may have been led by sympathy with his sister Mrs. Holder's pursuits, who was very skilful, and is even said to have cured Charles II of a hurt in his hand (Phillimore, p. 224), and to his own experience as demonstrating assistant to Dr. Scarburgh. Again, his cousin, Thomas Wren, a son of Bishop Matthew Wren, was in his earlier years a practising physician. We also read of Wren himself being busied with an invention for purifying and fumigating sick rooms (Parentalia, p. 213). Twelve pages of the ‘Parentalia’ (pp. 227–39) are devoted to Wren's anatomical and medical pursuits. A study which greatly occupied Wren's thoughts from his college days even to the end of his life was the best method of finding the longitude at sea (ib. p. 246).
Wren's inaugural oration addressed to the members of Gresham College in 1657 comprises many subjects which still occupy the attention of scientific men. In this address, after a short exordium, he calls in astronomy in aid of theology, mentioning the unsatisfactory explanations given by theologians of the three days and nights during which our Lord rested in the grave. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘seems to be need of an astronomer, who thus possibly may explain it. While there was made by the motion of the sun a day and two nights in the hemisphere of Judea, and at the same time in the contrary hemisphere was made a day and two nights;’ observing that ‘Christ suffered not for Judea alone, but for the whole earth.’ He also explained the retrocession of the shadow on the dial of Ahaz (2 Kings xx. 11) to be the effect of a parhelion, adding that we need not fear to diminish a miracle by explaining it. He then spoke of the enormous distance of the nearest fixed star, ‘and yet probably some are infinitely more remote than others.’ He held out the expectation that some one of that age would explain Kepler's elliptical theory of the planetary orbits. This was said nearly thirty years before the publication of the ‘Principia;’ but Newton himself allows (Principia, Scholium to Prop. iv. B 1) that Wren, Hooke, and Halley had already arrived at the law of the inverse square. The demonstration, however, of this law was reserved for Newton. Wren speaks with natural enthusiasm of the revelations, then comparatively new, afforded by the telescope—of the physical nature of the sun, his spots and faculæ, of the planets and the moon ‘who to discover our longitudes by eclipsing the sun hath painted out the countries upon our globe with her conical shadow as with a pencil.’ He mentions magnetics as a British invention (that refers, however, to the inclination and the variation of the needle, not the discovery of the compass), and to logarithms as wholly a British art [see Napier, John, 1550–1617]. The Latin oration as delivered is published in Ward's ‘Lives;’ the English draft in the ‘Parentalia’ (p. 200). Both are given by Elmes (App. p. 27). The art of engraving in mezzotint, which is often said to have owed its origin to Wren about this time, seems to have been solely the invention of Ludwig von Siegen, who imparted his secret to Prince Rupert, and the prince was apparently the first to practise the art in England (Parentalia, p. 214; cf. art. Rupert, ad fin.)
Wren took no small part in the formation of the Royal Society. According to a letter of Dr. Wallis, quoted in the recently published ‘Records of the Royal Society’ (1897): ‘About the year 1645 there had sprung up an association of certain worthy persons inquisitive in natural philosophy who met together first in London for the investigation of what was called “the new or experimental philosophy;” and afterwards several of the more influential of the members about 1648 or 1649, finding London too much distracted by civil commotions, commenced holding their meetings at Oxford.’ One of these was Dr. Wilkins, the master of Wren's college. At first the meetings were held at Wilkins's college during Wren's residence there. When Wilkins was appointed to Trinity College, Cambridge, the meetings were continued in the rooms of Robert Boyle [q. v.], with whom Wren was intimate, and he took no small part in their discussions and experiments. The associates occasionally combined their gatherings with those friends who still remained in London, and the usual place of meeting was Gresham College, in Wren's private room on the days of his lectures. During one of the four years of Wren's professoriate, viz. 1659, these lectures were interrupted in consequence of civic troubles, but were resumed after the king's restoration. After one of these meetings (28 Nov. 1660) the determination was reached to ask the king to erect the association into a permanent society by royal charter. The king's approval was reported to them on 5 Dec. of the same year, and they then proceeded to complete the arrangements, and the drawing up of the preamble of the charter, of which a draft copy has been handed down, was entrusted to Wren (ib. p. 196). After this Wren was most constant in his attendance at the meetings for more than twenty years, until his architectural business absolutely precluded it. He was president of the society from 1680 to 1682 inclusive. After 1665, however, his original communications to the society became comparatively rare.
At the opening of a new year, soon after the establishment of the Royal Society—and probably 1664—he gave an address stating the objects to which he recommended the society to devote its energies. He classed these under three heads, viz.: knowledge, profit, and convenience of life. The heads of this discourse embrace—punctual diary on meteorology; the study of refractions; the tremulation of the air meteors and the inquiry if anything falls from them; the growth of fruits and grain, plenty, scarcity, and the price of corn; the seasons of fish, fowl, and insects; the physicians of the society are urged to give account of epidemic diseases; the effect of weather upon medicine; due consideration of the weekly and annual bills of mortality in London; that ‘instead of the vanity of prognosticating he could wish we would have the patience for some years of registering past times, which is the certain way of learning to prognosticate.’ He speaks of self-registering anemometers, thermometers, and hygrometers as being practicable. Many other things he might suggest which, if the design be once begun, he would most willingly submit upon occasion. He exhorts his hearers ‘not to flag in the design, since in a few years, at the beginning, it will hardly come to any visible maturity. … The Royal Society should plant crabstocks for posterity to graft on’ (ib. p. 221).
The mere enumeration of the subjects brought by Wren before the society occupies more than three pages of the ‘Parentalia.’ In 1663 he suggested the self-registering weathercock, designed to record the various meteorological variations which are now performed by photography (see Birch, i. 341); and in 1666 an exceedingly simple form of level ‘for taking the horizon every way in a circle,’ the main principle of which was a bowl having the lip accurately turned and provided with a ball-and-socket joint, so that when a drop of quicksilver was adjusted to the centre, the lip should lie level in every direction. He had probably found the want of some such instrument in his survey of London after the fire. In 1667 he reported his experiments on the force of gunpowder in lifting weights and bending springs; also a means of curing smoky chimneys. In the same year he showed methods of taking astronomical measures to seconds, and his pair of telescopes jointed for the same purpose. In 1668 he presented papers and showed experiments to illustrate the laws of motion deduced by him several years before from careful and varied observation of the effects produced by the collision of suspended balls under different conditions—equal, unequal, direct, and differential velocities and momentum. On this subject Newton, in the ‘Principia’ (p. 20), writes: ‘From these laws [i.e. the laws of motion] Dr. Christopher Wren, knight; John Wallis & Christian Huyghens, who are beyond comparison the leading geometers of this age, arrived at the laws of the collision and mutual rebound of two bodies; but their truth was proved by Dr. Wren by experiments on suspended balls in the presence of the Royal Society.’
In 1670 Wren showed to the society an improvement in the machinery for winding up weights by ropes from great depths (Royal Society Register, bk. iv. p. 99, with diagram). An identical arrangement has recently been brought into use. In 1679, Newton having written to the Royal Society to propose that an experiment should be made to give ocular proof of the earth's diurnal motion by letting a weight fall from a considerable height, which ought to fall to the eastward of the plumb-line, Wren proposed a still more effective test by ‘shooting a bullet upward at a certain angle from the perpendicular round every way’ to see if the bullet would fall in a perfect circle around the barrel. Bishop Sprat, speaking of the labours of the Royal Society in 1667, selects Wren's name alone for special mention. He refers to ‘his doctrine of motion’ which ‘Descartes had before begun, having taken up some experiments of this kind on conjecture and made them the first foundations of his whole system of nature, but some of his conclusions seeming very questionable because they were only derived from the gross trials of balls meeting one another at tennis, billiards, &c., Dr. Wren produced before the society an instrument to represent the effects of all sorts of impulses made between two hard globous bodies whether of equal or different bigness and swiftness, and following or meeting each other.’ Then he adds: ‘And because the difficulty of a constant observation of the air by night and day seemed invincible, he therefore devised a clock to be annexed to the weathercock, so that the observer, by the traces of a pencil on paper, might certainly conclude what had blown in his absence. After a like manner he contrived a thermometer to be its own register. He has contrived an instrument to measure the rain that falls, and devised many subtil ways for the easier finding the gravity of the atmosphere, the degrees of drought and moisture.’ He mentions also new discoveries in the pendulum—‘that in one descent and ascent it moves unequally in equal times, and that from the pendulum may be produced a natural standard for measure.’ Wren saw reason, however, to give up the latter proposal when it was found that the length of the degree varied in different latitudes. Dr. Sprat proceeds: ‘He has invented many ways to make astronomical observations more accurate and easy … has made two telescopes to open with a joint like a sector, by which distances can be taken to half minutes … devices to telescopes for taking small distances and diameters to seconds, apertures to take in more or less light the better to fit glass to crepusculine observations; has added much to the theory of dioptrics, and to the manufacture of good glasses and of other forms than spherical; has exactly measured and delineated the spheres of the humours of the eye, whose proportions were only guessed at before; he discovered a natural and easy theory of refraction, showing not only the common properties of glasses but the proportions by which the individual rays cut the axis upon which the proportion of eyeglasses and apertures are demonstrably discovered; has essayed to make a true selenography by measure—the world having had nothing yet but pictures; has stated the moon's libration as far as his observations could carry him … has carefully pursued magnetical experiments. Among the problems of navigation, demonstrated how a force upon an oblique plane would cause the motion of the plane against the first mover. He explained the geometrical mechanics of rowing, and the necessary elements for laying down the geometry of sailing, swimming, rowing, flying, and the fabricks of ships. He invented a very curious and speedy way of etching, and has started several things towards the emendation of waterworks; was the first inventor of drawing pictures by microscopical glasses; amongst other things the keeping the motion of watches equal, in order for longitudes and astronomical uses. He was the first author of the noble anatomical experiment of injecting liquors into the veins of animals, now vulgarly known, but long since exhibited to meetings at Oxford. Hence arose many new experiments, and chiefly that of transfusing blood. … I know very well that some of them he did only start and design, and that they have been since carried to perfection by the industry of others; yet it is reasonable that the original invention should be ascribed to the true author rather than the finishers. Nor do I fear that this will be thought too much which I have said concerning him; for there is a peculiar reverence due to so much excellence covered with so much modesty, and it is not flattery but honesty to give him his just praise who is so far from usurping the fame of other men that he endeavours with all care to conceal his own’ (Sprat, p. 319).
Although, as a natural philosopher, Wren was overshadowed by the genius of Newton, as an English architect he stands above his competitors. In some particulars, indeed, Inigo Jones may have surpassed him; but if a comprehensive view is taken, the first place must be adjudged to Wren. It has been argued that as he had passed the youngest and most receptive part of his life before he turned his attention practically to architecture it must have been unfavourable to his proper development in that profession. That this was so in his case can be conceded only to a very small extent. It is true that the first definite information we receive of his applying himself professionally to architecture is his accepting in his twenty-ninth year (1661) the invitation from Charles II to act practically as surveyor-general to his majesty's works, though nominally as assistant to Sir John Denham (1615–1669) [q. v.] (Parentalia, p. 260 n.; he had previously declined a commission as surveyor of the fortifications of Tangier); but it is clear that for such an appointment to have been offered he must already have given proof of his fitness; moreover, his father would have been quite capable of giving him valuable instruction, for during his residence at East Knoyle the elder Wren had designed a new roof for that parish church (ib. p. 142), and had also been engaged by Charles I to design a building for the queen's use, of which a detailed estimate has been preserved among the state papers (cf. Elmes, p. 9). We have also had occasion to note, in speaking of Wren's scientific capabilities, that he was remarkable for his skill in accurate drawing; so that, in addition to his mathematical knowledge, he was already armed with one essential of his art. In a catalogue given (Parentalia, p. 198) of the subjects on which Wren discoursed at Wadham College, one is ‘new designs tending to strength, convenience, and beauty in building.’ This must have been several years earlier than the appointment referred to. The two earliest original works we hear of are the chapel of Pembroke College, Cambridge, built at the expense of his uncle Matthew, and the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford. The preparation of the designs for these two buildings must have been nearly contemporaneous. A model of the Sheldonian Theatre was submitted and approved in April 1663, but the first stone was not laid until the year following, whereas that of the Cambridge chapel was laid in the May of the same year, viz. 1663. The chapel was finished in two years, but the Sheldonian Theatre not till 1669. We may therefore take Pembroke College chapel as his first original work, and it need cause no surprise if we find in it some signs of the ‘'prentice hand.’ The interior is very simple, and calls for no particular remark. The exterior, which shows its front to the street, has good general proportions, a never-failing excellence in Wren; but it certainly exhibits a want of familiarity with architectural detail, particularly in the lack of subordination between the parts, the cornice of the main front being rather small and tame, while that of the hexagonal lantern which it supports is unduly ponderous. There is nothing surprising in this. It must be remembered that the facilities for studying the detail of classical architecture in England were in 1663 very limited. Few books were then available. Evelyn did good service by publishing in 1664 a translation of Roland Freart, Sieur de Cambray's ‘Parallel,’ and we may feel pretty sure that Wren would have had access to the French edition. The ‘Parallel,’ derived from Alberti and other Italian masters, is a good treatise as far as it goes, but is brief, and the examples given in the plates are not comprehensive. Wren evidently felt his need of better opportunities of study, and took the earliest opportunity available to him to supply it by his journey to Paris in 1665, when ordinary business in London and other parts of England was interrupted by the plague. This journey of Wren to Paris, where he seems to have resided for about six months, is the only one of which any information exists.
The architectural detail of the Sheldonian Theatre, which, however, is chiefly remarkable for its noble interior, is much in advance of the Pembroke chapel; but its completion did not take place till 1669, and he had by that time had plenty of time for education in correct classical expression, and the lesson was effectively learnt. The elegant façade of the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, commenced in 1668, shows full command of architectural technicality.
Thus it will be seen that he was ready, both by sufficient study and practical experience, when the great opportunity of his life presented itself. Up to the time of the fire of London his work had not been so engrossing but that he was able to attend to philosophical pursuits to a considerable extent, and certainly without neglecting any business he had undertaken. A definition of genius has been given as being a capacity for hard work, and no better instance of this could be given than the life of Wren and his powers of work throughout his life, and especially on this occasion. Before the embers of the Great Fire had cooled, Wren, as virtual surveyor-general, felt that it was his duty to prepare a scheme for the rebuilding of the city. The fire had raged from 2 Sept. till 8 Sept. 1666. On the 12th of the same month he laid before the king a sketch-plan of his design for the restoration of the city. Several other schemes were presented afterwards, but Wren's was first both in time and in the general approval which it received (Evelyn, Diary, iii. 345). A copy of the plan after it had been more fully matured is preserved at All Souls' College, Oxford, and is published also by Elmes (appendix, opp. p. 63); a description is given in ‘Parentalia’ (p. 267). It is the plan of what would have been a magnificent city, but the public spirit which would have been required to carry it out would have demanded very great sacrifices of present interest for the sake of future benefit; and we cannot be greatly surprised, however much we may regret it, that a more hand-to-mouth expedient was adopted. Wren's great scheme remains a record of his genius. But Wren had the happy disposition of being able to address himself with energy to the second best when the best was unattainable; and he found employment enough in rebuilding a cathedral, more than fifty parish churches, thirty-six of the companies' halls, and the custom-house, besides several private houses and provincial works, and he was content to undertake all this for extremely small remuneration. For the cathedral and the parish churches the stipend he asked for was only 300l., preferring (as the writer of the ‘Parentalia’ says) in every passage of his life public service to any private advantage (p. 327).
Immediately afterwards Wren was appointed ‘surveyor-general and principal architect for rebuilding the whole city; the cathedral church of St. Paul; all the parochial churches … with other public structures’ (Parentalia, p. 263). This was a specially created office, but on 6 March 1668–9 Wren was formally appointed sole deputy to Denham as surveyor-general of the royal works (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1668–9, pp. 224, 227), and after Denham's death he was, on 24 Nov. following, appointed to succeed him (ib. p. 615).
As respects the cathedral, Wren knew from previous surveys that even before the fire the fabric had been extremely insecure. It had suffered much during the Commonwealth both from neglect and from positive injury. At the invitation of the dean and chapter in 1662, Wren had made a careful examination of it, and had pointed out in a report sent in only a few months before the fire (Parentalia, p. 274) what was necessary to be done, as well as what he advised for its improvement, particularly the removal of the central tower and the formation in lieu of it of a cupola covering a wide area as a proper place for a ‘vast auditory,’ in which the Paul's Cross sermons should in future be preached, and of which the example of Ely, his uncle's cathedral, may have given him the first suggestion. Several of the drawings preserved at All Souls' College refer to this proposal. In these the old Norman nave is shown as altered to the Roman manner, while the choir was to remain Gothic as originally built.
After the fire, therefore, Wren was able to give an unhesitating opinion to the dean, Dr. (afterwards archbishop) William Sancroft [q. v.], that nothing but a new structure ought to be contemplated. There are some persons whose love for mediæval architecture is such that they even now, with the existing cathedral before them, regret that Old St. Paul's was not repaired in some way and allowed to stand. It must, however, be clear to those who have any practical knowledge of architecture, after reading Sir Christopher Wren's reports both before and after the fire, that even to retain the mediæval features of the structure it would have been necessary to take nearly the whole down and reconstruct it, and it is doubtful if that could have been done successfully in the seventeenth century (cf. Milman, p. 388). Wren's advice on the necessity of a new building was practically enforced shortly afterwards. It was not at once taken, and a partial attempt at repair was still proceeded with; but the fall of part of the cathedral where this was going on gave convincing proof of the futility of the undertaking; and Wren, who had retired to Oxford, where his duties as Savilian professor of astronomy required his presence, was summoned in haste to London to advise respecting a new cathedral. This was in July 1668 (Parentalia, p. 278). The report from Wren which followed soon after is given in Elmes (p. 248). A great spur was given to the undertaking by parliament having in 1670 assigned a portion of the coal tax—viz. 4½d. per chaldron—annually for the rebuilding; and Wren, now being satisfied that an earnest attempt would be made, devoted himself to forming a design worthy of the occasion. Meanwhile the clearing of the site of the old cathedral was going on, an operation which demanded both time and skilful management. The walls were in that condition that it would have been both tedious and dangerous to have taken them down in the ordinary way by workmen going aloft; so, guided by the experiments mentioned above for measurement of the effect produced by gunpowder, he succeeded in lifting one of the angles of the old tower, more than two hundred feet high, a few inches only, and causing it to collapse without scattering or accident or any injurious consequences to the neighbourhood. But afterwards his second in command, being ambitious of improving upon his master, conducted during his absence a similar operation with less care and with the employment of a larger quantity of powder, which indeed brought down the old masonry, but caused so frightful an explosion that Wren was obliged to give up that method of procedure. However, the resources of his mind were equal to the occasion; he bethought him of the battering-rams of ancient warfare, and caused a huge mast, about forty feet long and shod with iron, to be slung with ropes, and by the labour of thirty men vibrated against the wall at one place for a whole day. The workmen, it is said, despaired of any result, but Wren insisted on its continuance, and on the second day the wall slowly opened and fell (ib. p. 284). It is likely that we have a glimpse at this operation in Pepys's ‘Diary’ (14 Sept. 1668): ‘Strange how the sight of stones falling from the top of the steeple do make me sea-sick, but no hurt I hear hath yet happened.’ We learn from ‘Parentalia’ that the taking down of Old St. Paul's, which was begun in 1666, lasted through part of 1668. In 1673 Wren (who had been knighted the previous year) submitted his first design for the new cathedral to the king, who greatly approved of it, and ordered a model to be made of it ‘after so large and exact a manner that it may serve as a perpetual and unchangeable rule and direction for the conduct of the whole work’ (ib. pp. 280–2). In respect of sequence of events, however, the ‘Parentalia’ is here rather confused. This model still exists in the cathedral. It had been much neglected and defaced, but has been in part restored by the dean and chapter, and is sufficient to give an adequate impression of what Wren intended. Before giving any account of the cathedral as built, this first and favourite design of its author requires some notice. Some of the original drawings are preserved in All Souls' College, Oxford. The plan has been carefully engraved in Elmes (p. 319), and to a smaller scale both in Dean Milman's ‘Annals of St. Paul's’ and in Longman's ‘Three Cathedrals,’ published in 1873. There are also two perspective views of it in the latter. This design, while being loyal to architectural precedent, is an entirely original conception. The central idea—an essential quality in any great work of art—is of extreme simplicity. An octagon which circumscribes a Greek cross is combined with a square attached to one of its sides—viz. the western—which connects the whole into a Latin cross. The central area of the Greek cross is covered by a large and lofty cupola intended to have about the same dimension on plan as the present dome, while eight smaller and lower cupolas are arranged around it: four at the ends of the arms of the cross, and one touching each of the intermediate sides of the octagon, the smaller cupolas being all equal and their diameters bearing to that of the central one the proportion of two to five. Simple, however, as is the general plan, its architectural treatment supplies all that can be desired of picturesque beauty and intricacy. The scheme for the lighting, which would chiefly come from above, through pantheonlike apertures over the smaller cupolas, is both ample and the best possible for architectural effect. The entrance from the west is through a noble portico. This led into an area of considerable width, with entrance doors north and south, and surmounted by a cupola which in the interior is similar to those around the principal dome, but rises so as to form a feature externally. The skill, artistic and constructive, shown by Wren in the junction of his spherical surfaces has never been approached, and there is no counterpart elsewhere to the noble vistas which would have been presented to the eye in every direction by this plan. The western dome, ample as a vestibule, was sufficient to raise the expectation but not to satisfy it. Then the width was confined to that of the ordinary nave, forming a passage about forty feet wide, previous to the unrestricted burst of vision through the diagonal vistas, opening on each side along the radiating sides of the octagon referred to above, which is analogous to the sensation produced in a grand mountain defile where one passes through a confined gorge from one fine opening to one incomparably finer (Milman, Annals, p. 403 n.)
It must be fully admitted that externally this design, fine as it is, does not compete on equal terms with the existing structure, especially when we consider the height to which the surrounding buildings have grown, which gives the value of greater loftiness to the adopted design; and as to certain defects in it which Mr. Fergusson in his ‘History of Modern Architecture’ (p. 268) discusses, we must remember that Wren had not in the case of this design, as he had in the adopted one, more than forty years of study and improvement to give to it, of which he availed himself to the full as the work proceeded; but this marvellous production was the outcome of necessarily a very short incubation. John Louis Petit [q. v.], in discussing St. Front, Périgueux, observes that Wren, ‘who, though he may not have known St. Front, yet must have known St. Mark's, Venice, from which St. Front was derived, had conceived a design [viz. this model] on similar principles which, had it been carried out, would have given his cathedral the noblest interior in the world’ (Architectural Studies in France, p. 78).
Notwithstanding the approval with which this design was at first received, a commission for its execution given, and even, it seems, a commencement actually made, so much clerical opposition was brought to bear against it, on account of its being different from the usual cathedral shape, that Wren was reluctantly obliged to turn his thoughts in another direction. Elmes, in his ‘Life of Wren’ (p. 319), speaking of this model, refers to the story in Spence's ‘Anecdotes’ (ed. Singer, p. 265), that the Duke of York and his party insisted on side chapels being added contrary to Wren's opinion, and that Wren even shed tears when he found he could not prevail. Neither the model nor the plan preserved at Oxford shows any traces where side chapels could have been placed, whereas the adopted design has them, not in the earliest plans but in the church as built. It seems likely, however, that, notwithstanding this difficulty, Elmes is right in connecting the tradition of Wren's tears with the struggle which must have taken place when his favourite design had to be abandoned. As respects the side chapels, even though they had formed no part of the original design, with the fine architectural precedent in Lincoln Cathedral before him, and considering the admirable use which Wren was able to make of them both on the ground story and for the library above, their demand could scarcely have seemed to him a sufficient reason for such strenuous opposition, whereas the retention of the ‘favourite design’ would have seemed worthy of every practicable attempt he could make. The anecdote is given by Spence on the authority of a Mr. Harding. Who this person was is not stated. It might have been the Samuel Harding who, with others, published various engravings of St. Paul's and other designs of Wren's, including this model, dated 1724. These engravings with certain others were afterwards collected into a book entitled ‘Designs for Public Buildings to illustrate Parentalia,’ London, 1749, fol.; but, at any rate, Spence could not have received the anecdote till fully fifty years after the circumstance which gave rise to it. There can be little doubt but that the Duke of York would have been strongly opposed to Wren's desire to build the cathedral in a form not specially suited to Roman catholic services. After the rejection of the ‘favourite design,’ Wren proceeded with several trial plans in Gothic form ‘rectified to a better manner of architecture.’ His genius was at first evidently very much unhinged by his recent disappointment and the mental struggle he had gone through. However, one of these was accepted, and he was ordered by a royal commission, dated May 1675, to proceed with it. The design was approved as being ‘very artificial, proper, and useful, and so ordered that it might be built and finished by parts.’ This authorisation was accompanied with the permission to make variations (Parentalia, p. 283) ‘rather ornamental than essential;’ but happily, as the whole was left to his management, he found himself able to make use of this permission without troubling himself about the qualification as to essentials.
There is no concealing the point that if this design, which the king's warrant authorised, had been carried out unaltered, St. Paul's would, externally at least, have proved a gigantic failure, and we must suppose that some cause such as we have endeavoured to assign (aggravated, perhaps, by domestic trouble owing to the illness of his wife, who died in the same year that this design was authorised) must have obscured Wren's usually fine judgment. But as the ground plan is not far different from that of the present church, showing sufficiently Wren's submission in respect of the usual cathedral form, it is likely that no serious opposition from his critics was to be apprehended, and they were probably quite incapable of judging of the external effect.
In this design we may perceive there was in Wren's mind a struggle between two ideas as respects the great central feature of the dome—namely, that of retaining the fine and well-studied internal proportions of the favourite design as more in harmony with its surroundings than greater height such as that of the present cupola would be, but that he felt at the same time the quality of great loftiness was demanded for the external appearance. This he proposed to attain by means of a lofty spire, not unlike that which he afterwards built as the steeple of St. Bride's Church, which is shown as surmounting the lantern of the cupola. Before long, however, he abandoned this attempt, and adopted the idea of general height as the leading principle, by which he ultimately arrived at the unrivalled exterior of his cathedral; and if for the interior he erred in giving an excess of loftiness to the dome, he did so, at any rate, in good company, for the proportion of height to internal diameter is still greater in Michael Angelo's dome of St. Peter's.
Now that he was fully authorised to proceed, Wren devoted all his energies, without any longer dwelling on his late disappointment, to maturing the design. A considerable time, even many months, must necessarily elapse even in preparing the foundations and in building the crypt, and this he made good use of. A great many studies are extant, some at Oxford, some in two portfolios preserved in the cathedral, containing principally working drawings, and others in private collections, which show the steps by which he arrived at the final result. An engraving of one of these is given in Longman's ‘Three Cathedrals,’ opposite p. 115. Several of these studies are in perspective. In ‘Parentalia’ (p. 292) are given Wren's views on the importance of using perspective sketches in designing architecture. Wren had no doubt a sufficiently clear general idea in his mind's eye of what the completed structure should be, but these studies show that the details of even such essential features as the profile of the dome and the western towers were not settled until the time approached when they would be required. It was his constant endeavour to adopt only the best ancient Greek and Roman architecture, ‘the principles of which’ (as he said shortly before he was superseded in his surveyorship) ‘throughout all my schemes of this colossal structure I have always religiously endeavoured to follow, and if I glory it is in the singular mercy of God, who has enabled me to begin and finish my great work so conformable to the ancient model’ (Elmes, p. 510). This he could justly say, for there is no important ecclesiastical structure—certainly none of the seventeenth century—at all approaching it in the purity of its classical treatment. The cathedral also is throughout an example of skilful and provident construction. Everywhere, too, the ornamental accessories, though liberally applied, are well kept in subordination to the parts purely architectural, and are almost invariably finely designed and well carved. Sketches have been preserved which show that Wren had a bold, free hand in designing ornament, and was a master of scale; but in the department of ornament he had the good fortune to secure the services of a consummate artist—namely, Grinling Gibbons [q. v.], whom Evelyn accidentally had discovered in an obscure situation (Evelyn, Diary, ii. 554, January 1671). The unsurpassed oak and limewood carvings of the choir are his well-known work.
Twenty-two years after the commencement of the work it was so far advanced that the choir could be opened for service (December 1697); nineteen years later Wren was dismissed from its superintendence, and the cathedral was reported as finished, as no doubt it was in the main essentials. There remained, however, still incomplete several matters which its architect had intended, among these, as he had complained in 1717, the painting of the cupola which had been taken out of his hands. This he had desired should be executed in mosaic, after the manner of St. Peter's at Rome (Elmes, p. 510). There was also his marble ‘altar-piece’ intended for the apse, for which he had caused a model to be made (Parentalia, p. 282, see also p. 292 n.) Part of this model is still preserved in the cathedral, but unhappily it was considered to be too fragmentary to give authoritative evidence of what Sir Christopher had intended when the design for the present reredos was made.
Meanwhile, about 1680, Wren had been much engaged in the restoration of the Temple after the fire. Temple Bar had been rebuilt from his designs about 1670–2. In the Temple the cloister is the chief remnant of his work which can now be identified, a substantial building of no peculiar architectural merit. He introduced into the church much ornamental oak wainscoting which had escaped the fire, including a richly carved altar-piece, which was removed as unsuitable early in the nineteenth century; it is now in Mr. Bowes's museum at Barnard Castle, Durham. Full records of Wren's work at the Temple are given in a forthcoming volume of Mr. F. A. Inderwick's ‘Calendar of Inner Temple Records.’ Another of Wren's best works, the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, was executed during this period, in 1683. In 1684 Wren was appointed by the king (Charles II) comptroller of the works in the castle of Windsor, an office of small salary, but involving a considerable amount of work. Besides all these spheres of activity Wren took some part in politics. He was returned to James II's first parliament as member for Plympton on 20 April 1685, and to the convention parliament for Windsor on 11 Jan. 1688–9. He was also elected for Windsor to William and Mary's first parliament in March 1689–90, but the return was declared void, and Wren did not sit again in parliament until he was elected for Weymouth on 26 Nov. 1701 (Official Return, i. 552, 557, 564 note, 594).
Of the fifty-two churches which Wren built in London a considerable number have been sacrificed to the utilitarian spirit of the age. Fortunately a record has been preserved in ‘The Parochial Churches of Sir Christopher Wren’ (1848–9, fol.) by John Clayton (d. 1861) [q. v.], which includes all but three of those which have perished; the rest were at that date standing, and, with the exception of three built by Wren in a Gothic style, are included in the forty-six examples of that book. Wren's churches have also been well illustrated in Mr. G. H. Birch's ‘London Churches,’ 1896. Of these a selection of about half may be made of those which are of superior interest on various accounts, and arranged approximately according to the date of their construction: 1670–5, St. Benet Fink, St. Mary-at-Hill, St. Mary-le-Bow, St. Stephen Walbrook, St. Dionis Backchurch; 1675–80, St. Ann and St. Agnes, St. Bride, St. Lawrence, St. Swithin; 1680–5, All-Hallows Thames Street, St. Antholin, St. Clement Danes, St. James Garlickhithe, St. James Westminster, St. Martin Ludgate, St. Mary Magdalene Old Fish Street, St. Peter Cornhill; 1685–90, St. Andrew Holborn, St. Mary Lothbury, St. Mary Abchurch; 1690–5, St. Michael Royal, St. Augustin and St. Faith (spire), St. Mary Somerset (tower), St. Vedast (the steeple); 1700, the steeple of St. Dunstan-in-the-East; 1704, that of Christ Church Newgate Street; 1705, that of St. Magnus; and, lastly, that of St. Michael Cornhill, built from Wren's designs in 1722.
Every one of these churches is to the architect a valuable study in planning. Some of them show great skill in their adaptation to irregular sites. Among existing churches in this particular may be mentioned St. Mary-at-Hill and St. Clement Danes; and among those that have perished, St. Antholin, St. Benet Fink, and St. Dionis Backchurch. In all the churches the main proportions are excellent, but the minor details are not in all good alike. But this could have hardly happened otherwise, as many of them required to be built almost simultaneously. Nothing that has been achieved in modern architecture has surpassed the beauty of their campaniles, not only from the elegance of each, but from their complete variety, while at the same time in harmony with one another. No two are alike. The view of the city of London from the old Blackfriars Bridge (up to about the middle of this century, when huge warehouses and loftier street houses were beginning to be erected)—a view which comprised St. Paul's, with the church steeples, more numerous than exist at present, grouped around it—was scarcely surpassed in any country, and all this was the work of one man. From the above list it will be seen that while the plans for St. Paul's were being so anxiously and even painfully elaborated, Wren was busily engaged on other works. Two of these in particular must have flowed unruffled from his genius—namely, St. Mary-le-Bow and St. Stephen's, Walbrook. The former, commenced in 1671 and completed about six years after, though chiefly remarkable for its steeple, has some good points in the interior; but the whole church, excepting the north entrance, which is through a handsome arch in the tower, is removed so far back and so much closed in with houses that a plain solid exterior was all that was required; even a special purchase had to be made to provide for the steeple the commanding position which it occupies. The tower (as was invariably Wren's principle) starts visibly from the ground. It is massive and well proportioned, and up to the cornice is so simple as to be only just removed from severity; but above the cornice and balustrade a happy contrast is presented by the modulated and varied richness of the work above, which commences with a circular peristyle of twelve columns surrounding a cylindrical wall, within which is a staircase. Above these columns and based on their entablatures rise as many radiating flying buttresses, so curved as to give in the aggregate the outline of a ribbed cupola. These help to strengthen the upper parts of the spire, which here partake more of the quadrate form. The whole is surmounted by a large dragon vane, which, however, does not seem at all disproportionate to its supports. Fine transitions of light and shade are seen throughout, and the varied mass of masonry is enlivened by many cunning peeps of the sky from the bottom to the top of the composition. This work alone is sufficient to establish the fame of its architect as an artist of the highest rank (cf. Fergusson, Modern Architecture, p. 275).
The second of the two specially named churches exhibits an interior of a merit equal, if not superior, to that just mentioned. St. Stephen's, Walbrook, was commenced in 1672 and finished in 1679. Fergusson (p. 276) has rightly praised this interior ‘as the most pleasing of any Renaissance church that has yet been erected.’ The great result, a true sign of genius, has apparently been produced by small effort. The plan is a simple parallelogram measuring on the longer side, that is east and west, eighty-three feet, and on the shorter sixty. These are internal dimensions. Within this area are disposed sixteen columns: twelve are employed to surround a square space showing four on each side, and four others are placed further west so as to form another tetrastyle row. Narrow aisles are left between the columns and the side walls. The distances between the columns in the square are so arranged that those forming the middle pair of each side coincide with the angles of an octagon. The entablatures over these eight columns are parallel to the side or end walls, as may be required to give a cruciform effect to the superstructure, but above the entablatures spring arches following the sides of the octagon which intersect without distortion with the surface of a spherical cupola which covers the whole of the central area, and the arches form with the sphere true pendentives, a method of construction which Wren used frequently and with the best effect. The extreme lightness of the structure is one of its merits, the proportion of the supports to the area being about one hundredth part; while the judicious planning of the supports, by placing them exactly where they are wanted, satisfies the eye with the required evidence of strength. The contrast between the square shapes below and the cylindrical and spherical shapes above is most agreeable in respect of form. The arrangement also provides ample unencumbered space for the congregation. The columns are mounted on pedestals, so that their bases were always in view. Throughout this church all the principal subdivisions are harmonised to those contiguous to them in proportions of low numbers. Indeed this was Wren's usual method. Here they obtain with extreme accuracy. As this church did not occupy so prominent a situation as it now does, no particular attention to the exterior was required, but the plain tower was surmounted by an elegant spire. One of Wren's principles was, that when sufficient funds were not available for the elaboration of the whole of a design, some one or more important features should be worked up to a higher ideal than the rest, instead of adopting a lower standard for the whole.
Of the next period, St. Bride's is the most remarkable church. Internally a fine perspective is formed on each side by the arches of the nave, and externally its steeple is a beautiful and well-known object. In some repairs which it required in 1764, in order to facilitate the operation the height was reduced by eight feet. The next period, 1680 to 1685, includes some very good churches. All Hallows, Thames Street, now destroyed, had a stately internal arcade, and possessed, what St. Peter's, Cornhill, still retains, a very handsome carved oak screen. St. James's, Garlickhithe, has both a well-planned interior and a picturesque steeple, not improved by the cement having been stripped off the walls of the tower. The stone steeple of St. Mary Magdalene, recently taken down, though very simple, was one of Wren's most graceful campaniles. The elegant lead-covered spire of St. Martin's, Ludgate Hill, forms an admirable foreground object to the views of St. Paul's from the west. The front of this church is an example of quiet well-proportioned treatment where no projection was allowable. The spire of St. Augustin's in Watling Street, though less elegant than St. Martin's, has something of the same value, contrasting with the dome of St. Paul's as seen from the east. St. James's, Westminster, may be cited as the most successful example of a church in which galleries form a fundamental part. Its congregational capacity is remarkable, and the framing of the roof is a marvellous piece of economic and scientific construction. In the next period, St. Mary Abchurch, externally very plain, is full of merit within, especially the cupola and its pendentives and other details of the interior, including some excellent carvings by Gibbons. St. Andrew's, Holborn, exhibits a very fine interior, partaking to a considerable extent of the character of St. James's, Westminster. Of the churches built between 1690 and 1695 St. Michael Royal deserves mention for its beautiful campanile and for the carvings by Gibbons in the interior. The tower of St. Mary Somerset is still left standing, after the demolition of the church, on the north side of Thames Street, and forms with its crown of pinnacles an extremely picturesque object. The fine steeple of St. Vedast, near the General Post Office, is of this period. Its design is the most original of all Wren's campaniles. It owes nothing to sculpture or any ornate architectural treatment; but such is the skilful modulation of the masses and the contrasts of light and shade, combined with the expression of strength, that it requires no assistance from ornament to add to its beauty and importance. This fine object has the advantage of being well seen. The steeple of St. Dunstan's-in-the-East dates from 1700. It is built in the Gothic style, and in a form which follows the precedent of St. Giles's, Edinburgh, and St. Nicholas's, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At this period of Wren's professional life, as evidenced by this work and the church of St. Mary Aldermary, built in 1711, as well as in his repairs of Westminster Abbey, he shows an appreciation of Gothic architecture which he evidently did not entertain so strongly in his earlier days. In the work at St. Dunstan's there is much true feeling for the style in which he was working. That the spire was constructed in a highly scientific manner does not need to be stated. In the fine steeple of St. Magnus, built in 1705, he returned to his more recent style and produced one of his finest examples. Lastly, the old tower of St. Michael's, Cornhill, which had been left standing when he rebuilt the church fifty years earlier, was taken down in 1722 and reconstructed in bold and very effective Gothic from his designs. In all the above-mentioned beautiful campaniles, and indeed in Wren's works in general, surface ornament forms but a very subordinate part of their success; this is derived chiefly from the true elements of architecture, balance of light and shade, evident strength and security of construction, accurate proportions of the parts, and the expression of the object of the structure. He shows also great reserve and does not fritter expense away.
In 1698 Wren was appointed surveyor to Westminster Abbey, and proceeded to carry out very important repairs to that fabric. ‘Parentalia’ (p. 296) gives his extremely able and valuable report to Dean Atterbury, dated 1714—partly historical, the repairs being included which had been executed during the previous sixteen years, and partly on works proposed to be done. He built the central tower, as we see it, sufficiently high to stop the cross roofs. He made a model, which is preserved, though in bad condition, in the abbey; it shows the height to which he intended to carry up the tower, and proves that it should have been surmounted by a lofty spire, of an unusual number of sides indeed, but of well-proportioned outline. He had carefully considered how this additional weight was to be carried. This part of the proposal has not been proceeded with, but the western towers, which formed part of the project, have been built, but not as he intended. Of these works he says in the report: ‘I have prepared perfect draughts and models such as I conceive will agree with the original scheme of the old architect without any modern mixtures of my own inventions’ (Parentalia, p. 297). Unhappily after Wren's death his successors did not adhere to this wise and loyal resolution, and it is easy to see where the master-hand finishes and where the modern mixtures of incongruous detail obtrude themselves. The fine general proportion of the towers is alone Wren's.
At an earlier date, about 1675, he had built in Roman Doric the library which forms the north side of the cloister of Lincoln Cathedral. In 1668 he was called in to execute some considerable repairs at Salisbury Cathedral, for which he made a very full report, replete with valuable practical suggestions (ib. p. 304), and executed some much-needed repairs, and without any alteration to the style of the architecture, of which, in several passages of the report, he speaks in praise. In 1682 he built a new chapel at Queen's College, Oxford. In April 1684 (Phillimore, p. 244) he repaired the spire of Chichester Cathedral, which had been damaged by the wind exerting too much strain upon the weathercock. This he successfully counteracted by a very skilful device, which is fully described and illustrated in Elmes (pp. 320, 486). The Salisbury report was afterwards published as part of a history of that cathedral (London, 1723, sm. 8vo), but without naming Wren as the author of the report.
Wren built a new custom-house in 1668, but this was burnt down in 1718. Its successor was then built by Ripley, and this again shared the same fate about a hundred years afterwards.
The Monument, the Roman Doric column which commemorates the great fire, was built by Wren between 1671 and 1678. The drawings, which are preserved at All Souls', show that its figure was the result of much study well bestowed. Wren had at first intended that it should have been left hollow from top to bottom, to serve as a vertical telescope-tube, to be used for astronomical purposes, with a large object-glass presented to the Royal Society by Huyghens. Previous to the days of achromatic combinations powerful telescopes required excessive focal length. In this case the height of the Monument proved insufficient, and the adaptation was not made (Ward, Lives, p. 104). Contrasting indeed in height with the Monument, but not less successful in design, is the pedestal of the equestrian statue of Charles I at Charing Cross. Much judgment is required in designing pedestals for statues; they are frequently made too massive. This work was executed, according to Elmes (p. 372), in 1678. A congenial task must have been the erection in 1675 of the Greenwich Observatory.
In 1677 Wren commenced the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The drawings, and a letter referring to them, are in the collection at All Souls', Oxford. The work was not completely finished till 1692. The result is one of the handsomest buildings in the country, remarkable externally for breadth of effect and correctness of style, while its interior is a model of excellent arrangement. In the letter referred to Wren proposes to give ‘all the mouldings in great,’ observing that ‘architects are scrupulous in small matters … and as great pedants as criticks or heralds.’ In 1678 he made a design complete in every respect, of which the drawings and estimate are preserved at All Souls' College, Oxford, for a monumental structure to be erected at Windsor in memory of Charles I, which, if it had been built, would certainly have proved a noble mausoleum, its external diameter being 68 and its height by scale 145 feet (for a description see Parentalia, p. 331). In 1681 he built the tower over the gateway to Christ Church, Oxford, in a style well harmonising with Wolsey's Tudor Gothic (ib. p. 342). In 1682 Wren produced in Chelsea Hospital a building very practical and well arranged internally, and solid and substantial externally, without aiming at much architectural effect.
The College of Physicians in Warwick Lane, City, now destroyed, was built in 1689. The external architecture, though by no means weak, may be classed as of ordinary merit; but the theatre was extremely good, the seats well arranged for seeing the lecturer, and the acoustics of the building admirable (Elmes, p. 451, with engraving). Wren's work at Greenwich Hospital—he contributed it gratuitously (Phillimore, p. 269)—consists of two noble blocks of building; it is among his best achievements, and in complete harmony with the earlier portion by Inigo Jones. Additions to Kensington Palace were made by Wren for William III. To these may be added a very fine building of its class, the great school-room at Winchester College, built while Wren was employed on Charles II's palace in that city. Wren also built for Charles II the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, begun 1680 and finished 1686. He was long engaged on extensive works at Hampton Court Palace (see Law, Hampton Court). Several private houses were built by Wren, of which Marlborough House, London, may be cited as an example. They are chiefly noticeable for stately and good arrangements inside, and dignified sobriety outside.
The All Souls' collection contains many drawings for works in connection with the Houses of Parliament, Whitehall and St. James's Palaces, and several plans for large mansions, of which the greater part have not been identified. Besides the enormous amount of labour implied by all that has gone before, Wren's office of surveyor to his majesty's works entailed a great deal of business in references, arbitrations, and other matters, which required personal attention, both in London and in the provinces. In London he seems to have been the sole representative of what is now the Building Act, in enforcing the regulations put forth subsequent to the great fire by a royal proclamation (Elmes, pp. 300, 442). Of the thirty-six companies' halls which are named as Wren's work, many have been rebuilt and all more or less enlarged and altered. What remains of his work is chiefly to be found in the interiors. Brewers' Hall, both within and without, contains some characteristic portions.
Having been appointed by the Stuarts to the office of surveyor-general, Wren retained the royal favour unclouded through the reigns of William and Mary and Queen Anne; but on the accession of the Hanoverian family in 1714 the jealousies which his high position had created were able to prevail against him. At first he was subjected to repeated annoyances, but after having endured these for four years, during which time he was able to complete the fabric of St. Paul's, he was finally superseded in 1718, and William Benson (1682–1754) [q. v.] was made surveyor-general in his place (Law, Hampton Court, iii. 228 sqq.) Wren after this retired from practical business, retaining only the supervision of Westminster Abbey, which he held until his death.
For the last five years of his life Wren resided much in a house at Hampton Court which he held on lease from the crown, but also occupied a house in St. James's Street, Piccadilly. On one of his journeys to the London house he took a chill, and died after a short illness, on 25 Feb. 1723, in the ninety-first year of his age. He was buried on 5 March in St. Paul's Cathedral under the south aisle of the choir, near the east end. His successor as architect of the cathedral, Robert Mylne [q. v.], caused to be placed in his honour an inscription at the entrance into the choir, ending with the words ‘Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.’
The best known portraits of him are: (1) at the Royal Society's rooms in Burlington House, believed to be by Sir Peter Lely, though there seems some ground for attributing it to Sir Godfrey Kneller; (2) the picture by Sir Godfrey Kneller in the National Portrait Gallery, London; (3) a portrait in the Deanery, St. Paul's; and (4) the profile engraved in the ‘Parentalia.’ Besides these, (5) All Souls' College Library possesses a cast of the face taken after death, which appears to confirm particularly the likeness shown by 1 and 4. (6) There is also a bust of Wren at All Souls', and (7) a portrait by Sir James Thornhill in the Sheldonian. A fine group of Wren's works, designed by C. R. Cockerell, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838; a reduced copy forms the frontispiece to Miss Phillimore's biography. By his will Wren left his architectural drawings to All Souls' College, where they have been ‘bound and catalogued with due veneration for his memory’ (Burrows, Worthies of All Souls, p. 233).
Wren enjoyed intimate friendships with the best and most scientific men of his age, among whom may be named specially Evelyn, Boyle, Wallis, Issac Barrow, Halley, and Newton, to whom may be added Hooke and Flamsteed; and the fact of his having preserved the continuous friendship of the two last named may be taken as evidence of the amiability of his temper, for neither was easy to get on with. He must also have reckoned among his friends a celebrated man who was an intimate associate of his cousin Matthew Wren—namely, Samuel Pepys. Miss Phillimore (p. 225) thus sums up Wren's character: ‘Loving, gentle, modest, he was as a boy; and the famous architect possessed those qualities still. In a corrupt age all testimony leaves him spotless; in positions of great trust and still greater difficulty his integrity was but the more clearly shown by the attacks made against him; among the foremost philosophers of his age he was a striking example that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” No child could hold the truths of Christianity with a more undoubting faith than did Sir Christopher Wren.’
In addition to the lectures and reports above mentioned, Wren left a few tracts on occasional subjects connected chiefly with architecture. Two of these, both unfortunately incomplete, are published in the ‘Parentalia,’ and reprinted by Elmes (App. x. pp. 118, 123), and a third was obtained in manuscript by Miss Phillimore and printed (pp. 341 et seq.). There are also in the ‘Parentalia’ attempts made by Wren to restore the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the temple of Diana at Ephesus. These are, of course, superseded by more recent restorations, assisted by data obtained by excavation. Both of them, however, seem to show all that was possible with the scanty historical data which were then accessible. In one of the two incomplete tracts referred to above he shows that the spherical vaulting he so often used is also the lightest construction that can be employed for such a purpose.
In December 1669 Wren married a lady to whom it may be inferred he had been for some years much attached, Faith, daughter of Sir John Coghill. There were two sons by this marriage—Gilbert, born in 1672, who died before he was two years old; and Christopher, who was born on 18 Feb. 1675 only a few months before his mother's death, which took place in the following September (Phillimore, p. 203). In the year following Wren married a second time—Jane, daughter of Lord FitzWilliam. Two children were the fruit of this marriage—Jane, born in 1677; and William in 1679. Their mother died in the latter year (ib. p. 226). William survived his father, and died in 1738. Jane was for some years her father's constant companion, but died, aged 26, on 29 Dec. 1702, twenty years before his own death. Very touching is the epitaph on her tomb in St. Paul's crypt.
Christopher Wren (1675–1747), the son of his first wife, was educated at Eton and Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, which he entered in 1691, but left without a degree. He laid in 1710 the last stone of the lantern which surmounts the dome of St. Paul's, in the presence of his father. He represented Windsor in parliament 1713–15 (Official Return Memb. of Parl. ii. 29, 37), and died on 24 Aug. 1747 (Gent. Mag. 1747, p. 447; Letters of Eminent Lit. Men, Camden Soc. p. 346). His first wife was Mary, daughter of Philip Musard, jeweller to Queen Anne. His second wife, Constance, daughter of Sir Thomas Middleton, and widow of Sir Roger Burgoyne, bart., died on 23 May 1734 (Gent. Mag. 1734, p. 275). He collected the documents which form the ‘Parentalia,’ afterwards published by his son Stephen in 1750, and dedicated to Arthur Onslow [q. v.], speaker of the House of Commons. Two letters written to him by Sir Christopher while he was quite a youth are printed in Miss Phillimore's ‘Life’ (pp. 282, 302), and show that their relations to one another were of an affectionate character. The younger Christopher was also a numismatist of some repute (Hearne, Collections, ed. Doble, ii. 264), and published in 1708 (London, 4to) ‘Numismatum Antiquorum Sylloge.’ His portrait, engraved by Faber, forms the frontispiece of the ‘Parentalia.’[The main authority for Wren's life is Parentalia, or Memoirs of the Family of the Wrens … compiled by the architect's son Christopher Wren and published by Stephen Wren, London, 1750, fol. Other lives are: Elmes's Life, 1823; Phillimore's Sir Christopher Wren, his Family and Times, 1881; and Stratton's Life, Work, and Influence of Sir Christopher Wren, printed for private circulation, 1897. See also Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1668 sqq. passim; Luttrell's Brief Relation; Pepys's Diary, ed. Wheatley; Sprat's History of Royal Society, 1667; Evelyn's Diary, ed. Wheatley, 1879; Hooke's Cometa, 1678; Boyle's Diary, ed. Bray, 1879; Newton's Principia, 1687; Ward's Lives of Gresham Professors, 1740; Birch's Hist. Royal Society, 1756; Weld's Hist. Royal Society, 1848; Biographia Britannica, 1766, vi. 4359–4378; Fergusson's Hist. of Modern Architecture, 1862; Papworth's Dict. of Architecture; Milman's Annals of St. Paul's, 1868; Longman's Three Cathedrals of St. Paul, 1873; Hearne's Collections, ed. Doble, and Wood's Life and Times, ed. Clark (Oxford Hist. Soc.); Burrows's Worthies of All Souls' College; R. B. Gardiner's Register of Wadham College, Oxford; Reginald Blomefield's Renaissance Architecture in England, 1897.]