anifold as the influences are to which the modern revival of Gothic Architecture have been referred, they may, if taken broadly, be classed under three heads, viz. literary, religious and antiquarian. To the first may be assigned the taste for medievalism, which was encouraged in this country by the writings of Sir Walter Scott, Bishop Percy, and Dr. Lingard; in France by those of Chateaubriand; and in Germany by those of Friedrich von Schlegel. It is impossible to read either the poems or the novels of Scott without perceiving how greatly their interest depends on that class of sentiment, half chivalrous and half romantic, which is centered in the social life and history, the faith, the arts, and the warfare of the Middle Ages. "Ivanhoe," "The Abbot," "Woodstock," "The Fair Maid of Perth" and "The Monastery, abound in allusions to the Architecture, either military or ecclesiastical, of a bygone age. It forms the background to some of the most stirring scenes which the author depicts. It invests with a substantial reality the romances which he weaves. It is often intimately associated with the very incidents of his plot.
We need not necessarily infer that Scott possessed anything more than a superficial knowledge of the art which he so enthusiastically admired. On the contrary, the descriptions which he gives of Medieval buildings not unfrequently betray an ignorance of what have since been called the true principles of Gothic design. The poetic but erroneous notion that the groined vault of a cathedral church had its prototype in the spreading branches of a tree — the comparison of clustered shafts to bundles of lances, bound with garlands — may raise a smile from those who have studied with any attention the real and structural beauties of old English Architecture. The truth is that the service which Scott rendered to the cause of the Revival was to awaken popular interest in a style which had hitherto been associated, except by the educated few, with ascetic gloom and vulgar superstition. With the aid of his magic pen the Castle of Coningsburgh is filled as of yore with doughty warriors; Branksome Hall is restored to its feudal splendour; Kenilworth becomes once more the scene of human love, and strife, and tragedy; the aisles of Melrose echo again with a solemn requiem.
The Waverley novels and the poems which preceded them were read with an eager interest which we can only realize in this blasé generation when we remember the class of fiction, in prose or verse, with which our grandsires had been previously supplied. With the exception of Horace Walpole and Mrs. Radcliffe, no author of any note had sought for inspiration in the old-world lore. . . . Sir Walter Scott was the first historical novelist that England produced. Whether he gave a reliable picture of social life in the Middle Ages may be doubted. It is the province of such a writer to deal with his material after the manner of all artists. He must keep virtues for his hero and faults for those who cross his hero's path. He must fill in the lights and shades of his story as best befits its climax. He must-keep probability subservient to effect. All this Sir Walter did to perfection, and he did more. He drew public attention to the romantic side of archaeology. It had hitherto been regarded as a formal science. He charmed it into an attractive art. And this he accomplished without any parade of the special knowledge which he had acquired in the study of old English life and its picturesque accessories. We find in his romances none of that laboured accuracy in regard to detail which has characterised the writings of those who have endeavoured in a similar field to unite the taste of the dilettante with the imagination of the novelist. In reading such a work as the 'Last Days of Pompeii,' one is struck with the palpable effort which its author makes to describe and turn to dramatic account the latest facts and discoveries concerning the disinterred city. Scarcely an incident is recorded, scarcely a scene is described, which does not reveal the narrator's aim at correctness in his studies of what a painter would call c still life." It is as if he had invoked the shade of Sir William Hamilton instead of the Muse of Fiction to aid him in his task, and had composed his story after spending a week in the Museo Bourbonico.
With far more subtle skill and magic power, Scott entered on his work. The pictures which he sets before us of life in the Middle Ages are not encumbered with needless minutiae of material fact. The aspect of the dwellings, the costume, the household gods of our ances- tors, is not indeed forgotten, but they are not allowed to obtrude on the reader's attention, and they are always kept subordinate to the interest which is elicited by character and conversation. It is somewhat remarkable that the "Antiquary," a novel in which Scott might have found it easy to display his acquaintance with the relics of ancient art, should contain so little evidence of the author's taste in that direction. Mr. Oldbuck, who is familiar with the rare quarto of the Augsburg Confession, who is an authority in heraldic matters, whose wrath is kindled by the spurious poems of Ossian, and who quotes everything he has read from Virgil to a Border ballad, would have cut a poor figure in the Camden Society. He collects indeed Roman lamps, and Scottish thumbscrews, but for aught we can gather from his discourse, he knows no more of Jedburgh Abbey than of the Palace of the Caesars.
The Mediaeval sympathies which Scott aroused were enlisted less by reference to the relics of Pointed architecture than by the halo of romance which he contrived to throw around them. The fortunes of the Disinherited Knight, the ill-requited love of poor Rebecca, the very jokes of Wamba and the ditties of the Bare-footed Friar, did more for the Gothic Revival than all the labours of Carter and Rickman. The description of the desecrated church in the "Abbot" excites our interest not merely because its niches have been emptied and its altar despoiled, but because it forms a background to the figures of Magdalen and Roland. The castles of the Rhine appear to every modern tourist picturesque monuments of antiquity, but they acquire a double ch in association with the story of "Anne of Geierstein."
It would be difficult to overrate the influence which Scott's poetry has had on both sides of the Tweed, in encouraging a national taste for Mediaeval architecture. Every line in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel" every incident in "Marmion," is pregnant with that spirit of romance which is the essence of traditional art. The time may perhaps have now arrived when the popular mind can dispense with the spell of association, and learn to admire Gothic for its intrinsic beauty. But in the early part of this century, England could boast of no such author as Mr. Ruskin, to teach, discriminate, and criticise, in matters of taste. Guided by his advice and influence, we may succeed in kindling the Lamps of Life and Power. But fifty years ago, in the darkest period which British art has seen, we were illumined by one solitary and flickering flame, which Scott contrived to keep alive. It was the Lamp of Memory. . . .
The earliest instances of the application of Gothic as a definite style at that period were to be found, not in the churches, but in the mansions of modern England. In our own time, the most bigoted opponents of the style are generally found to admit that if unsuitable for a dwelling, it may with propriety be employed — to use their own language — for a "place of worship." But when Scott was in the zenith of his fame, the reverse of this opinion would appear, at first sight, to have prevailed/ While many country houses of the nobility and gentry were designed, or rebuilt, in what was then known as the Castellated style, almost every modern church that was erected aped the general arrangement of a Greek temple, or the pseudo-classic type of the Renaissance.
The explanation of this apparent anomaly becomes obvious when we remember the condition of things under which it occurred. In the first place, the revived taste for Mediaeval Architecture was as yet caviare to the multitude. It seemed but natural that the landed proprietors — the heads of ancient families, the source of whose lineage was intimately asso- ciated with the early welfare of this country — should feel some interest in a style which kept alive the memories of the past, and symbolised at once the romance of history and the pride of name. But the majority of parsons and churchwardens, the committee-men and vestrymen, of a town parish, could scarcely be expected to participate in these sentiments. Their notions of grand architecture were linked to the Five Orders, or based on a glimpse of Stuart's Athens; their ideas of devotion were centered in the family pew. And it was only in town parishes that the church architect then found exercise for his ability. The expediency of providing additional churches for the increasing population of rural districts was a problem which had not as yet presented itself to the parochial mind. And it must be confessed that if it had, the necessity of acting on it would have been doubtful. A large parish does not always, and certainly did not in those days, mean a large congregation. In plain language, it would have been absurd to build new churches while the old ones remained half filled. [112-16]
Eastlake, Charles L. A History of the Gothic Revival. London: Longmans, Green; N.Y. Scribner, Welford, 1872. [Copy in Brown University's Rockefeller Library]
Last modified 6 February 2008