Popular Science Monthly/Volume 38/March 1891/Correspondence

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

SIR: Mr. Barr Ferree's articles on modern architecture, in the June and December numbers of the Monthly, are interesting as giving an outside view of the present condition of that profession; but the writer fails to discriminate between past performance and present tendency, between evils in the ascendency and evils on the decline. He appears, indeed, quite uninformed as to what is being done by our leading architects and as to the spirit and methods of their work, and judges the architecture of our time by its worst instead of its best performances. The views he expresses are more or less widely prevalent in the community, and now that they have found such pointed and vigorous utterance, demand that some one should call attention to the fallacy of a part, at least, of their assertions. Architects are not such unwilling listeners to lay criticism as this writer would have us believe, but they do ask that it shall justify itself by clear definitions, precise statements, and evidence of thorough acquaintance with the various bearings of the subject. These are to be looked for in vain in the above-mentioned articles, which, moreover, seem to ignore the progress made by the profession in the last twenty years (in house-planning, for instance, in which the work of our architects has aroused wide-spread interest even among the conservative French). Both articles attribute to architects as a class a disregard of sanitary and mechanical requirements quite unwarranted by the facts, and deprecate the attention they pay to exterior design, although most critics find this the weakest side of their work. They are written in apparent ignorance of the fact that it is to the architects that we owe in great measure our municipal building laws and a large part of the modern advance in scientific construction and in sanitation applied to building. The strictures in these papers appear to be based on reading rather than on careful observation. Their author follows hard after Ruskin in his apparent hatred of the Renaissance, and the last part of the Fifth Discourse in Viollet-Leduc's Entretiens sur l'Architecture would seem to have furnished a large part of the ammunition for his December assault; but the Entretiens were written seven-and-twenty years ago, and the evils at which they were aimed, however prevalent in France at the time, and however characteristic even of our own architecture twenty years ago, are not fairly characteristic of it now. The article in question is out of date; it is a quarter of a century behind the times.

It is practicable here to notice only in a summary way the erroneousness of its main contentions. The grain of truth in them need not be denied. That there are charlatans and ignoramuses among the architects of our day is as true as it is of the legal, medical, or clerical profession, or of any other class of men following a common pursuit. It may even be admitted that among them are to be found not a few men of intelligence and culture who are pursuing their career along mistaken lines or without sufficient technical training; but from this to the denial of the existence of intelligence or conscience in the profession is a long distance across which one should not attempt to leap without looking. Is it indeed true that charlatanry and ignorance control the profession and give it its character? Is it true that architects generally subordinate common sense to caprice? Is it true that when a client comes with a rational, well-considered, and practical programme for a given building, the architect generally disregards his wishes and fools him out of his programme by pretty pictures intended only to catch his eye and a commission, or that in the average work of representative architects the demands of exterior ornamentation alone dictate the interior planning? Is it true that our architects have signally failed to avail themselves of modern progress in scientific construction? Is it not rather true that they have, on the contrary, often been the pioneers in the introduction and development of new materials, appliances, and building processes? It is certainly a mistake to assert that Roman architecture paid no attention to exterior effect, and did not largely avail itself of the splendor of internal adornment by applied ornament. It was subject to the changes of "fashion," and its forms are largely the product of a change of fashion following the conquest of the Greek world. The like is true of many phases of Gothic and other historic styles.

The contentions of the articles under consideration need only to be stated in the plain and concise form of these queries and denials to appear to every well-informed and fair-minded student of our architecture an almost grotesque caricature of the true state of affairs. Their effect, in view of the reputation of the magazine through which they have been given to the public, can only be to foster existing prejudices, however vague and unfounded, against architects as a class, and to impede instead of helping on the reform of our architecture. It is hardly too much to ask that writers on the state of modern architecture will, before pronouncing absolute condemnation, make the acquaintance of our leading architects, visit their offices, study their methods, familiarize themselves with the great difficulties and amazing complications of the architectural problem, and carefully examine the effort? which these men are making for its satisfactory solution.

Yours, etc., A. D. F. Hamlin,
Adjunct Professor of Architecture,
School of Mines, Columbia College.
New York, December 17, 1890.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: I have just been reading Prof. Currier's article on The Decline of Rural New England. It does not in any degree satisfy me as an exposition of things as they are. Like him, I was born close to the soil; like him, I have been and am a student; but, unlike him, I am now, and have been for most of my life, a practical fanner. My diagnosis of the case is (consequently) quite different. I agree with him only in thinking that our tariff laws have generally done the farmer more harm than good. He utterly ignores the chief of all the reasons why farming has declined, so far as a decline can be noted. This decline is in the hill-farms chiefly, and it has been coincident with the opening up of Western free lands. But it has also been coincident with a great decline in the fertility of those farms, with no corresponding increase among the farmers of knowledge how to prevent such decline, or how to restore lost fertility.

The comfort and prosperity of the earlier generations of our farmers are exaggerated. There was as much debt, as little general advance, and very much more vice among New England farmers fifty years ago than now. Prof. Currier makes the common mistake of comparing the valley farmers of fifty years ago with the hill farmers of the present day. By the enforcement of prohibitory laws, and the general reprobation of intemperance in the rural districts of New England, the moral condition of the hill farmers has been, on the whole, much improved, and their manner of life—their civilization—much advanced. But, in the mean time, for lack of instruction, their lands have become infertile to the degree that they fail to give them a good living; while free farms in the West have been made so cheaply accessible to them that they have sold out and gone away. This is the whole explanation of what has been and is called the "decline of New England farming." The census does not reveal any real decline. The value of the agricultural products of New England is still as large, per acre and per man; while compared with other sections New England yet stands with the best States, even without allowance for the natural inferiority of much of her soil. "Plenty of food, plenty of children." As the fertility of the hill-farms disappeared, so came the decline in the size of the families on them. Is this only a coincidence? I think not; although I admit an equal decline elsewhere, from different causes.

If religion has declined among our people, there has been no accompanying decline of morality. The ministers have lost much of their influence, chiefly because they have been educated away from the people. In my youth the rural ministers were among the best farmers we had. Now, I do not know in a whole county a minister who takes any interest in agriculture. A farming ministry would be a great help to New England agriculture, and equally to moral social life. But our classical schools and colleges all educate away from the farm and from sympathy with the plain people. Our rural ministers are almost to a man the outspoken foes of science, as being destructive to the dogmas upon which their religious systems are built.

The hill-farms in New England are "played out." Many of them are going back to forest, which is perhaps their best use. But one has only to take a carriage trip through our river valleys to see abundant signs of agricultural progress and prosperity. Not that even our valley farmers have not their "ups and downs"—their years of bad as well as of good times—but they and their families live better, have more, and enjoy more, much more, than did their fathers and grandfathers. They are better educated; and many of them, and of their families, are careful readers and students of their art, as well as interested in the general progress of the world. Their great need is for better schools, in which scientific instruction should have the first place. The old literary methods, though still supported by the college and seminary bred clergy, are obsolete, useless, and prejudicial to the advance of true civilization and the industrial arts, especially the art of agriculture.

T. H. Hoskins.
Newport, Vt., January 10, 1891.


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: Some of the difficulties that trouble your correspondent K——, in regard to evolutionary ethics, will, I think, disappear by enlarging his conception of happiness so as to include the happiness of society as well as that of the individual. In the long run, and in the main, these two coincide; but it is evident that with our present imperfect moral development there must arise many instances where the welfare of society runs counter to the happiness of the individual. All this is involved in what Mr. Spencer teaches in his Data of Ethics; but perhaps it may be made plainer if we substitute for happiness the more comprehensive word adaptation. Perfect adaptation — that is, the complete and continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations — would be complete happiness were it attainable, as it covers both the physical and psychical sides of our nature. It includes perfect bodily health as well as perfect mental and moral health, and does not oblige those who teach scientific ethics to face the "disagreeable conclusion" mentioned by your correspondent. In fact, the substitution of adaptation for happiness as the criterion of morals has several advantages.

It bases morality upon the principles of evolution. The development of society implies the development of certain moral instincts in the individuals who compose it; for it is apparent that, unless selfishness is more or less restrained by altruism, social growth would be retarded if not stopped. It explains why opinion varies both in time and place in regard to conduct, for actions are considered virtuous by a given society when they are regarded as conducive to its welfare and sinful when they are supposed to be injurious. It accounts for the gains which altruistic sentiments have made upon egoistic, in man's progress upward, as social contact creates and fosters a public opinion in favor of the former, which is slowly becoming more and more irresistible, until finally shall dawn the era of peace upon earth and good-will to men.

Robert Mathews.
Rochester, N. Y., January 4, 1891.