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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/76

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44
Part I.
HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE.

The revival of the rites and ceremonies of the mediæval Church, our reverent love of our own national antiquities, and our admiration for the rude but vigorous manhood of the Middle Ages,—all have combined to repress the classical element both in our literature and our art, and to exalt in their place Gothic feelings and Gothic art, to an extent which cannot be justified on any grounds of reasonable criticism.

Unless the art-critic can free himself from the influence of these adventitious associations, his judgments lose half their value; but, on the other hand, to the historian of art they are of the utmost importance. It is because architecture so fully and so clearly expresses the feelings of the people who practised it that it becomes frequently a better vehicle of history than the written page; and it is these very associations that give life and meaning to blocks of stone and mounds of brick, and bring so vividly before our eyes the feelings and the aspirations of the long-forgotten past.

The importance of association in giving value to the objects of architectural art can hardly be overrated either by the student or historian. What has to be guarded against is that unreasoning enthusiasm which mistakes the shadow for the reality, and would force us to admire a rude piece of clumsy barbarism erected yesterday, and to which no history consequently attaches, because something like it was done in some long past age. Its reality, its antiquity, and its weather-stains may render its prototype extremely interesting even if not beautiful; while its copy is only an antiquarian toy, as ugly as it is absurd.

XVII.—New Style.

There is still one other point of view from which it is necessary to look at this question of architectural design before any just conclusion can be arrived at regarding it. It is in fact necessary to answer two other questions, nearly as often asked as those proposed at the beginning of Section III. "Can any one invent a new style?"—"Can we ever again have a new and original style of architecture?" Reasoning from experience alone, it is easy to answer these questions. No individual has, so far as we know, ever invented a new style in any part of the world. No one can even be named who during the prevalence of a true style of art materially advanced its progress, or by his individual exertion did much to help it forward; and we may safely answer, that as this has never happened before, it is hardly probable that it will ever occur now.

If this one question must be answered in the negative, the other may as certainly be answered in the affirmative, inasmuch as no nation in any age or in any part of the globe has failed to invent for itself a