William Morris Archive

Transcription, British Library Manuscript 45,332 (9)

[note on bottom right corner of page 165]
The A & C printed / lecture is very / much condensed / from this Gothic Architecture

Gothic Architecture [centered, underlined]

I am using the word Architecture in a wider sense than that in which it is customarily used in. I do not mean by it merely the art of ornamental building, which produces a work that the architect hands over to other artists to finish, but rather a building completed and ready for the service of man; furnished, as we say; but furnished, not only with carpets & chairs and tables, or with pews and pulpits, or with government and opposition and cross benches, and speaker[’]s table & the like, but also with that nobler furniture of the expression of ideas by means of the various forms of pictured & carven in form which is sometimes called by the rather unpleasant term ‘high art’. In short by Architecture I mean the whole body of the arts working together in due subordination and with complete harmony to produce a satisfactory dwelling for men[,] a work that shall comfort their bodies and elevate their minds, and be an essential part of their lives loved and understood by all men.

Now a people that has such a body of art as this, and just according to the degree in which they have it, must be a happy people; because such art to be worth anything must have been produced not only because there were persons ready to pay the expense of its production, and who, it may be supposed, are pleased with it (though there are cases where that might be doubtful) but also (and this is the most important part of the pleasure to be taken in such work) because the persons who produced it were pleasured by its production, both when it was done and when it was a-doing. Moreover such an art as I have been thinking of must be common to the whole people, therefore it pleasures a great number of persons by its existence, and also a great number of persons are still more keenly pleasured by its production, since all persons following any handicraft must necessarily take a share in it. [167] I fear we must allow that such an all embracing and unquestioned art no longer exists amongst us the peoples of civilization; nay it may be news to some of you that it ever did exist; and I will cheerfully admit that when it was alive, as it certainly once was, it could not lay claims to perfection: cheerfully, I say, because since if its old creators never troubled their heads as to whether it were perfect or not, and we can see that it was not (though often we can see nothing else about it) it almost certainly follows that the coming days will have the opportunity afforded them of taking hold once more of those arts, and carrying them forward on the road towards perfection. [space] At any I must assert that there was once such an art as I have been speaking of, an art which was not in the least artificial (not to get entangled in words) which was the result of the growth of ages and had in it the principle of growth, and this art I call Gothic Architecture. And I also assert that if we are ever to have what I have called Architecture again we shall find ourselves continuing the growth of this Gothic Architecture; and that we shall have in a way to forget all that has claimed to be inclusive art between that time and the period when Gothic Architecture ceased to live. [space] Now you will note by this last sentence that I am going to speak to you chiefly of the past and the future; and that perhaps may disappoint you; but I cannot help it; for it is from the past that we draw principles of action which when put in practice embody our hope or the future. [B]esides we now living know less about the present than we know of the past, if we know anything at all; we are impelled to do something and we do it, but scarcely know what it is that we have done, and can only guess at the tendencies of the united action of the age in which we live; it is most true that no age can see itself.

Also we have of late years made it very much our business to see past ages. The true historical sense has been developed [168] only in this century, and not very early in it. It is true that in time past we have had minute and diligent and honest historians and and dramatic chroniclers but though the first have done their best to give us pictures of what past under the eyes of themselves and acquaintances, and did not fail incidentally to let us know something of what people in their time were thinking of; and though the second have catalogued for us with much patience the names and follies of kings and the scoundrelism of statesmen seasoned with abundance of wholesale murder and rapine, yet a third kind of historian was needed until the advent of men like Hallam & Freeman and Green and Stubbs, who could connect the real growth of events into a logical sequence, and see through battles and pageants statutes complaints of grievances, private letters literature and last though not least through remnants of art what the real life of the people was apart from the days when they stood in battle array or revelled about some coronation or wedding of a monarch. [space] If any of you want to understand the difference between what history is and what it was you may profitably read Harrison’s description of England prefixed to Holinshead[']s Chronicles (date 1580 about) and compare its statements with the information to be derived from such a book as Parker[']s Domestic Architecture; you will come to the conclusion, I think, when you have done so that we in the reign of Victoria actually know more of the life of the English in the 14th century than our forefathers did in the reign of Elizabeth. And there is no less difference, though in another direction, between the modern historians and those of the 18th century who clever and ingenious men as they were did not see the change in ideas or in the social condition of the people that had taken place between our time & the Middle Ages, and supposed that all the change was a gradual softening down from lawlessness into legality, from roughness into comfort.

So that I say that we have acquired a new sense as to the history of the past. The men of the Middle-Ages are no longer [169] ourselves under somewhat different surroundings, but different men with different hopes and fears and pleasures from us: there is we now know a gulf betwixt our lives and theirs, which, however, we can see across not so very dimly, and note where its cleavage began, and how it widened till it drew a line betwixt the age of status and the age of contract.

Moreover it is by the help of this new historical sense that we are enabled to study Gothic Architecture as we could never have done before: there has been an interchange of mutual help in fact between the two studies the art and the history of those past times which neither the artist nor the historian of today can afford to disregard. I shall therefore assume that you agree with me in thinking that the study of history is absolutely necessary to an artist, unless he is to keep his intelligence outside his art; since it is now undeniable that no period of art is completely independent of past periods. Without tradition the most commonplace of modern works of art could not have existed, however unconscious of the link its producer may be.

Now I have said that I use the word architecture to include all the arts of design outside a few of those modern developments of art, which for whatever [r]eason [ms. season] of set purpose decline to be so included, and which do in fact hold a middle-place between art and science. [space] But though architecture is to one so inclusive a word, yet I admit that the foundation and the most important side of it is that art of ornamented building which is what people usually mean to indicate by the word architecture: and I wish you to think that unless you can have your buildings from the greatest and the most dignified down to the least and the humblest duly architectural, that is at once suited each to its purpose and at the same time pleasant to the eye, you cannot have a really serious and solid art connected with the course of your [170] lives and expressive of them; an art abundant, and all pervading and yet measured and without excess. In such an art although the buildings may have been stripped of their due furniture they will yet, even as they stand, imply a certain consciousness that this is due to them. I hope you don’t think that is transcendental; but I want you to understand that a building of such an art as I have been speaking of is never dead; it is there perpetually telling its story, and that an absolutely true one, of all the centuries that it has lived through. [space] Well I say this building duly ornamented bearing use written on its face, but not a utilitarian is the building of Gothic Architecture; and for us at this period of the world, with our newly attained consciousness of past history, there is no other genuine architecture, no other expression of life through building, nothing but the expression of whims or cant through it. [space] Now having made that statement allow me very briefly to lay before you the history of this art as read by means of those buildings which it has left behind; buildings remember which imply the furniture material & mental nay human too, the bodies and souls of past generations, which was time afore at once the completion and reason for their lives. [space] From the very earliest building of which we know anything down to the beginning of the 16th century of our era there is a claim of unbroken tradition, no link was forged with the last link forgotten or disregarded, and the forging of each new link made the forging of the next necessary. But this very continuous progress made turning back to what was past impossible as well as unnecessary. When the curtain of the stage of history proper first draws up we find the small exclusive circle of the highest civilization, dominated by Hellenic thought and science fitted with a very definite and orderly architectural style; but though that style is exceedingly and even perhaps pedantically refined, and though it is ornamental with very correctly drawn representations of the human form, we discover that it is distinctly a part of the general [171] architecture of the world at that epoch, so much so, as to have driven some people to the (I think mistaken) conclusion that it was derived from the very ancient art of Egypt. Although this Greek architecture is the creation of a race who had as it were leapt into a high state of mental, and according to the need of their race and climate, of material civilization, it is so very conservative, that its chief works, those by which we know it show plainly their barbarous origin. The Greek columned temple is clearly a deduction from the little wooden joss-house of the tribe as is shown in many or indeed all of its details: this model was adhered to with superstitious reverence, which indeed seems a natural accompaniment of the City worship, the real religion of the Greeks from their earlier ancestor worship. On this barbarous scaffolding then they plastered their refined and beautiful sculpture, which in its earlier days when it also had some of its healthy barbarism clinging to it went well with its frame-work; and even as it was reaching the central point of its power by dint [of] its severe abstraction taught as it were by sheer intellect does not do much violence to it; but as civilization demanded more naturalism and less restraint from the sculptors, the incongruity between this and the glorified joss-house of the older days becomes more and more obvious and painful. [space] It did not however pain the Greek mind, and the Greeks carried on this jolting connection between the old and the new until they fell into the period of academicism and art was a mere piece of conventional necessity at all events in its more dignified manifestations. [space] In fact I think that the Greeks cared little for architecture in its more exclusive sense; surely else in their deft hands the Greek temple would have developed into something else. [space] Clear-minded and logical, aristocratic, arrogant and exclusive they had no patience with imperfection anywhere (though by the way they sometimes had to put up with it, as you will see plainly enough if you look with unprejudiced eyes at the frieze [172] of the Parthenon, and note how very inferior some of the groups are to the magnificent standard of the best ones)[.] The result of this impatience of imperfection was that they subordinated all the inferior parts of their work in the most rigid way to the superior: their theory at any rate was that nothing, not even an ordinary moulding, must be done that could not bear the severest test of the technical excellence. But this spirit is destructive to the freedom and resulting richness and mystery of enjoyable architecture: and it seems to me that a Greek temple (conceive of it as it was neat and white, not as it is a grey or golden ruin) cries out as it were for revolt against its bareness and  formation. That revolt did not fail to come in due course; and the form that it took we call Roman Architecture, though from what soil the roots of it grew I do not think anyone can say. Though I one may be allowed to speculate negatively, I find it hard not to suspect some non-Aryan influence at work in its birth, since neither the Persian Achaean columnar architecture, nor the Brahminical Architecutre of India give us any hint of the great feature of the new style, the arch to wit. They are both founded on wooden construction, the main ideas of the Indian works being the same as those of the Greeks, the wooden joss-house over again. [space] However nothing is more obscure than the beginning of the use as an ordinary architectural feature of the arch. And for my part I think architecture, in the sense of logically ornamented building begins with the use of the arch. [space] You see until you have this wonderful invention to help you, you are so limited; you are almost sure to chrystallize the first fairly convenient form for your bigger buildings: you are the slave of conditions of climate, materials, kind of labour and so on; whereas once furnished with the arch and you can defy all climates that man can live in comfortably, you can deal with the shabbiest & scrappiest materials & get a handsome result from them; you don’t need a horde of war captured slaves to work for you when you want [173] size and span; your citizens (if you have any) duly organized can do all that for you without grinding their lives out before their time. [space] All honour to the Arch! from the time of its invention and common use the decoration of the arch becomes the main business of architecture. And the only satisfactory style is that which never disguises its office but adorns and glorifies it.

This praise the Roman architecture cannot claim in spite of all its splendour and pomp. Indeed its essential character was rather that of engineering than art; and splendid nay matchless, engineering it is, as no one I think will be inclined to deny who has seen an important specimen of it even in the remote province of Britain. To the stately buildings raised by this nation of organizers, the Romans who had no art of their own fitted their ideas of the Greek sculpture-architect, and as the latter plastered his energetic and capable civilized sculpture on to his magnified joss-house, so the Roman plastered sculpture, joss-house and all on to his magnificent and beautiful engineer’s work. The result is of course illogical & confusing to the last degree, the Roman builder e.g. using the arch habitually never the less pretends that it bears no weight, but that this office is performed by a bogus lintel which he adds to his arch: a great part of his ornament also he veneers on to his splendid brick and mortar work hiding the process of the best building the world has ever seen, as if he were ashamed of it. Further more as to the character of his ornament. The subordination of the inferior parts to the superior by the Greek, though it was ungenerous and wasteful, was logical to the last degree; everything was in its place, and for everything there was a reason, even if this reason were but formed on a mere superstition consecrated by religion. But the Roman inferior ornament is on the one hand still prescribed & conventional, and on the other it has lost its logic; it cannot give you any special reason for its existence, except that it looks rich and handsome. Again the Greek ornament from the highest to the lowest [174] was pure and delicate; the Roman is florid and luxurious of the Greek ornament you feel that if it were not well executed it would have no reason for existence; while though the Roman is (in all important works) well executed, you feel that it need not be; nay sometimes you wish it were not so technically perfect.

With all these qualities & defects it is still admirable: indeed during the long long period that went before the decay of Classical art, when its life was gone and it was merely a corpse galvanized by the customary tyranny of the society of the epoch, the only thing that redeemed art from nothingness was this splendid, illogical, florid Roman architecture[.] Doubtless it is admirable—but as to loveable—well, it is now in its fragmentary ruined condition, when it shows crumbling and battered from the mess of incongruous houses of various dates amidst the disorder and squalor of a modern town—but when there was so much of it when it was whole, clean, prim, proper[,] respectable in a word—I doubt if I should have loved it.

Well the great organizers of the world organized themselves at last into a nuisance and a slavery that people only bore because they had been organized into helplessness; and while they were waiting for their helpers to come, Roman Society grew feeble and effete and Roman Architecture followed it in its decadence; though in good truth the works we have left of it of this period are to a reasonable man quite as interesting as their forerunners. Also the result of the sickening of the academician was the freeing of thought, however circumscribed the circle was in which it was to act. About the time of Diocletian (died 313) the Roman builders began, however timidly the new idea that the entablature or bogus lintel might be dispensed with in architectural works, and the arch might be admitted to be performing the work which it really was performing. Now this revolution in the arts, for it was no less, was the first obscure beginning of the art which I have called [175] Gothic Architecture: but it took two centuries to free itself from the fetters which the age of Academicism had over it. The helpers of the feeble over organized later Romans had to help them even in this matter of the arts, however unconscious they were of that help. The freeing of the world was accomplished amidst the shrieks of the miserable muddle which then called itself civilization, and the men of that period were, as people always are and very naturally, quite unconscious of the blessing which their ruin and extinction was; and, owing to events which we shall come to before the end, they have got people living in a period in which learning and ignorance were strangely blended, to take up their shrieks and bemoan amongst other things the final death of Academical Classical Art.

There was nothing to bemoan in it, for it did not die into nothingness but into fresh life: now at last was born the style that should logically have supplanted the non-arched primitive architecture of which the civilized style of Greece was the last developement. This its first expression is known by the name of Byzantine Architecture, and there is nothing to object to in the name; because undoubtedly Byzantium was its centre; and its first great work in that city remains its greatest work. I mean the Church of S. Sophia built by Justinian in 540. In this most lovely building the style leaps into sudden completeness, for there are but few buildings earlier in date that announce its coming; as to its origin, as I have said the classical art had long been sick unto death, but of course buildings went on being raised, and many of the traditional forms and ways of work were still in use; and this tradition which was in the hands of the Greeks themselves met with certain other traditions that seem to have existed in the border land of Syria where so many races and customs touched each other.

From the blending therefore of dying Roman Architecture as interpreted by the Greeks and obscure Eastern tradition that Byzantine art was born, and mingled in one style [page 176] and developed the clear delicacy abhorrent of vagueness of the Greeks with the mystery richness and romance of the East. The form of Roman architecture as I said it embraced; but its spirit had little dealings with it; that had its part to play in another place and among different peoples.

Henceforward the way is clear for the full development of Gothic Architecture: the arch has won its due place of honour; nay in no following style is it treated with more love, more beautiful simplicity than in the architecture of Justinian’s time: the types of all succeeding ornaments are now in existence, and henceforth it is only a question of using them as the climate, the materials, or the ethics of men shall dictate; but Gothic Architecture has still 1000 years of life before it.

The new style directly over ran both East and West. In the East it produced by mingling with the rather vague traditions of the native populations the whole of what we call Sarracenic or erroneously Arab Architecture From Isphahan to Granada; in the west it settled itself at once in parts of Italy, notably Ravenna and afterwards Venice, & was carried thence into Germany and (pre-Norman) England touching even Ireland & Scandinavia. Rome adopted it and sent it on another road through the South of France, where it fell under the influence of provincial Roman Architecture and produced a very strong orderly and logical sub-style in which the spirit of that pure Roman architecture or rather engineering is clear to be seen. Thence it spread into the rest of France, producing in its North under the influence with the Scandinavian & Teutonic people the last of the round-arched Gothic styles; a style blossoming abundantly with strange, fantastic but often very beautiful ornament; rejoicing in the strong and the thick and the heavy everywhere, that smacks of protection against rough weather and the armed hand; a style of which few churches in England from the greatest to the least lack some remains of: for it was carried across the narrow seas by the intrusive [177] monks whom Duke William put in the place of the Saxons, & quite drove out the native style derived from Byzantium through Germany.

Here we may rest a while and take breath to consider what the essence of this new style was: I have already said it at once did due honour to the arch; that means that instead of concealing its Construction, it adorned it in a logical manner: now it seems to me that this birth & ingen[u]ousness came of its freedom; it was free to do whatever was asked of it; it had shaken off the fetters of Greek superstition, and of Roman pendanty, and was in nowise ashamed of its not conforming to certain fixed rules; the cant about the beauty of simplicity (ie bareness and barrenness) so often repeated now did not afflict it; it was not ashamed of redundancy of material, of superabundance of ornament; of slim elegance if that pleased it, of sturdy solidity if that pleased it. It loved marble, but marble was not necessary to its beauty[,] stone would do or brick, or in default of wherewithal to carve it would get together the innumerable squares of opaque glass, and beat the very fairies & magicians with colour; or mould the plaster into delicacy of pattern scarce to be followed but never wearying the eye because they were logically beautiful in all their curves. It loves smooth delicacy of carving; but if material fails or time or skill, let the work be rough so long as it is inventive & beautiful. [space] For the iron rule of the classical period, the acknowledged slavery of everyone but the great man, is gone, and here again freedom rules; yet always freedom with harmony; subordination there is, but subordination of effect not of minute detail, true and necessary subordination not pedantic. The full degree of its freedom Gothic architecture did not gain until it was produced by the workmen of Northern Europe, the gildsman of the free cities who on many a bloody field proved that they through their Corporate life so valuable that they were prepared to risk their individual lives in its defence; but from the first the tendency was toward this freedom of hand & mind subordinated to the cooperative [178] harmony which made the freedom possible. That is the spirit of Gothic architecture.

To go on with our history; up to this point the progress had always been from East to West; ie the West carried the East with it; the West was now at the point of going to the East to fetch its knowledge. One of the characteristics of the early Middle Ages in Europe was a revival of religion, and this religion with its enthusiasm for visible tokens of the objects of its adoration impelled people to visit the East, which to their minds embodied the centre of their worship; and from this arose the warlike pilgrimages of the crusades amongst a race who had not the least tendency to turn their cheeks to the smiters. True it is that the tendency of the extreme West to seek East did not begin with the crusades; there was a thin stream of pilgrims setting Eastward long before; and a Scandinavian, body-guard, the Vaeringer upheld the throne of the Greek emperor, and its members returning home no doubt carried with them many ideas of work which were not lost among their own scanty but energetic population.

But the crusades brought away the East westward in a far more wholesale manner. In those days it was indeed the rule for conquerors settling in any country to assume that there could be no other system of society but that in which they had been brought up, and accordingly conquered Syria received a definitely feudal government with the King of Jerusalem as Suzerain; but the Westerners who settle there few in number as they were readily received impressions from the Saracenic form of Byzantine Art; which mind you were sympathetic to the tendencies of their own minds; for you must not suppose that there was any direct borrowing of forms from the East in the gradual change from the round-arched to the pointed Gothic, there was nothing more obvious at work than the influence of a kindred style, whose extra lightness elegance and joyousness gave a hint at the direction [179] which development might take. [space] Certainly the change in form when it came was a startling one; the pointed-arched Gothic, when it had grown out of its brief and most beautiful transition was a vigourous youth indeed; it carried combined strength & elegance almost as far as they could be carried; sometimes one might think almost overdoing the lightness of effect, as e.g. in Salisbury Cathedral: it would indeed have seemed a miracle if some man some abbot or monk of the eleventh century could have been brought back to his reconstructed church in the 13th[.] The huge cylindrical or square piers, now knit up into clusters of delicate shafts; the narrow round windows supplanted by the tall wide lancets with the beginnings of the elaborate traceries of the next century just visible in them; the bold sweeping vault spanning the wide nave in place of the flat wooden ceiling of old: the sides of strong & elegant mouldings adorning every arch with a certainty and logic that the past time had not dreamed of—in time the fully developed Gothic architecture shaking of the last trammels of Rome and Byzantium, which yet had reached in early complete glory step  by step with no break no conscious effort from the walls of Tiryns and the Treasury of Mycenae.

This new architecture was born amidst a period of social conflict, the facts and tendencies of which our new school of historians have laid open to our view. In the 12th century the gilds of actual workmen combining for their freedom from legal and arbitrary oppression & their organization of their handicrafts began to oppose themselves defiantly to the aristocratic municipalities, and to claim their share in the government of the towns: by the last years of the 13th century they had conquered their position or were on the point of conquering it, and within the next forty or fifty years the governors of the free towns were the delegates of the craft-gilds, and all industry was included in their organization. [space] This period of their triumph marked by the Battle of Courtray where the lord & knights of [180] France turned their backs to the Flemish Weavers, was the period during which Gothic Architecture reached its Zenith; I think it must be admitted that France and England were the two architectural counties par excellence: but all over the intelligent world was spread this bright glittering joyous art, which had now reached its acme of elegance and lightness, and had also one may say completed its furniture of which I began speaking. Chaucer, Dante, Froissart the ballads represent its literature; its painting includes a host of names, Giotto the great realist of the deeper side of human nature at their head; but almost every village has its painter[,] its carver, its actors even. The few pieces of household goods left of its wreckage are marvels of beauty; its woven cloths and embroideries are worthy of its loveliest building, its pictured  m.s.s. fairly takes one[’]s breath away with amazement at their patient but firm and manly excellence of beauty. In short, the standard of its excellence, which standard was commonly reached, are those masterpieces of architecture the sight of which make the holiday of our lives at present, and which to the keen observer do, as I have said before, tell the story of all the completeness of the hey-day of their life. But when anything human has arrived at an approach to completion, there remains for it decay and death in order that something new may be born from it; and this wonderful joyous art of the Middle-ages could not escape that fate.

Europe about this time was scourged by that mysterious terror the Black Death, a similar terror to which perhaps waylays the modern world. And along with it the no less mysterious scourges of bureaucracy and commercialism advanced on it. Gothic architecture began to change its character in the years that followed the Great Pest. It lost its exallation and suffered a diminution of wealth of beauty that it had in its heyday. It grew more commonplace [181] and crabbed in some places; less definite and orderly and lost purity of line in others. Yet for a long time it was vigorously alive, and showed even greater capacity before for adapting itself to all the needs of developing society. In many of the subsidiary arts also a e.g. English wood-carving and Flemish tapestry & the weaving craft generally, it showed fresh life and rather gained than lost for at least a century.

Then came the signs of the great change, which you must remember was no superficial accidental change in form, but a change of spirit affecting every form inevitably. [space] This change we have somewhat boastfully and as to the arts not all truly called the Renaissance or new birth: let us see what it came to in the arts.
Society itself was preparing for a complete recasting of its elements: the Medieval Society of Status was in process of changing into modern Society of Contract. New classes were being formed to fit the new system of production; & political, as distinguished from natural, nationalities were being hammered together for the use of the bureaucracy which was becoming necessary to the new Commercialism, a new religion was being fashioned to go with the new theory of life. [space] Now though some of us think that much of all this was in itself the source of immediate misery and degradation to the world, and that when it has performed its more beneficent function it will vanish again, yet we admit that as an instrument for the development of freedom of thought and the capacities of mankind for subduing material nature to his needs, it was inevitable & beneficent: this was in fact the new birth, although far from a beautiful one in its external appearance. This did not look backward but forward; there was nothing like it in past history, it was founded on no pedantic model, necessity not whim was its craftsmaster. [space] But strange to say this body of Political, Social, Religious, Scientific new birth lugged along with it the dead corpse of a past art, and with the sternest pedagogic utterances bade the new [182] world admire and copy that and nothing else. Hitherto from the very beginning the past was past, all that was not not unconsciously to the living yet alive in the present. Henceforth the past was to be our present, and the blankness of its dead wall was to shut out the future from us.

I have told you how much I love and admire the works of the Central Gothic period, and I have admitted that inferiority of its later works: nevertheless, when I am in the actual presence of one of the so-called masterpieces of the revived classical style (St Paul[’]s e.g.) I have found it difficult to put myself in the frame of mind of those who could accept such work as a welcome substitute for even the latest & worst Gothic. To prefer such work to the Gothic seems to me to show taste similar to that of a man who should prefer his lady-love bald.

In point of fact if the change had been made on the grounds of beauty it would be utterly inexplicable. But it was not the case. There were artists in the (early) period of the new-birth; but those great men, great mind you only in work which was purely individual, such as picture-painting & sculpture, were really but the fruit of the blossoming-time, the Gothic period; as was abundantly proved by the succeeding period of the new-birth which produced mere inanity.

Those few individual artists were great: but artists were no longer the masters of art: its masters were pedants. St Paul[’]s in London, St Peter[’]s in Rome were not built to be beautiful or to be conveniently beautiful; to be homes of the citizens in their moments of exallation or supreme grief or hope, but to be proper, respectable, the home of decent ecclesiasticism; what we now call Dons. I tell you beauty was never thought of in their design.

Nor indeed under the circumstances would it have been possible to attain to architectural beauty, for that as I have told you is the result of the harmonious combination of the whole body of people engaged in producing a work of art. And by [the time] that the new-birth was well born, Europe had transformed that great army of artist craftsmen who had produced the beauty of her cities her [183] churches, manor-house & cottages, into a greater army of human-machines who had little chance of obtaining a bare livelihood if they lingered to think over their mechanical toil; who indeed were not asked to think paid to think or allowed to think over their work.

I have no time to go into this side of the question, but it is a most important one. Remember this, that a few scattered artists cut of[f] from tradition, united by no no consciousness of common aspirations & interests, cannot form  any true school of art. They may by dint of their individual energy, cleverness, genius &c[etera] produce a good number of toys for the languid pleasure of a few rich men; but they cannot produce any public work, work which will pleasure and exalt the whole body of the public. That can only be done when the whole body of the workmen are artists of some kind or another. And let me tell you that the life of the artist, although it may be pleasant and have some superficial freedom about it, if he is but a parasite on rich men as he is now, yet it can only be dignified and truly worthy and truly free if he is the servant and the friend of the public generally.

I have said this so often that I daresay it bores you, but I don’t want you to think that I have altered my opinion lately.

Now a little disjointed talk to conclude. I want you to note by my brief historical sketch of Gothic architecture, that I mean by that word progressive art free to adapt itself to the needs of men in various climates and under various social conditions. It follows from this that if we are to have architecture at all it must be Gothic. The greater part of what we now call architecture is but the imitation of an imitation of an imitation, the result of the tradition of dull respectability, or of foolish whims without root or growth. And this cannot make Architecture.

Just consider what pedantic retrospection can do for the arts. The Columnar architecture of a Greek temple is just a holy railing round the traditional shrine: well and good they wanted those things & they [184] naturally took the form of the Greek temple. But what have we to do with their shrine & its holy railing? We want a building which has a wall with windows in it, and a roof. A Greek temple won’t do that for you. Will a Roman one? or a Renaissance one, its feeble imitation. Well only on the terms that you must be ashamed of your wall your roof and your windows, and do your best to pretend that you haven’t got either of these 3 necessaries. [space] A Gothic building has I say a walk with windows cut in it wherever you want them, and you can adorn them duly wherever you want them; call attention if you please to the fact that you have got them, or have got them particularly large or particularly small, just as you want them. Whereas in a sham sham: Roman building you are forced to make a pretence of columnar architecture, a building without a wall and consequently without a logical window, you have to make a lesion in logic in order not to sit in the pitch dark inside your house, and your window is only allowed to your human weakness (since you are not all Don) as an ugly incongruous necessity: and ugly enough it is in all conscience. As to the roof in this sham style you had better say nothing about it: unless where its buildings are infected with Gothic commonsense, you must believe that Glasgow for instance is blessed with a climate that knows nothing of inclemency[,] that it is never cold there, never rains or snows there. Whereas in Gothic architecture the roof both within and without and in all its varieties is the chief glory of the building, the abiding place of its brains, so to say. Let us look into this matter clearly and you will soon see how it stands: if you had taken the Parthenon out of the clear air of Athens and set it down in Glasgow or anywhere in the sad rainy climate of the British islands, you would have had to have put it under a glass case, to have built a chrystal palace over it, or in 50 years time it would not have been fit to look at; but how many and many  a Gothic building have I seen which so far from having suffered from the wind and weather of 800 years in its native land, had rather gained by its sturdy life of resistance to them: it was doing the work it was [185] intended to do unashamed by the marks of the long contest. It had become a piece of nature, as indeed in a sense it always was, and could see no unkindness in her.

Once for all then, whensoever the modern world has seriously come to the conclusion that it needs and will have a style of architecture that style will be Gothic in the true sense; it will be historic in the true sense also; that is it will be the result of the needs and aspirations of its own time and place, and will not simulate needs and aspirations long passed away: by that means it will both make history in the present and teach it in the future, if there is any truth in the view that art and the practice of it enables the life of man, and expresses his joys and sorrows.

Such an art, believe me, is worth making some sacrifice to attain to; and if anybody should make sacrifices for it surely artists should. You will say doubtless what sacrifice can we make other tha[n] [ms. that] devotion to our art? No other certainly; that is enough; but nothing short of it is enough and if you devote yourself to your art you must devote yourselves to its essentials; if you think of nothing but its accidental external form, you may individually become deft artists, but I say again that collectively you will not affect the whole people. [space] Truth & freedom are not less necessary but more necessary to artists than other men since their business is the expression of their genuine thoughts which no one can express for them. [space] Aim therefore at affecting the whole people, and you will find that you can only do so by sympathising yourselves with the whole people; which will mean in other words that you will tell your duties as citizens and perform them; never believe I beg of you, that we artists can build up a palace of art and live happily in it along with our patrons amidst the common misery and degradation. [space] This theory is more commonly held though people don’t venture to express it than some of you might think; and such theories of exclusiveness, [186] are just what make art stink in the nostrils of many sensible and useful people at the present time; and will lead if we do not look to it to the sweeping away of all external expression of art for a time; which would be a heavy loss if not for us, yet for our sons or sons’ sons when they have to to to reconstruct those arts of expression and beauty without which I firmly believe the world will refuse to live.


the phrases “diligent and honest historians” and “minute and dramatic chroniclers” are both circled in the manuscript to indicate a changed order of the phrases.

Transcribed by Karen Carcia, Iowa City, 2012.