Open main menu

Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/82

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
50
Part I.
HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE.

of brighter and better things in art than a false system has hitherto enabled us to attain.

These remarks might easily be extended to any desired length, and in fact this part of the work ought to be enlarged till it equalled the narrative part, if it had any pretension to be a complete treatise on the Art of Architecture. In that case, the static or descriptive part of a treatise on any art is equally important with the dynamic or narrative part. In most instances more so; but in this respect architecture is exceptional, and the narrative form is by far the more important of the two divisions into which the subject naturally divides itself.

If, for instance, any one were writing a treatise on Naval Architecture, it is more than probable that he would not allude to any vessel not afloat at the time of his writing. If he mentioned the triremes of the Romans or the galleys of the Venetians, it would be in an introductory chapter intended for the amusement, not the instruction, of his readers. In like manner, if an engineer undertakes to write on the art of bridge-building, harbor-making, or on roads or canals, he is only careful to cite the best existing examples in use and would be considered pedantic if he wasted his time, or that of his readers, in recounting what was done in these departments by the Romans or the Chinese. If the fine art architecture was with us as well up to the mark of the intelligence of the day as those more utilitarian branches of the profession, the same course would be the proper one to pursue in writing with regard to it. Unfortunately, however, we have no architecture of our own, and it is impossible to make tlie various styles in practice either intelligible or interesting, except by tracing them back to their origin, and explaining the steps by which they reached perfection.

If architecture was practised by us on the same principles that guided either the Classic or Gothic architects in their designs, a static treatise on it would not only be the most instructive but the most pleasing form of teaching its elements. Owing, however, to the system of copying which is now the basis of all designs, that is no longer the case, and the consequently abnormal position of the art renders the study of its principles almost impossible, and memory must supply the place of pure reason for their elucidation, thus giving to the narrative branch of the subject a somewhat exaggerated importance, even when looked at from a merely technic point of view.

Besides this, however, the narrative form as applied to Architecture has advantages of its own greater than those of any other art of the same class, inasmuch as it is a great stone book in which most of the nations of the earth have recorded their annals, and written their thoughts, and even expressed their feelings in clearer and truer language than by any other form of utterance. The pyramids and