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architecture exists : from the palace to the cottage, every building was treated with care to its appearance; and an object painful to the eye was held to be just as inexcusable as an offence against any of the other senses, -and none the less so on account of the homeliness of its uses; nor was the modern principle up to this time thought of, that, provided your house administers to your own comforts within, no matter how much it offends your neighbour's eye without.
The departure from these principles commences, in England, with the period of the great rebellion, though this event only affected it indirectly. The real cause of the change was the more perfect introduction of pure Palladian classicism, which came about from various causes at this period, and was fostered by the long sojourn of our nobles on the Continent, and the general breaking up of our national traditions. The change, however, was by no means complete. Our ecclesiastics, at the Restoration, in many cases attempted to perpetuate the old style of building, and in the rural districts the retention of the old forms was very general throughout the seventeenth, and even to the end of the eighteenth, centuries; so much so, that in some of the more secluded villages of Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, and, probably, some other counties, cottages continued to be built, up to the beginning of the present century, in a manner which one would almost call “ Elizabethan,” and the framing of timber buildings, such as barns, &c., continued much the same (though in a ruder form) as in the middle ages,--and even now an unsophisticated village carpenter or mason, if simply following his own uncorrupted instinct, often reverts, unconsciously, to the old way of doing things.
The great war from 1793 to 1815 has been the deluge which has, for the most part, swept away all true feeling for characteristic domestic architecture. Up to that time, whatever the style, whether exotic or traditional, we find some remaining traces of regard to appearance, some lingering sense of beauty, even in the simplest structures; but from that time this has (as a general rule) ceased to be the case : the house-builder, left to himself, ceased even to think of the appearance of its structure, unless its importance were such as to compel him to pay it some little regard; and from that time to the present our country has become disfigured by masses of brick and mortar such as the most barbarous age or nation would reject with disgust.
Within the last few years, architects, and the more educated classes of the public, have become conscious of this miserable degradation--this unfathomable bathos of the public taste, and many praiseworthy attempts have been made to remedy it. I do not at the present moment speak of these attempts, but rather of the vernacular house-building of the million; for, as stated above, the real merits of a style are best tested by viewing it when reduced to its simplest conditions.
Look at the vernacular cottage-building of the day, —not the ornate specimens which are seen near the park-gates of our nobility, nor those admirable attempts which are now happily becoming frequent, to raise the habitation of the labourer both in comfort and character, but the spontaneous productions of our builders, where no external influence is brought to bear upon them. Can anything be more execrable ? Can anything be more utterly at variance with what
one would think should be the character of a country village, or more deadening to all the natural feelings of the labourer for his home ?
Look, again, at the rows of miserable houses in the suburbs of our country towns, and at the wretched creations of speculating builders in the neighbourhood of London : are they not vile beyond description ? Look at the houses which grow up like mushrooms round the Crystal Palace, and which appear wherever a needy landowner begins to let out his ground on building leases: are they not perfect plaguespots on the landscape, instead of heightening its beauties, as they ought to do? And yet these display the vernacular style of house-building more truthfully than the forced productions of persons of more ambitious notions, and are, for the most part, much the same things denuded of a few ornaments, by which their natural ugliness is in a measure disguised.
The builder's style of our day is, in fact, after making a certain abatement for want of skill, a truthful exposition of what is too generally the architect's style; in the same manner as a Nuremberg warehouse of the fifteenth century shewed the style of the mansion or the Hotel de Ville reduced to its simplest elements, and proved its innate nobility; as the tithe-barn of the fourteenth century proved that the architecture of the day was noble even in its simplest forms; and as the cottages of a Northamptonshire village shew the architecture of Burleigh, of Kirby, or of Rushton, reduced to its elementary forms, and in doing so enhance, instead of diminishing, our opinion of its merits; so do the erections of our speculating house-builders hold a truthful mirror to the majority of our house-architects, and shew them, without flat
tery or detraction, what their architecture is in its native and normal conditions; but instead of proving it noble, they exhibit it in its genuine meanness and deformity. In the same manner as the architecture of former ages has been proved noble by the natural beauty of its most normal and spontaneous productions, so does that of our day stand before us selfcondemned, when tested by the same ordeal. The one was proved to be alike suited to the most exalted and the humblest uses, the latter only tolerable in its forced and laboured efforts, but sinking into despicable meanness when reduced to its simpler elements 6.
I need hardly say that we want a style which will stand this test,—which will be pleasing in its most normal forms, yet be susceptible of every gradation of beauty, till it reach the noblest and most exalted objects to which art can aspire.
If we can devise such a style for ourselves, by all means let us do so; but if not, let us endeavour to develope it out of that of some former period which we find to have met these conditions: and happily we find such a nucleus to work upon in the native archi
b It may, perhaps, be objected to this, that our builders fail still more signally when they attempt a Gothic house, and that our old styles are, in their hands, even more execrable than their own. I would reply that, if three centuries of labour at revived classicism has failed in rendering the vernacular buildings tolerable, it is hardly to be expected that those who make such a hash of what they have had such long schooling in, should succeed better in a style they have never before tried. While our indigenous styles prevailed, they imparted to the humblest mechanic an instinctive sense of beauty and of propriety of form; the exotic style, on the contrary, has utterly destroyed all such instinct, and, whatever intrinsic beauties it may possess, produces, in the hands of the unlearned, nothing but deformity.
tecture of our own country,—the production of our own forefathers; men bearing our own names; whose lands still often remain in the same families; whose armorial bearings we are still proud to hold; to whom we owe our liberties, our constitution, and our national customs; and who, though living in simpler times, were the fathers of our modern civilization.
This style of architecture, whose traditions have, in our rural districts, only vanished within the memory of man, has the strongest possible claims upon our affection. It is the absence of anything to excite interest and to enlist the feelings of the heart, which has been the great cause of the present degradation of our vernacular architecture; and it is a happy circumstance, that the style which on its own intrinsic merits recommends itself as the ground-work of the future, is that which above all others is calculated to enlist our love and sympathy, from its association with the past,