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Parallel Developments In England

( Originally Published 1910 )



ENGLAND'S architectural progress in the development of styles is dependent to a great extent on the creative power of the Franks. It is necessary, however, that we should know something of the history of this country if we would appreciate clearly the significance of periods which have come to us in America by way of England.

The dominant characteristic of British architecture—if there is one—is its Northern stolidity, domesticity, and lack of playful imagination. The British and the French people of today, with their widely divergent temperaments, reflect the difference in the entire architectural output of the two nations. The student should not, how-ever, express personal preference for this or that, but must recognize in each case the elements of suitability, of strength, and of legality. Architecture, in other words, is scientific, and architectural criticism must be a matter of scientific analysis and not of personal preference.

It is therefore necessary to recognize in early British architecture a suitability to the cold North country, to the comparatively puritanic and domestic people, to a certain rugged strength, and to a more moderate adherence to traditions. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that all English styles were more or less adaptations, and for the most part had been drawn from the French, who had created in quite another vein.

With the architecture of the Romans in England we need not interest ourselves, as it had no direct effect on the growth of style, except as it was translated by way of the Franks. It is interesting, however, to remember that the high civilization of this occupation, with the usual Roman baths, temples, and paved streets, had disappeared without leaving a trace in the architecture that followed. When Constantine turned his eyes toward the extreme East it meant only one thing for this cold western island. She was to be given up to the brutality and ignorance of the Northern barbarians, who compelled a reversion to original savagery.

Under the present city of London are the ruins of the old Roman city, which, judging from the few discoveries made by excavations, must have been as highly developed as the cities of Italy. During the period which followed the departure of the Romans, from the middle of the fifth century to the Norman Conquest—a period of about six hundred years—the country made little or no progress in the arts and sciences. The intense struggle for life which was constantly going on between the natives and the invaders created a condition which was destructive of all real progress. Here, in the new West, Christians were fighting for their very existence against the barbarians of the North, continually calling on Rome for help. Rome was at this time building a new empire in the East, and she was no more helpful to these far western islands than she was in later days, when the Christians of the East called on her for help against the Tatar Turks.

These Western people struggled on hopelessly, and finally conquered for themselves and for their idealism. Had Rome responded to this cry from the West, the architectural language would have had for us a far more interesting story, and in the later days, when the Greek Church offered, as a reward for help, the giving up of her separate identity, another story, perhaps not so interesting, would have been given us from the East.

As the Jutes and the Saxon people came over, they destroyed the Roman cities, preferring to live in the open country, and neither they nor their successors have left more than a few feeble marks on the pages of style history—the knowledge of column and arch coming to them by way of the North through a medium which was not in the direct line of growth.

When William the Norman took possession of England in1066, he found a type utterly unlike the keen and energetic Frank. On the contrary, though the people were of his own breed, they were without the fierce energy of the pure Norman. As the Normans were not creative, we can expect, under these conditions in England, only borrowings and very literal adaptations. William and his wife, Matilda, the lady of the Bayeux tapestries, had built in Caen the two Norman churches—St. Stephen, or the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, and the Abbaye-aux-Dames —to the Trinity, at the period of the invasion, and this architecture was given to the English.

It was, however, a distinct advance when they carried over the knowledge of larger round-arched buildings, borrowed from the Romanesque and impregnated with the symbols of Eastern mysticism. They built on the ruins and with the ruins of the Roman buildings the Anglo-Saxons had destroyed, exactly as the people of southern France had done when the Romanesque came into being. The Normans built much, but they were adapters in England, not originators. When they united with the creative Franks they did great things for them; but when they fell among the architecturally barren Anglo-Saxons, they perforce fell hack upon the ideas they had brought with them from Normandy. The characteristics are boldness and massiveness. The columns are round and fat with chunky block caps somewhat in the Romanesque manner, but, unlike the Romanesque, lacking in romance. There are several decorated Norman moldings, usually simple geometric forms rather crudely and heavily cut, known as bolt-heads, chevrons, wave pattern, and the simpler fret.

While the Gothic in England is usually divided into sections, it has general characteristics which vary slightly, and many of the differences in detail are difficult to deter-mine. In our own day we will find, as we do in all of the other styles or periods of the classic and Renaissance, a mixing of forms or of characteristic parts or details of each period. Clearly a result of too much library and of too little invention.

The first period is called by the bibliomancies "Early English." It corresponds in growth with the finished twelfth-century Gothic of France, and is about one hundred years behind its parallel in France.

It shows the development of the uninterrupted Norman intelligence, and in some measure a progression of the Norman traditions. The arches are narrow at the spring, and are high and sharply pointed; for this reason it is frequently called Lancet Gothic. The columns are slender in proportion to the height, and are grouped around a central part. The form of the arch will be a sure indication of the gradual return to the true postand-lintel form of construction.

The steep, lancet-shaped arch is characteristic of the Early English, while the Tudor, which followed, ante-dating the transition to the classic, has an arch which is almost flat.

The Early English prevailed during the reigns of John, Henry III., and Edward I., when such cathedrals as Salisbury, the only unmixed example, and the transepts of York, the tower and west front of Wells, and the presbytery of Ely were constructed—in time covering the en-tire thirteenth century.

The decorated Gothic continues the style during the first seventy-five years of the fourteenth century, with developments in the foliation and method of grouping columns. The next distinguished characteristic, however, is in the opening up of the arch, and in the bluntness of the apex or point, rather a duller form than that of the earlier or lancet type.

The wars of the rival houses of York and Lancaster continue during this period, but have little effect on the building of churches.

This style slipped almost imperceptibly into a later variation which continued in time for a hundred years during the early three-quarters of the fifteenth century. It it called the Perpendicular, and marks the first radical departure from French habit and the French line of growth. Contemporaneously with this style the French were growing lavish and romantic with their aptly named Flamboyant. England had become economical and prudish, and turned a deaf ear to the blandishments of French gayety. Therefore, instead of yielding to the temptation of double curves and lavish playfulness, she became more primly upright than ever. She panelled her structures, accentuating the height, and in every possible way accepted the virtuous and unyielding straight vertical lines. She did not add greatly thereby to the sum total of the world's architectural inheritance.

The ruling kings of this period were Edward I., Edward II., Edward III., Richard II., Henry IV., Henry V., and Henry VI., and such examples as the nave and choir and the western front of York, the nave and choir at Exeter, and the entire cathedral at Litchfield were created.

The Perpendicular Gothic ended with the closing of the War of the Roses, in 1485. The war between the two great feudal families of England, and its end by marriage, closed the history of feudalism on the island, and placed a new family, the Tudors, on the throne. Thus began the architectural period called Tudor Gothic. Caxton had introduced printing into England in 1476, and this helped somewhat the introduction of new ideas. The first Tudor King was Henry VII., whose comparatively peaceful reign, coupled with commercial prosperity, began a new era in building. Henry VIII.—he of the six wives —suppressed the monasteries, acquiring some wealth in the process, and also established the Church of England. The Tudor style seems to represent a new influx of foreign influence, though no foreign style was adopted in-tact. Such distinctive social conditions had developed in England that none of the European forms fitted. England was becoming a nation of homes, the domestic idea dominating. In England a man built his best for his family, in France for his mistress. The Tudor Gothic is, therefore, expressed chiefly in manor-houses—the domestic ideal. The Tudor is substantial, rather dignified, and British to the ridge-pole. The arch is pointed, but the lines are severely straight and flattened, except at the spring, which is slightly curved. The half-timber treatment, in which the great beams are exposed and the interstices filled with brick and stucco, began to attain the popularity which afterward identified it almost exclusively with English domestic architecture.

Queen Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors, ascended the throne in 1558, when the Reformation had succeeded in unseating the Roman Church, and in so doing destroyed or mutilated not only the old tradition, but also the architectural expressions of these traditions. "Ruins every-where, ruins of cloisters, halls, dormitories, courts, and chapels and churches — altar-pieces, canopies, statues, painted windows, and graven fonts."

This was the era of England's greatness; new worlds were being discovered, which developed the trade of the country tremendously, and the discovery of the new ideal in the Reformation seemed to have had a most bewildering result on the literature and arts of the time. The lifting of this foreign control of religious belief seemed to show itself in the attitude of the creative group, who, because of loyalty to the reformed religion, associated themselves with the reformers of northern Europe. You re-member that the Teutonic people had the honor of this one of the three great discoveries, and because of this we see the English architects turning toward these Northern nations for inspiration. The wealth which came from the increased trade, and the loot from the Spanish Main, gave England the means to express herself with far more luxuriousness than could the little German princelets.

The style of this period is approaching the new classic or Renaissance, with a strong infusion of what must be called Flemish or Easterling, from the country of the Dutch traders and jewel merchants. These were a curious type of people, who had a strain of the Eastern Franks mingled with that of the West. Our word "sterling," which is used as a mark of quality, is derived from one of the names given to this race of merchants and traders.

We get also the decoration of the belts and bands, the geometric spots with facets inserted in the bands, and the curly edged panels which marks Elizabethan architecture as it has marked the French of Francis I. as a transition.

It is not good architecture, in the sense that it is hardly honest and somewhat noisy; but it serves its purpose as a. direct expression of a people who were wavering and uncertain, and trying out a new and strange method without the powerful stimulant of strong and national tradition.

Some of this applied and unnatural ornamentation seems to have arrived in the north of Europe by way of the Russian and Danube trade routes, from old Byzantium, as it shows itself throughout the North countries, coloring the crude expression of these Northern people in a curious manner.

Hakluyt has an interesting chapter wherein one Anthony Jenkinson writes of his trials and tribulations while journeying to the east on a trade mission for good Queen Bess. His route lay, by way of Moscow and the Caspian Sea, over the old trade routes, to the court of the "Sol-tan," where a high tariff was demanded for his own head, for his camels and horses, and for trade privileges. By this route and in this fashion the crude and unlearned trader became the translator of symbols with no comprehension of the tradition which created them. The Elizabethan decorator plastered them at pleasure on column and entablature, on plain walls, and in open spaces until space failed him, and we have the Elizabethan period.

If you recall the introduction of the classic into France, and the interesting type developed during the reign of Francis I., and note that the reign of Elizabeth followed immediately after, her predecessors—Henry VIII., Ed-ward VI., and Mary being contemporaneous with Francis I. and Henry II.—you can easily comprehend how the introduction of classicism into England came about, in a great degree, because of the asylum offered to the persecuted reformers, the Lutherans and Huguenots. Elizabeth played them against the power of the Church of Rome, and during this wonderful struggle the country not only developed that breed of fighting sailormen which included Raleigh, Grenville, Drake, and Hawkins, but, as a return for casting her bread of hospitality on the waters, a large portion of the intellectual discovery made by France became part and parcel of her development.

The spirit which dominated the home - loving British people during the Tudor period, expressed by the bluntness of the Tudor arch resulting from this marriage of science and domesticity, accepted the new importation with reservations. While they used the column and pilaster with entablature and superimposed arcade from Italy, by way of the French, they also borrowed the geometric patterns and forms of the Netherlands. In language and race spirit they were more in sympathy with these Teutonic people. This combination, during the latter part of the reign of good Queen Bess, gave us the classic for our own—Anglicized but still classic. As the Elizabethan grew stronger and more classic, it became Jacobean during the reign of James I., a more carefully studied interpretation of these same principles.

The Venetian architect Palladio, through his pupil Inigo Jones (1573-1652), is directly responsible for the new inspiration which cleared away the indecision and uncertainty of the time, and gave to the English-speaking race the basis for all future expression in architecture. Later, when Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), carrying on this work of reconstruction, studied in Paris, he added to the value of the work which had preceded him.

The new Louvre was being constructed at this time, and the research work of the French architects, who were, as you remember, solidifying the laws of architectural composition, were studied by Wren and adopted by him in his own interpretations. Whitehall and the palaces which were designed by Jones are colored with a direct translation from the original Italian; while the works of Wren, of which St. Paul is a supreme example, and his Italian translation of the English Gothic spires in the numerous London churches, show a playfulness and a cheerfulness which came to him through his association with the great master minds of France—the Greek of the modern days.

While there were numerous architects of importance in England at this time, to these two masters of the art, and the new grammar, we in this country owe much if not all of our "Colonial" or Georgian—St. Paul, in New York City; Independence Hall, in Philadelphia; Park Street Church, in Boston; and, in fact, the classic church of the earlier days in every town and village of the colonies. The receding and successive stories of the spire which dominates the tower, embellished with column and arch and superimposed order, command the attention of the passer-by to the ideal for which the classic scientist had erected this temple, the spirit of the harsh and uncompromising church of the Gothic period in alliance with the cheerfulness of the pagan.

Trade cleared the American wilderness, and science erected temples to the ideal of the early fathers.

Following this period of discovery and increasing intelligence in England came the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714), and a continuation of the efforts of Wren and his associates.

Curiously enough the name of Queen Anne, as applied to architectural expression, has become a term of derision among us. It is interesting to note at this time the unfortunate reversions, or aberrations, which have so frequently marred the historical continuity of our subject. You remember how the Romanesque became debased and debauched through the efforts of the sordid and ignorant until one shudders at our brownstone monstrosities. So in like fashion have the unthinking Americans encouraged the corruption of a beautiful style by assuming that study and analysis is not a matter of importance, nor that the specialist or scientist is of overmuch use. In consequence of this carelessness, "Queen Anne" is a synonym for, if the phrase may be permitted, a sort of architectural drunkenness.

From this period we progress logically and naturally into the times of the Georges--and the Georgian architecture, a form of expression which refers not only to the work done in England, but to our own earlier work in this country.

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