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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/78

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46
Part I.
HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE.

The one point where this comparison seems to halt is, that ship-building never became a purely fine art, which architecture really is. The difference is only one of aim, which it would be as easy to apply to the one art, as it has been to the other. Had architecture never progressed beyond its one strictly legitimate object of house-building, it never would have been more near a fine art than merchant ship-building, and palaces would only have been magnified dwelling-places. Castles and men-of-war advanced both one stage further towards a fine art. Size and power were impressed on both, and in this respect they stand precisely equal to one another. Here ship-building halted, and has not progressed beyond, while architecture has been invested with a higher aim. In all ages men have sought to erect houses more dignified and stately than those designed for their personal use. They attempted the erection of dwelling-places for their Gods, or temples worthy of the worship of Supreme Beings; and it was only when this strictly useful art threw aside all shadow of utilitarianism, and launched boldly forth in search of the beautiful and the sublime, that it became a truly fine art, and took the elevated position which it now holds above all other useful arts. It would have been easy to supply the same motive to ship-building. If we could imagine any nation ever to construct ships of God, or to worship on the bosom of the ocean, ships might easily be made such objects of beauty that the cathedral could hardly compete with them.

It is not, however, only in architecture or in ship-building that this process is essential, for the progress of every art and every science that is worthy of the name is owing to the same simple process of the aggregation of experiences; whether we look to metallurgy or mechanics, cotton-spinning or coining, their perfection is due to the same cause. So also the sciences—astronomy, chemistry, geology—are all cultivated by the same means. When the art or science is new, great men stand forth and make great strides; but when once it reaches maturity, and becomes the property of the nation, the individual is lost in the mass, and a thousand inferior brains follow out steadily and surely the path which the one great intellect has pointed out, but which no single mind, however great, could carry to its legitimate conclusion.

So far as any reason or experience yet known can be applied to this subject, it seems clear that no art or science ever has been or can be now advanced by going backwards, and copying earlier forms, or those applicable to other times or other circumstances; and that progress toward perfection can only be obtained by the united efforts of many steadily pursuing a well-defined object. Whenever this is done, success appears to be inevitable, or at all events every age is perfectly satisfied with its own productions. Where forward progress is the law, it is certain that the next age will surpass the present;