The Two Paths/Preface

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The following addresses, though spoken at different times, are intentionally connected in subject; their aim being to set one or two main principles of art in simple light before the general student, and to indicate their practical bearing on modern design. The law which it has been my effort chiefly to illustrate is the dependence of all noble design, in any kind, on the sculpture or painting of Organic Form.

This is the vital law; lying at the root of all that I have ever tried to teach respecting architecture or any other art. It is also the law most generally disallowed.

I believe this must be so in every subject. We are all of us willing enough to accept dead truths or blunt ones; which can be fitted harmlessly into spare niches, or shrouded and coffined at once out of the way, we holding complacently the cemetery keys, and supposing we have learned something. But a sapling truth, with earth at its root and blossom on its branches; or a trenchant truth, that can cut its way through bars and sods; most men, it seems to me, dislike the sight or entertainment of, if by any means such guest or vision may be avoided. And, indeed, this is no wonder; for one such truth, thoroughly accepted, connects itself strangely with others, and there is no saying what it may lead us to.

And thus the gist of what I have tried to teach about architecture has been throughout denied by my architect readers, even when they thought what I said suggestive in other particulars. "Anything but that. Study Italian Gothic?—perhaps it would be as well: build with pointed arches?—there is no objection: use solid stone and well-burnt brick?— by all means: but—learn to carve or paint organic form ourselves! How can such a thing be asked? We are above all that. The carvers and painters are our servants—quite subordinate people. They ought to be glad if we leave room for them."

Well: on that it all turns. For those who will not learn to carve or paint, and think themselves greater men because they cannot, it is wholly wasted time to read any words of mine; in the truest and sternest sense they can read no words of mine; for the most familiar I can use—"form," "proportion," "beauty," "curvature," "colour"—are used in a sense which by no effort I can communicate to such readers; and in no building that I praise, is the thing that I praise it for, visible to them.

And it is the more necessary for me to state this fully; because so-called Gothic or Romanesque buildings are now rising every day around us, which might be supposed by the public more or less to embody the principles of those styles, but which embody not one of them, nor any shadow or fragment of them; but merely serve to caricature the noble buildings of past ages, and to bring their form into dishonour by leaving out their soul.

The following addresses are therefore arranged, as I have just stated, to put this great law, and one or two collateral ones, in less mistakeable light, securing even in this irregular form at least clearness of assertion. For the rest, the question at issue is not one to be decided by argument, but by experiment, which if the reader is disinclined to make, all demonstration must be useless to him.

The lectures are for the most part printed as they were read, mending only obscure sentences here and there. The parts which were trusted to extempore speaking are supplied, as well as I can remember (only with an addition here and there of things I forgot to say), in the words, or at least the kind of words, used at the time; and they contain, at all events, the substance of what I said more accurately than hurried journal reports. I must beg my readers not in general to trust to such, for even in fast speaking I try to use words carefully; and any alteration of expression will sometimes involve a great alteration in meaning. A little while ago I had to speak of an architectural design, and called it "elegant," meaning, founded on good and well "elected" models; the printed report gave "excellent" design (that is to say, design excellingly good), which I did not mean, and should, even in the most hurried speaking, never have said.

The illustrations of the lecture on iron were sketches made too roughly to be engraved, and yet of too elaborate subjects to allow of my drawing them completely. Those now substituted will, however, answer the purpose nearly as well, and are more directly connected with the subjects of the preceding lectures; so that I hope throughout the volume the student will perceive an insistance upon one main truth, nor lose in any minor direction of inquiry the sense of the responsibility which the acceptance of that truth fastens upon him; responsibility for choice, decisive and conclusive, between two modes of study, which involve ultimately the development, or deadening, of every power he possesses. I have tried to hold that choice clearly out to him, and to unveil for him to its farthest the issue of his turning to the right hand or the left. Guides he may find many, and aids many; but all these will be in vain unless he has first recognised the hour and the point of life when the way divides itself, one way leading to the Olive mountains—one to the vale of the Salt Sea. There are few cross roads, that I know of, from one to the other. Let him pause at the parting of THE TWO PATHS.