The Country House/Chapter 5
HE letter you send in answer to mine, on the question of the most preferable style, I must allow, contains many good reasons in support of your opinion and views; and laying aside prejudice and early associations, I am willing to admit that it is wise to adopt that style which possesses the most completely the elements of beauty, and which is most susceptible of being united to painting and sculpture, essential accessories of architecture, or rather, important branches of that art. Some of the facts which you mention are very interesting and striking, indeed, convincing; and the more I have reflected on the subject, the more I feel the advantage of breadth and the superior beauty of the simple and grand lines of Grecian architecture; and my curiosity to see the mode in which you will follow out your precepts by your example, is hourly increasing, although I am quite aware that one specimen of a building will not be sufficient to illustrate the general positions you have, I think, so well established.
I almost wish that you had been tempted to extend your letter, already long, for the purpose of entering still further into a subject of such interest. I should be curious to learn to what extent the arts of painting and sculpture had been applied, in conjunction with the Gothic; and where they had most failed, and to ascertain whether those instances fully corroborate your positions. As regards your oracular distinction between the two styles, I am not sure I quite understand you. I shall, however, leave this till the termination of the discussion of the plan. The merits of the arrangements and contrivances of the ancient villas, as ascertainable from the descriptions extant, and the plans of those of Pompeii had not entirely escaped me. In addition to the published information, I recollect to have received, many years since, much information and instruction on the subject from Mr. Cocherell, soon after his return from Italy; he having devoted much attention to the arrangement of ancient villas, and having selected some very interesting materials to illustrate the ingenuity of the contrivances, and the judicious selection of the sites, &c.
Every part of your letter is tantalizing, and makes me regret that you have merely touched on subjects of such deep interest; whilst reading it, I forgot that I had commissioned you to give me the plan of a house, not to write a complete treatise on ancient and modern architecture. Conceding to you the choice of the style, convinced by your reasons and arguments in favour of its superior beauty and capability, I own to you I do so reluctantly, not without a sigh, and not without much hesitation. Although, abstractedly, a building constructed on the principles you advocate, may have more beauty than our own Gothic or Elizabethan, and may be more susceptible of a union of the three arts; yet there is one part of the subject to which you have not adverted, and on which, perhaps, you are not likely to feel so strongly as we do in England, the most aristocratic country in the world. Some of our most beautiful houses are in this the rejected style, and with them are connected all the prejudices and associations of antiquity, of ancestral dignity and greatness; and a house of this kind carries the mind back to other times, and awakens recollections that it has been enjoyed by a long line of ancestry, and hence, perhaps, has in a great degree arisen the desire of many who have built modern houses, to imitate those of the elder time; not indeed from any attempt actually to devise and construct a forgery, but to avail themselves to a certain degree of the associations to be derived from the recollections associated with the buildings of former ages, and in the construction of which, at least, the most skill and talent had been employed; and again perhaps, the very clumsy and unsuccessful adaptation of the principles of the revived Grecian and Roman, or Palladian architecture, to our modern houses, (especially in the smaller ones,) may have tended to keep alive the prejudice in favour of that style, which even if it were not the best, was at least the best executed; more especially in its adaptation to the fitness of domestic arrangements and comfort. Whilst I have been advocating the merits of our Elizabethan houses, you must not suppose I refer to the multitudes of grotesque little villas which grow up every summer round London; or to those alterations and adaptations, by which one sees Gothic spires, plastered over with stucco, starting up out of one half of an old farm house; the walls notched into battlements, and uncouth animals set a grinning against each other over the gate posts, and the hall crammed and fortified with rusty swords and pikes of all ages and fashions. And on the other half, Venetian windows slices of pilasters, balustrades, and other parts of Italian architecture. Although I have not such a greedy appetite for every thing Gothic, as Horace Walpole had, yet I own I partake somewhat of his feelings, as expressed in a letter from Stowe, when he says, "The Grecian Temple is glorious, this, I openly worship, but in the heretical corner of my heart I adore the Gothic building." Though I own the character he gives of the Gothic building he so adores is barbarous enough, for he says, "That some unusual inspiration of Gibbs has made it pure and venerable, with a propensity to the Venetian, or Moresque Gothic; and the great column near it puts me in mind of the Place of St. Mark." Strawberry Hill, however, is a sufficient proof of his knowledge and taste for pure Gothic. There is one point on which I entirely agree, which is that the style of decoration should be consistent with the style of the architecture. I think we have been more deficient in attention to the style of decoration, than even to the choice of the style of the building itself; and nothing is now more common than to plaster the walls of a modern London house with the Gothic paper of Henry VII.'s Chapel, and to fill it with a load of old carving of all ages and times; and to finish with a cart-load of Louis XIV.'s clocks, and other similar ornaments: but of this, more when we come to discuss the decoration of your rooms.