Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Popish and Puseyite cry. The odd thing is, that we believe nobody has ever connected Mr. Scott personally with controversy of either kind, though the cry is at once brought up against his partisans. The only time that we ever saw Mr. Scott's name brought into connection with polemics of any kind was when he designed a noble church for the city of Hamburg, and was forth with attacked by the Ecclesiological party for profaning “ the sacred details of Christian art” by their employment in a “Lutheran meeting-house." We should have thought that this little bit of martyrdom was rather a claim upon the sympathies of Exeter Hall. The Gotho-Scottish sect must at least be very elastic; it is indeed a happy family which takes in Lord John Manners, Mr. Beresford Hope, Lord Elcho, Mr. Stirling, and Sir Joseph Paxton, we believe we may add Mr. Pease, to say nothing of the republic of Hamburg. We do not mean to be uncharitable, but we do know what political parties are; we know how very pleasant it is to rake up any thing against those who fill the seats which we have just left. Only suppose Lord John Manners had been a champion of “ Tite and the Greeks,” would not Lord Palmerston and Lord Llanover have found out that “Scott and the Goths" were exactly the thing that they wanted ?

But Gothic is dark, it is irregular, it is too light, it is monotonous, it is foreign, it is an innovation, it is whatever it comes into Lord Palmerston's head to call it. Lord Palmerston, we all know, is the privileged wit of the House of Commons; whatever he says, it is no more than parliamentary etiquette to cheer and to laugh at it. If the noble lord chooses to say that Gothic buildings are necessarily irregular and dark, the remark draws forth “cheers and laughter;" if he says a few minutes after that they are necessarily monotonous and unpleasantly light, the “cheers and laughter" come as naturally as before. We will only stop to remark, that every one who knows any thing about it knows that one great characteristic, one great advantage, of Gothic is its wonderful elasticity in the way of windows. They may be simply of any size or shape that is wanted. If you like mere loopholes, you may have them; if you like to have a wall with more glass than stone in it, you may have that instead; and you need not run into either of these extremes; there are plenty of examples of the true via media. Moreover it is worth noticing, that in nearly all modern buildings, even when making no sort of pretension to Gothic character, we find the mullion, or something equivalent to it, constantly introduced. Whenever extra width and extra light is wanted, the mullion (Lord Palmerston's great agent for the promotion of darkness) is sure to appear. The windows in the new reading-room of the British Museum are actually of a familiar Romanesque type, and the needful change of detail would at once translate them into Gothic. So it is repeatedly in buildings affecting “classic” character, and in buildings affecting no architectural character at all. The only peculiarity of Gothic is, that it gives these same mullions a more beautiful and appropriate form than any other style. In short, all these objections are simply said for the sake of something to say ; they are not arguments, they hardly rise even to the dignity of prejudices. We may dispose of them in the words of a correspondent of the Times: “Let Lord Palmerston only mention the exact quantity of light he wishes to have thrown upon foreign affairs, and Mr. Scott will easily give him that exact quantity, neither more nor less."

We have taken some pains and some space in disposing of misconceptions, because the subject is involved in so many and of such different kinds. When these irrelevant objections are got rid of, the case seems to us very clear, and the positive grounds on which we prefer Gothic may be very concisely set forth. We shall then have one more objection to answer, which, as connected with our own argument, and as not being exactly a popular misconception, we have reserved for that place.

The fact that we have consciously and deliberately to choose between two styles of architecture is of itself a very singular phenomenon; it is perhaps without parallel in the history of art. In other times new styles have been introduced, and have had to struggle with existing ones; but such a controversy as the present, as far as we know, never occurred before. other age, this age has no architecture of its own; if it had, we should say keep to it, develop it, and improve it, but do not desert it for the style either of past ages or of foreign countries. But we have no one universal style. Italian has for two centuries or more been most in fashion, but it has never thoroughly taken root; it has not produced any really English variety of itself, recognisable at once, like the different varieties of Grecian, Romanesque, and Gothic architecture ; and though its prevalence has been very great, it has never been quite universal. Gothic has never quite died out; it would be possible to make a catena of Gothic or would-be Gothic buildings stretching from the last days of good Perpendicular to the late Gothic revival. And again, Italian has had other rivals ; pure Grecian has been often attempted; Egyptian, Chinese, and Saracenic vagaries have occasionally diversified the scene. That we really have no style may be seen in this. When there is an universal style in a country, it affects the very humblest buildings. When Gothic was prevalent in this country, every thing was Gothic;

Unlike every

a

the rudest village churches, the meanest cottages, just as much as minsters and palaces. There is abundance of Gothic work up and down the land, so plain and rude that it must have been planned and wrought by the humblest village masons. But the true Gothic character is there as much as in Westminster Hall and Abbey. If there is nothing else, at any rate the doorways are arched, and the windows, where wide enough to need it, are mullioned. Some of the towns and villages of South Wales are full of Gothic houses of this kind, of the very rudest work, but still real Gothic. In Northamptonshire, again, the cottages, even down far into the last century, retained a type which is essentially Gothic. In Jersey, almost to our own day, the commonest gateways and doors were arched, with a round arch, strange to say, and not a pointed one, but with Gothic mouldings or chamfers. In all these cases there was clearly no interference from professional architects; a real style of architecture, rude but quite genuine, lingered on among village masons. But set a village mason, set even a builder of much higher character, to build nowadays without special instructions, and he produces something in no style at all, neither Italian nor Gothic, nor any thing else, but absolutely without architectural character of any kind. His windows are square holes in the wall; his doorway is made of two wooden doorposts and a wooden lintel. There is no one universal living style, in which every one builds naturally without thinking about it. We pick and choose and argue about it; one man likes one style, another another. In such a case it is not to the point to object to revivals, imitations, and so forth. Doubtless it is a pity that we are driven to revive and to imitate, but we cannot help it. We must either imitate the art of other countries or else revive that of past ages of our own. Modern Italian and modern Gothic are each equally imitative; the only question is, which of the two is the most desirable sort of imitation.

We must weigh the merits of the two contending styles in three balances, which we may call the practical, the artistic, and the historical. Of these we hold that Gothic has the advantage certainly in two, perhaps in three, while Italian has not the advantage in any.

The two practical considerations are convenience and cheapness. In point of convenience, we believe that there is no advantage in one more than the other. We believe that you may make a church, a house, a public hall, a Foreign Office, either in Italian or in Gothic, which shall serve its purpose equally well. For, whatever the style be, the building must be built of the size and shape which its purpose requires; and experience shows that buildings may be made of any conceivable size

a

or shape in either style. If an architect in either style sacrifices practical convenience to some supposed æsthetical requirement, a case is made out against him as an Italian or Gothic architect, but not against either Italian or Gothic architecture.

In point of cheapness, we believe, though the assertion will doubtless in many cases sound like a paradox, that Gothic has the advantage. We take for granted that we are not looking out for absolutely the cheapest sort of building that can be had. If so, our architects of both schools had better shut

up

their portfolios, and there is nothing to be done but to run up a big brick factory, at the market price per square yard. We take for granted that the question of cheapness merely means, which can give us a building of some real artistic character for the least money. And this we believe Gothic can do rather than Italian. Let us suppose an Italian and a Gothic design of equal costliness; let us even suppose that the Gothic one, as it stands, would be the dearer of the two. Still there is this all-important difference between them: you may take the Gothic design, Mr. Scott's for instance, or any other good Gothic design,-and strip off every atom of ornament, and still leave it good and pure, however plain, Gothic. Take the Italian design and try the same experiment upon it, and you leave absolutely nothing, or perhaps our friend the brick factory. Gothic will bear to be at once much richer and much plainer than Italian; and our architects are naturally tempted to send in their designs in their best clothes. But those same designs will do, sometimes they will do better, if, in the phrase of a writer we have already quoted, they are stripped stark naked. In short, we may say of Gothic architecture, like the human beauty:

“Induitur, formosa est; exuitur, ipsa forma est.” You may get rid of every one of Mr. Scott's statues, niches, medallions, canopies, crockets, jamlı-shafts, floriated capitals, and his design would be--we do not say so good as it is now, but still thoroughly good and thoroughly Gothic. Point your arches, chamfer your edges, and, if the outline is good, that is enough. But

you cannot go through any such process with the design of Messrs. Coe and Hofland. It is a fine composition; though, to our taste, a good deal of its merit is derived from its quasiGothic outline. But strip away its engaged columns, its pilasters, its entablatures, its decorative arches, its decorative pediments, its vases, its niches, and its enriched window-cases, and you have no such residuum of good, though plain, architecture left as you would find after the like treatment of Mr. Scott's. To our taste, Mr. Scott's design would not be at all injured by the omission of a good deal of its enrichment; it certainly

a

[ocr errors]

would not be utterly ruined, as Messrs. Coe and Hofland's would, by the omission of all. Hence we hold that Gothic architecture is really cheaper than Italian. It will give you a really artistic effect with a less amount of ornament, and therefore with a less expenditure of money.

Our second consideration, the artistic, is intimately connected with the last branch of the practical. We will not go into the metaphysics of beauty: Which of two given buildings, or of two given styles, is most beautiful, that is, which is most pleasing to the eye and the mind, must always be in a great degree a matter of taste. Nor will we, with Mr. Ruskin, go about to look for the seven deadly sins and the seven cardinal virtues in structures of stone and mortar. Still there are such things as honesty and dishonesty of construction and ornament. Now, speaking generally, Gothic is thus honest, and Italian is not. Mr. Pugin taught us this truth long ago. Grecian and Gothic stand side by side, bracketed æquales, as in a Cambridge tripos. There are only two modes of construction, the entablature and the arch. Grecian shows the highest perfection reached by the one, Gothic the highest perfection reached by the other. Italian, like its parent the old Roman, is a jumble of the two. Grecian and Gothic both“ ornament the construction;" Italian constantly conceals it. That is, in Grecian and Gothic, the pillars, entablatures, arches, which form the real constructive features, are themselves made beautiful features, and are the prominent objects in the decoration. But Italian, using for the most part an arched construction, seeks its ornament in the system of the entablature. A Gothic building enriches its necessary features,—its doorways, its windows, its internal arcades. If it adds ornament for ornament's sake, it seeks it chiefly in decorative imitations of the constructive features, in shafts or mullions supporting blank arches, but on so small a scale that every body sees that they are merely decorative features. But an Italian design has very commonly a range of engaged pillars the full height of the building, with the windows of two or three stories peeping between them. The first feeling is, that the columns originally stood detached, and that somebody has built a wall between them. Messrs. Coe and Hofland avoid this fault; but they avoid it by piling order upon order in a way rather cinquecento than fully developed Italian, and which was in fact borrowed from the Gothic system of decoration. But even their system of decoration is not consistent. Mr. Scott, in his highest story, runs an arcade along his whole front, and pierces members of it for windows wherever light is wanted. In his central and lower ranges the windows stand thicker together, and fill up nearly the whole wall. There is nothing between them save

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »