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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/75

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Sect. XVI.

same process he traces the age, the size, and the purposes of the building before him. A Cuvier or an Owen can restore the form and predicate the habits of an extinct animal from a few fragments of bone, or even from a print of a foot. In the same manner an architect may, from a few fragments of a building, if of a true style of architecture, restore the whole of its pristine form, and with almost the same amount of certainty. This arises wholly because the architects of former days had correct ideas of what was meant by imitation of Nature. They added nothing to their buildings which was not essential; there was no detail which had not its use, and no ornament which was not an elaboration or heightening of some essential part, and hence it is that a true building is as like to a work of Nature as any production of man's hands can be to the creations of his Maker.


There is one property inherent in the productions of architectural art, which, while it frequently lends to them half their charm, at the same time tends more than anything else to warp and distort our critical judgments regarding them. We seldom can look at a building of any age without associating with it such historical memories as may cling to its walls; and our predilection for any peculiar style of architecture are more often due to educational or devotional associations than to purely artistic judgments. A man must be singularly ignorant or strangely passionless who can stand among the fallen columns of a Grecian temple, or wander through the corridors of a Roman amphitheatre, or the aisles of a ruined Gothic abbey, and not feel his heart stirred by emotions of a totally different class from those suggested by the beauty of the mouldings or the artistic arrangement of the building he is contemplating.

The enthusiasm which bursts forth in the 15th century for the classical style of art, and then proved fatal to the Gothic, was not so much an architectural as a literary movement. It arose from the re-discovery—if it may be so called—of the poems of Homer and Virgil, of the histories of Thucydides and Tacitus, of the philosophy of Aristotle and the eloquence of Cicero. It was a vast reaction against the darkness and literary degradation of the Middle Ages, and carried the educated classes of Europe with it for the next three centuries. So long as classical literature only was taught in our schools, and classical models followed in our literature, classical architecture could alone be tolerated in our buildings, and this generally without the least reference either to its own peculiar beauties, or its appropriateness for the purposes to which it was applied.

A second reaction has now taken place against this state of affairs.