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[MODERN
ARCHITECTURE
1911 Britannica-Architecture-Parliament of Hungary Plan.png

Fig. 92.—Plan of the Parliament House, Budapest. (Steindl.)


We may now turn to consider the Gothic Revival movement itself, of which Pugin was one of the most important pioneers. New ideas, however, as to the importance of Gothic architecture had been in the air before he came on the scene, and The Gothic Revival, England. quite early in the century John Britten’s Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain and Cathedral Antiquities, with their beautiful steel engravings by Le Keux, had done much to call attention to the neglected beauty of English medieval churches; and Thomas Rickman’s remarkable and (for its day) masterly analysis of the variations of style in Gothic architecture, which first appeared in 1817, and went through edition after edition in succeeding years, gave the first intelligent direction to the study of the subject. Pugin supplied to the movement not analysis, but passion. He had the merit of having perceived, when quite a youth, that one thing wanted was better craftsmanship, and that craftsmanship in the medieval period was something very different from what it was in the early Victorian period; he set up an atelier of craftsmen, and was the real pioneer of what may be called the Arts and Crafts movement in England. An enthusiast by nature, he flung his whole soul into the task of reviving, as he believed, the glory of English medieval architecture; nothing else in architecture was worth thinking of; Classic and Renaissance were only worth sarcasm. The result in his works was a curious inconsistency. Pugin was not in the true sense a great architect; his mind was not practical enough to grasp an architectural problem as a whole, plan and building combined; in fact, he was no master of plan, and does not seem to have troubled himself much about it. But he had a remarkable perception of interior effect; whenever you go into one of his churches you recognize the desire to realize the greatest effect of height, the most soaring effect of lines, possible within the actual vertical measurements. But in his passion for this soaring expression he seems to have entirely lost sight of the essential quality of solidity and genuineness of material in the medieval architecture which he was trying to emulate or to outvie. So long as he could get his effect of height, his poetic interior, he was content to have thin walls and plaster vaults and ornaments; or, in other words, he spent upon height what should first have been spent upon solid and monumental building. The result has been gently but effectively satirized by Browning in “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”:—


“It’s different preaching in Basilicas
To doing duty in some masterpiece
Like this of brother Pugin’s, bless his heart.
I doubt if they’re half-baked, those chalk rosettes,
Ciphers and stucco-twiddlings everywhere;
It’s just like breathing in a limekiln, eh?”


It is too true; and there is something pathetic in Pugin’s career, in this passionate and sincere pursuit after a revival of the medieval spirit in life and in architecture—a pursuit which towards the close of his life he himself evidently more than half suspected to have been a fallacy.

The full tide of the Gothic revival is connected more especially with the name of Sir Gilbert Scott. He was hardly a pure enthusiast like Pugin; he was a shrewd man of the world, the commencement of whose professional career coincided with the rising tide of ecclesiological reform, and he had the ability to make the best of the opportunity. He appears to have had, even as a child, an inborn interest in church architecture and in Gothic detail (witness the description, in his Memoirs, of his astonishment and interest, at the age of eleven, at the first sight of capitals of the Early English type), and he acquired by unremitting study a knowledge of English Gothic architecture in its every detail which few architects have ever equalled. His numerous churches were, intentionally and confessedly, as close reproductions as possible of medieval architecture, generally that of the Early Decorated period; and if it were desirable that modern church architecture should consist in the reproduction of medieval churches, the task could not have been carried out with more learning and exactitude than it was by him. It was this minute and accurate knowledge of medieval church architecture which made him such a power when the idea of restoring English cathedrals became popular. He had an acquired instinct in tracing out the existence of details which had been overlaid by modern repairs or plasterwork; in going over a cathedral to decide on a scheme of restoration he seemed to know it as an anatomist knows the suggestions of a fossil skeleton; and in the course of his restorations he unearthed many points in the architectural history of the buildings which but for him would never have been elucidated. We now recognize that much of this “restoration” was a mistake, which destroyed the real interest of the cathedrals; and it is unhappily a mistake which cannot be undone. But the violent reproaches which have been heaped upon Scott’s memory on this account are rather unjust. It is forgotten that he was doing what at the time every one