Page images

But all the beauties of this subject are not yet displayed; and it is too interesting to be passed over in a cursory view. I proceed to observe, that to make the eye as delicate with respect to proportion as the ear is with respect to concord, would not only be an useless quality, but be the source of continual pain and uneasiness. I need go no farther for a proof than the very room I occupy at present: for every step I take varies to me, in appearance, the proportion of length to breadth: at that rate, I should not be happy but in one precise spot, where the proportion appears agreeable. Let me farther observe, that it would be singular indeed to find, in the nature of man, any two principles in perpetual opposition to each other: and yet this would be the case, if proportion were circumscribed like concord; for it would exclude all but one of those proportions that utility requires in different buildings, and in different parts of the same building.

It provokes a smile to find writers acknowledging the necessity of accurate proportions, and yet differing widely about them. Laying aside reasoning and philosophy, one fact, universally allowed, ought to have undeceived them, that the same proportions which are agreeable in a model, are not agreeable in a large building: a room 40 feet in length and 24 in breadth and height, is well proportioned; but a room 12 feet wide and high and 24 long, approaches to a gallery.


Perault, in his comparison of the ancients and moderns,* is the only author who runs to the opposite extreme; maintaining, that the different proportions assigned to each order of columns are arbitrary, and that the beauty of these proportions is entirely the effect of cusThis betrays ignorance of human nature, which evidently delights in proportion as well as in regularity, order, and propriety. But without any acquaintance with human nature, a single reflection might have convinced him of his error-that if these proportions had not originally been agreeable, they could not have been established by custom.

To illustrate the present point, I shall add a few examples of the agreeableness of different proportions. In a sumptuous edifice, the capital rooms ought to be large, for otherwise they will not be proportioned to the size of the building and for the same reason, a very large room is improper in a small house. But in things thus related, the mind requires not a precise or single proportion, rejecting all others; on the contrary, many different proportions are made equally welcome. In all buildings, accordingly, we find rooms of different proportions equally agreeable, even where the proportion is not influenced by utility. With respect to the height of a room, the proportion it ought to bear to the length and breadth, is arbitrary; and it cannot be otherwise, considering the uncertainty of the eye as to the height of a room, when it exceeds seventeen or eighteen feet. In columns again, even architects must confess, that the proportion of height and thickness varies betwixt eight diameters and ten, and that every proportion between these extremes is agreeable. But + Page 94.

this is not all. There must certainly be a farther variation of proportion, depending on the size of the column; a row of columns ten feet high, and a row twice that height, require different proportions: the intercolumniations must also differ according to the height of the


Proportion of parts is not only itself a beauty, but is inseparably connected with a beauty of the highest relish, that of concord or harmony; which will be plain from what follows. A room of which the parts are all finely adjusted to each other, strikes us with the beauty of proportion. It strikes us at the same time with a pleasure far superior: the length, the breadth, the height, the windows, raise each of them separately an emotion: these emotions are similar; and though faint when felt separately, they produce in conjunction the emotion of concord or harmony, which is extremely pleasant. On the other hand, where the length of a room far exceeds the breadth, the mind, comparing together parts so intimately connected, immediately perceives a disagreement or disproportion which disgusts. But this is not all; viewing them separately, different emotions are produced, that of grandeur from the great length, and that of meanness or littleness from the small breadth, which in union are disagreeable by their discordance. Hence it is, that a long gallery, however convenient for exercise, is not an agreeable figure of a room: we consider it, like a stable, as destined for use, and expect not that in any other respect it should be agreeable.†

Regularity and proportion are essential in buildings destined chiefly or solely to please the eye, because they produce intrinsic beauty. But a skilful artist will not confine his view to regularity and proportion: he will also study congruity, which is perceived when the form and ornaments of a structure are suited to the purpose for which it is intended. The sense of congruity dictates the following rule that every building have an expression corresponding to its destination: a palace ought to be sumptuous and grand; a private dwelling, neat and modest; a play-house, gay and splendid; and a monument, gloomy and melancholy. A heathen temple has a double destination: It is considered chiefly as a house dedicated to some divinity; and in that respect it ought to be grand, elevated, and magnificent: it is considered also as a place of worship; and in that respect it ought to be somewhat dark or gloomy, because dimness produces that tone of mind which is suited to humility and devotion.

* Chap. 2. Part 4.

+ A covered passage connecting a winter garden with the dwelling house, would answer the purpose of walking in bad weather much better than a gallery. A slight roof supported by slender pillars, whether of wood or stone, would be sufficient; filling up the spaces between the pillars with evergreens, so as to give verdure and exclude wind.

A house for the poor ought to have an appearance suited to its destination. The new hospital in Paris for foundlings, errs against this rule; for it has more the air of a palace than of an hospital. Propriety and convenience ought to be studied in lodging the indigent; but in such houses splendor and magnificence are out of all rule. For the same reason, a naked statue or picture, scarce decent any where, is in a church intolerable. A sumptuous charity school, beside its impropriety, gives the children an unhappy taste for high living.

A Christian church is not considered to be a house for the Deity, but merely a place of worship: it ought therefore to be decent and plain, without much ornament: a situation ought to be chosen low and retired; because the congregation during worship, ought to be humble and disengaged from the world. Columns, beside their chief service of being supports, may contribute to that peculiar expression which the destination of a building requires: columns of different proportions, serve to express loftiness, lightness, &c. as well as strength. Situation also may contribute to expression. Conveniency regulates the situation of a private dwelling-house; but, as I have had occasion to observe,* the situation of a palace ought to be lofty.

And this leads to a question, whether the situation, where there happens to be no choice, ought, in any measure, to regulate the form of the edifice? The connection between a large house and the neighboring fields, though not intimate, demands however some congruity. It would, for example, displease us to find an elegant building thrown away upon a wild uncultivated country: congruity requires a polished field for such a building; and beside the pleasure of congruity, the spectator is sensible of the pleasure of concordance from the similarity of the emotions produced by the two objects. The old Gothic form of building, seems well suited to the rough uncultivated regions where it was invented: the only mistake was, the transferring this form to the fine plains of France and Italy, better fitted for buildings in the Grecian taste; but by refining upon the Gothic form, every thing possible has been done to reconcile it to its new situation. The profuse variety of wild and grand objects about Inverary, demanded a house in the Gothic form; and every one must approve the taste of the proprietor, in adjusting so finely the appearance of his house to that of the country where it is placed.

The external structure of a great house, leads naturally to its internal structure. A spacious room, which is the first that commonly receives us, seems a bad contrivance in several respects. In the first place, when immediately from the open air we step into such a room, its size in appearance is diminished by contrast: it looks little compared with that great canopy the sky. In the next place, when it recovers its grandeur, as it soon does, it gives a diminutive appearance to the rest of the house: passing from it, every apartment looks little. This room therefore may be aptly compared to the swoln commencement of an epic poem.

Bella per Emathios plusquam civilia campos.

In the third place, by its situation it serves only for a waiting-room, and a passage to the principal apartments; instead of being reserved as it ought to be, for entertaining company: a great room, which enlarges the mind, and gives a certain elevation to the spirits, is destined by nature for conversation. Rejecting therefore this form, I take a hint from the climax in writing for another form that appears more suitable. A handsome portico, proportioned to the size and * Chap. 10.

fashion of the front, leads into a waiting-room of a larger size, and that to the great room; all by a progression from small to great. If the house be very large, there may be space for the following suit of rooms: first, a portico; second, a passage within the house, bounded by a double row of columns connected by arcades; third, an octagon room, or of any other figure, about the centre of the building; and, lastly, the great room.

A double row of windows must be disagreeable, by distributing the light unequally the space in particular between the rows is always gloomy. For that reason, a room of greater height than can be conveniently served by a single row, ought regularly to be lighted from the roof. Artists have generally an inclination to form the great room into a double cube, even with the inconvenience of a double row of windows: they are pleased with the regularity, overlooking that it is mental only, and not visible to the eye, which seldom can distinguish between the height of 24 feet and that of 30.*

Of all the emotions that can be raised by architecture, grandeur is that which has the greatest influence on the mind; and it ought, therefore, to be the chief study of the artist, to raise this emotion in great buildings destined to please the eye. But as grandeur depends partly on size, it seems so far unlucky for architecture, that it is governed by regularity and proportion, which never deceive the eye by making objects appear larger than they are in reality such deception, as above observed, is never found but with some remarkable disproportion of parts. But though regularity and proportion contribute nothing to grandeur as far as that emotion depends on size, they in a different respect contribute greatly to it, as has been explained above.†

Next of ornaments, which contribute to give buildings a peculiar expression. It has been doubted whether a building can regularly admit any ornament but what is useful, or at least has that appearance. But considering the different purposes of architecture, a fine as well as a useful art, there is no good reason why ornaments may not be added to please the eye without any relation to use. This liberty is allowed in poetry, painting, and gardening, and why not in architecture considered as a fine art? A private dwellinghouse, it is true, and other edifices where use is the chief aim, admit not regularly any ornament but what has the appearance, at least, of use: but temples, triumphal arches, and other buildings, intended chiefly or solely for show, admit every sort of ornament.

A thing intended merely as an ornament, may be of any figure and of any kind that fancy can suggest; if it please the spectator, the artist gains his end. Statues, vases, sculpture upon stone, whether basso or alto relievo, are beautiful ornaments relished in all civilized countries. The placing of such ornaments so as to pro

* One who has not given peculiar attention, will scarce imagine how imperfect our judgment is about distances, without experience. Our looks being generally directed to objects upon the ground around us, we judge tolerably of horizontal distances but seldom having occasion to look upward in a perpendicular line, we scarce can form any judgment of distances in that direction.

+ Chap. 4.

duce the best effect, is the only nicety. A statue in perfection is an enchanting work; and we naturally require that it should be seen in every direction and at different distances; for which reason, statues employed as ornaments are proper to adorn the great staircase that leads to the principal door of a palace, or to occupy the void between pillars. But a niche in the external front is not a proper place for a statue: and statues upon the roof, or upon the top of a wall, would give pain by seeming to be in danger of tumbling. To adorn the top of a wall with a row of vases is an unhappy conceit, by placing things apparently of use where they cannot be of any use. As to basso and alto relievo, I observe, that in architecture as well as in gardening, contradictory expressions ought to be avoided: for which reason, the lightness and delicacy of carved work ill suits the firmness and solidity of a pedestal: upon the pedestal, whether of a statue or a column, the ancients never ventured any bolder ornament than the basso relievo.

One at first view will naturally take it for granted, that in the ornaments under consideration beauty is indispensable. It goes a great way undoubtedly; but, upon trial, we find many things esteemed as highly ornamental that have little or no beauty. There are various circumstances, beside beauty, that tend to make an agreeable impression. For instance, the reverence we have for the ancients is a fruitful source of ornaments. Amalthea's horn has always been a favorite ornament, because of its connection with a lady who was honored with the care of Jupiter in his infancy. A fat old fellow and a goat are surely not graceful forms; and yet Selinus and his companions are every where fashionable ornaments. What else but our fondness for antiquity can make the horrid form of a Sphinx so much as endurable? Original destination is another circumstance that has influence to add dignity to things in themselves abundantly trivial. In the sculpture of a marble chimneypiece, instruments of a Grecian or Roman sacrifice are beheld with pleasure; original destination rendering them venerable as well as their antiquity. Let some modern cutlery ware be substituted, though not less beautiful; the artist will be thought whimsical, if not absurd. Triumphal arches, pyramids, obelisks, are beautiful forms; but the nobleness of their original destination has greatly enhanced the pleasure we take in them. A statue, supposed to be an Apollo, will with an antiquary lose much of its grace when discovered to have been done for a barber's apprentice. Long robes appear noble, not singly for their flowing lines, but for their being the habit of magistrates; and a scarf acquires an air of dignity by being the badge of a superior order of churchmen. These examples may be thought sufficient for a specimen: a diligent inquiry into human nature will discover other influencing principles; and hence it is, that of all subjects ornaments admit the greatest variety in point of taste.

Things merely ornamental appear more gay and showy than .hings that take on the appearance of use. A knot of diamonds in the hair is splendid; but diamonds have a more modest appearance

« PreviousContinue »