MR. FERGUSSON’S recently issued volume, the History of the Modern Styles of Architecture,1 is meant as the fourth volume {the first published) of a new and extended edition of his History of Architecture, a work which has been elaborated from his Handbook of Architecture, published in 1855, and which first appeared under its present title in 1867. It is a reprint, with some alterations, of the book of the same title which, published in 1862 as a supplement to the hand-book, served as the third volume of the first edition of the history. It promises us the first and second volumes of the new edition, revised and enlarged, though with the omission of the chapters on Indian Architecture, for November of this year. The excised chapters are to be expanded into a third volume, on Indian architecture alone, which will be published next year.

Mr. Fergusson’s history, being the only extended general history of architecture in English, is probably known to most of our readers who have an interest in its subject. Its only English competitor, so far as we know, is Mr. Freeman’s history, a more philosophical and in some respects more interesting work, but much less complete. This had the defect, fatal in our day to any work on this subject, of being without illustrations ; and is now, we fear, nearly forgotten.

The alterations in the volume now published are not great or substantial, which is probably the reason for its being the first to reappear. These consist mainly in a few new illustrations and additional criticisms in the English, French, and American chapters, calling attention to what has been done and undone in architecture since its first publication ; and the substitution of a short appendix on the arrangement of Latin cathedrals for the former one on ethnology. It begins with the first appearance in Italy of the classic revival known as the Renaissance, and taking in succession the different countries of Europe, gives a general history of the progress of the art in each to the present day. The arrangement and sequence are still a little too much like those of a hand-book to be quite satisfactory in what is called a history ; though the habit acquired in the earlier works, and the difficulty of tracing a continuous development in a phase of art so much the subject of individual caprice, were perhaps an irresistible temptation to this treatment. To a foreigner, in whose eyes English architecture from the days of Wren to those of Barry is utterly insignificant, England seems to occupy an undue share of Mr. Fergusson’s pages, being given the greatest prominence next to Italy; but the book was written for Englishmen. France is but slightly treated, in spite of the author’s evidently greater respect for her art on the whole ; and Germany Renaissance is dismissed with but little examination, and the general remark that “ during these three centuries not a single architect was produced of whom even his compatriots are proud, or whose name is remembered in other countries ; and not a single building erected, the architecture of which is worthy of much study, nor one that calls forth the admiration of even the most patriotic Germans themselves.” The works of Schinkel, however, and those of the reign of King Ludwig in Munich, receive their share of attention. A few pages of not very gratifying comment are perhaps all our past successes in building in the United States entitle us to, though the examples are not on the whole very happily chosen. The preface says that the writer knows of no modern work of the same scope ; we know of none in French, and in German Lübke and Burckhardt’s continuation of Kugler’s history, a more extended though less elegant -work than Fergusson’s, is not, or at least was not a few months ago, all published.

Mr. Fergusson is among the most catholic of writers on art; his judgments are always moderate and judicial, his wide range of study makes him freer from partiality and prejudice than many of his professional brethren ; nevertheless he has some sturdy prepossessions and antipathies of his own, A drawback to his criticism is his lack, or at least the omission from his books, of a clear scheme or well-digested code of principles. This is characteristic of his countrymen, in whose architectural teaching there is no established system, and a marked distinction from the French architects, whose criticism is systematic, whatever its other merits may be ; and it is a great bar to unity in the book before us.

His examples are taken up seriatim, in geographical or chronological order, each case considered pretty much alone, or grouped only with its immediate neighbors, and any rule or principle by which it is judged given only incidentally. Hence a student or general reader, who should come to the book in hope of learning how to judge for himself, would be likely to leave it with a confused notion of what characteristics he ought to approve or disapprove, unless he had the tenacity to remember and educe from a thousand disconnected examples the laws winch lie at the bottom of Mr. Fergusson’s judgments. We refer here to what may be called technical and æsthetic laws, as for instance in proportion, grouping, management of detail, and the like; for on the general laws of honesty, perspicuity, independence, decorum, which rule in architecture as in all the concerns of life, Mr. Fergusson is explicit enough. In spite-of all this his criticisms, the fruit of strong common-sense guided by long experience and abundant learning, seem to readers who know the examples to which they refer, almost always sound. He has, too, a rare impartiality in recognizing the merits and defects of buildings, apart from his own predilections in point of style. In fact, his studious care to do justice to both excellences and faults may often give his judgments an air of indecision, and even, to a hasty reader, of inconsistency.

Perhaps the most characteristic and interesting part of the present volume, at least as a matter of discussion, is the introduction, in which the author considers with lively interest the present tendencies and future prospects of architecture. In his view the whole modern movement in architecture— he writes mainly of England — is wrong, being purely imitative and servile. Hence in the great contest between Gothicists and classicists, he espouses neither side ; but since his sympathies incline to classical rather than mediæval art, and since the Gothicists are at present the aggressive party, he has naturally come to blows with them ; and everybody who has seen his career without prejudice must admire the fairness and courtesy, as well as the ability, with which he has fought on what seems to us the losing side. It is curious and instructive to watch the turn this coutest has taken. A quarter of a century ago the Gothicists, led in literature by Ruskin and the second Pugin, — who quarreled bitterly enough between themselves, — were at the hottest of their fighting for now principles, and the style in which alone they saw them embodied. Their principles, indeed, — of honesty, candor, expressiveness of purpose and construction, — though long forgotten, were irresistible when once put forward. They have compelled acceptance, and are insisted on at this day by all thoughtful and honest architects; but the style which was supposed to be inseparable from them is far from having equally prevailed. At this day Sir Digby Wyatt, lecturing at Cambridge on like subjects with Mr. Raskin at Oxford, enforces like principles of design, and in practice holds imperturbably to classical and “ Italian ” forms. Gothicists-and classicists now go to battle with the same cry. Mr. Fergusson takes, as we have indicated, strong ground against both modern Gothic and modern classic architecture. He urges justly the distinction between the Renaissance, in which the details of classic art were borrowed and used with freedom, and the recent revivals, in which both details and general forms were assumed as completely as possible ; but he fails to take account that the Renaissance was an attempted revival, though at first very imperfect (as far as this its real purpose was concerned), and that the modern revival was only its legitimate consummation. He argues very strenuously that the whole system of modern architecture is a system of lifeless copying, and that on the one side and the other the only effort is to produce as perfect a counterfeit as possible. In such a condition, he maintains, both parties are under different names pursuing hopelessly the same wrong path. As a means of escaping this degradation of servility he advocates the adoption of what he calls the Italian style, which however, so far as it has any existence, is only an accumulation of classical and Renaissance forms, made more or less tractable to modern purposes by being broken away from their old matrices, as any other forms might be. It is true that till recently England has been divided between classical and mediæval pedantry, but now the bonds of both are loosening, and the common-sense principles of architectural design are recognized by both parties. The struggle is virtually between predilections for one and another of two dirterent series of forms. The French are too fertile of invention to he patient of mere copyism, and have never yielded to it except for a short time near the beginning of this century. The Germans too, less prescriptive than the English, have by virtue of their native ingenuity constrained their inaptitude for art into something better than servility. But with regard to the future of architecture, Mr. Fergusson speaks only as an Englishman to Englishmen. He does not even analyze the present condition and tendency of French architecture, which shows the nearest approach made in our day to the development of a style; but contents himself with a mention and examination of a few buildings. No doubt he is right in condemning copyism in either style, but we think he does not do justice to the present tendency of modern Gothic. It seems to us to have already got beyond mere copyism, and to be tending away from it. Even in the new Law Courts, whose design Mr. Fergusson has opposed with all his might, Mr. Street, though he does apparently aim most closely at preserving the historical propriety of his style, introduces many forms for which Mr. Fergusson would be hard pushed to find prototypes in the thirteenth century, and the tendency of the day seedts to us decidedly toward great license —as great as we should be likely to use in a style of our own invention. As Mr. Fergusson admits, we must Start from some style or styles. It is utterly impossible for any but savages to start, as some people expect us to do in our time, with no accepted forms, and reinvent everything from the beginning. The device is between a loose eclecticism, which will leave us any year just where we were the last, and a steady development in some one direction.

But if we ask which of the now contiicting styles best answers to the spirit and wants of the world of to-day, to its multiplied activity, its endless variety of invention, its informality, and its impatience of restraint, the decision is quick, we think, between the rigid, stately, and impassive classic, either in its original forms or its modern variations, and the pliant, inventive, ever-varying Gothic. If we wish our architecture to have a monumental character of its own, an ideal expression which may be independent of our own character and our habits, —and this is a common and intelligible, though perhaps not a reasonable aspiration, — there is endless room for choice. If it is to he a reilex of our life and requirements, none of the styles now in use seems to us so fit a starting-point as the modern Gothic.

It would be a singular phenomenon, by the way, if, in an age as cosmopolitan as this, two styles should grow up and continue side by side, among two nations in daily and hourly communication with each other, as different in form as the present work of the French and English architects; such different styles have not grown together in the civilized world since the days of the Greeks and Egyptians.

Mr. Fergusson does not recede from his classification of arts into “ technic ” and “phonetic,” by which he so exasperated Mr. Ruskin when he first brought it forward in his Principles of Beauty in Art. To us, he seems in this to set forth somewhat elaborately nothing more than the recognized distinction between arts of expression and arts of convenience, or in common words, fine arts and useful arts ; but, in his zeal for classification, to forget that architecture, which he classes as simply technic in opposition to painting and sculpture which are phonetic, is at once a fine art and a useful art, or if he will, technic and phonetic together. When, therefore, he complains that, being technic, it has been since the Renaissance practiced simply as if it were phonetic, we should translate him by saving that its decoration, instead of being developed from its uses, had been studied as if it were iudependent of them. But he touches here another point which is vital to us, when he says: “Perhaps the greatest inconvenience is the remarkably small amount of thought of any kind that a modern building ever displays ... in one glance you see it all. With five minutes' study you have mastered the whole design. In a work of true art, such as a mediæval cathedral, the case is different. . . . You have the dream and aspiration of the bishop who designed it, of the master mason, who was skilled in construction, of the carver, the painter, the glazier, of the host of men who, each in his own craft, knew all that had been done before them, . . . There is not one shaft, one molding, one carving, not one chisel mark in such a building, that was not designed specially for the place where it is found, . . . You may wander in such a building for weeks or months together, and never know it all.” And later on more concisely: “They [Renaissance designs] are little more than one man’s contribution of thought — a real classical or mediaeval design includes that of hundreds.” We may say, by the way, that though we have no accounts of the processes by which classical buildings were carried out, there is every indication in the nature of the work that both Greek and Roman buildings were as entirely the work of one designer using a fixed form of indefinitely repeated detail, as modern or Renaissance buildings; and herein lies the broadest distinction in spirit between them and mediæval work. The distinction is marked with equal clearness by Mr. Buskin in the second volume of the Stones of Venice, in his chapter on the Nature of Gothic — and this is a point of the greatest importance to us now. It involves the question whether we shall have an architecture, and remotely other decorative arts, in which everything shall be rigidly fixed to the smallest details by the first designer, — in which case the only choice in any large work will be between utter baldness, and an endless and formal repetition of a limited number of details, — or one in which the subordinate parts shall be designed by men skilled in them, under the guidance only.of one leading mind: an art, on the one hand, which may be elegant and stately, but must be limited in idea, formal and monotonous; or on the other, an art full of life and thought, less smoothly perfect in its kind, very likely, but infinitely more highly organized. It is the vital distinction between classical and modern art and mediaeval, between the spirits of a despotism and of a commonwealth. Whatever may be our preferences in the matter of form, there can be no doubt that the mediæval method is the healthier and the more progressive. It is, as Mr. Tergusson points out, the way in which our mechanic arts advance so steadily and to such wonderful excellence; and whatever may be the form in use, it will only be fully developed when we have a class of workmen who are skilled, like those in the Middle Ages, to design their parts of the work and execute them from sketches or slight indications only, without working drawings. There is a foundation for something of this sort in France, where the government has given much pains to the artistic education of workmen, though there the character of their work is too much the result of pr scription, and too little of natural development. The bearing of this on the social aims of working-men is worth considering. At present the efforts of trades unions and strikers are to make mechanics' work as perfunctory as possible, and to bring all down to the level of the poorest workmen. Such an interest and pride in their work as belonged to the mediæval guilds would be the happiest possible corrective for this tendency. The more purely mechanical and unthinking a man’s work is, the more he will shirk it, or subordinate it to some other interest; the more it engages his better powers and responsibility, the more pride he will take in it. and the more interest he will feel in the social order which encourages and protects it. It is impossible to imagine the order of free masons in the fourteenth century set to tearing down cathedrals; but four years ago the workmen of Paris were mad for the destruction of her palaces.

  1. History of the Modern Styles of Architecture, By James Fergusson. D. C. L., F. R.S. Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. London:
  2. John Murray. Albemarle Street. New York : Scribner, Welford & Co. 1873.