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ART. VIII. 1. Letter from W. R. HAMILTON, Esq. to the EARL of ELGIN, on the New Houses of Parliament. London: 1836. 2. Second Letter from W. R. HAMILTON, Esq. to the EARL of ELGIN, on the propriety of adopting the Greek style of Architecture in the construction of the New Houses of Parliament. London: 1836.
hold it to be undeniable that Mr Hamilton, by publishing
W these letters, has rendered a most important service to the
arts, to the cause of good taste, and indeed to the character of this country. His reputation as a scholar stands deservedly high; his experience in matters connected with the subject in question has been extensive and varied; he has been, at different periods of his life, engaged, and creditably known, in high political situations; his connexions might naturally be supposed to lie among those persons whose prejudices are enlisted on the side of the prevailing architectural fashion; nevertheless, he comes forward manfully to protest against the barbarism into which, we grieve to say, the constituted authorities appear, without any thing like due consideration, to have been hurried : he has at least reaped the satisfaction of finding that he immediately rallied round him all those whose opinions were most worthy of regard; and he may possibly even yet be the means of averting the evil which he so much and so justly apprehends.
None but the most ignorant or the most frivolous minds will treat this as a matter of small account. The question relates to an event which, in the history of the arts, never occurred before in this country, and is not likely to happen again for a long course of ages-the erecting of a building upon a scale of adequate magnificence, for the most exalted objects known among a free people, the transaction of its legislative business. To this structure is devoted a vast space of the ground consecrated by the most noble associations, and bordering upon, or in view of the finest buildings of the metropolis, and of the great river which washes their walls. Most ample sums of money are set apart for the performance of the work. A mighty interest is naturally excited in the choice of the plan; the competition of artists is invited; the most eminent in the empire have come forward to the struggle; and there is nothing like exaggeration in affirming that upon the selection which shall be made must depend, for generations, the place that this country will occupy among the nations of modern Europe for architectural taste. But let. us not
deceive ourselves by imagining that any such line can be drawn between one department and all others; upon the selection must
depend our national reputation for taste; and the state of the arts amongst us, in the present age, will for ever be judged of by the choice and by the execution of this plan. In these circumstances, we speak it with some pain, it was deemed expedient to restrict the artists to two kinds of architecture; one, the growth of a dark age,--the Gothic; the other, the Elizabethan modification, as it were, of the Gothic, which formed a kind of transition from that to the architecture of later times, when the pure models of Italy, and the yet chaster models of Greece, were happily resorted to. Against this error Mr Hamilton earnestly, forcibly, and learnedly contends; his arguments meet with a general assent; no impartial and disinterested person seems able, or indeed inclined to controvert them; yet the Gothic or the Elizabethan plan is persevered in, and the choice will be consummated, if an immediate expression of opinion does not take place. We have, therefore, deemed it a duty to bring before the reader some of the learned author's observations, referring to the Tracts themselves for a fuller discussion, and promising, as we safely can, that they will prove equally interesting to the man of taste and the man of letters.
The first thing that strikes an observer in this preference of the two given styles, is the absurdity of building, in the nineteenth century, according to the taste of the twelfth or the sixteenth. Hitherto the architecture of each age has been its own; even the models of perennial admiration furnished by the ancients have been adopted only with such varieties and adaptations as might be said to naturalize the Greek or Roman style in the different periods which imitated them. But now we are, it seems, to build as William Rufus or Cardinal Wolsey would have built or rather (for their taste and their sense would probably have been better had they lived in our days) we are to build now as we should have built had we lived under the Normans and the Tudors. A structure is about to be erected, which, in size and in costliness, may vie with any in Europe --perhaps surpass them all--a structure to which Europe will look with the greatest interest, possibly with a somewhat jealous eye; and we wilfully reject the matchless beauties of Italian and Grecian architecture-the great triumphs of the art in the most enlightened ages of the ancient and modern world, for the remains of the most ignorant and barbarous times.
The reign of the Elizabethan style, Mr Hamilton observes, was of short duration. It had superseded the Gothic, and was soon supplanted by the Italian school, in the seventeenth and earlier part of the eighteenth century. About the middle of the latter, our style was still further improved and exalted, by a resort to the
purer school of Greece; and although for the last fifty or sixty years there has been a considerable tendency to the style in question (encouraged, our author thinks, if not mainly begun, by Horace Walpole), it is yet undeniable that unless in private houses, where that style has some recommendation from convenience, and in Churches, where it has been retained from a desire to imitate the grand Cathedrals, by far the greater number,—indeed with a very few exceptions, all the most important of the public buildings have been constructed after the ancient and classic models. It may be added, that although the associations which connect the Gothic style with Church architecture, form a very just ground of preference, it is only by the sacrifice of taste to feelings of a higher nature that this can be justified-for doubtless there can be nothing more paltry than the spectacle exhibited by the reduction of such structures as Westminster Abbey and York Minster to the proportions of a small church or chapel,―more especially if the ornamental luxuriancy be retained, excusable only where the building is upon an immense scale.
The argument in favour of the Gothic plan, drawn from convenience as to internal arrangements, plainly has no application to public buildings like those in question. But there is an argument of convenience against it which Mr Hamilton presses with great force. We are all sensible' (he says) of the daily ' increasing inconvenience from the increased consumption of coal ' in every part of the city; and the injury done often to the ap'pearance of our public edifices where there are many projecting 'members, with intricate details, cannot have escaped notice. Not to mention less conspicuous examples of this great evil, 'St Paul's may be quoted as an instance of it in one species of • architecture, and the recently restored parts of Henry VII.'s 'chapel in the other. Now, the Greek architecture is, of all others, the best adapted for avoiding this crying nuisance; the 'comparatively few intersections which the parts of it require'the small projections of the mouldings, compatible with large ' and massive general features, the almost total absence of un'dercuttings-the simplicity of its ornaments, and the consequent facility of cleaning and restoring the surfaces, are all so many ' recommendations of the Greek style; independent of the supe'rior effect it produces upon the eye by its beautiful proportions.' The erection of a long series of Gothic window-buttresses of jet black, along the banks of the Thames, will present, it may well be apprehended, any thing rather than an agreeable, far less a grand, object upon which the eye may repose.
The following remarks are well deserving of attention:
'The architecture of the Goths, which perhaps was nothing in the
main but the degraded Roman, the result of ages sinking deeper and deeper into barbarism, and which was totally deficient in that which forms the elements of real beauty (like the media officia of the Stoics, which never possessed the perfectum honestum, quod omnes numeros habet, but were merely similitudines honesti), can only present, even in its greatest perfection, that species of beauty, which strikes as something imposing, and beautiful as a mass, "cumulatè videtur perfectum." The common mind is incapable of perceiving in it what is defective, or why it is imperfect; but as far as it does comprehend, it thinks that nothing has been overlooked. Cicero compares this species of approval to that which is passed upon poems and upon pictures by those who are pleased with, and who praise what is not deserving of their praise, but who when better informed, easily change their opinion, "ob eam, credo, causam, quòd insit in his aliquod probi, quod capiat ignaros, qui iidem, qui in unaquaque re vitii sit, nequeant judicare. Itaque cum sunt docti a peritis, facile desistunt a sententiâ."
In all complete styles of architecture, to produce a satisfactory result, the decorative members of the building ought to be at the same time efficient parts of it. The eye and the reason are then equally gratified; but when, as in the Gothic, the apparent frame is totally different from the real one, and weak forms, as well of weight, as of support, are superinduced upon the mechanical construction, an illusion is produced, which may give us a partial pleasure, but necessarily leads to a confusion of ideas and the facility with which the fancy may create these merely decorative compositions, the avowed objects of which are to play with the imagination, and to substitute falsehood for truth, is sure to lead to the indulgence of an impure taste, and to all the other discrepancies, which must result from an attempt to harmonize two contending principles.'
'With these and other objections against the re-introduction of Gothic architecture amongst us, and when we have only to look around, either in the metropolis, or in the great provincial towns, where the Greek or the Italian styles, in buildings, too, decided upon by the great body of the people, and even in many of the modern churches erected under episcopal sanction, are, as has been shown, so generally prevalent, I cannot believe it possible, that the final decision of the nation, through the representatives either of its numbers, or of its property and intelligence, will be in favour of the former. No one, even the staunchest advocate of the Gothic, maintains its superiority over the Greek abstractedly, either in respect to harmony, or proportions, or majestic simplicity, or nience and the circumstance just mentioned is quite a sufficient reply to the singular notion, that Gothic arches and pointed windows are necessarily, from habit or otherwise, connected with, or calculated to inspire a feeling of devotion-and that square windows and horizontal beams are suited only to Pagan superstition. When our architects begin their studies, they are not put to learn the principles upon which a pinnacle must be placed upon a turret, or the proportions which the oriel window should bear to the hall, or even to the strength of the buttress required to support the wall which would be crushed without it; these are subsequent considerations, which must be learnt, in order to enable them to execute commissions imposed upon them by individuals; but they do learn the distinctive characters of the Greek orders, the proportions between the height and diameter of a shaft, those of the echinus, the mutules and the abacus, those of the entablature, and the pediments; these are what the best masters in the best times, and in the most civilized communities, set before their scholars, and these are the principles, which, if left
VOL. LXV. NO. CXXXI.
to their own judgment and genius, they would all wish to put in practice. Let it not be said, then, that we run away from our own principles, when an opportunity is offered of placing before the eyes of Europe what we can effect; or that we are fearful of competing with others, in a monument founded upon the same principles, which are now acted upon every where else. Gothic architecture having in truth no strict rules of proportionsize, height, mouldings, decoration being all arbitrary-you will there indeed be safe from criticism; judges, amateurs, and architects may all have different opinions, and be all right, or all wrong; what was inadmissible in one country, or in one generation, will meet with its archetype in another; what was never before seen in England, will be defended by examples from Rouen, or Auch, or from Cologne; and we shall have such a medley as eye never saw, or pen never drew before
In truth, since the subject has been brought into discussion by Mr Hamilton's Letters, there appears to be only one solitary argument upon which the advocates of the plan rely. They say that in whatever way the building is laid out, Westminster Hall must be included within its limits, or attached to it; and, as this grand structure is Gothic, there can be no other style adopted for the rest. But there are many satisfactory answers to this argument. In the first place, as Mr Hamilton observes, if the new building must of necessity harmonize with the neighbouring ancient structures of Westminster Hall and Abbey, how happens it that the alternative of the Elizabethan style is presented? Then, the style of those ancient buildings themselves is very far from being the same; indeed, that of Henry VII.'s chapel, if not of an architecture peculiar to itself, at least bears no resemblance either to the Hall or to the Abbey. Perhaps it is enough to say that the beauty of Westminster Hall lies in the inside view; and that any device which might be resorted to for correcting the outside, would in no respect improve it. But what necessity is there for including it within the precincts of the building? Why may not the two Houses of Parliament, where Laws are made, be near the hall where Justice is administered, without forming part of the same structure?
We have already said that our object is rather to direct the reader's attention towards Mr. Hamilton's Tracts than to give any abstract of them. But we cannot close this article without quoting the following general, and extremely judicious remarks.
'There have been six principal epochs in modern history, at each of which the knowledge of ancient art has made gigantic strides-the first was that in which the increased wealth and learning of the Italians in the age of Leo led the way, by excavations for palaces and churches, to the recovery of so many lost remains from the ruins and rubbish of Rome,