ART. VI. An Historical Survey of the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of France, with a View to illustrate the Rise and Progress of Gothic Architecture in Europe. By the late Rev. G. D. Whittington, of St. John's Coll. Cambridge. 4to. pp. 188. Taylor, 1809.

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Quarterly Review Electronic Texts

ART. VI. An Historical Survey of the Ecclesiastical Antiquities of France, with a View to illustrate the Rise and Progress of Gothic Architecture in Europe. By the late Rev. G. D. Whittington, of St. John's Coll. Cambridge. 4to. pp. 188. Taylor, 1809.

  1. THIS is a posthumous, and, with regard to the original intention, an imperfect work: two only out of three projected parts having been completed; when, at an age which might have [126] warranted the formation of a still more extended plan, the author was cut off from the execution of his design by a premature death. The two first parts, however, were in a state of such forwardness, that his friends have been induced to publish them; a proceeding in which they are entirely justified by the numerous facts relating to the early Christian buildings, which are here first thrown together, and by the illustration which the difficult subject of Gothic architecture has received from the original views, and candid reasoning of the writer.

  2. There* are many, we are well aware, who will be disposed to depreciate altogether the subject which this work embraces, and to regret that youthful zeal should be excited, and valuable time consumed, upon an enquiry so 'flat and unprofitable' as architectural antiquities. It has been held out by Warburton, (Letters to Bp. Hurd) with more imagination than justice, that 'Antiquarianism is, to true literature, what specious funguses are to the oak, which never shoot out and flourish till all the vigour and virtue of that monarch of the grove be effete, and near exhausted.' We are at a loss to say on what principle this opinion can be maintained, except the supposition that all things human, when they have reached a certain point of elevation, must necessarily take a retrograde turn, and sink into decay. The proper season for antiquarian pursuits does not begin till [127] literature has arrived at its full growth. We should entertain as moderate hopes of the probable literary eminence of a country, which employed its infancy in such researches, as of the permanent strength of a state, which should waste its youthful vigour on foreign commerce or ornamental manufactures, to the neglect of its agricultural industry, and domestic resources. But as ornamental manufactures and imported luxuries add to the real wealth and splendour of a state which has arrived at a high degree of civilization, so inquiries into the curious points of history and antiquity, which would be a perversion of taste in a country first rising into improvement, may be considered as appendages no less ornamental to established literature, than they are to the character of learning in an individual. The literature of this country is now certainly established. Our histories, both civil and political, leave no spot unoccupied: our biography is at least sufficiently minute; and our poetical history has been so little neglected, that scarcely the fragments, the subject, or the author of an obsolete ballad, are allowed to remain in obscurity. We have no intention to quarrel with these things; rather than 'specious funguses,' they are shoots which prove that the oak retains its vigour, even when it has reached its fullest growth: but when research is carried so far, that we can compute the sum which Swift paid in fines at college, and that lists of books which have no other merit than their scarcity, are filling huge volumes, we venture to hope that an inquiry into the age, the origin, and the architecture of some of the finest buildings in the world, requires no apology.

  3. But it is not only true that the literature of a country can afford to lend some of its votaries to the interests of antiquarianism, but a literary man can also afford some of his hours to such a pursuit,without derogating from his character, or interfering with his more important studies. These lighter subjects bear the same relation to general literature, that accomplishments hold towards general education; they are its ornaments and its recreation: and it would be no less illiberal to interdict them all, than it is insane to bestow upon them the whole attention. The study of antiquities, in particular, may be carried on with little abstraction from the main pursuits of life; it confers an interest on places and countries which have no other charm: and in every tour of business or pleasure, relieves the mind from barren reflections on the ruggedness of roads, or the indifferent accommodation of inns. Such was the origin of the present work; which was first projected, as Lord Aberdeen informs [128] us in the Preface, during the course of an extensive tour in France and Italy, in the years 1802 and 1803, throughout which the author examined with minute attention the chief remains of early Christian buildings in those countries.

    'His design, in its first conception, was limited to a refutation, from the history of existing monuments, of an hypothesis maintained by several writers and supported by the Society of Antiquaries, that the style usually called Gothic, really originated in this island, and ought therefore in future to receive the denomination of English architecture. From the various and extensive information which he obtained in the course of his inquiries into this subject, it was thought more expedient so to change the plan of the work, as to make it comprise, in a history of the rise and progress of the style in France, a detailed account of the most remarkable Gothic edifices in that country, with the view likewise of illustrating its origin and first introduction into Europe. By this alteration, that which had formerly been the principal aim of the undertaking, became only incidental to its completion, and a more ample field was opened for a display of the industry and talents of the author.

    'This more extended project was divided into three parts, of which two only are finished, and now published; the first containing a review of the early Christian buildings, and a general history of ecclesiastical architecture in France; and the second, a particular description of the edifices themselves.'—p.iv.

  4. Following, therefore, the plan of the work in as popular a manner as the subject admits, we shall present to our readers a succinct history of the progress of sacred architecture through the middle ages, and an analysis of the conclusion to which our author's researches led him, concerning the probable scene of its first perfection.

  5. The Christians, when they became sufficiently numerous to form a collected body, in conformity to the limited powers which they possessed, imitated the humble taste of the ancients in their courts of justice, rather than the splendor of their temples; and the earliest churches of which any description remains, 'were constructed on the model of the Roman basilicæ,' of an oblong form, terminating at the east end in a semicircle, to which the term of apsis has been applied: and having occasionally, like their models, open porticoes on the sides. This, however, was not the case with the two oldest churches now existing in the world, those of St. John Lateran, and St. Paul, at Rome; which latter 'was built in its present form under Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius, at the end of the 4th century: it is [129] entirely enclosed with walls; the windows are small, and the disposition of the ground plan alone, (with the exception of the transept which was introduced at this period in imitation of the figure of a cross,) is borrowed from the ancient basilicæ.—p. 4.

  6. In Gaul, where Christian worship had first been celebrated in the houses of the richest converts, and afterwards in churches of humble dimensions, the conversion of Constantine led to the gradual introduction of comparative manificence: and, not to mention many others which ace recorded as the ornaments of the 5th century, particularly in the city and neighbourhood of Tours; Namatius, Bishop of Auvergne, rebuilt his cathedral in a. style of superior grandeur.

    'It was constructed in the form of a cross, with aisles on each side, and terminated by a round apsis; the walls of the sanctuary were encrusted with various marbles, and the whole church was ornamented with paintings, and perfumed with aromatic odours. The fabrick was 150 feet long, 60 wide, and 50 high; it contained 42 windows, 70 columns, and 8 doors.'—p. 11.

    The churches of the two following centuries,

    'though small in size, and barbarous in taste, were frequently built with great solidity, and at considerable expence; they continued to exhibit the oblong form and semicircular termination of the Roman churches of Constantine and his successors, and occasionally, but perhaps rarely, assumed the figure of a cross: the roof was supported by internal porticoes of stone and marble columns, and externally covered with lead, or, in some instances, with gilt tiles. The windows, which were often glazed, were narrow and round headed, like those of the contemporary churches of Italy; and the pediment of the western front was generally perforated with a circular aperture, a simple ornament, which was afterwards expanded into the beautiful rose windows, so much admired in the cathedrals of later times.'—p. 15.

  7. At this rude period, though the funds for erecting the religious edifices were often supplied by the zeal of the people, or the munificence of the princes, it usually rested with the ecclesiastics to provide the plan, and assist in the execution. France furnished masons, but not architects: and the church, which so long preserved the expiring embers of literature, was in these barbarous and tumultuous days the principal refuge and patroness of the arts. Many bishops and abbots are recorded, who studied both the science and practice of architecture, and who themselves designed either the original plan, or the improvement of their churches: and it is probable, though the subject is involved [130] in much obscurity, that to their auspices and powerful protection the origin of the fraternities of free-masons is to be referred.

  8. Our limits will not allow us to accompany Mr. Whittington, as the antiquary will gladly do, through the gradual changes which distinguish the buildings of the three succeeding centuries. Notwithstanding the magnificent ideas of Charlemagne, the improvements which he meditated were counteracted by the barbarism of the times: and, subsequently, the devastations which attended the progress of the Normans on one side, and of the Saracens on the other, not only impeded the advancement, but destroyed the existing monuments of art; and contributed to render the period which followed the death of Charlemagne the darkest æra of recorded history. It will be sufficient to give a general idea of the architecture of the 11th century, the date of the oldest buildings now remaining in France; viz. the churches of St. Germain des Prez, St. Benigne at Dijone, of Chartres, la Charité sur Loire, Clugny, and many others.

    'The fashion in practice all over Europe continued to be a barbarous imitation of the Roman manner, but from various circumstances in different countries, it partook of different features. The Saxon churches of England were inferior in elevation, massiveness, and magnitude, to those of the Normans, and the Norman mode differed considerably from that which was adopted in the neighbourhood of Paris, and farther to the South. The Norman churches were in some instances larger, but exhibited a greater rudeness of design and execution. The columns, in particular, were without symmetry, and shewed but little skill in the art of sculpture, while those of the French artists, whose taste had been improved by the remains of Roman architecture, frequently imitated with success the Corinthian capital, and sometimes the classical proportions. Both styles are wholly deficient in correctness of taste, but the barbarous massiveness of a Norman structure has a more decided air of originality, and its rudeness when on a large scale, serves greatly to enhance the sublimity of its effect.'—p.44.

  9. The incidental mention of the English churches induces us to remark, that the description which has been thus far given of the churches on the continent, may, with little alteration, be applied to this country also, which commonly received from France or Italy both its plans and architects. The Saxons brought with them from Italy the form of the building, the loop-hole window, and the low and heavy pillar, frequently distinguished as the Lombard style, the examples of which are now very[131] scanty; the same idea may be formed from the remains* at Jickenote and Iffley, and of the old conventual church at Ely. Hitherto, however, England was universally behind the continent in its improvements, the natural consequence of its insular situation, and of its dependence on other countries for its models. It has been mentioned that at a very early period the churches in France 'occasionally assumed the form of a cross.' The first instance of such an alteration of the original shape in England occurred at Ramsey Abbey,† in Huntingdonshire, A. D. 974: and it was not till about the same æra that towers or steeples were introduced, of which we see the first examples in the same church, and in St. James's at Bury. The Normans afterwards added to the fashion of building which they found in the conquered country, a superior elevation, massiveness, and grandeur: and the cathedral‡ of Durham, which furnishes a noble instance of their style, originally retained the semicircular § termination at the east end.

  10. Such was the state of architecture, when a ray of unexpected light burst upon the darkness which had long enveloped Europe. An event, which would have plunged a civilized age in barbarism, by removing from their native country the noblest youths and the most gallant spirits of their age, had here the contrary effect of exchanging barbarism for comparative civilization. 'The first crusade, which began in 1096, was followed by a change in the arms, dress, and architecture of every nation in Europe.' The alteration with which we are now concerned, is the introduction of the pointed, first in addition to the rounded arch, and afterwards instead of it.

    'During the 12th century, the architecture of France exhibited three distinct characters: at the beginning of it, the old Lombard mode was in practice: towards the middle, this became mixed with the new fashion of the pointed arch: and before the [132] end, the ancient heavy manner was every where discontinued, and the new airy unmixed Gothic universally adopted.'

  11. It has naturally been often matter of surprise, as well as of remark, that the pointed arch, which is of far the most simple construction, and arises at once from the use of stones superimposed, and gradually projecting, should have been alike neglected by the Greeks, when they began to use arches at all, by the Romans, and the architects of the middle ages; while the circular arch, which requires at least the rudiments of geometrical science, was universally in practice. The fact, however, is notorious; and the use of the pointed arch has always been made the line of distinction between the Saxon, and that which, in compliance with received custom, we shall here term the Gothic* style of architecture. This style was in the height of its glory in France during the 13th and 14th century, and in England during the 14th and 15th: after which period a taste for imitating the classical remains of antiquity became general, and the Gothic manner, having reached its perfection, was exchanged for a style not only recommended by novelty, but better suited to the alteration of the times, and the gradual increase in the price of labour. Those three centuries, however, and that style on which a term of contempt has been so preposterously bestowed, have left 'fabrics that are still the boast and ornament of the principal cities of Europe.' For whatever has been said of the exact proportions of Grecian architecture, the beautiful disposition of its parts, and the harmonious symmetry of the whole, ought not in reason to detract from our admiration of a Gothic cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren, it is true, calls them 'mountains of stone; vast and gigantic buildings indeed, but not worthy the name of architecture;'† and adds, 'that though not altogether naked of gaudy sculpture, trite and busy carvings, it is such as gluts the eye rather than gratifies and [133] pleases it with any reasonable satisfaction.' But to whatever theoretical explanation we refer the pleasure which the mind receives from architecture, whether to greatness of size, as Addison* in part; or to the uniform succession of the pillars and various members of the building conspiring to encrease the idea of its magnitude, as Burke ;† a Gothic structure may assert its claim to power over the imagination. Its height, its massive buttresses, and stupendous pillars, with the defiance of labour displayed throughout the fabric, cannot fail to excite in the mind the sublimest ideas of magnificence and power. At the same time the eye, accustomed to the picturesque, finds in the variety of the ornaments a compensation for that want of uniformity which the architect accuses; and in the numerous projections and varied lights, for the ample relievo and swelling which is so deservedly celebrated in the examples of antiquity. Again, if we appeal from theory to the paramount judge in these matters, general taste and opinion, it will probably be allowed that in the metropolis, Westminster Abbey, though not the grandest of our cathedrals, divides the palm with the finest specimen of Grecian architecture which this country can boast; and, notwithstanding the classical beauties of the plan on which the new college at Cambridge is erecting, we doubt whether it will ever rival the admiration which has been so long bestowed on the simple sublimity of the chapel of Kings.

  12. We now proceed to a question, if not of most value to the antiquary, certainly of most originality and general interest, which is discussed in the second part of the work under review:— viz. Whether for the remarkable improvements which immediately succeeded the introduction of the pointed style, and which enriched England with the specimens of York and Salisbury, and France with those of Rheims and Amiens, England was indebted to France, or France to England: and whether our national vanity is entitled to the flattering term of English style, which is substituted for Gothic in the magnificent publication of the Society of Antiquaries. It has been asserted by that learned body, in the prefatory introduction to their account of Durham, that 'there is very little doubt but the light and elegant style of building, whose principal and characteristic feature is the high pointed arch struck from two centres, was invented in this country; it is certain that it was here brought to its highest state of [134] perfection; and the testimony of other countries, whose national traditions ascribe their most beautiful churches to English artists, adds great weight to the question, and peculiar propriety to the term English, which will be used instead of Gothic in the course of this work.'* In order to consider more at length the justice of this innovation, we pass over the detailed descriptions of the churches of St. Germain des Prez and St. Genevieve, and proceed to the account of the Abbey of St. Denys, in which Mr. Whittington first discloses his opinion in the following unassuming manner.

    'When it is remembered that the works of Suger, in every part of which the pointed arch appears, were all executed before the middle of the 12th century, and that the chevet† of St. Denis was indisputably finished in the year 1144, our belief that the English artists were prior to those of other nations in the use of the pointed arch must be considerable shaken. All authorities concur in fixing the reign of Henry II. (that is, after the year 1154) as the earliest æra of the introduction into England of the mixed style of round and pointed arches, which we see practised in Suger's works before that period.'—p.119.

  13. After a magnificent description of the cathedral at Rheims, which is fully justified by a beautiful engraving of its west front, that accompanies the work: and after ingeniously accounting for its superior elegance, from the grace of its 'diminishing or pyramidal form, as more suited to the character of the Gothic style than the square front of our cathedrals:' and from the 'magnificence of the portal, so unlike the mean and disproportionate doors of York, Salisbury, and Westminster;' the author proceeds in his argument by a comparison of the general state of Gothic architecture in England at the period of the erection of Rheims; viz. the commencement of the 13th century.

    'It is allowed by a writer ‡ most strenuous in giving the English the merit of the invention, to have been then " in its infancy;" and it is certain that at the time of the foundation of Rheims cathedral, our most considerable regular efforts in the Gothic style, were Sir Hugh's § works at Lincoln, and De Lucy's addition to the cathedral [135] at Winchester,* and that the character of these works is preserved with very little alteration during the first half of the century in question. De Lucy's † work is mentioned by the same writer, than whom none is more deeply versed in English antiquities, as strikingly characteristic of the age in which it was executed. The windows of Rheims are not narrow and oblong, with obtuse-angled, or lancet-like heads, and without mullions; particulars on which Mr. Milner insists as a principal proof of De Lucy's work having been built at the beginning of the 13th century; nor do his other characteristics accord with the more decorated features of the church I am describing: instead of being narrow and lancet shaped, the windows are broad and spacious; and instead of being without mullions, an up-right shaft supporting two arches surmounted by a six-foil is the universal embellishment throughout the cathedral; an ornamental combination, the first and feeblest hint of which, is sought out from the porch of Beaulieu Refectory, erected about this time, but which was not decidedly adopted in England till near the middle of the 13th century;‡ even then, we shall in vain search for similar instances of lightness and delicacy of execution. In speaking of the first half of the 13th century, I will confine my comparisons to the body of the church and its windows; the other ornamental parts were no doubt executed as in the later period; but where in Westminster Abbey, or any other contemporary, or I might even add, later period in England shall we find such a combination of grace, elegance, and effect? In addition to the beauties I have already pointed out, the sculpture is also in a superior taste to any thing we can produce of the same date; and it may be with truth asserted, that the richness and magnificence of the arched buttresses are such, that they seem to have been added- for the purpose of decoration rather than of strength.'§—p. 131—133.

  14. Other remarks of less importance, but tending to the same conclusion, are made respecting the church of Notre Dame, at Paris, and the abbey of St. Nicaise, at Rheims: but the principal stress is laid upon the cathedral of Amiens, the date of which [136] being ascertained, and coinciding* with that of Salisbury, allows the fairest occasion of comparison between the contemporary styles of the two countries.

    'The chief characteristics of the 13th century with us, were the highly pointed arch, struck from two centres, and including an equilateral triangle from the imposts to the crown of the arch, the lancet-shaped window ; and, to use the words of one of the most useful writers on the subject, " Purbeck marble pillars, very slender and round, encompassed by marble shafts a little detached,"† and a profusion of little columns of the same stone in the ornamental parts of the building.

    'All these particularities are to be observed in Amiens cathedral; the arches of the aisles are like those of Salisbury and Westminster ; the pillars are according to Mr. Bentham's description; the west front is covered with innumerable small columns ; and the lancet-shaped arch, though not adopted in the windows, is to be seen with admirable effect crowning the semicircular colonnade at the east end of the choir. The vaulting too is like that of Salisbury, " high pitched between arches and cross-springers only, without any further decorations."‡

    'The dissimilarities come next to be considered, and these are so numerous in plan, proportion, and ornament, that they may be said to constitute the general character of the building. 1. The disposition of the church, with the aisles to its transepts, its double aisles on each side the choir, together with its beautiful semicircular colonnade at the end of it, will be allowed to be material dissimilarities ; and, from the number of columns it presents in every point of view, an infinitely richer effect is produced than within any of our churches of the same date. 2. The proportions of the whole cathedral, particularly its surprising loftiness,§ the height of the pillars to the arches, and many other details, will be also found exceedingly dissimilar, if we compare them with the English edifices of the same period. 3. In the ornamental part, however, the chief difference exists; the west front, which has a portal of just and magnificent proportion,¦ exhibits the most gorgeous display of statuary: armies of saints, prophets, martyrs, and angels, line the door-ways,[137] crowd the walls, and swarm round all the pinnacles; nothing can be more rich, and no nothing both in design and effect can be more different from Salisbury. If it be found that the latter has the advantage in point of lightness, it should still be remembered, that not lightness, but richness, was invariably the principal object in this part of the building.

    'The next dissimilarity I shall point out regards the bowes, or arch buttresses, which it was our custom, in the early part of the 13th century, to conceal in the roofs of the side aisles, as may be seen at Salisbury, Lincoln, the south transept of York, at the east end of Canterbury in the 12th century, and in other instances. The profusion of these at Amiens is very striking, and the manner in which they are managed and relieved by ornamental perforations deserves great admiration; but the chief difference between Amiens cathedral and its contemporary buildings in England consists in the size, dimensions, and magnificence of its windows.

    'It is well known that "the long, narrow, sharp-pointed window, generally decorated on the inside and outside with small marble shafts," is employed all over Salisbury cathedral ;* these are often combined together, surmounted by a rose, † and persons fond of tracing the progression of Gothic architecture, are eager to point out, in these combinations, the outline of the more spacious and magnificent windows, which were not adopted in the English churches till half a century afterwards. But we find at Amiens, in the plan of Robert de Lusarches, in the year 1220, windows of a width and stateliness, which were never surpassed at any subsequent period in this country.

    'Amiens cathedral consists of two tiers of these magnificent windows ; those of the nave are divided by three perpendicular mullions, surmounted by the same number of roses. Those to the east of the transepts have five mullions and three roses, and are crowned by a pediment ornamented with a trefoil; three most noble circular or marigold windows, full of stained glass, enrich the transepts and west front of the edifice: so completely light is this cathedral, and so artfully and delicately is it constructed, that except in its west front, hardly any wall is visible throughout the whole building: it is all window. Between those of the lower story, room is only left to insert a narrow buttress, which rises up into a pinnacle, and branches out into bowes above; these meet the building just under the vaulting of the roof, and are received on the small slip of stone-work which divides the upper windows. Internally, there is no range of [138] open arcades between the arches of the nave and the upper tiers of windows, which is found in all our cathedrals.

    'That Amiens cathedral differs materially from ours of the same date, is manifest from the above statement. That it is a more light and more beautiful specimen of Gothic* architecture than either Salisbury or Westminster, will be allowed by all who have seen it. That it exhibits a more advanced state of the art will also, I think, be admitted by all who have made the progression of Gothic ornament their study, and who will take the trouble to consider and pursue the comparison here instituted.

    'As when Robert de Lusarches had formed the plan, and began to erect this elegant and uniform structure in 1220, no instance had occurred in England except of the narrow lancet-windows; and as a considerable time, probably half a century, elapsed before the various combinations of these gave place to such regular and magnificent windows as we here see were projected and began upon at Amiens in 1220; (for as I before said, the cathedral is all window, and the richest of these are to be found eastward of the choir, the part which was first erected) I think we must be brought to this inevitable conclusion, that the French had advanced from the original simplicity of this Gothic style to the succeeding richness, at a time when the former alone was known in this country.'—p. 147—153.

  15. It appears to us that this argument, which we were unwilling to interrupt by remark, or weaken by extract, is of the most legitimate kind, and as nearly decisive on the question as any thing short of that positive historical record which it is now in vain to expect. That the mere introduction of the pointed arch did not at once lead to all that grandeur and richness of ornament which forms the beautiful perfection of a Gothic cathedral, is clear from the gradual progress of improvement which may be traced by accurate observation in the various periods of our own national fashion in building. Towards the latter part of the 12th century, we find the long, narrow, single, window, still in general use, but pointed instead of round; in the process of the l3th, this swelled into 2, 3, or 4 divisions, surmounted by 1, 2, and at last 3 trefoils or quatrefoils; in the 14th, cross mullions were added, to relieve the height of the window, and the surmounting ornaments proportionately increased: nor was it till the 15th century that additional mullions, with the terminating arches, and roses enclosed within them produced that grand effect, which is seen in the west fronts of Winchester and Kings. If [139 then the richness, which is the principal ornament of the style, be the product of gradual observation and experience of many-trials, it is probable that such perfection will be first attained, in the country which first received, or invented, the model to be imitated by succeeding architects. It has appeared that France was a century before England in splendour of design and richness of execution, in all those happy combinations of effect to which the use of the pointed arch led the way. Nothing therefore should create a doubt that the pointed style was introduced from that country, except positive and authentic record. Recorded evidence, however, turns additional weight into the same scale. The first certain instances of a pointed arch in England occur in the remains of Hyde Abbey, built about 1160—

    'the vaults of Archbishop Roger, at York, began 1171—the vestibule of the Temple church, built in 1184—the great western tower of Ely, finished in 1189—the choir at Canterbury, carried on between 1175 and 1180; and the two western towers of Durham, which are almost exactly in the same style as Suger's front of St. Denis, erected in 1233.—P.110.

    But the Abbey of St. Denis, already described, 'clearly establishes this fact, that the French had decidedly introduced the pointed arch before the middle of the 12th, and had constructed broad and magnificent windows before the middle of the 13th century.'

  16. After this copious induction of facts, it is impossible not to draw a conclusion different from that of the Society of Antiquaries, and to determine that the arguments, whether deduced from the authority of dates, or from probability, are altogether against the claim of this country to the invention of the pointed style; and we cannot refrain from joining with the author in his candid and unassuming 'regret, that this unauthorized assertion should have been introduced into one of the most splendid, and in many respects judicious publications, that was ever given to the English public; which, while it admires the magnificence of the work, cannot but lament that it should be accompanied with this very extraordinary and unfounded claim.'—P.153.

  17. The reader, accustomed to the parade with which new opinions are commonly delivered, and the pertinacity with which they are maintained, will be surprised to learn that this is the only passage in which the author alludes to his dissent from that judgment, which originally led him to so extended an enquiry, in a field hitherto overlooked by all the popular writers [140] on the subject. For ourselves, we have seldom found so much proved, and so little assumed; so much novelty of argument, with so little arrogance of pretension. On account of this exemplary moderation, we are the more inclined to lament that the third part of this work, as originally projected, was left in a. state of no greater forwardness; since it would have embraced an inquiry into the real origin of Gothic architecture; a subject, which, as it does not seem now to admit of positive proof, requires the greater caution and temperance of opinion.

  18. It has been seen with sufficient clearness that we cannot claim for England the earliest use of the pointed style Was it then invented in France? or from what country was an alteration, which soon became so general and ornamental, first derived? Many answers have been given to this question; and it may not perhaps be unacceptable, to lay them at one view before the reader.

  19. The hypothesis of Warburton is a striking instance of the bold and original fancy, which, 'at one light bound' overleaped all obstacles, and supplied the deficiency of proof or probability by a redundancy of luxuriant imagination. 'When the Goths had conquered Spain,' says he, 'this northern people having been accustomed, during the gloom of Paganism, to worship the Deity in groves, when their new religion required covered edifices, they ingeniously projected to make them resemble groves as nearly as the distance of architecture would permit: and with what skill and success they executed the project, appears from hence, that no attentive observer ever viewed a regular avenue of well-grown trees, but it presently put him in mind of the long vista through a Gothic cathedral; or even entered one of the larger and more elegant edifices of this kind, but it presented to his imagination an avenue of trees; and this alone is what can be truly called the Gothic style of building.'—Note on Pope's Epistles. In the indulgence of this fancy, to which he was probably led by the improper term Gothic, and by which he whimsically accounts for all the ramifications and tracery work of the style, Warburton overlooked the foundations of his fabric; and forgot that the Visigoths conquered Spain and became Christians in the fifth century, at least seven hundred years before the pointed style was known in the West of Europe.

  20. The opinion given by Lord Orford in his Anecdotes of Painting, who considers the Gothic as merely an improvement upon the corruptions of the Roman architecture, degraded as it had [141] been before the 12th century, seems to coincide with that more recently laid down by Mr. Knight, (Essay on Taste) who describes 'the monastic Gothic as a corruption of the sacred architecture of the Greeks and Romans, by a mixture of the Moorish or Saracenesque, which is formed out of a combination of the Egyptian, Persian, or Hindoo. It may easily be traced, he adds, through all its variations from the church of Santa Sophia and the Semi-gothic church of Montreal near Palermo, to King's Chapel at Cambridge.' This gradual history, however, of the progress of the Gothic style, has never yet been traced out, and seems totally inconsistent with the surprize and admiration which the new mode of building in the l2th century excited in contemporary writers, who speak of it as a sudden alteration and discovery, under the expression of 'novum genus ædificandi.' The idea too, while it accounts for the pinnacle and the spire, leaves entirely unexplained the novel application of the pointed arch to the construction of windows and portals, after it had lain dormant and unknown, as far as appears, for centuries.

  21. Mr. Milner's opinion is very ingenious, and first suggested the belief that the pointed style was an English improvement. Instances occur, previous to the introduction of the pointed arch, where a similar effect is produced by the intersection of circular arches, on plain walls; with which, as he supposes the architect being gratified, improved the accidental hint by perforating them into windows, and disposing them in various forms, till the several gradations of the pointed architecture arose one out of the other. To this explanation we are inclined to apply an objection which Lord Aberdeen, in his preface to the work before us, has urged against all the opinions which have been hitherto mentioned; that it accounts plausibly for the form of the arch, but for none of the other peculiar features of the Gothic style, particularly its lofty and slender proportions.

  22. When it is observed, as it must have been by those who have followed us through the present review of sacred architecture, that 'in the 12th century a new character of building suddenly appeared and spread itself over the greater part of Christendom;' the question that naturally occurs is, what connection with other nations during that century could have led to so unexpected a. change. When we perceive that the revolution in architecture coincided with the æra of the first Crusades, it is scarcely possible to repress the surmise that the new fashion was imported by the Crusaders from the East. Sir Christopher Wren seems to have entertained this general conviction, though he does not examine the subject with any accuracy or minuteness. Such too was the [142] opinion of the author of the work under consideration, whose observation and intimate acquaintance with the subject entitles him to the highest attention.

    'I conceive,' he says, 'that the Crusaders introduced the fashion, of the pointed arch, and the first ornaments of the style, which are few and simple; but the richness it gathered in process of time, and the improvements and alterations we observe in it from its first rise in the 12th, to its extinction in the 15th century, are owing to the munificent encouragement of the Church, and the vast abilities of the free-masons in the middle ages."—Pref.

    The very competent judge also whom we have already mentioned as contributing the Preface to this work, quotes this opinion from some separate paper left by the author, 'as appearing to himself more consonant with reason and probability.'

  23. Nothing could have prevented the general reception of this explanation of the difficulty, except the objection which has been perpetually* remarked, that neither in the Saracenic remains in Spain are there any traces of the pointed style applied to arches: the greatest peculiarity in their architecture being the horse-shoe arch; nor throughout all Syria and Arabia is a Gothic building to be discovered, except such as were raised by the Latin Christians subsequent to the perfection of that style in Europe.

  24. Lord Aberdeen has met this objection by observing, that the architectural specimens of early date have been greatly diminished by the frequent wars and revolutions of the East; that the dates are. doubtful, where the specimens exist ; and that the universal use of the general features of the Gothic style, 'if a line be drawn from the north of the Euxine through Constantinople to Egypt, in every country to the eastward of this boundary, can never be supposed owing to its introduction from the west.'.—Pref. p.xi. This last observation we must consider as completely decisive, respecting that peculiarity of the Gothic style, which consists in its numerous and prominent buttresses, and its lofty spires and pinnacles. These features, which are only accidentally connected with the pointed arch, are universally recognised [143] in the Oriental style; and it would be the height of absurdity to attribute a practice so general, ancient, and widely extended, to the occasional commerce of the Christians with Palestine, or the other countries of the East, since Gothic Cathedrals were erected in Europe.

  25. It is not from the vain and perilous ambition of saying something new upon a subject where much has been already said, that we state an opinion which has been forced upon us by the evidence adduced; according to which, the idea which seems most defensible, is as follows. The Crusaders, who had been accustomed in the West to circular arches alone, and to the thick and massy columns of low proportion and few diameters, in use among the Saxons and Normans, brought back with them from the countries of the East, early in the 12th century, new ideas both of magnificence and of fashion in building. The magnificence appears in the encrease of size, and loftiness; the change of fashion appears in the slenderness of the pillars, and the general substitution of spiral instead of circular ornaments and finishing. At this time there is no doubt that the fraternity of architects, calling themselves free-masons, were numerous, skilful, and incorporated. 'Their government was regular, and where they fixed near the building in hand, they made a camp of huts. A surveyor governed in chief; every tenth man was called a warden, and overlooked each nine: and they ranged from one nation to another as they found churches to be built.'* It would not fail to occur to men thus collectively engaged in the improvement of the same art, that the round-headed windows and arches, hitherto in use, were totally out of character with the new spiral and lofty mode, and destructive of its effect. The intersection of circular arches, of which many instances existed, at once gave them the model of an alteration, the adoption of which, when approved by experiment, brought the several characters and parts of the new style of building into harmony and order.

  26. The reasons which incline us to adhere to this opinion are briefly these ; it is all along supported by existing evidence, and contradicted by none. It seems impossible not to admit that the general air of what is termed the Gothic style, arising from the height of the building, its multiplied ornaments, and their spiral form, was imported into the West by the Crusaders, returning [144] home impressed with the spirit and peculiar character of the architecture which they had seen. But there is no proof, though it has been much sought for, that the pointed arch was in use among the Saracens at that period, or in any country through which the Crusaders passed: whereas there is proof from a Gothic ruin near Acre, built while the* Christians were in possession of the country, that pointed arches were introduced by them into the East. There is, however, undoubted testimony that the intersections of the circular, which form the pointed arch, existed at the period in question both in France and England. To the instance which Mr. Milner adduces from the south transept of Winchester, built by Henry, the brother of Stephen, may be added another in the same reign, A. D. 1153, which is to be seen in the Chapel called Galilee on the west front of Durham. But lest it should be thought that this affords any corroboration of the belief, that this improvement first took place in Britain, Mr. Whittington notices the same combination of circular arches, producing the same effect, in the abbey of St. Germain,† which was completed by Merard nearly as it exists at present, A. D. 1014. Finally, we cannot help observing, that this supposition accounts much better for the gradual improvement in the pointed arch, after its first discovery, already noticed with respect to the windows, than the idea that it existed in perfection in the East at the time of the Crusades.

  27. The length to which our remarks have imperceptibly extended, renders it impossible for us to extract any of the interesting anecdotes, connected with the subject, which are interspersed throughout the work. With regard to the style, the extracts we have given will have already shewn that it is exactly what the subject requires: clear without diffuseness, and elegant without the affectation of ornament. We close the volume with the liveliest feelings of regret, that literature can expect no farther illustration from the candour, talents, and research of the author. [145]

Published @ RC

September 2006