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CHAPTER I. a
THE PRESENT STATE OF DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE IN ITS
RE we, as Englishmen, satisfied with the state of A domestic architecture amongst us, or ought we to be so ?
I am not asking whether our dining-rooms are comfortable, our drawing-rooms brilliant, or our parlours snug,—we are pretty sure to take care of ourselves as to comfort,—but are our houses pleasant things to look upon, as well as comfortable to live in ? Are they objects which we feel a national pride in, or would wish to point out to our visitors from other countries as symbolizing well with the state of civilization we profess to have attained ? Do they contrast satisfactorily with the houses of our forefathers, built in periods we are accustomed to think rude? Do our town-houses add grandeur and picturesque effect to the streets of our cities ? Do our country-houses harmonize well with the scenery around them, and add beauty to the landscape ? Then, again, how do we feel satisfied with the look of our country towns? Does a view of their streets tend to elevate the feelings and excite our patriotic pride? Do our great manufacturing and commercial towns contrast favourably with
a This and the following chapter were read at a meeting of the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Architectural Societies, held at Newark in 1855.
the ancient seats of industry and commerce, such as we see in Flanders and Germany? Again, how do we like the look of the cottages of our poor, as compared with the old cottages we often find of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as those of the villages of Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, and Somerset ? On the whole, is the good taste and good feeling these different domestic works display such as makes us feel a secret pride in the place and period in which our lot has been cast?
If so, I can only say that our taste is even worse than I suppose it to be. No; though taste is, with the community at large, undoubtedly at discount, I cannot believe that there are many amongst us who, if they took the trouble to ask themselves such questions as the above, could screw up their consciences to give a favourable reply. The fact is that, from being all our lives surrounded (more or less) with ugliness, we take it as a thing of course, and hardly give it a thought.
Now let us look back for a moment to former periods, when civilization was far less advanced. Go back almost as far as you like,-go to the very infancy of modern civilization,—and as far back as any remains of domestic buildings have escaped the hand of time, we find them more systematically treated as to care for external appearance, than is usual among ourselves. From the twelfth century onwards, we have domestic remains which, in every instance, however simple they may be, display real architectural thought and care. Of the thirteenth century, many of the remains of houses, both in cities and in the country, though never richly ornamented, are really noble specimens of architecture. In the fourteenth
they become--though retaining a grand simplicity of treatment magnificent; while in the fifteenth and sixteenth the domestic architects strained every nerve to render their cities noble and picturesque, and their country-houses beautiful additions to the scenery which surrounded them.
Even the barns of these times are often finer objects, and more architectural buildings, than our houses. Their warehouses, as we see at Nuremberg, though severely plain as suited their uses, were noble and dignified buildings; while their cloth-halls, markethouses, and town-halls, were often much finer, and more impressive, (though infinitely less costly,) than our palaces.
To the very close of the middle ages a noble senti. ment peryaded every building. In some instances, particularly abroad, a taste for the fantastic had somewhat injured the domestic, as it had the ecclesiastical, architecture, especially in cases where funds were superabundant; but in general we find a grand simplicity of character, a generous and natural treatment -adapting every feature thoroughly and fearlessly to its uses,—and an abstinence from over-strained effort beyond what the occasion demanded, accompanied by an instinctive power of giving beauty to every form which utility might suggest, lasting up to the very period of the renaissance of the long-exploded architecture of the ancient world.
As instances of this, see the older portions of Hampton-court, or of Eton College, the ruins of Wingfield Manor-house, and the remains of numberless domestic buildings of the fifteenth and the commencement of the sixteenth centuries. • The first effect of the revival of Roman detail was
to foster a feeling for extravagant and fantastic forms of ornament. The high gables of the Gothic house or hall became broken into all kinds of fanciful forms, and every feature of the old style was remodelled into some new shape, though the general feeling was in a great measure retained. The architecture, consequently, of the latter half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, while retaining much of the noble feeling of the previous age, had lost its purity and simplicity; still, however, one can never see the domestic works of those days without admiration, and still we see the great pervading principle that no building can be so homely in its uses as not to be deserving of careful thought in its design.
It seems to be generally imagined that the merits of the Elizabethan style are most displayed in its grand baronial mansions, such as Burleigh or Hatfield. I think quite the contrary. A style is best tested by reducing it to its humblest conditions; and the great glory of this style is, not that it produced gorgeous and costly mansions for the nobles,—for here its weakness is shewn in the fantastic forms it often assumed, — but that it produced beautifully simple, yet perfectly architectural, cottages for the poor; appropriate and comfortable farm-houses; and pleasantlooking residences for the smaller country gentlemen, and for the inhabitants of country towns and villages. In these the faults of the style rarely shew themselves; the parts are always simple and natural, the leading forms the same as at the best periods, and the “classic” admixture is not obtrusive, being only seen in the profiles of the few simple mouldings.
In this style, as in all preceding it, the great principle holds good, that no mean or contemptible