Page images





An Historical Essay on Architecture. By the late THOMAS

Hope; illustrated from drawings made by him in Italy

and Germany. London: Murray, 1835. IT is evident enough that the worship of God is an inward act of the heart and mind, and that the humblest cotter, with worn-out Bible and unwashed hands, may in love and reverence approach nearer to the Divine Being, than all the pomp of imagination in gay services, full of gold and steaming incense; that the deepest fervour has been felt in barns or in catacombs; and that the widow's mite was worth more than the whole temple. But though this is a truth, it is a one-sided truth, and must be taken with a limitation. Man is not merely a moral being, but also an intellectual one; and if we are delighted to find evidence sometimes that he possesses what some people choose to call a moral sense, we must recollect that he has at least five others, all of which are active and cannot be kept idle. We never were of that great sect who would cut us asunder, insect-like, into two parts, an illpaired couple; separating the practical reason by a fixed gulph from a strange illusory understanding; and seeing nothing out of ourselves but base matter, to be used only for the conveniences of that machine which carries on its top the self-sufficient and somewhat pragmatical ball of man's head. But to separate is easy; to harmonise, the slow task of



[ocr errors]

laborious art; and we must endeavour to discover and bring to light, first in ourselves the unity of one consistent personal being, and then without us that of the one creation of the one God. For our senses do exist and must exist, and if not conciliated they will rebel. Nor can we think that, for instance,

during divine service in our churches, these same senses are either kept under, or drawn upwards, by being presented with blank white-washed walls, new bonnets, or perchance the effigy of a lion and unicorn, instead of the cross and suffering Saviour, and all the majestic imagery which our ancestors loved to behold! We can pray without them; who doubts .it? as we can live without good furniture or handsome rooms, or any of the ornaments of civilization ; with unplaned doors like Spartans, or with no doors at all like Epictetus. But if we do not live so in private, but are driven by a strong instinct of our nature to make every little thing about us in our domestic life, an image, and as it were a forget-me-not memorial of elegance and dignity, why should we leave these out in the noblest of our performances, and consecrate to God rusticity only? It is not found necessary for us, in order to love our wives and children, or to transact business, or to perform any other function of humanity, that we should go into a barn or a hut. Nor, indeed, are the feelings ever so divisible from the imaginary power that they can be affected directly by abstract truth; if it were so, then, to be consistent, we should strip our service as well as our churches of all ornament, and cut down florid sermons into mere assertions and naked syllogisms. Perhaps therefore we are not so enlightened as we think ourselves in reversing the order of things, according to which, in old times, private houses were small and rude, but public buildings of a size and grandeur proportionate to the full stature of the whole state.

These thoughts naturally occur to one in reviewing the History of Architecture; for we find that Art, in so far as it can be entitled a fine art, to have been developed in all former times in the construction of temples and churches, while mere house-building was thought a branch as inferior to it, as the portrait is to the historic painting. For a house must always be an affair of mere convenience and habitability; and what, in the higher style, a great authoress has termed “cette grande inutilité" of all that excites the imaginative intellect, becomes when applied to such structures impertinent and absurd. But our practice works upon our theory, and we are not content now unless we can draw down all the imposing and humiliating grandeur of the past to our own level. We find accordingly that the writers of the present day would reduce the art altogether to a mere mechanical one; a sort of boxmaking, only on a larger scale. Of all the arts, indeed, Architecture is by its own nature that which appears the most unsettled in its principles, from the ambiguous position it holds between the lower and operative class of arts, and the fine ones. As to Music, Painting, and the rest, no one can help admitting, with however bad a grace, that they lie beyond the jurisdiction of the understanding, and that beauty, feeling, or something of the kind, is what regulates the genius that produces and the critic that judges. But when we come to Architecture, the utilitarians, accompanied by a formidable set of carpenters, bricklayers and upholsterers, make claim to her as a runaway slave from their territory; stone, wood, convenience and ingenuity being in their notion the only postulates required for building. It is but fair to hear what can be said on their side of the question, especially when we find a man of such genius as Mr. Hope giving some kind of countenance to it.

“In every country,” says this thoughtful author, “we find “ the style of building determined by the nature of the soil, “ and the habits of the people consequent thereupon. In “ China, for instance, the taper conic form which prevails in “ all edifices, and the slight and slender character, what is it “ but an imitation on wood of the canvass dwellings of the “ original Monguls? while in Hindustan and Egypt, alluvial “ plains, subject to inundation, the early inhabitants, obliged “ to keep to the highlands, and store their food in caves, “ made their buildings afterwards to suit their habits of life

gloomy, massy, cavernous. Thus too the Scythians, who “roamed the Dodonæan forests in the North of Greece, from “their very way of life, and the materials within their reach, “could construct no other habitation for themselves but the “ wooden hut, with upright posts and transverse rafters, and " sloping roof. In later ages again, nothing but the practical conveniences afforded by the use of the arch, and the in“ vention of glass, for the enclosing of large spaces, and the “ want of such enclosures for religious processions in an in“ clement climate, and the necessity of a high-pitched roof to “throw off snow, determined the form and construction of “ the so-called gothic."

Now all this we willingly subscribe to, provided the other side of the question be not excluded. We admit these determining causes, but as material, not formal causes. For if this were all—if there were nothing more in the art than the adaptation of means to ends, the ingenuity of man in procuring gratification for his wants, and the gradual improvement of mechanical contrivance, the history of it might perhaps be interesting, but not more so than that of ship-building or iron-founding, and not particularly to the man of taste more than to any one else. But now the fact is, that it does particularly interest that particular class, and this fact must be accounted for. What then is the general distinction between the two classes of Arts ? This evidently, that the one requires nothing more than ingenuity, and is the product of only one particular faculty of man, the understanding, quite independent of his moral nature ; whereas the other and higher sort call into action the whole man, and their works are consequently stamped with the image of the collective fulness of his being, and though still constructions of the ingenious animal, are presided over by moral ideas. The utility of a thing is its utility, and its beauty is its beauty, nor can we by any juggling equation get rid of either term, or make one stand for both. Now a thing is useful only relatively, in relation to something else, taken together with which it makes a whole, in itself being only a part; though the very same thing, if considered by itself as one distinct thing, that is, a partial whole, may be called beautiful; the beauty of it being its wholeness, unity and independence. Nothing, however, is truly a whole, or essentially one and self-sufficient, but a being or person having life in itself; and all other things can have but a shadowy resemblance of this perfection. So that the beauty of all material objects must be merely symbolical, and can be in them only so far as they represent, in forms of time and space, those things which primarily and

« PreviousContinue »