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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/74

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Part I.

proportion most prominent. When we descend to the lower types of animals we lose it to a great extent, and among trees and vegetables generally find it only in a far less degree, and sometimes miss it altogether. In the mineral kingdom, among rocks and stones, it is altogether absent. So universal is this principle in Nature that we may safely apply it to our criticism on art, and say that a building is perfect as a whole in proportion to its motived regularity, and departs from the highest type in the ratio in which symmetrical arrangement is neglected. It may, however, be incorrect to say that an oak tree is a less perfect work of creation than a human being, but it is certain that it is lower in the scale of created beings. So it may be said that a picturesque group of Gothic buildings may be as perfect as the stately regularity of an Egyptian or classic temple; but if it is so, it is equally certain that it belongs to a lower and inferior class of design.

This analogy, however, we may leave for the present. The one point which it is indispensable to insist on here is, that man can progress or tend towards success only by following the principles and copying, so far as he can understand them, the processes which Nature employs in her works; but he can never succeed in anything by copying forms without reference to principles. If we could find Nature making trees like stones, or animals like trees, or birds like fishes, or fishes like mammalia, or using any parts taken from one kingdom for purposes belonging to another, it would then be perfectly legitimate for us to use man's stature as the modulus for a Doric, or a woman's as that of an Ionic column—to build cathedrals like groves, and make windows like leaves, or to estimate their beauty by their resemblance to such objects; but all such comparisons proceed on an entire mistake of what imitation of Nature really means.

It is the merest and most absolute negation of reason to apply to one purpose things that were designed for another, or to imitate them when they have no appropriateness; but it is our highest privilege to understand the processes of Nature. To apply these to our own wants and purposes is the noblest use of human intellect and the perfection of human wisdom.

So instinctively, but so literally, has this correct process of imitating Nature been followed in all true styles of architecture, that we can always reason regarding them as we do with reference to natural objects. Thus, if an architect finds in any quarter of the globe a Doric or Corinthian capital with a few traces of a foundation, he can, at a glance, tell the age of the temple or building to which it belonged. He knows who the people were who erected it, to what purpose it was dedicated, and proceeds at once to restore its porticos, and without much uncertainty can reproduce the whole fabric. Or if he finds a few Gothic bases in situ, with a few mouldings or frusta of columns, by the