THIS is a stimulating subject that you have set me; it may lead us far it has led me far, as you are destined to discover; for there is this about art and particularly architecture, anyway, it refuses to stay in its neat little category of æsthetics, and branches out amazingly until it sends its roots deep down into the beginnings of things, its flower-tipped branches high up into the free air of prophecy. You may think it ought to be easy enough for me to give you a succinct account of the erratic growth of the new Gothic spirit in architecture, from the early nineteenth-century Pugins down to the latest neo-mediaevalist practising today; easy enough for me to content myself with what is really a very interesting history (and task enough, too, for that matter), but if you do think this you little know the provocative nature of the subject or the susceptible nature of your speaker. No, it is impossible to deal with the matter in a superficial way, for it is not a case of adventuring into a new wonderland of style from sheer ennui, for the sake of a new sensation : the inception and growth and culmination of the new Gothic mode is not a whimsey of chance, a sport of erratic fancy; it was and is a manifestation in art forms of a world impulse, as fundamental as that which gave itself visible form in the Renaissance, as that which blossomed in the first Gothic of the twelfth century, as that which created Aya Sophia or the Parthenon. It meant something when it happened, it means something to us today, it will mean more to our children; and deliberately I am going to disappoint you I fear by trying to show what this is, instead of telling you, and demonstrating to you in pictures, what our forbears have done, what some of us are trying to do today.
I am convinced there is nothing accidental in our stylistic development, or in the universe, for that matter. There was once a very wise man who, on speaking of a miracle to a friend, and being confronted by the assertion that the event was not that but rather a coincidence, devoutly said that he thanked God he was not so superstitious as to believe in coincidences. So, chaotic and illogical as our devious wanderings after the strange gods of style may be, I am disposed to think that even here we may find evidences of design, of a Providence that overrules all things for good ; “an idea,” as Chesterton would say, “not without humour.”
For chaos is the only word that one can justly apply to the quaint and inconsequent conceits in which we have indulged since that monumental moment in the early nineteenth century when, architecturally, all that had been since the beginning ceased, and that which had never been before, on land or sea, began. A walk up Fifth Avenue in New York, from Madison Square to the Park, with one’s eyes open, is an experience of some surprises and equal illumination, and it leaves an indelible impression of that primal chaos that is certainly without form, if it is not wholly void. Here one may see in a scant two miles (scant, but how replete with experiences!) treasure-trove of all peoples and all generations: Roman temples and Parisian shops; Gothic of sorts (and out of sorts) from the “carpenter-Gothic” of 1845, through Victorian of that ilk, to the most modern and competent recasting of ancient forms and restored ideals; Venetian palaces and Louis Seize palaces, and Roman palaces, and more palaces from wherever palaces were ever built; delicate little Georgian ghosts, shrinking in their unpremeditated contact with Babylonian sky-scrapers that poise their towering masses of plausible masonry on an unconvincing sub-structure of plate glass. And it is all contemporary, the oldest of it dates not back two generations, while it is all wildly and improbably different.
The experience prompts retrospection, and we turn over the dog-eared leaves of the immediate past; apparently it was the same, only less so, back to the decade between 1820 and 1830, and there we find a reasonably firm foot-hold. Here at last, at the beginning of the century, we discover actual unanimity, and with some relief we go back century after century, tracing variations, but discovering no precedent for the chaos we have left. From time to time, even to the first Olympiad, we suddenly find ourselves at some brief period where a fight is manifestly going on; but there were never more than two parties to the contest, and this once passed, we have another four or five centuries of peaceful and unified development. Our own Colonial merges without a shock in English Georgian ; this, through Inigo Jones, in the Renaissance of the Continent. A generation of warfare lands us in Flamboyant Gothic, and so to real Gothic that stretches back through logical vicissitudes to the twelfth century. Another upheaval, and in a moment we are with the Romanesque that touches Rome itself, and behind Rome lies Greece. No chaos here; definite and lawful development; infinite variety, infinite personality, and a vitality that demands a more illimitable word than “infinite.” What happened, then, in 1825; what is happening now; what is going to happen, and why?
We may try for an answer, but first we must lightly run over the well-thumbed leaves again. We all know what our own Colonial was like ; perhaps we do not fully realize how varied it was as between one section and another, but at least we appreciate its simplicity and directness, its honesty, its native refinement and delicacy, its frequent originality. It is not the same as English Georgian ; sometimes it is distinctly better; and, however humble or colloquial, it is marked always by extreme good taste. If anything it improved during the al-most two centuries of Colonial growth, and when the nineteenth century opened it was still instinct with life. A half-century later where were we? Remember 1850, and all that that date connotes of structural dishonesty, barbarism, and general ugliness ! Here is the debatable period, and we may narrow it, for in 1810, in 1820, good work was still being done, while in 1840, yes, in 1830, the sodden savagery diluted with shameless artifice was generally prevalent. To me this decade between 1820 and 1830 is one of the great moments in architectural history, for then the last flicker of instinctive art amongst men died away, and a new period came in. Such a thing had never happened before : it is true Rome never matched Greece in perfection of art ; the Dark Ages after her fall were dark, indeed; the second Dark Ages after the death of Charlemagne were equally black, while the transition from Gothic to Renaissance was not without elements of disappointment, but at none of these transitional moments were people absolutely wrong-headed, never was the work of their hands positively shameless. Even now we put their poor products in our art museums, where they are not outfaced by the splendid monuments of the great and crescent epochs. In a word, what happened about 1825 was anomalous; it happened for the first time; and for the first time whatever man tried to do in art was not only wrong, it was absolutely and unescapably bad.
I should like to deal with this matter in detail, but we have no time. In a word, what had happened, it seems to me, was this: The Renaissance had struck a wrong note and in several things besides architecture; for the first time man self-confidently set to work to invent and popularize a new and perfectly artificial style. I am not concerned here with the question whether it was a good style or not ; the point is that it was done with malice afore-thought ; it was invented by a cabal of painters, goldsmiths, scenic artists, and literary men, and railroaded through a stunned society that, busied with other matters, took what was offered it, abandoned its old native ways, and later, when time for thought offered, found it was too late to go back. Outside Italy there was as little desire for the new-fangled mode as there was for the doctrinal Reformation outside Germany. In France and England good taste still reigned supreme, and though the dogmatic iconoclasts took good care that the best of the old work should be destroyed and that suspicion should be cast on what from sheer exhaustion they allowed to remain; though for one reason and another the new Classic style came in, the good taste of the people still remained operative, and while Italy and Germany were mired in Rococo and Baroque, they continued building lovely things that were good in spite of their artificial style, because their people had not lost their sense or their taste.
It could not last, however: certain essential elements had been lost out of life during the Renaissance and the Reformation; the Revolution third act in the great melodrama was a foregone conclusion. It completed the working-out of the foreordained plot, and after it was over and the curtain had been rung down, whatever had been won, good taste had been lost, and remained only the memory of a thing that had been born with man’s civilization and had accompanied it until that time.
You cannot sever art from society; you can-not make it grow in unfavourable soil, however zealously you may labour and lecture and subsidize. It follows from certain spiritual and social conditions, and without these it is a dead twig thrust in sand, and only a divine miracle can make such bloom, as blossomed the staff of St. Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury.
Well, Alberti and Palladio and Inigo Jones had dissolved and disappeared in the slim refinements of American Colonial. What followed? For a brief time and in one or two categories of activity the spacious and delusive imitations that Jefferson more or less popularized, the style sometimes known as “Neo-Grec,” but more accurately termed because of its wide use for Protestant meeting-houses in country districts the “Græco-Baptist” style. You know it ? Front porticoes of well-designed, four-foot Classical columns made of seven-eighths-inch pine stock, neatly nailed together, painted white, and echoing like a drum to the incautious kick of the heel; slab sides covered with clapboards, green blinds to the round-topped windows, and a little bit of a brick chimney sticking up at the stern where once, in happier days, stood the little cote that housed the Sanctus bell.
Then came what is well called “Carpenter-Gothic,” marked by the same high indifference to structural integrity, and with even less reliance on precedent for its architectural forms; a perfectly awful farrago of libelous details, pointed arches, clustered columns, buttresses, parapets, pinnacles, and all of the ever-present pine lumber painted gray, and usually sanded as a final refinement of verisimilitude. And with these wonderful monuments, cheek by jowl, Italian villas, very white and much balconied; Swiss chalets, and every other imaginable thing that the immortal Batty Langly, or later the admirable Mr. Downing, could invent, with, for evidence of sterling American ingenuity, the “jig-saw-and-batten” refinement of crime. We really could not stand all this, you know, and when the Centennial in Philadelphia finally revealed us as, artistically speaking, the most savage of nations, we began to look about for means of amendment. We were not strikingly successful, as is evidenced by the so-called “Queen Anne” and “Eastlake” products of the morning after the celebration; but the Ruskinian leaven was working, and a group of men did go to work to produce something that at least had some vestiges of thought behind it. There is much of this very strange product now at large; it is generally considered very awful, indeed, and so it is but it was the first sincere and enthusiastic work for generations, and demands a word of recognition. Its vivid ugliness is due to the fact that in the space of seventy-five years the last faintest flicker of sense of beauty had vanished from the American citizen; its intensity of purpose bears witness to the sincerity of the men who did it, and I for one would give them praise, not blame.
We are approaching in our review an-other era in the development of our architecture. Let us gather up the many strands in preparation therefor. Here were the “wild and whirling words” of Hunt, Eidlitz, Furness ; here is the grave old Gothic of Upjohn’s following, Renwick, Congdon, Haight,admirable, much of it, in little country churches ; here is the Ruskinian fold, Cummings, Sturgis, Cabot, rather Bostonian, you will note; here was the old Classical tradition that had slipped very, very far from the standards of Thornton, Bulfinch, McComb, now flaring luridly in the appalling forms of Mullet’s Government buildings, and the Philadelphia City Hall. Let us pursue the subject no further: there were others, but let them be nameless; we have enough to indicate a condition of some complexity and a certain lack of conviction, or even racial unity. Then the Event occurred, and its name was H. H. Richardson. The first great genius in American architecture, he rolled like an æsthetic Juggernaut over the prostrate bodies of his peers and the public, and in ten years we did have substantial unity. We were like the village fireman who didn’t care what colour they painted the old tub, so long as they painted her red: we didn’t care what our architecture was so long as it was Romanesque. For another ten years we had a love-feast of cavernous arches, quarry-faced ashlar, cyclopean voussoirs and seaweed decorations; village schools, railway stations, cottages, all, all were of the sacrosanct style of certain rather barbarous peoples in the south of France at the close of the Dark Ages.
And in another ten years Richardson was dead, and his style, which had followed the course of empire to the prairies, and the alkali lands, and the lands beyond the Sierras; and a few years ago I found some of it in Japan! It was splendid, and it was compelling, as its discoverer handled it, but it was alien, artificial, and impossible, equally with the bad things it displaced. But it did displace them, and Richardson will be remembered, not as the discoverer of a new style, but as the man who made architecture a living art once more.
Eighteen hundred and ninety, and we start again. Two tendencies are clear and explicit. A new and revivified Classic with McKim as its protagonist, and a new Gothic. The first splits up at once into three lines of development : pure Classic, Beaux Arts, and Colonial, each vital, brilliant, and beautiful in varying degrees. The second was, and remains, more or less one, a taking-over of the late Gothic of England and prolonging it into new fields, sometimes into new beauties. So matters run on for another ten years. At the end of that time the pure Classic has won new laurels for its clean and scholarly beauty; the Beaux Arts following has abandoned much of its banality of French bad taste and has become better than the best con-temporary work in France; the neo-Colonial has developed into a living thing of exquisite charm, while the Gothic advance has been no less than that of its Classical rival or should I say, bedfellow?
And now two new elements enter; steel-frame construction on the’ one hand, on the other, the secessionist. The steel frame is the enfant terrible of architecture, but like so many of the same genus it may grow up to be a serious-minded citizen and a good father. It is n’t that now; it is a menace, not only to architecture, but to society, but it is young and it is having its fling. If we can make it realize that it is a new force, not a substitute, we shall do well. When it contents itself in its own proper sphere, and the municipality says kindly but firmly, “thus far and no farther,” the “thus far” being about one hundred and twenty-five feet above street level, as in my own wise town of Boston, then it may be a good servant. Like all good servants it makes the worst possible master; and when it claims as its chiefest virtue that it enables us to reproduce the Baths of Caracalla, vaults and all, at half the price, or build a second Chartres Cathedral with no danger from thrusting arches, and with flying buttresses that may be content beautifully to exist, since they will have no other work to do, then it is time to call a halt. The foundation of good architecture is structural integrity, and it does not matter if a building is as beautiful as the Pennsylvania Station in New York; if its columns merely hide the working steel within, if its vast vaults are plaster on steel frame and expanded metal, then it is not architecture, it is scene-painting, and it takes its place with that other scene-painting of the late Renaissance to which we mistakenly apply the name of architecture.
The secessionist one might sometimes call him Post-Impressionist, Cubist, even is the latest element to be introduced, and in some ways he is the most interesting. Unlike his confrères in Germany, Spain, and Scandinavia, he shows himself little except in minor domestic work for at heart we are a conservative race, whatever individuals may be, but here he is stimulating. His habitat seems to be Chicago and the Pacific Coast; his governing conviction a strongly developed enmity to archæological forms of any kind. Some of the little houses of the Middle West are striking, quite novel, and inordinately clever; some of the Far Western work, particularly around Pasadena, is exquisite, – no less. Personally I don’t believe it is possible wholly to sever one’s self from the past and its forms of expression, and it certainly would be undesirable; on the other hand, however, the astute archæology of some of our best modern work, whether Classic or Gothic, is stupefying and leads nowhere. Out of the interplay of these two much of value may arise.
And there you are: three kinds of Classic, two kinds of Gothic, skeleton-frame, and secessionist, all are operative today; each with its strong following, each, one admits, consummately clever and improving every day; for there is no architectural retrogression in America; there is steady and startling advance, not only in facility for handling and developing styles, but in that far more important matter, recognition of the fact that styles matter far less than style. From a purely professional standpoint the most encouraging thing is that breadth of culture, that philosophical insight into the essence of things, that liberality of judgment that mark so many of the profession to-day. Gone are the old days of the “Battle of the Styles” ; the swords are beaten into pruning-hooks, and these are being used very efficiently in clearing away the thicket of superstitions and prejudices that for so long choked the struggling flower of sound artistic development. The Goth and the Pagan can now meet safely in street or drawing-room without danger of acute disorder; even the structural engineer and the artist preserve the peace (in public) ; for all have found out that architecture is much bigger than its forms, that the fundamental laws are the same for all good styles, and that the things that count are structural integrity, good taste, restraint, vision, and significance. No one now would claim with the clangour of trumpets that the day of victory was about to dawn for the Beaux Arts, Gothic, or steel-frame styles, or for any other, for that matter; each is contributing something to the mysterious alembic we are brewing, and all we hope is that out of it may come the Philosopher’s Stone, that, touching base metal, shall turn it into refined gold which, by the way, is the proper function of architecture and of all the arts.
Chaos then confronts us, in that there is no single architectural following, but legion; and in that fact lies the honour of our art, for neither is society one, or even at one with itself. Architecture is nothing unless it is intimately expressive, and if utterly different things clamour for voicing, different also must be their architectural manifestation. You cannot build a Roman Catholic or Episcopal church in the Beaux Arts vernacular (it has been done, but it is extremely silly) ; because the Church is the eternal and fundamentally immutable thing in a world of change and novelty and experiment, and it has to express this quality through the connotation of the forms it developed through a thousand years to voice the fulness of its genius that was developing simultaneously. Neither can you use the steel frame or reënforced concrete to the same ends, though this very sordid wickedness has also been perpetrated, I have grounds for believing. On the other hand, think of using the consummate art of Chartres Cathedral for a railway terminal, or the Ste. Chapelle for a stock exchange, or Haddon Hall for an Atlantic City hotel, or the Ducal Palace in Venice for a department store, or the Erechtheion for a fire-engine house. The case has merely to be stated to be given leave to with-draw, and with it goes, for the time, the talk we once heard of an “American Style.” Styles come from unity of impulse; styles come from a just and universal estimate of comparative values; styles come where there is the all-enveloping influence and the vivid stimulus of a clear and explicit and compelling religious faith; and these occur, not at the moment of wild confusion when one epoch of five centuries is yielding to another, but after the change in dynasty has been effected, and the new era has begun its ascending course. The only premeditated architecture I know, the only style that was deliberately devised and worked out according to preconceived ideas, the style of the Renaissance, was yet not half so artificial as it looks (and as some of us would like to think), for in a sense it was inevitable, granting the postulates of the humanists and the flimsy dogmas of the materialists of the fifteenth century. It did not develop insensibly and instinctively like Hellenic and Byzantine and Gothic and Chinese Buddhist art, the really great arts in history, but once the great parabola of mediæval civilization curved down-ward to its end, once Constantinople fell, some-thing of the sort was not to be escaped.
Now I do not feel that we shall be content with an art of the scope of that of the Renaissance; I do not feel that we shall be content with a new epoch of civilization on Renaissance lines. There are better ways of life, and saner, and more wholesome, and after Constantinople has fallen again (God send the day quickly), so marking the end, as the other fall in 1453, five centuries ago, marked the beginning, of the epoch now nearing the moment of its dissolution, I believe all the wonderful new forces, now working hiddenly, or revealing themselves sporadically, will assemble to a new synthesis that will have issue in a great epoch of civilization as unified as ours is disunited, as centripetal as ours is centrifugal, as spiritually efficient as ours is materially efficient, and that then will come, and come naturally and insensibly, the inevitable art that will be glorious and great, because it shows forth a national character, a national life that also is great and glorious.
Reduced to its simplest terms, our architecture is seen to have had two epochs; the first the attempted conservation of a definite style which, whatever its genesis, had become an essential part of our racial character, and its complete disappearance exactly at the time when the serious and conservative nature of the people of the United States gave place, with almost equal suddenness, to a new quality born partly of political independence, partly of new and stimulating natural conditions, partly of the back-wash from Continental revolution, and above all of the swift working-out, at last, of powers latent in the Renaissance-Reformation itself. Second, the confused activities of many men of many minds, who had cut loose from tradition become moribund, and who were in the position of the puppy sent by express, whose destination could not be determined because, as the expressman said, he “had eat his tag.” Communal interests, the sense of solidarity inherited from the Middle Ages (which gives us the true pattern of the only possible social-ism) persisting in strange new forms even through the Renaissance epoch ‘ itself, had yielded to a crescent individualism, and architecture, like a good art, followed close to heel.
This is really all there is to our architectural history between Jamestown and Plymouth Rock at one end, and syndicalism and the Panama Exposition at the other, and I have used many words in saying what might have been expressed in a sentence. The old solidarity in life which expressed itself for four thousand years in a succession of quite distinct, but al-ways sequent, styles died out at last, and the new individualism of pigeonhole society and personal followings came in. What lies before us? More pigeonholes, more personal followings, more individualism, with anarchy at the end ? I do not think so, but rather exactly the reverse. Architecture, I insist, is always expressive ; sometimes it reveals metaphysical and biological truth, when in itself there is no truth whatever. If we built Independence Hall in Philadelphia there was something in us of the same nature, and we glory in the fact. If we built the City Hall in Philadelphia, there was something in us like that, arresting as the thought must be. If we are doing three Classics, and two Gothics, and steel-frame, and Post-Impressionism (not to mention the others) at the present moment, then that is because our nature is the same. Now, can we again prove the truth of the saying, “Ex pede Herculem,” and, using our present output as the foot, (I admit the connotation is of the centipede), create the Hercules ? I mean can we, from what we are doing today, predict anything of the future? Not of our future style; that will be what our society makes it; but of society itself? For my own part, I think we can. To me all that we are doing in architecture indicates the accuracy of the deduction we draw from myriad other manifestations, that we are at the end of an epoch of materialism, rationalism, and intellectualism, and at the beginning of a wonderful new epoch, when once more we achieve a just estimate of comparative values; when material achievement becomes the slave again, and no longer the slave-driver; when spiritual intuition drives mere intellect back into its proper and very circumscribed sphere; and when religion, at the same time dogmatic, sacramental, and mystic, becomes, in the ancient and sounding phrase, “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic,” and assumes again its rightful place as the supreme element in life and thought, the golden chain on which are strung, and by which are bound together, the varied jewels of action.
Everywhere, and at the very moment when our material activity and our material triumphs seem to threaten the high stars, appear the evidences that this wonderful thing is coming to pass, and architecture adds its modicum of proof. What else does it mean, that on every hand men now demand in art better things than ever before, and get them, from an ever increasing number of men, whether they are Pagans, Goths, or Vandals ? What is the meaning of the return to Gothic, not only in form, but “in spirit and in truth” ? Is it that we are pleased with its forms and wearied of others? Not at all. It is simply this, that the Renaissance-Reformation-Revolution having run its course, and its epoch having reached its, appointed term, we go back, deliberately, or instinctively, back, as life goes back, as history goes back, to restore something of the antecedent epoch, to win again something we had lost, to return to the fork in the roads, to gain again the old lamps we credulously bartered for new. Men laugh (or did ; I think they have given it over of late) at what they call the reactionary nature and the affectation of the Gothic restoration of the moment, and they would be right if it meant what they think it means. Its significance is higher than their estimate, higher than the conscious impulses of those who are furthering the work, for back of it all lies the fact that what we need to-day in our society, in the State, in the Church, is precisely what we abandoned when, as one man, we arose to the cry of the leaders and abettors of the Renaissance. We lost much, but we gained much; now the time has come for us to conserve all that we gained of good, slough off the rest, and then gather up once more the priceless heritage of mediævalism, so long disregarded.
And that is what the Gothic restoration means, a returning to other days not for the retrieving of pleasant but forgotten forms, but for the recovery of those impulses in life which made these forms inevitable. Do you think the Pugins in England in the early part of the nineteenth century chose to build Gothic churches because they liked the forms better than those of the current Classic then in its last estate? Not at all, or at all events, not primarily; but rather because they passionately loved the old Catholic religion that voiced itself in these same churches they took as their models. And the same is true of those of us who build Gothic churches to-day: instinctively we revolt from the strange religion that, under Medici and Borgia, built the Rococo abominations of Italy, and equally from that other religion that found adequate self-expression in the barren meeting-houses of Puritan England and America; and when again we try to restore to our colleges, as at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania and Chicago and Bryn Mawr, something of the wonderful dynamic architecture of Oxford and Cambridge and Eton and Winchester, we do it far less because we like the style better than that or rather those of Columbia and Harvard and Yale, than because we are impelled to our course by an instinctive mental affiliation with the impulses behind the older art and with the cultural and educational principles for which they stand.
I want to emphasize this point very fully: the Gothic restoration is neither a fad nor a case of stylistic predilections. Of course, we like it better than any of the others to which we have any shadow of right, and we think it better art than anything the Renaissance ever produced ; but back of this is either a clear conviction or a dim instinct (one is as good as the other as an incentive) that the power that expressed itself through Gothic forms was a saner and more wholesome and altogether nobler thing than that which expressed itself through the art of the Renaissance and all that has succeeded it. In other words, the world is coming to realize something of the significances of art, and its import as human language, not spoken, for the audible tongue has its own function of ex-pressing mental concepts, but conveying its message symbolically, and to the imagination, the intuition if you like, to the soul.
In a way it is all a part of a great revolution, or restoration, that is even now taking place, and is far more significant than many of the more conspicuous and loudly heralded trans-formations with which the century is rife, a revolution that was inevitable, that is part of the great rhythm of human life that is the underlying force of history. By some mysterious law this vast vibration seems to divide itself into epochs of about five centuries, during each of which a tendency initiated in the preceding period rises to the surface, submerges its predecessor, lifts on an enormous swell, crests, and then in its turn breaks down and disappears, giving place to its successor whose inconspicuous beginnings have already been disclosed, though dimly. In this great rhythm there are, of course, periodical nodes which are the points where the ascending wave passes that which is descending, and these nodes come almost exactly at five-hundred-year intervals, before and following the Christian era. To speak only of what has been since that date, we find the years 450 to 550, 950 to 1050, and 1450 to 1550 fraught with enormous significance and containing within their span those sudden and violent activities that spelled at the same time the death of one epoch, the birth of another. Similarly we may assume that at least from 1950 on we, or our descendants, shall confront a revolution of the same nature, during which what we now call “modern civilization” (which may be dated roughly from the fall of Constantinople in 1453) will dissolve and disappear as completely as the Roman Empire vanished at the first node after the birth of Christ, the Carolingian empire at the second, and mediævalism at the third; while what takes its place will be as radically different as happened in each of these historic instances. As I have said before, however, the antecedents of revolution and recreation run far back of the node itself, and as at the cresting of mediævalism we may find in Abélard and the Albigenses, and veiled even in scholasticism, the seed that was not to germinate for many generations, so now, although the great convulsion may be half a century away, we can, if we look, discover the leaven at work and from its manifestations make some estimate of what it will produce when it is in full operation.
Now this leaven shows itself in many forms, and the revival of Gothic architecture is one of them. It is a wide fellowship, this of the prophets, the path-breakers : if, on the one hand, we find, as we should expect, close kin in all the arts, from the nineteenth-century Romanticists in literature and the Pre-Raphaelites and the artist-craftsmen of Morris’s following, and Richard Wagner, down to the horde of lesser lights to-day in literature and painting and music who have broken away from the classical-agnostic type of the latter part of the last century and are returning to the Catholic Middle Ages for their inspiration and their models, so, on the other, do we find an infinity of movements of similar impulse but in far-sundered fields : socialism, for instance, which is a rather insecure and blundering revolt against the whole economic theory and material practice of the last epoch of history ; the monastic revival, one of the most significant and amazing episodes of the present day, ignored by the world, yet forging onward year after year with a vitality matched only in the seventh, the twelfth, and the seventeenth centuries ; radicalism in politics which, however stupid it may be in its passionate panaceas, is still a real medieval revolt against the impossible governmental system engendered in the centuries between the Renaissance and our own; the new literature of spiritual dynamics with Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc at the head, battling gloriously against the paynim in the shape of Bennett, Wells, and their kind; the new-old religious propaganda of such men as Fr. Figgis, Fr. Waggett, the Abbot of Caldey, and Fr. McNabb, withering with its prophetic breath the plausible and ingenious heresies of a Campbell, a Canon Henson, and a Mrs. Eddy; finally, though there is much unnamed be-fore, the new philosophy, James, Eucken, Bergson,the last the greatest figure, perhaps, since St. Thomas Aquinas.
A varied list, is it not? And much still re-mains unspecified ; but it all hangs together; it is all part of a great movement; and the most interesting thing is the fact that it all happens synchronously with the very culmination of its antithesis, the thing it is destined to destroy, the apotheosis of that materialism that is the essence of the epoch now closing in triumphant glory, in war and anarchy, and in the desperation of unrevealed but inevitable defeat.
And here is a point worth noting and that may be made useful. To-day we are surrounded by a very cyclone of reform: from the four winds of heaven we are battered and tempest-tossed by hurtling reforms that leave us no peace and it must be confessed afford us scant benefit. We seize them all, we are voracious for reforms, we accept them at their face value, and again to change the simile wolf them down like one o’clock. The result is usually unfortunate, for as a matter of fact all is not reform that revolutionizes. There are two kinds of reform, the first that is protective, preventive: reactions’ engendered by a dying force to save itself, tangents springing from a falling curve and striving to arrest the inevitable descent; the second that engenders tangents that leap upward from the ascending curve, each one of which actually lifts the curve more lightly into the air. At this moment the descending and ascending curves cross, the tangential reactions are very much mixed, and no wonder helpless humanity is confused. But it all becomes clear if we can segregate them in their proper categories. Half the so-called reforms of to-day, and those most loudly acclaimed and avidly accepted, are really no more than the desperate efforts of a dying force to prolong for an hour its pitiful existence, to postpone for a day its inevitable plunge into the sea of oblivion. On the other hand, the other half, who shall estimate its vast significance, its illimitable dynamic force? Under its varied forms lie the promise and potency of a new era, a new epoch of civilization; and I honestly think the great question that confronts every man today, and that must be promptly answered is “On which wave are you riding?” If on that whose crest loomed in the immediate past, then you are riding down the swift glissade of dissolution and your day is nearly done; if on that which only lately has risen out of the dark, then before you lifts an ascent that cannot be checked and whose cresting is perhaps two or three centuries ahead. And in choosing your wave, the isolation of reforms in the two categories I have named will be of assistance towards the determination ; for, once accomplished, you will see how many of those alluring panaceas that promise well are but the eloquence of a patent medicine circular, are but dregs and ashes, while things you had little noted, or noted with amused contempt, are actually those centres of vitality, of dynamic force, that are at the same time the guaranty of the termination of a dynasty become corrupt and festering,and of the initiation of another that shall be strong with new and crescent life.
You see? I told you the word “Gothic” would lead me far: farther than you asked, 0r will like, or will agree to; but to some of us it is like an oriflamme, a standard set up by the king for the rallying of loyalty: the fiery cross of Constantine with its prophetic legend, “By this sign conquer!” Whether we know it or not, and some of us act by instinct rather than conviction, we are fighting the battles of a new civilization, which, like all true civilization, is also the old. And it is for this very reason that, unlike our forbears of the beginnings of the crusade, we cannot urge our Gothic as either a universal style, fitted for all conceivable purposes, or as a final thing which consists in the restoration and perpetuation of a mode of art sufficiently determined in the Middle Ages, as Greek, for example, was determined in the Hellenic epoch. Let me say a word on these two points.
The argumentone might almost say the passionate prayer for a “National Style” is based on an insufficient apprehension of the premises. A national style implies unity of civilization, such, for instance, as happened in the fourth century B.C., the fourth century A.D. in the Eastern Empire, or the thirteenth century throughout Christian Europe: such a condition does not exist today is as far from existence as then it was near. This twentieth century is like a salad dressing: composed of two opposite ingredients which, nevertheless, assembled in unstable equilibrium, produce, a most interesting and even useful condiment. On the one hand, we have all the amazing precedents of the last four centuries, from materialism, intellectualism, atheism, and democracy to “big business,” syndicalism, and “Votes for Women”; on the other, we have an inheritance from alien and far-distant times : the Home (as distinguished from the uptown flat), the School (when it has not surrendered to manual, vocational, and business training), and the Church, in its ancient aspect, untouched by rationalism, the social club idea, and emotional insanity. There are infinite ramifications of each branch, but the branches are distinct, and like a trunk grafted with apples and roses (I believe this may be done), the flowers are different, and the fruit. Now, as I have said before (and as my hour prolongs itself more strenuously maintain), art is expressive, the highest voicing of the highest things, and if it has two opposites to make manifest it must be true to each and express them in different ways. I do not know what may be the exact- and perfect architectural expressions of Wall Street, yellow journalism, commercial colleges, the Structural Steel Union, Christian Science, and equal suffrage : I dare say they are, or may be made, as beautiful as Hellenic or Byzantine or Buddhist architecture; but I am reasonably sure they are not like any of these, and I am firmly persuaded that they cannot be Gothic in any form. On the other hand, as I think I have said before, I am equally sure that a Christian home, a conscientious and high-minded :university, and the Catholic Faith are not to be put forward in the sight of men clothed in the Rococo raiment of a Medici-Borgia masquerade or the quaint habiliments of the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
“Every man to his taste,” and to each category of human activity its own stylistic expression, for each has its own and nothing is gained by a confusion of categories. Because, we will say, the art of Imperial Rome best expresses the spirit and the function of a metropolitan railway station, it does not follow that it must also be used for the library of a great university; because the soul of the École des Beaux Arts as made manifest through the apartment houses of the Boulevard Raspail, must also in-spire the material form of the town house of a “Captain of Industry,” it need not inevitably perform the same function in the case of a cathedral; because Gothic of some sort or other best reveals the lineage, the impulse, and the law of an Episcopal parish church, we are not compelled to postulate it for a stock exchange or a department store. In fact, the very reverse is true in all these instances, and those who are most zealous in urging the cause of Gothic for church and school and home are also most jealous of its employment elsewhere ; for they know that only those elements in modern civilization which still retain something of the spirit that informed their immediate forbears in the Middle Ages have any right to the forms that spirit created for its own self-expression.
And now, just a word as to these forms them-selves, lest you should think, as others have, that the Gothic restoration aims not only at universal sovereignty, but that it is content as well with the restoration as such, aiming to bring back in all its integrity both a dead civilization and its forms. Such an idea would be far from the facts; it is true that at present those that are engaged in the Gothic restoration seldom diverge very far from historical methods and forms. Perhaps the late J. D. Sedding, and George Scott, architect for Liverpool Cathedral, and Leonard Stokes, sometime president of the Royal Institute, diverge farther in this direction; but even they venture but a little way into untrodden paths, while the great majority of practitioners, such as the late George Bodley in England, and Vaughan in America, adhere very closely, indeed, to what has been, adapting it rather than transforming it. This is not because there is anything sacrosanct in these forms and methods, it is not be-cause, as individuals, the men I have named lack either inspiration or power of invention; it is simply because, in the first place, they know that man must not only destroy but restore before he can rebuild, and, in the second place, because they lack the great push behind them of a popular uprising, the incentive of a universal demand, which alone can make individual-ism creative rather than destructive, dynamic rather than anarchical. This is a fact that is frequently forgotten in categories of activity other than those purely aesthetic, and if in economics, politics, and philosophy men would realize its truth, we should less often be threatened by plausible reforms that are actually deformatory in their character. However this may be, it is certainly so in architecture, and, therefore, we are content at present to restore; for we know that by so doing not only do we regain a body of laws, precedents, and forms that are the only foundation for the superstructure of which we dream, but also because through these very qualities we may, in a measure, establish and make operative again, by analogy and suggestion, those stimuli that in time may react on society itself, transforming it into a new estate, when man will enter into the new spiritual life which will demand a creative and revealing art, such as that of the Middle Ages, and in accordance with law this demand will guarantee the supply.
For art of all sorts is not only expressive, it is also creative : if it is in one sense the flower of a civilization, it is in another the fruit, and in its burgeoning lies also the promise of a new life after the winter of the declining curve is past and the new line begins its ascending course. Bad art for there is such, though it is a contradiction in termsworks powerfully for bad living and bad thinking, while, on the other hand, good art is in its very nature regenerative and beneficent. It cannot save the age of which it is the flower from inevitable decay, but, even as the treasures of classical civilization were preserved in the monasteries of the Dark Ages until better days, so does it lie fallow for generations only to rise again into the light for the inception of a new civilization.
This, then, is the significance of the contemporary Gothic restoration, and we who believe in it, who give it our most earnest support, do so less as artists than as missionaries, confident that if we can bring it back, even at first on the old lines, we shall have been working in the service of humanity.
Shall we rest there? Shall we restore a style, and a way of life, and a mode of thought ? Shall we recreate an amorphous mediævalism and live listlessly in that fool’s paradise ? On the contrary. When a man finds himself confronting a narrow stream, with no bridge in sight, does he leap convulsively on the very brink and then project himself into space? If he does he is very apt to fail of his immediate object, which is to get across. No; he retraces his steps, gains his running start, and clears the obstacle at a bound. This is what we architects are doing when we fall back on the great past for our inspiration; this is what, specifically, the Gothicists are particularly doing. We are getting our running start, we are retracing our steps to the great Christian Middle Ages, not that there we may remain, but that we may achieve an adequate point of departure; what follows must take care of itself.
And, by your leave, in following this course we are not alone, we have life with us; for at last life also is going backward, back to gather up the golden apples lost in the wild race for prizes of another sort, back for its running start, that it may clear the crevasse that startlingly has opened before it. Beyond this chasm lies a new field, and a fair field, and it is ours if we will. The night has darkened, but lightened toward dawn; there is silver on the edges of the hills and promise of a new day, not only for architects, but for every man.