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A History of Gothic Art in England. By EDWARD S. Prior, M.A. (London: George Bell and Sons, 31s. 6d. nett).- A history of Gothic art in England, up-to-date, and free from the speculations of the schools of Pugin, Ruskin, and William Morris, as to the connection between art and social progress, or the endeavour to correlate art to social law, has long been a desideratum, and this Mr. Prior supplies with marked success, abandoning theories, and leaving the facts to speak for themselves. In this he shows himself abundantly endowed with that “historic sense” which Mr. John Morley has lately told us has been attained only in our own day.
Commencing with the heritage of Romanesque art bequeathed to the Continent from the days of the Roman empire, which took such grand and massive shape in the work of the Norman architects in England in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Mr. Prior gives, first, a masterly sketch of the rise and progress of Gothic art in England and France respectively, the aim of his argument being to prove that English Gothic was no daughter of the French” but its twin sister, and but a moment younger. French Gothic had its origin in the Ile de France, then but a restricted district, outside of which stood Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Burgundy, and many another later province; and under the fostering care of Philip Augustus and his successors it soon sprang into a vigorous but comparatively short life. Senlis, Sens, Laon, Chartres, Paris, and, a little later, Bourges, Reims, Amiens, Le Mans, and Beauvais are its characteristic examples, and no other similar area in Europe has such a mass of splendid Gothic work to show. But in its advance we may see both the reason of its supreme excellence and of its decay. The science of vault construction appealed to the logical faculty of the Parisian, until his vaults rose higher and higher, and his cathedrals became at length-in the author's striking expression—"chain-works of articulated stone pegged to the ground by pinnacles !” Further, in France the great cathedrals were built in symbol of the confederation of the king and the communes against the abbots. French Gothic was “laic," and the “laic” school, superseding the “monastic,” produced those acknowledged masters of the craft who built all over Europe on the French model; but, with the exception of Westminster Abbey, which was due to the French tastes of Henry III, not in England.
Very different was the course of English Gothic. In art, as in politics and religion, the completeness of a logical conclusion had no charm for the English race; its genius is for compromise. The vigour of the Norman building had given the Englishman a grand art, and in treatment of mass and wall surface he retained to the end the ideals of this Romanesque design, and with these the freshness of experiment. So English art never lost its heart, and in it there appears, throughout its course from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, spontaneity as well as steadfastness. English Gothic took its first inspiration from Burgundy, and to a certain extent from the infiltration of the Gothic spirit from the Ile de France to Anjou, Maine, and Normandy, then under the English Crown; but it soon gave to its development a national bent which it never lost. As French Gothic soared ever higher and higher, so the English genius was for low, broad effects, " for lengthened sweetness long drawn out;" where the French Gothic massed its effects, the English spread them. These differences may be seen by comparing the ground plan of Notre Dame with that of Canterbury, and the elevation of Chartres or Beauvais with that of Lincoln and Lichfield. Further, English Gothic remained “ cleric” or monastic continuously; just as at the beginning this had been Benedictine and then Cistercian, so the vigour of that reformed monasticism carried it onward, but always with an increasing leaven of its native Saxon heritage, which had come to it through the Celtic memories of the first British Church, Thus, while the story of French Gothic is to be read like a Greek drama, with the unities of a tragedy in three acts--the rise, the summit, the fall-clear to the eye, the English tale develops itself like a series of romances, threaded to a common idea, but each having its own subsidiary drama, its mounting effort, its apex of achievement, and its turning to a new enthusiasm. Thus the author combats the idea of the last generation that English Gothic is a derivation from the French, and not a native growth; and it is to the development and the proof of this position that he devotes
The author retains the names of " Early English, “ Decorated," and “Perpendicular as being convenient for ordinary use, and as indicating the course of Gothic art in England; but he marks seven distinct periods corresponding to the seven half-centuries of its existence. From 1150 to 1200 the rapid growth of the first Pointed style ; from 1200 to 1250 its establishment, during which little change is seen. From 1250 to 1300 the rise of the Decorated or second Pointed style, and from 1300 to 1348 (the date of the Black Death) the infinite variety of the "geometric" style, in which Gothic art in England attained the summit of its powers, and whence it afterwards gradually but surely declined. By 1400 the "Perpendicular" style was established, and from 1450 to 1525 this latter may be said to have become Tudor. But what the author specially insists upon is this : that the transitions were all gradual, melting as softly one into the other as the colours of the spectrum. The whole story is one of continuous change, but the Gothic idea rules from first to last, though its manifestation shows certain colourings peculiar to each century.
The various distinctions that appear are traced by Mr. Prior to the social forces that were in evidence in each successive century. All Gothic architecture was, as he says, church building, whether cathedral, monastic fane, or simple parish sanctuary; and it was successively the priest, the noble, and the burgess whose faiths were expressed. Into the details of this long and splendid story space forbids us to follow our author, but we may say that the theme is worked out with a wealth of illustration, and a rich and imaginative diction, which leave nothing to be desired. Even those who may not altogether agree with the positions maintained will admit that Mr. Prior has opened up a new era in the investigation of his subject, in which it is reviewed solely for the sake of its history, and with no ulterior purpose whether of religious, moral, or artistic elevation.
The beginnings of the Early English style in what is known as the “ Transition ” period, during the second half of the twelfth century, are marked by the coming in of the Pointed arch, constructive lightness and elegance, and a naturalistic awakening in the decorative motives. The first, which is the clear sign-manual of Gothic art, is traced by the author without any lingering doubt, from a ninthcentury use in the East, and an eleventh-century introduction into the South of France, to the influence of the Crusaders; but he shows that it was the sweep of advancing art that seized upon it as its plaything, and compelled its use for the efficient expression of the Gothic ideal. Shortly afterwards came the introduction of the beautiful Lancet window, and this was followed by the junction of the Lancets and the filling of the head of the now enlarged light with all the successive varieties of Decorative tracery. Along with this may be noted the continuous advance in the adornment of column, and arcade, and roof, and wall-space, until such glorious creations as Wells and Exeter, Lichfield and Lincoln, Fountains, Rivaulx, Tintern, and a score of others, are complete.
The first symptoms of decline are noted in the differentiation of workmanship. At first each artifex, unknown and unnamed, is the embodiment of the national genius, and capable of doing his part in any portion of the work : now as mason, now as carpenter, now sculptor, and so on. With the specialization of the architector, the ingeniator, the comentarius, who was rector of the work, the sculptor, the pictor, and the imaginator, and the handing down of the names of individual artists which commenced even in the thirteenth century,
decay had begun, notwithstanding the florid perfection of later days, for with individuality is sown inequality, and whim takes the place of character.
Even here, however, the sobriety and judgment of the English race may be observed, for whereas French Gothic passed in its decline to the extravagance of the Flamboyant school, English Gothic passed—when the enthusiasm of the priest and the pomp of the noble had done their work--to the stately lines of the Perpendicular style, which may be seen in the abundant examples of the parish churches of the fifteenth century, the fruit of the piety of the wealthy burgess and
With the author's account of the period from 1300 down to the time of the Black Death, as the summit of English Gothic art, and his plea in which he follows Professor Freeman, for the nanie of “Geometric to be applied to the period, we are wholly satisfied.
With his remarks as to the terrible results of the so-called “ restorations,” which marked especially the middle decades of the nineteenth century, and which we fear we have not yet seen the last of—as witness the west front of Peterborough Cathedral—we are in entire agreement. As he says, we have multiplied examples of "restoration” building, with “restoration " sculpture, with “restoration" painted glass and Gothic furniture of screens and stalls, but the tinsel of nineteenth-century ecclesiology must be thrust aside before we can get the real quality of medieval art. Yet by most people these neo-Gothic forgeries are taken as representative, and no wonder that the credit of the real inspiration has declined, genuine work has been continually effaced, and the real article smoothed away and doctored to imitate the false.
For the next generation to ours, any direct acquaintance with the great comprehensive Gothic genius, except by means of parodies, will be difficult. As it is, students must travel to out-of-the-way corners of England, to neglected parish churches, which for want of money have been left alone, if they would see what Gothic building really was. It is to teach people to recognise the true inspiration, and to realise that "by no possibility can a nation of mechanics show the same products as a nation of artists,” that this book is written. May the judicious preservation of all that is still left be its result! If that be so, we shall see no more bastard imitations of " Early English,” or “ Decorated,” set up in the place of the fifteenth-century parish church, or the style of one county transplanted bodily to another and alien soil! “Perpendicular,” says Mr. Prior, in his concluding remarks, “is the art of the most completely local individuality, yet of the widest democracy. The form of the parish church was the Saxon contribution to our English Gothic, and we treasure its history. Our village art of ‘Perpendicular' is not to be despised because it came too late to be Decorated' or 'Early English.' The fifteenth century was to our Gothic art an Indian summer, whose brilliant hues were of the falling leaf, not of the budding flower of Gothic."
We venture to predict that this sumptuous volume, adorned with more than 300 illustrations, and written in an earnest and scholarly spirit, will be the standard “History of Gothic Art in England," for a long while to come. It is a book which should be in the hands of every architect; and the general reader-above all, one who may have anything to do with “restoration,” whether layman or clericwill find it both fascinating and instructive, an invaluable check to vagaries, and a sure guide to a correct artistic taste.
We have received from Mr. Elliot Stock an interesting little brochure entitled, Reflections on the Character and Doings of the Sir Roger de Coverly of Addison (12 p.p.), in which the author, Rev. R. E. H. Duke, endeavours to prove that the prototype of Sir Roger was an ancestor of his own, Richard Duke, of Bulford.
Addison was born at his father's parsonage of Milston, which is close to Bulford, and was first sent to school at Amesbury, and afterwards at Salisbury. “But,” says the author, “the impressions of Addison's early boyhood remained with him all through his life . . so that it is perfectly agreeable to his customs for us to suppose that in his Sir Roger he portrayed the character of a neighbouring squire. To prove his point, the author has diligently searched his Spectator, and compared what Addison tells us of Sir Roger with what we can gather from other sources of the real Mr. Duke, and he has certainly succeeded in making out a very good case. All lovers of Addison and of Sir Roger should procure this little book.
Norman Tympana in Derbyshire.— The two Plates herewith further illustrate the paper on above by T. N. Brushfield, M.D., F.S.A. (see pp. 241 to 271).
NOTE.--Several reviews of books on archaeological subjects, and other matters of antiquarian interest, are obliged, from want of space, to be reserved for our next Volume.-ED.