My Life in Architecture

[Little, Brown, $3.50]

MR. CRAM began his career in the early 1880’s, when architecture in this country bad been deep in the doldrums for fifty years. His only professional education was a five-year apprenticeship in the office of Arthur Rotch and George Tilden. It was during this decade — ‘the most remarkable in American architectural history’— that Hunt., Richardson, McKim, Garrère, Hastings, and Peabody were to inaugurate a veritable Renaissance; it was at the end of it that Mr. Cram opened his own office in partnership with Charles Francis Wentworth. The new leaders had all been trained in the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, but it was to England rather than France that Mr. Cram turned for guidance. Afterward he sought inspiration, by means of travel and study, in Italy, France, Sicily, and, much later, Spain and the countries of antiquity.
His own interpretations of these ‘facts’ are known to students and lovers of good architecture everywhere. They are seen in a long procession of buildings, including, to mention only a few, bis first church, All Saints’ in Ashmont; the Military Academy at West Point;
Princeton Chapel; St. George’s School, Newport; Rollins College; St. Thomas’s in New York; the Boston Federal Building, and the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsfield.
Characteristically, at the outset of his career he appraisingly surveyed the field of architectural work then being done and deliberately chose the building of churches, both because this was a virgin field and because of his new religious sympathies. He worked out a credo — ‘the thing for me to do was to take up English Gothic at the point where it was cut off during the reign of Henry VIII and go on from that point developing the style England had made her own’—a credo which motivated his work for many years. Later he designed with French and Spanish motives, and when called upon to design the Rice Institute in Texas, where neither site, tradition, nor trustees imposed conditions, he set himself the task of creating a new style ‘built on a classical basis but still with elements of Gothic romanticism.’ The result he offers as a sane and logical type of ‘Modernism.’
In contrast with the rationalizing that underlaid his many churches, it is interesting to read in connection with the building of his own private chapel at Whitehall, which came several years before a garage: ’The chapel has no architectural style, — I was already getting rather fed up with that sort of thing, — the guiding idea was to think and work as would pious but quite ignorant peasants who knew nothing about architecture except that a church had round-topped windows and that the altar-end was finished in the form of a semicircle. It is, perhaps, the most satisfactory church I have ever built.‘
So long a roster of notable buildings — Mr. Cram gives full credit to his associates — might seem sufficient achievement for one man, but architectural practice was but one of the amazing number of his activities. His early view of life as high adventure and of any career as a crusade has patently persisted, and writing, teaching, public service, and an interest in all the arts, which from the age of twenty-three he was never able to ‘isolate one from another or from life,’have received an unmetered share of his dynamic energy.
FOLLOWING the inevitable lassitude of a Northern spring, it is human nature to use the senses more and more and the intellect less and less. Let me suggest a few books that will quicken your senses after their long misuse in town. First, An Almanac for Moderns (Putnam, $3.00) by Donald Culross Peattie, which has lately been awarded a gold medal for being the nearest approach to a modern classic. It is a good book and a source of delight to those who love the country but are out of touch. Its day-to-day entries are not only well written; they definitely extend the power of observation, making one aware of that multitudinous life known to those whose antennæ are working with Thoreau’s alertness.
A second and more recent volume by the same author holds a special meaning for those who love birds. Singing in the Wilderness, a salute to John James Audubon (Putnam, $2.50) is a ro-
mantic biography of the ‘Frenchman, American, artist, loafer, wanderer, lover, bird-hearted observer’ who came to this continent in 1803 and who lived ‘to be free, to be true, to follow a bird in the woods, or an impulse with his pencil.’ Mr. Peattie’s story is romantic in the best sense: he has had to invoke it from elements at times dim and unreliable; whenever in doubt he has checked the Audubon legend with his own experience as a naturalist, and always he is intent upon re-creating the America that awaited that ardent French boy, the land we have impoverished so reeklessly. To write this book Mr. Peattie returned from the French Riviera, called back to the woods which Audubon knew and feeling the imperative need to reinstate himself in American soil. That need tugs at us all in May and June.
Harvard, being the oldest, may have produced more presidents (Will Mr. Hamilton Fish please be seated), but Yale has the oldest magazine. To celebrate the fact that it is one hundred years young, the Yale Literary Magazine has published a Centennial Number, a number so versatile, so well presented, and so entertaining that any editor in the land would be proud to sponsor it, any reader bilious who could not find in it food for his particular palate. The present editors of the Lit. (‘the Old Lady in Brown’ if you feel your beer), holding their own contributions modestly in the background, have arranged a rich table of contents: at the head sits Billy Phelps, unquestionably the best toastmaster in the world; after his genial introduction come the characteristic utterances of prominent Eli graduates of ‘the Browning-orBust School.’ Here are poems — the word ‘good ’ is redundant — by Archibald MacLeisli, Stephen (John Brown’s Body) Benét, and Leonard Bacon; by Sinclair Lewis a pungent, to-the-point essay that Hemingway will not relish; by Walter Millis an article on Wilson and Roosevelt the Atlantic would have given an eye for; then, a fantasy with aftereffects by Thornton Wilder, a ballet with words by Philip Barry, and a dialogue in the semiclassieal manner by Thomas Beer which made me shout. Listen to them: Henry Seidel Canby, John Farrar, Cyril Hume, and Lucius Beebe, Dr. Traprock, Rufus King — to a Harvard man it’s astonishing not only that they all went to Yale. but that they have written with so much point and delight for this anniversary. There is nothing perfunctory in this package: even the Yale cheer of Gifford Pinchot and the floral tribute which Waldo Frank bestows upon himself have their charm. This is the tastiest literary review I’ve seen this season.