The Two Paths/Lecture IV

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LECTURE IV.

INFLUENCE OF IMAGINATION IN ARCHITECTURE

An Address Delivered to the Members of the Architectural Association, in Lyon's Inn Hall, 1857.

If we were to be asked abruptly, and required to answer briefly, what qualities chiefly distinguish great artists from feeble artists, we should answer, I suppose, first, their sensibility and tenderness; secondly, their imagination; and thirdly, their industry. Some of us might, perhaps, doubt the justice of attaching so much importance to this last character, because we have all known clever men who were indolent, and dull men who were industrious. But though you may have known clever men who were indolent, you never knew a great man who was so; and, during such investigation as I have been able to give to the lives of the artists whose works are in all points noblest, no fact ever looms so large upon me—no law remains so steadfast in the universality of its application, as the fact and law that they are all great workers: nothing concerning them is matter of more astonishment than the quantity they have accomplished in the given length of their life; and when I hear a young man spoken of, as giving promise of high genius, the first question I ask about him is always—

Does he work?

But though this quality of industry is essential to an artist, it does not in anywise make an artist; many people are busy, whose doings are little worth. Neither does sensibility make an artist; since, as I hope, many can feel both strongly and nobly, who yet care nothing about art. But the gifts which distinctively mark the artist—without which he must be feeble in life, forgotten in death—with which he may become one of the shakers of the earth, and one of the signal lights in heaven—are those of sympathy and imagination. I will not occupy your time, nor incur the risk of your dissent, by endeavouring to give any close definition of this last word. We all have a general and sufficient idea of imagination, and of its work with our hands and in our hearts: we understand it, I suppose, as the imaging or picturing of new things in our thoughts; and we always show an involuntary respect for this power, wherever we can recognize it, acknowledging it to be a greater power than manipulation, or calculation, or observation, or any other human faculty. If we see an old woman spinning at the fireside, and distributing her thread dexterously from the distaff, we respect her for her manipulation—if we ask her how much she expects to make in a year, and she answers quickly, we respect her for her calculation—if she is watching at the same time that none of her grandchildren fall into the fire, we respect her for her observation—yet for all this she may still be a commonplace old woman enough. But if she is all the time telling her grandchildren a fairy tale out of her head, we praise her for her imagination, and say, she must be a rather remarkable old woman. Precisely in like manner, if an architect does his working-drawing well, we praise him for his manipulation—if he keeps closely within his contract, we praise him for his honest arithmetic—if he looks well to the laying of his beams, so that nobody shall drop through the floor, we praise him for his observation. But he must, somehow, tell us a fairy tale out of his head beside all this, else we cannot praise him for his imagination, nor speak of him as we did of the old woman, as being in any wise out of the common way, a rather remarkable architect. It seemed to me, therefore, as if it might interest you to-night, if we were to consider together what fairy tales are, in and by architecture, to be told—what there is for you to do in this severe art of yours "out of your heads," as well as by your hands.

Perhaps the first idea which a young architect is apt to be allured by, as a head-problem in these experimental days, is its being incumbent upon him to invent a "new style" worthy of modern civilization in general, and of England in particular; a style worthy of our engines and telegraphs; as expansive as steam, and as sparkling as electricity.

But, if there are any of my hearers who have been impressed with this sense of inventive duty, may I ask them first, whether their plan is that every inventive architect among us shall invent a new style for himself, and have a county set aside for his conceptions, or a province for his practice? Or, must every architect invent a little piece of the new style, and all put it together at last like a dissected map? And if so, when the new style is invented, what is to be done next? I will grant you this Eldorado of imagination—but can you have more than one Columbus? Or, if you sail in company, and divide the prize of your discovery and the honour thereof, who is to come after you clustered Columbuses? to what fortunate islands of style are your architectural descendants to sail, avaricious of new lands? When our desired style is invented, will not the best we can all do be simply—to build in it?— and cannot you now do that in styles that are known? Observe, I grant, for the sake of your argument, what perhaps many of you know that I would not grant otherwise—that a new style can be invented. I grant you not only this, but that it shall be wholly different from any that was ever practised before. We will suppose that capitals are to be at the bottom of pillars instead of the top; and that buttresses shall be on the tops of pinnacles instead of at the bottom; that you roof your apertures with stones which shall neither be arched nor horizontal; and that you compose your decoration of lines which shall neither be crooked nor straight. The furnace and the forge shall be at your service: you shall draw out your plates of glass and beat out your bars of iron till you have encompassed us all,—if your style is of the practical kind,—with endless perspective of black skeleton and blinding square,—or if your style is to be of the ideal kind—you shall wreathe your streets with ductile leafage, and roof them with variegated crystal—you shall put, if you will, all London under one blazing dome of many colours that shall light the clouds round it with its flashing, as far as to the sea. And still, I ask you, What after this? Do you suppose those imaginations of yours will ever lie down there asleep beneath the shade of your iron leafage, or within the coloured light of your enchanted dome? Not so. Those souls, and fancies, and ambitions of yours, are wholly infinite; and, whatever may be done by others, you will still want to do something for yourselves; if you cannot rest content with Palladio, neither will you with Paxton: all the metal and glass that ever were melted have not so much weight in them as will clog the wings of one human spirit's aspiration.

If you will think over this quietly by yourselves, and can get the noise out of your ears of the perpetual, empty, idle, incomparably idiotic talk about the necessity of some novelty in architecture, you will soon see that the very essence of a Style, properly so called, is that it should be practised for ages, and applied to all purposes; and that so long as any given style is in practice, all that is left for individual imagination to accomplish must be within the scope of that style, not in the invention of a new one. If there are any here, therefore, who hope to obtain celebrity by the invention of some strange way of building which must convince all Europe into its adoption, to them, for the moment, I must not be understood to address myself, but only to those who would be content with that degree of celebrity which an artist may enjoy who works in the manner of his forefathers;—which the builder of Salisbury Cathedral might enjoy in England, though he did not invent Gothic; and which Titian might enjoy at Venice, though he did not invent oil painting. Addressing myself then to those humbler, but wiser, or rather, only wise students who are content to avail themselves of some system of building already understood, let us consider together what room for the exercise of the imagination may be left to us under such conditions. And, first, I suppose it will be said, or thought, that the architect's principal field for exercise of his invention must be in the disposition of lines, mouldings, and masses, in agreeable proportions. Indeed, if you adopt some styles of architecture, you cannot exercise invention in any other way. And I admit that it requires genius and special gift to do this rightly. Not by rule, nor by study, can the gift of graceful proportionate design be obtained; only by the intuition of genius can so much as a single tier of façade be beautifully arranged; and the man has just cause for pride, as far as our gifts can ever be a cause for pride, who finds himself able, in a design of his own, to rival even the simplest arrangement of parts in one by Sanmicheli, Inigo Jones, or Christopher Wren.

Invention, then, and genius being granted, as necessary to accomplish this, let me ask you, What, after all, with this special gift and genius, you have accomplished, when you have arranged the lines of a building beautifully?

In the first place you will not, I think, tell me that the beauty there attained is of a touching or pathetic kind. A well-disposed group of notes in music will make you sometimes weep and sometimes laugh. You can express the depth of all affections by those dispositions of sound: you can give courage to the soldier, language to the lover, consolation to the mourner, more joy to the joyful, more humility to the devout. Can you do as much by your group of lines? Do you suppose the front of Whitehall, a singularly beautiful one ever inspires the two Horse Guards, during the hour they sit opposite to it, with military ardour? Do you think that the lovers in our London walk down to the front of Whitehall for consolation when mistresses are unkind; or that any person wavering in duty, or feeble in faith, was ever confirmed in purpose or in creed by the pathetic appeal of those harmonious architraves? You will not say so. Then, if they cannot touch, or inspire, or comfort any one, can your architectural proportions amuse any one? Christmas is just over; you have doubtless been at many merry parties during the period. Can you remember any in which architectural proportions contributed to the entertainment of the evening? Proportions of notes in music were, I am sure, essential to your amusement; the setting of flowers in hair, and of ribands on dresses, were also subjects of frequent admiration with you, not inessential to your happiness. Among the juvenile members of your society the proportion of currants in cake, and of sugar in comfits, became subjects of acute interest; and, when such proportions were harmonious, motives also of gratitude to cook and to confectioner. But did you ever see either young or old amused by the architrave of the door? Or otherwise interested in the proportions of the room than as they admitted more or fewer friendly faces? Nay, if all the amusement that there is in the best proportioned architecture of London could be concentrated into one evening, and you were to issue tickets for nothing to this great proportional entertainment;—how do you think it would stand between you and the Drury pantomine?

You are, then, remember, granted to be people of genius—great and admirable; and you devote your lives to your art, but you admit that you cannot comfort anybody, you cannot encourage anybody, you cannot improve anybody, and you cannot amuse anybody. I proceed then farther to ask, Can you inform anybody? Many sciences cannot be considered as highly touching or emotional; nay, perhaps not specially amusing; scientific men may sometimes, in these respects, stand on the same ground with you. As far as we can judge by the results of the late war, science helps our soldiers about as much as the front of Whitehall; and at the Christmas parties, the children wanted no geologists to tell them about the behaviour of bears and dragons in Queen Elizabeth's time. Still, your man of science teaches you something; he may be dull at a party, or helpless in a battle, he is not always that; but he can give you, at all events, knowledge of noble facts, and open to you the secrets of the earth and air. Will your architectural proportions do as much? Your genius is granted, and your life is given, and what do you teach us?—Nothing, I believe, from one end of that life to the other, but that two and two make four, and that one is to two as three is to six.

You cannot, then, it is admitted, comfort any one, serve or amuse any one, nor teach any one. Finally, I ask, Can you be of Use to any one? "Yes," you reply; "certainly we are of some use—we architects—in a climate like this, where it always rains." You are of use certainly; but, pardon me, only as builders—not as proportionalists. We are not talking of building as a protection, but only of that special work which your genius is to do; not of building substantial and comfortable houses like Mr. Cubitt, but of putting beautiful façades on them like Inigo Jones. And, again, I ask—Are you of use to any one? Will your proportions of the façade heal the sick, or clothe the naked? Supposing you devoted your lives to be merchants, you might reflect at the close of them, how many, fainting for want, you had brought corn to sustain; how many, infected with disease, you had brought balms to heal; how widely, among multitudes of far-away nations, you had scattered the first seeds of national power, and guided the first rays of sacred light. Had you been, in fine, anything else in the world but architectural designers, you might have been of some use or good to people. Content to be petty tradesmen, you would have saved the time of mankind;—rough-handed daily labourers, you would have added to their stock of food or of clothing. But, being men of genius, and devoting your lives to the exquisite exposition of this genius, on what achievements do you think the memories of your old age are to fasten? Whose gratitude will surround you with its glow, or on what accomplished good, of that greatest kind for which men show no gratitude, will your life rest the contentment of its close? Truly, I fear that the ghosts of proportionate lines will be thin phantoms at your bedsides—very speechless to you; and that on all the emanations of your high genius you will look back with less delight than you might have done on a cup of cold water given to him who was thirsty, or to a single moment when you had "prevented with your bread him that fled."

Do not answer, nor think to answer, that with your great works and great payments of workmen in them, you would do this; I know you would, and will, as Builders; but, I repeat, it is not your building that I am talking about, but your brains; it is your invention and imagination of whose profit I am speaking. The good done through the building, observe, is done by your employers, not by you—you share in the benefit of it. The good that you personally must do is by your designing; and I compare you with musicians who do good by their pathetic composing, not as they do good by employing fiddlers in the orchestra; for it is the public who in reality do that, not the musicians. So clearly keeping to this one question, what good we architects are to do by our genius; and having found that on our proportionate system we can do no good to others, will you tell me, lastly, what good we can do to ourselves?

Observe, nearly every other liberal art or profession has some intense pleasure connected with it, irrespective of any good to others. As lawyers, or physicians, or clergymen, you would have the pleasure of investigation, and of historical reading, as part of your work: as men of science you would be rejoicing in curiosity perpetually gratified respecting the laws and facts of nature: as artists you would have delight in watching the external forms of nature: as day labourers or petty tradesmen, supposing you to undertake such work with as much intellect as you are going to devote to your designing, you would find continued subjects of interest in the manufacture or the agriculture which you helped to improve; or in the problems of commerce which bore on your business. But your architectural designing leads you into no pleasant journeys,—into no seeing of lovely things,—no discerning of just laws,—no warmths of compassion, no humilities of veneration, no progressive state of sight or soul. Our conclusion is—must be—that you will not amuse, nor inform, nor help anybody; you will not amuse, nor better, nor inform yourselves; you will sink into a state in which you can neither show, nor feel, nor see, anything, but that one is to two as three is to six. And in that state what should we call ourselves? Men? I think not. The right name for us would be—numerators and denominators. Vulgar Fractions.

Shall we, then, abandon this theory of the soul of architecture being in proportional lines, and look whether we can find anything better to exert our fancies upon?

May we not, to begin with, accept this great principle—that, as our bodies, to be in health, must be generally exercised, so our minds, to be in health, must be generally cultivated? You would not call a man healthy who had strong arms but was paralytic in his feet; nor one who could walk well, but had no use of his hands; nor one who could see well, if he could not hear. You would not voluntarily reduce your bodies to any such partially developed state. Much more, then, you would not, if you could help it, reduce your minds to it. Now, your minds are endowed with a vast number of gifts of totally different uses—limbs of mind as it were, which, if you don't exercise, you cripple. One is curiosity; that is a gift, a capacity of pleasure in knowing; which if you destroy, you make yourselves cold and dull. Another is sympathy; the power of sharing in the feelings of living creatures, which if you destroy, you make yourselves hard and cruel. Another of your limbs of mind is admiration; the power of enjoying beauty or ingenuity, which, if you destroy, you make yourselves base and irreverent. Another is wit; or the power of playing with the lights on the many sides of truth; which if you destroy, you make yourselves gloomy, and less useful and cheering to others than you might be. So that in choosing your way of work it should be your aim, as far as possible, to bring out all these faculties, as far as they exist in you; not one merely, nor another, but all of them. And the way to bring them out, is simply to concern yourselves attentively with the subjects of each faculty. To cultivate sympathy you must be among living creatures, and thinking about them; and to cultivate admiration, you must be among beautiful things and looking at them.

All this sounds much like truism, at least I hope it does, for then you will surely not refuse to act upon it; and to consider farther, how, as architects, you are to keep yourselves in contemplation of living creatures and lovely things.

You all probably know the beautiful photographs which have been published within the last year or two of the porches of the Cathedral of Amiens. I hold one of these up to you, (merely that you may know what I am talking about, as of course you cannot see the detail at this distance, but you will recognise the subject.) Have you ever considered how much sympathy, and how much humour, are developed in filling this single doorway[1] with these sculptures of the history of St. Honoré (and, by the way, considering how often we English are now driving up and down the Rue St. Honoré, we may as well know as much of the saint as the old architect cared to tell us). You know in all legends of saints who ever were bishops, the first thing you are told of them is that they didn't want to be bishops. So here is St. Honoré, who doesn't want to be a bishop, sitting sulkily in the corner; he hugs his book with both hands, and won't get up to take his crosier; and here are all the city aldermen of Amiens come to poke him up; and all the monks in the town in a great puzzle what they shall do for a bishop if St. Honoré won't be; and here's one of the monks in the opposite corner who is quite cool about it, and thinks they'll get on well enough without St Honoré,—you see that in his face perfectly. At last St. Honoré consents to be bishop, and here he sits in a throne, and has his book now grandly on his desk instead of his knees, and he directs one of his village curates how to find relics in a wood; here is the wood, and here is the village curate, and here are the tombs, with the bones of St. Victorien and Gentien in them.

After this, St. Honoré performs grand mass, and the miracle occurs of the appearance of a hand blessing the wafer, which occurrence afterwards was painted for the arms of the abbey. Then St. Honoré dies; and here is his tomb with his statue on the top; and miracles are being performed at it—a deaf man having his ear touched, and a blind man groping his way up to the tomb with his dog. Then here is a great procession in honour of the relics of St. Honoré; and under his coffin are some cripples being healed; and the coffin itself is put above the bar which separates the cross from the lower subjects, because the tradition is that the figure on the crucifix of the Church of St. Firmin bowed its head in token of acceptance, as the relics of St. Honoré passed beneath.

Now just consider the amount of sympathy with human nature, and observance of it, shown in this one bas-relief; the sympathy with disputing monks, with puzzled aldermen, with melancholy recluse, with triumphant prelate, with palsy-stricken poverty, with ecclesiastical magnificence, or miracle-working faith. Consider how much intellect was needed in the architect, and how much observance of nature before he could give the expression to these various figures—cast these multitudinous draperies—design these rich and quaint fragments of tombs and altars—weave with perfect animation the entangled branches of the forest.

But you will answer me, all this is not architecture at all—it is sculpture. Will you then tell me precisely where the separation exists between one and the other? We will begin at the very beginning. I will show you a piece of what you will certainly admit to be a piece of pure architecture;[2] it is drawn on the back of another photograph, another of these marvellous tympana from Notre Dame, which you call, I suppose, impure. Well, look on this picture, and on this. Don't laugh; you must not laugh, that's very improper of you, this is classical architecture. I have taken it out of the essay on that subject in the "Encyclopædia Britannica."

Yet I suppose none of you would think yourselves particularly ingenious architects if you had designed nothing more than this; nay, I will even let you improve it into any grand proportion you choose, and add to it as many windows as you choose; the only thing I insist upon in our specimen of pure architecture is, that there shall be no mouldings nor ornaments upon it. And I suspect you don't quite like your architecture so "pure" as this. We want a few mouldings, you will say—just a few. Those who want mouldings, hold up their hands. We are unanimous, I think. Will, you, then, design the profiles of these mouldings yourselves, or will you copy them? If you wish to copy them, and to copy them always, of course I leave you at once to your authorities, and your imaginations to their repose. But if you wish to design them yourselves, how do you do it? You draw the profile according to your taste, and you order your mason to cut it. Now, will you tell me the logical difference between drawing the profile of a moulding and giving that to be cut, and drawing the folds of the drapery of a statue and giving those to be cut. The last is much more difficult to do than the first; but degrees of difficulty constitute no specific difference, and you will not accept it, surely, as a definition of the difference between architecture and sculpture, that "architecture is doing anything that is easy, and sculpture anything that is difficult."

It is true, also, that the carved moulding represents nothing, and the carved drapery represents something; but you will not, I should think, accept, as an explanation of the difference between architecture and sculpture, this any more than the other, that "sculpture is art which has meaning, and architecture art which has none."

Where, then, is your difference? In this, perhaps, you will say; that whatever ornaments we can direct ourselves, and get accurately cut to order, we consider architectural. The ornaments that we are obliged to leave to the pleasure of the workman, or the superintendence of some other designer, we consider sculptural, especially if they are more or less extraneous and incrusted—not an essential part of the building.

Accepting this definition, I am compelled to reply, that it is in effect nothing more than an amplification of my first one—that whatever is easy you call architecture, whatever is difficult you call sculpture. For you cannot suppose the arrangement of the place in which the sculpture is to be put is so difficult or so great a part of the design as the sculpture itself. For instance: you all know the pulpit of Niccolo Pisano, in the baptistry at Pisa. It is composed of seven rich relievi, surrounded by panel mouldings, and sustained on marble shafts. Do you suppose Niccolo Pisano's reputation—such part of it at least as rests on this pulpit (and much does)—depends on the panel mouldings, or on the relievi? The panel mouldings are by his hand; he would have disdained to leave even them to a common workman; but do you think he found any difficulty in them, or thought there was any credit in them? Having once done the sculpture, those enclosing lines were mere child's play to him; the determination of the diameter of shafts and height of capitals was an affair of minutes; his work was in carving the Crucifixion and the Baptism.

Or, again, do you recollect Orcagna's tabernacle in the church of San Michele, at Florence? That, also, consists of rich and multitudinous bas-reliefs, enclosed in panel mouldings, with shafts of mosaic, and foliated arches sustaining the canopy. Do you think Orcagna, any more than Pisano, if his spirit could rise in the midst of us at this moment, would tell us that he had trusted his fame to the foliation, or had put his soul's pride into the panelling? Not so; he would tell you that his spirit was in the stooping figures that stand round the couch of the dying Virgin.

Or, lastly, do you think the man who designed the procession on the portal of Amiens was the subordinate workman? that there was an architect over him, restraining him within certain limits, and ordering of him his bishops at so much a mitre, and his cripples at so much a crutch? Not so. Here, on this sculptured shield, rests the Master's hand; this is the centre of the Master's thought; from this, and in subordination to this, waved the arch and sprang the pinnacle. Having done this, and being able to give human expression and action to the stone, all the rest—the rib, the niche, the foil, the shaft—were mere toys to his hand and accessories to his conception: and if once you also gain the gift of doing this, if once you can carve one fronton such as you have here, I tell you, you would be able—so far as it depended on your invention—to scatter cathedrals over England as fast as clouds rise from its streams after summer rain.

Nay, but perhaps you answer again, our sculptors at present do not design cathedrals, and could not. No, they could not; but that is merely because we have made architecture so dull that they cannot take any interest in it, and, therefore, do not care to add to their higher knowledge the poor and common knowledge of principles of building. You have thus separated building from sculpture, and you have taken away the power of both; for the sculptor loses nearly as much by never having room for the development of a continuous work, as you do from having reduced your work to a continuity of mechanism. You are essentially, and should always be, the same body of men, admitting only such difference in operation as there is between the work of a painter at different times, who sometimes labours on a small picture, and sometimes on the frescoes of a palace gallery.

This conclusion, then, we arrive at, must arrive at; the fact being irrevocably so:—that in order to give your imagination and the other powers of your souls full play, you must do as all the great architects of old time did—you must yourselves be your sculptors. Phidias, Michael Angelo, Orcagna, Pisano, Giotto,—which of these men, do you think, could not use his chisel? You say, "It is difficult; quite out of your way." I know it is; nothing that is great is easy; and nothing that is great, so long as you study building without sculpture, can be in your way. I want to put it in your way, and you to find your way to it. But, on the other hand, do not shrink from the task as if the refined art of perfect sculpture were always required from you. For, though architecture and sculpture are not separate arts, there is an architectural manner of sculpture; and it is, in the majority of its applications, a comparatively easy one. Our great mistake at present, in dealing with stone at all, is requiring to have all our work too refined; it is just the same mistake as if we were to require all our book illustrations to be as fine work as Raphael's. John Leech does not sketch so well as Leonardo da Vinci; but do you think that the public could easily spare him; or that he is wrong in bringing out his talent in the way in which it is most effective? Would you advise him, if he asked your advice, to give up his wood-blocks and take to canvas? I know you would not; neither would you tell him, I believe, on the other hand, that because he could not draw as well as Leonardo, therefore he ought to draw nothing but straight lines with a ruler, and circles with compasses, and no figure-subjects at all. That would be some loss to you; would it not? You would all be vexed if next week's Punch had nothing in it but proportionate lines. And yet, do not you see that you are doing precisely the same thing with your powers of sculptural design that he would be doing with his powers of pictorial design, if he gave you nothing but such lines. You feel that you cannot carve like Phidias; therefore you will not carve at all, but only draw mouldings; and thus all that intermediate power which is of especial value in modern days,—that popular power of expression which is within the attainment of thousands,—and would address itself to tens of thousands,—is utterly lost to us in stone, though in ink and paper it has become one of the most desired luxuries of modern civilization.

Here, then, is one part of the subject to which I would especially invite your attention, namely, the distinctive character which may be wisely permitted to belong to architectural sculpture, as distinguished from perfect sculpture on one side, and from mere geometrical decoration on the other.

And first, observe what an indulgence we have in the distance at which most work is to be seen. Supposing we were able to carve eyes and lips with the most exquisite precision, it would all be of no use as soon as the work was put far above the eye; but, on the other hand, as beauties disappear by being far withdrawn, so will faults; and the mystery and confusion which are the natural consequence of distance, while they would often render your best skill but vain, will as often render your worst errors of little consequence; nay, more than this, often a deep cut, or a rude angle, will produce in certain positions an effect of expression both startling and true, which you never hoped for. Not that mere distance will give animation to the work, if it has none in itself; but if it has life at all, the distance will make that life more perceptible and powerful by softening the defects of execution. So that you are placed, as workmen, in this position of singular advantage, that you may give your fancies free play, and strike hard for the expression that you want, knowing that, if you miss it, no one will detect you; if you at all touch it, nature herself will help you, and with every changing shadow and basking sunbeam bring forth new phases of your fancy.

But it is not merely this privilege of being imperfect which belongs to architectural sculpture. It has a true privilege of imagination, far excelling all that can be granted to the more finished work, which, for the sake of distinction, I will call,—and I don't think we can have a much better term—"furniture sculpture;" sculpture, that is, which can be moved from place to furnish rooms.

For observe, to that sculpture the spectator is usually brought in a tranquil or prosaic state of mind; he sees it associated rather with what is sumptuous than sublime, and under circumstances which address themselves more to his comfort than his curiosity. The statue which is to be pathetic, seen between the flashes of footmen's livery round the dining-table, must have strong elements of pathos in itself; and the statue which is to be awful, in the midst of the gossip of the drawing-room, must have the elements of awe wholly in itself. But the spectator is brought to your work already in an excited and imaginative mood. He has been impressed by the cathedral wall as it loomed over the low streets, before he looks up to the carving of its porch—and his love of mystery has been touched by the silence and the shadows of the cloister, before he can set himself to decipher the bosses on its vaulting. So that when once he begins to observe your doings, he will ask nothing better from you, nothing kinder from you, than that you would meet this imaginative temper of his half way;—that you would farther touch the sense of terror, or satisfy the expectation of things strange, which have been prompted by the mystery or the majesty of the surrounding scene. And thus, your leaving forms more or less undefined, or carrying out your fancies, however extravagant, in grotesqueness of shadow or shape, will be for the most part in accordance with the temper of the observer; and he is likely, therefore, much more willingly to use his fancy to help your meanings, than his judgment to detect your faults.

Again. Remember that when the imagination and feelings are strongly excited, they will not only bear with strange things, but they will look into minute things with a delight quite unknown in hours of tranquillity. You surely must remember moments of your lives in which, under some strong excitement of feeling, all the details of visible objects presented themselves with a strange intensity and insistance, whether you would or no; urging themselves upon the mind, and thrust upon the eye, with a force of fascination which you could not refuse. Now, to a certain extent, the senses get into this state whenever the imagination is strongly excited. Things trivial at other times assume a dignity or significance which we cannot explain; but which is only the more attractive because inexplicable: and the powers of attention, quickened by the feverish excitement, fasten and feed upon the minutest circumstances of detail, and remotest traces of intention. So that what would at other times be felt as more or less mean or extraneous in a work of sculpture, and which would assuredly be offensive to the perfect taste in its moments of languor, or of critical judgment, will be grateful, and even sublime, when it meets this frightened inquisitiveness, this fascinated watchfulness, of the roused imagination. And this is all for your advantage; for, in the beginnings of your sculpture, you will assuredly find it easier to imitate minute circumstances of costume or character, than to perfect the anatomy of simple forms or the flow of noble masses; and it will be encouraging to remember that the grace you cannot perfect, and the simplicity you cannot achieve, would be in great part vain, even if you could achieve them, in their appeal to the hasty curiosity of passionate fancy; but that the sympathy which would be refused to your science will be granted to your innocence: and that the mind of the general observer, though wholly unaffected by the correctness of anatomy or propriety of gesture, will follow you with fond and pleased concurrence, as you carve the knots of the hair, and the patterns of the vesture.

Farther yet. We are to remember that not only do the associated features of the larger architecture tend to excite the strength of fancy, but the architectural laws to which you are obliged to submit your decoration stimulate its ingenuity. Every crocket which you are to crest with sculpture,—every foliation which you have to fill, presents itself to the spectator's fancy, not only as a pretty thing, but as a problematic thing. It contained, he perceives immediately, not only a beauty which you wished to display, but a necessity which you were forced to meet; and the problem, how to occupy such and such a space with organic form in any probable way, or how to turn such a boss or ridge into a conceivable image of life, becomes at once, to him as to you, a matter of amusement as much as of admiration. The ordinary conditions of perfection in form, gesture, or feature, are willingly dispensed with, when the ugly dwarf and ungainly goblin have only to gather themselves into angles, or crouch to carry corbels; and the want of skill which, in other kinds of work would have been required for the finishing of the parts, will at once be forgiven here, if you have only disposed ingeniously what you have executed roughly, and atoned for the rudeness of your hands by the quickness of your wits.

Hitherto, however, we have been considering only the circumstances in architecture favourable to the development of the powers of imagination. A yet more important point for us seems, to me, the place which it gives to all the objects of imagination.

For, I suppose, you will not wish me to spend any time in proving, that imagination must be vigorous in proportion to the quantity of material which it has to handle; and that, just as we increase the range of what we see, we increase the richness of what we can imagine. Granting this, consider what a field is opened to your fancy merely in the subject matter which architecture admits. Nearly every other art is severely limited in its subjects—the landscape painter, for instance, gets little help from the aspects of beautiful humanity; the historical painter, less, perhaps, than he ought, from the accidents of wild nature; and the pure sculptor, still less, from the minor details of common life. But is there anything within range of sight, or conception, which may not be of use to you, or in which your interest may not be excited with advantage to your art? From visions of angels, down to the least important gesture of a child at play, whatever may be conceived of Divine, or beheld of Human, may be dared or adopted by you: throughout the kingdom of animal life, no creature is so vast, or so minute, that you cannot deal with it, or bring it into service; the lion and the crocodile will couch about your shafts; the moth and the bee will sun themselves upon your flowers; for you, the fawn will leap; for you, the snail be slow; for you, the dove smooth her bosom; and the hawk spread her wings toward the south. All the wide world of vegetation blooms and bends for you; the leaves tremble that you may bid them be still under the marble snow; the thorn and the thistle, which the earth casts forth as evil, are to you the kindliest servants; no dying petal, nor drooping tendril, is so feeble as to have no more help for you; no robed pride of blossom so kingly, but it will lay aside its purple to receive at your hands the pale immortality. Is there anything in common life too mean,—in common too trivial,—to be ennobled by your touch? As there is nothing in life, so there is nothing in lifelessness which has not its lesson for you, or its gift; and when you are tired of watching the strength of the plume, and the tenderness of the leaf, you may walk down to your rough river shore, or into the thickest markets of your thoroughfares, and there is not a piece of torn cable that will not twine into a perfect moulding; there is not a fragment of cast-away matting, or shattered basket-work, that will not work into a chequer or capital. Yes: and if you gather up the very sand, and break the stone on which you tread, among its fragments of all but invisible shells you will find forms that will take their place, and that proudly, among the starred traceries of your vaulting; and you, who can crown the mountain with its fortress, and the city with its towers, are thus able also to give beauty to ashes, and worthiness to dust.

Now, in that your art presents all this material to you, you have already much to rejoice in. But you have more to rejoice in, because all this is submitted to you, not to be dissected or analyzed, but to be sympathized with, and to bring out, therefore, what may be accurately called the moral part of imagination. We saw that, if we kept ourselves among lines only, we should have cause to envy the naturalist, because he was conversant with facts; but you will have little to envy now, if you make yourselves conversant with the feelings that arise out of his facts. For instance, the naturalist coming upon a block of marble, has to begin considering immediately how far its purple is owing to iron, or its whiteness to magnesia; he breaks his piece of marble, and at the close of his day, has nothing but a little sand in his crucible and some data added to the theory of the elements. But you approach your marble to sympathize with it, and rejoice over its beauty. You cut it a little indeed; but only to bring out its veins more perfectly; and at the end of your day's work you leave your marble shaft with joy and complacency in its perfectness, as marble. When you have to watch an animal instead of a stone, you differ from the naturalist in the same way. He may, perhaps, if he be an amiable naturalist, take delight in having living creatures round him;—still, the major part of his work is, or has been, in counting feathers, separating fibres, and analyzing structures. But your work is always with the living creature; the thing you have to get at in him is his life, and ways of going about things. It does not matter to you how many cells there are in his bones, or how many filaments in his feathers; what you want is his moral character and way of behaving himself; it is just that which your imagination, if healthy, will first seize—just that which your chisel, if vigorous, will first cut. You must get the storm spirit into your eagles, and the lordliness into your lions, and the tripping fear into your fawns; and in order to do this, you must be in continual sympathy with every fawn of them; and be hand-in-glove with all the lions, and hand-in-claw with all the hawks. And don't fancy that you will lower yourselves by sympathy with the lower creatures; you cannot sympathize rightly with the higher, unless you do with those: but you have to sympathize with the higher, too— with queens, and kings, and martyrs, and angels. Yes, and above all, and more than all, with simple humanity in all its needs and ways, for there is not one hurried face that passes you in the street that will not be impressive, if you can only fathom it. All history is open to you, all high thoughts and dreams that the past fortunes of men can suggest, all fairy land is open to you—no vision that ever haunted forest, or gleamed over hill-side, but calls you to understand how it came into men's hearts, and may still touch them; and all Paradise is open to you—yes, and the work of Paradise; for in bringing all this, in perpetual and attractive truth, before the eyes of your fellow-men, you have to join in the employment of the angels, as well as to imagine their companies.

And observe, in this last respect, what a peculiar importance, and responsibility, are attached to your work, when you consider its permanence, and the multitudes to whom it is addressed. We frequently are led, by wise people, to consider what responsibility may sometimes attach to words, which yet, the chance is, will be heard by few, and forgotten as soon as heard. But none of your words will be heard by few, and none will be forgotten, for five or six hundred years, if you build well. You will talk to all who pass by; and all those little sympathies, those freaks of fancy, those jests in stone, those workings-out of problems in caprice, will occupy mind after mind of utterly countless multitudes, long after you are gone. You have not, like authors, to plead for a hearing, or to fear oblivion. Do but build large enough, and carve boldly enough, and all the world will hear you; they cannot choose but look.

I do not mean to awe you by this thought; I do not mean that because you will have so many witnesses and watchers, you are never to jest, or do anything gaily or lightly; on the contrary, I have pleaded, from the beginning, for this art of yours, especially because it has room for the whole of your character—if jest is in you, let the jest be jested; if mathematical ingenuity is yours, let your problem be put, and your solution worked out, as quaintly as you choose; above all, see that your work is easily and happily done, else it will never make anybody else happy; but while you thus give the rein to all your impulses, see that those impulses be headed and centred by one noble impulse; and let that be Love—triple love—for the art which you practise, the creation in which you move, and the creatures to whom you minister.

I. I say, first, Love for the art which you practise. Be assured that if ever any other motive becomes a leading one in your mind, as the principal one for exertion, except your love of art, that moment it is all over with your art. I do not say you are to desire money, nor to desire fame, nor to desire position; you cannot but desire all three; nay, you may—if you are willing that I should use the word Love in a desecrated sense—love all three; that is, passionately covet them, yet you must not covet or love them in the first place. Men of strong passions and imaginations must always care a great deal for anything they care for at all; but the whole question is one of first or second. Does your art lead you, or your gain lead you? You may like making money exceedingly; but if it come to a fair question, whether you are to make five hundred pounds less by this business, or to spoil your building, and you choose to spoil your building, there's an end of you. So you may be as thirsty for fame as a cricket is for cream; but, if it come to a fair question, whether you are to please the mob, or do the thing as you know it ought to be done; and you can't do both, and choose to please the mob, it's all over with you—there's no hope for you; nothing that you can do will ever be worth a man's glance as he passes by. The test is absolute, inevitable—Is your art first with you? Then you are artists; you may be, after you have made your money, misers and usurers; you may be, after you have got your fame, jealous, and proud, and wretched, and base: but yet, as long as you won't spoil your work, you are artists. On the other hand—Is your money first with you, and your fame first with you? Then, you may be very charitable with your money, and very magnificent with your money, and very graceful in the way you wear your reputation, and very courteous to those beneath you, and very acceptable to those above you; but you are not artists. You are mechanics, and drudges.

II. You must love the creation you work in the midst of. For, wholly in proportion to the intensity of feeling which you bring to the subject you have chosen, will be the depth and justice of our perception of its character. And this depth of feeling is not to be gained on the instant, when you want to bring it to bear on this or that. It is the result of the general habit of striving to feel rightly; and, among thousands of various means of doing this, perhaps the one I ought specially to name to you, is the keeping yourselves clear of petty and mean cares. Whatever you do, don't be anxious, nor fill your heads with little chagrins and little desires. I have just said, that you may be great artists, and yet be miserly and jealous, and troubled about many things. So you may be; but I said also that the miserliness or trouble must not be in your hearts all day. It is possible that you may get a habit of saving money; or it is possible, at a time of great trial, you may yield to the temptation of speaking unjustly of a rival,—and you will shorten your powers arid dim your sight even by this;—but the thing that you have to dread far more than any such unconscious habit, or—any such momentary fall—is the constancy of small emotions;—the anxiety whether Mr. So-and-so will like your work; whether such and such a workman will do all that you want of him, and so on;—not wrong feelings or anxieties in themselves, but impertinent, and wholly incompatible with the full exercise of your imagination.

Keep yourselves, therefore, quiet, peaceful, with your eyes open. It doesn't matter at all what Mr. So-and-so thinks of your work; but it matters a great deal what that bird is doing up there in its nest, or how that vagabond child at the street corner is managing his game of knuckle-down. And remember, you cannot turn aside from your own interests, to the birds' and the children's interests, unless you have long before got into the habit of loving and watching birds and children; so that it all comes at last to the forgetting yourselves, and the living out of yourselves, in the calm of the great world, or if you will, in its agitation; but always in a calm of your own bringing. Do not think it wasted time to submit yourselves to any influence which may bring upon you any noble feeling. Rise early, always watch the sunrise, and the way the clouds break from the dawn; you will cast your statue-draperies in quite another than your common way, when the remembrance of that cloud motion is with you, and of the scarlet vesture of the morning. Live always in the springtime in the country; you do not know what leaf-form means, unless you have seen the buds burst, and the young leaves breathing low in the sunshine, and wondering at the first shower of rain. But above all, accustom yourselves to look for, and to love, all nobleness of gesture and feature in the human form; and remember that the highest nobleness is usually among the aged, the poor, and the infirm; you will find, in the end, that it is not the strong arm of the soldier, nor the laugh of the young beauty, that are the best studies for you. Look at them, and look at them reverently; but be assured that endurance is nobler than strength, and patience than beauty; and that it is not in the high church pews, where the gay dresses are, but in the church free seats, where the widows' weeds are, that you may see the faces that will fit best between the angels' wings, in the church porch.

III. And therefore, lastly, and chiefly, you must love the creatures to whom you minister, your fellow-men; for, if you do not love them, not only will you be little interested in the passing events of life, but in all your gazing at humanity, you will be apt to be struck only by outside form, and not by expression. It is only kindness and tenderness which will ever enable you to see what beauty there is in the dark eyes that are sunk with weeping, and in the paleness of those fixed faces which the earth's adversity has compassed about, till they shine in their patience like dying watchfires through twilight. But it is not this only which makes it needful for you, if you would be great, to be also kind; there is a most important and all-essential reason in the very nature of your own art. So soon as you desire to build largely, and with addition of noble sculpture, you will find that your work must be associative. You cannot carve a whole cathedral yourself—you can carve but few and simple parts of it. Either your own work must be disgraced in the mass of the collateral inferiority, or you must raise your fellow-designers to correspondence of power. If you have genius, you will yourselves take the lead in the building you design; you will carve its porch and direct its disposition. But for all subsequent advancement of its detail, you must trust to the agency and the invention of others; and it rests with you either to repress what faculties your workmen have, into cunning subordination to your own; or to rejoice in discovering even the powers that may rival you, and leading forth mind after mind into fellowship with your fancy, and association with your fame.

I need not tell you that if you do the first—if you endeavour to depress or disguise the talents of your subordinates—you are lost; for nothing could imply more darkly and decisively than this, that your art and your work were not beloved by you; that it was your own prosperity that you were seeking, and your own skill only that you cared to contemplate. I do not say that you must not be jealous at all; it is rarely in human nature to be wholly without jealousy; and you may be forgiven for going some day sadly home, when you find some youth, unpractised and unapproved, giving the life-stroke to his work which you, after years of training, perhaps, cannot reach; but your jealousy must not conquer—your love of your building must conquer, helped by your kindness of heart. See—I set no high or difficult standard before you. I do not say that you are to surrender your pre-eminence in mere unselfish generosity. But I do say that you must surrender your pre-eminence in your love of your building helped by your kindness; and that whomsoever you find better able to do what will adorn it than you,—that person you are to give place to; and to console yourselves for the humiliation, first, by your joy in seeing the edifice grow more beautiful under his chisel, and secondly, by your sense of having done kindly and justly. But if you are morally strong enough to make the kindness and justice the first motive, it will be better;—best of all, if you do not consider it as kindness at all, but bare and stern justice; for, truly, such help as we can give each other in this world is a debt to each other; and the man who perceives a superiority or a capacity in a subordinate, and neither confesses, nor assists it, is not merely the withholder of kindness, but the committer of injury. But be the motive what you will, only see that you do the thing; and take the joy of the consciousness that, as your art embraces a wider field than all others—and addresses a vaster multitude than all others—and is surer of audience than all others—so it is profounder and holier in Fellowship than all others. The artist, when his pupil is perfect, must see him leave his side that he may declare his distinct, perhaps opponent, skill. Man of science wrestles with man of science for priority of discovery, and pursues in pangs of jealous haste his solitary inquiry. You alone are called by kindness,— by necessity,—by equity, to fraternity of toil; and thus, in those misty and massive piles which rise above the domestic roofs of our ancient cities, there was—there may be again—a meaning more profound and true than any that fancy so commonly has attached to them. Men say their pinnacles point to heaven. Why, so does every tree that buds, and every bird that rises as it sings. Men say their aisles are good for worship. Why, so is every mountain glen, and rough sea-shore. But this they have of distinct and indisputable glory,—that their mighty walls were never raised, and never shall be, but by men who love and aid each other in their weakness;—that all their interlacing strength of vaulted stone has its foundation upon the stronger arches of manly fellowship, and all their changing grace of depressed or lifted pinnacle owes its cadence and completeness to sweeter symmetries of human soul.


Footnotes[edit]

  1. The tympanum of the south transcept door; it is to be found generally among all collections of architectural photographs
  2. See Appendix III., "Classical Architecture."