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Retrospective Review.


ART. I.-An Historical and Architectural Account of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, &c. &c. In a Letter to the Lord Bishop of Rochester, from Sir Christopher Wren. London, 1713.

"No one of the many enigmas which vex the spirit of the antiquary," says a writer in the Quarterly Review, "has elicited a greater diversity of opinions than the questions involved in the theories which have been promulgated, in attempting to discover the origin of Gothic architecture. All the conflicting parties now agree, that neither the Ostrogoths, nor the Visogoths, nor the Mosogoths, nor any other of the old tribes of the great Scythian family, had any real share in discovering the pointed style, and therefore we may safely use the term Gothic, incorrect as it sounds to critical ears, without prejudice to the cause of truth: knowing that it was formed according to an erroneous hypothesis, it ceases to convey an erroneous idea, and becomes correct by its conventional application. The toleration of etymological inaccuracy, by which a derivative becomes a radical, and obtains a new primitive meaning, is one of the most ordinary processes of the formation of language." This is true enough. The term Gothic, as applied to the sublime ecclesiastical architecture of the middle ages, originated in an absurd opinion we have out-grown; but to what opinions we have grown up, that is to say, what is the received “ theory" on this subject, at the present day, is an enigma, almost as perplexing as the ori



gin of the style itself. It is a question, however, deserving a moment's thought. It is one that will always have its interest among a great body of men; with all that delight in art itself, or in tracing the progress of mind as evidenced by art; and has a particular one at the present moment, when so many of the new churches projected, or building, are to be of this revived "order." Accordingly, a more than usual attention has of late been given to it: new theories have been circulated, and old theories revived. The term " English Architecture," which Dr. Milner, and the late John Carter, and the Antiquarian Society itself, so sedulously endeavoured to introduce, is being quietly abandoned; it is declared to be equally erroneous, though not so contemptuous; and the palm of priority is being transferred to our continental neighbours, on authorities, to us at least, not quite conclusive. Still this is a question open to discussion.

But let us consider for a moment what are the opinions of most weight that have been circulated on the subject; and both by priority of time, and superiority of ability, that of Sir Christopher Wren, given in the letter prefixed to this article, demands precedence.


"This we now call the Gothic manner of architecture (so the Italians called what was not after the Roman style) though the Goths were rather destroyers than builders: I think it should with more reason be called the Saracen style; for those people wanted neither arts nor learning; and after we in the west had lost both, we borrowed again from them, out of their Arabick books, what they, with great diligence, had translated from the Greeks.

"They were zealots in their religion, and wherever they conquered (which was with amazing rapidity) erected mosques and caravansaras in haste, which obliged them to fall into another way of building; for they built their mosques round, disliking the Christian form of a cross; the old quarries, whence the ancients took their large blocks of marble for whole columns of architraves, were neglected, and they thought both impertinent. Their carriage was by camels; therefore their buildings were fitted for small stones, and columns of their own fancy, consisting of many pieces; and their arches were pointed, without key-stones, which they thought too heavy.

"The reasons were the same in our northern climates, abounding in free-stone, but wanting marble."

Upon this we shall have occasion to observe more particularly hereafter; we, therefore, proceed to Wharton, who may be said to have adopted the opinion of Sir Christopher. Notwithstanding the want of proof which that opinion, thrown out incidentally by Wren, is so lamentably deficient in, Wharton absolutely assumes the question without adding one circum

stance in support of it; indeed, all the facts and his own admissions prove, as far as they can prove it, that the change from Norman to Gothic architecture was progressive and indeterminate, which it would not have been had Wren's supposition been correct. But we do not wish to anticipate our own arguments, and therefore will merely adduce two or three passages in proof that we are not doing injustice to him by this assertion.

"The style then used was an adulteration, or a rude imitation of the genuine Grecian or Roman manner. This has been named the Saxon style, being the national architecture of our Saxon ancestors before the conquest; for the Normans only extended its proportion and enlarged its scale. Of this style many specimens remain: the transept of Winchester cathedral, built 1080, &c. &c. The most complete monuments of it I can at present recollect are, the church of St. Cross, near Winchester, built by Henry de Blois, 1130, &c. &c. [and in both of these, be it observed, the Gothic arch is to be found.] The style which succeeded to this, was not the absolute Gothic, or Gothic, simply so called; but a sort of Gothic-Saxon."

He then describes this Gothic-Saxon, and gives instances where it may be found; but adds :

"Still we have not, in such edifices of the improved or SaxonGothic, the ramified window, one distinguishing characteristic of the absolute Gothic. IT IS DIFFICULT TO DEFINE THESE GRADATIONS. The absolute Gothic, or that which is free from all Saxon mixture, began with ramified windows, of an enlarged dimension, divided into several lights, and branched out at the top into a multiplicity of whimsical shapes and compartments, after the year 1300, &c. &c."


This is quite sufficient to justify what we have said; but to shew how readily Wharton could take a thing for granted, upon this subject, he observes, that "what the same celebrated artist immediately subjoins, [which, by the by, is not by the celebrated artist at all, but his son; the celebrated artist knowing better, as appears from his own works] that the use of glass introduced mullions into windows is very probable;" whereas the fact is notorious, that glass was in use four or five hundred years before. Again - spires were never used till the Saracen mode took place ;-the very notion of a spire was brought from the east, where pyramidical structures were common, and spiral ornaments were the fashionable decorations of their mosques. "9 It would require some nerve, and an unusual daring, in a people not possessing the confiding strength and power of original minds, to magnify spiral ornaments and pyramidical forms into a spire like that at Salisbury, and to place it, as a crowning ornament, to a tower two hundred or more feet

in height; and as to spires themselves, he had learned from the very author he quotes, that the Saracens used cupolas and not spires. But let any man of taste or feeling look at Salisbury, or any other Gothic cathedral, and tell us if a spire be not essential to the perfect character of the building. We know that a thousand circumstances may prevent the completion of works of such magnitude and cost; but a spire is a thing essentially wanting to the perfectness of the building; and if so, how is it that the Saracens, with whom it is said to have originated, never had them?

Bentham, the next and best of all the writers on the subject, can hardly be considered as discussing the question directly; but then he abounds in facts and circumstances, all of which are confirmative of the opinion we shall hereafter offer. And Grose ende vours to prove that no such style of architecture did then, or, to any extent, ever did, exist among the Saracens; and that what they have, was probaby introduced there during the Christian occupation of the Holy Land; for be it remembered, it is neither the pointed arch, nor the clustered column, nor any other single ornament, but the combination of all these, and a thousand other things, that constitutes Gothic architecture. "If Sir Christopher Wren's supposition be well founded," says Grose," it seems likely that many ancient buildings of this kind, or at least their remains, would be found in those countries from whence it is said to have been brought; parts of which have, at different times, been visited by several curious travellers, many of whom have made designs of what they thought most remarkable. Whether they overlooked or neglected these buildings, as being in search of those of more remote antiquity, or whether none existed, seems doubtful. Cornelius le Brun, an indefatigable and inquisitive traveller, has published many views of eastern buildings, particularly about the Holy Land; in all these only one Gothic ruin, the church near Acre, and a few pointed arches, occur; and those built by the Christians, when in possession of the country. Near Ispahan, in Persia, he gives several buildings with pointed arches [the pointed arch itself is probably the oldest to be met with: it is found in the ruins of the walls of Mitylene]; but these are bridges and caravanseras, whose age cannot be ascertained; consequently, are as likely to have been built after as before the introduction of this style into Europe.

"At Ispahan itself, the Mey Dven, or grand market place, is surrounded by divers magnificent gothic buildings, particularly the royal mosque, and the Talael Ali-kapie, or theatre. The magnificent bridge of Alla-werdie chan, over the river Zenducot, five hundred and forty paces long, and seventeen broad, having

thirty-three pointed arches, is also a Gothic structure; but no mention is made when or by whom these were built. The Chiaer Baeg, a royal garden, is decorated with Gothic buildings; but these were, it is said, built only in the reign of Scha Abbas, who died anno 1629.


One building, indeed, at first seems as if it would corroborate this assertion, and that the time when it was erected might be in some degree fixed; it is the tomb of Abdulla, one of the apostles of Mahomet, probably him surnamed Abu Beer. If this tomb is supposed to have been built soon after his death, estimating that event to have happened according to the common course of nature, it will place its erection about the middle of the seventh century; but this is by far too conjectural to be much depended on. It also seems as if this was not the common style of building at that time, from the temple of Mecca; where, if any credit is to be given to the prints of it in Sale's Koran, the arches are semi-circular. Its general appearance much resembles the east end of the chapel belonging to Ely House, London, except that which is filled up there by the great window in the tomb is an open pointed arch, where, also, the columns, or pinnacles, on each side, are higher in proportion.

"Some have supposed that this kind of architecture was brought into Spain by the Moors (who possessed themselves of a great part of that country in the beginning of the eighth century, which they held to the latter end of the fifteenth); and that from thence, by way of France, it was introduced into England. This, at first, seems plausible; though the only instance which seems to corroborate this hypothesis, or, at least, the only one proved by authentic drawings, is the mosque at Cordova, in Spain; where, according to the views published by Mr. Swinburne, although most of the arches are circular, or horse-shoe fashion, there are some pointed arches, formed by the intersection of two segments of a circle [and so there are in half the Saxon or Norman remains in this country; as an ornament, the walls were often covered with it]. This mosque was, as it is said, began by Abdoulrahman the First, who laid the foundation two years before his death, and was finished by his son Hissem or Iscan, about the year 800. If these arches were part of the original structure, it would be much in favour of the supposition; but as it is also said, that edifice has been more than once altered and enlarged by the Mahometans, before any well-grounded conclusion can be drawn, it is necessary to ascertain the date of the present building.

"There are also several pointed arches in the Moorish palace at Grenada, called the Alambra; but as that was not

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