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splintering into irregular and grisly islands amidst the northern seas, beaten by storm, and chilled by ice-drift, and tormented by furious pulses of contending tide, until the roots of the last forests fail from among the hill ravines, and the hunger of the north wind bites their peaks into barrenness; and, at last, the wall of ice durable like iron, sets, deathlike, its white teeth against us out of the polar twilight. And, having once traversed in thought this gradation of the zoned iris of the earth in all its material vastness, let us go down nearer to it, and watch the parallel change in the belt of animal life: the multitudes of swift and brilliant creatures that glance in the air and sea, or tread the sands of the southern zone; striped zebras and spotted leopards, glistening serpents, and birds arrayed in purple and scarlet. Let us contrast their delicacy and brilliancy of color, and swiftness of motion, with the frost-cramped strength, and shaggy covering, and dusky plumage of the northern tribes; contrast the Arabian horse with the Shetland, the tiger and leopard with the wolf and bear, the antelope with the elk, the bird of paradise with the osprey; and then, submissively acknowledging the great laws by which the earth and all that it bears are ruled throughout their being, let us not condemn, but rejoice in the expression by man of his own rest in the statutes of the land that gave him birth. I.et us watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jasper pillars, that are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless sky; but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an uncouth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the darkened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the northern sea; creations of ungainly shape and rigid limb, but full of wolfish life; fierce as the winds that beat, and changeful as the clouds that shade them.
In one point of view Gothic is not only the best but the only rational architecture, as being that which can fit itself most easily to all services, vulgar or noble. Undefined in its slope of roof, height of shaft, breadth of arch, or disposition of ground plan, it can shrink into a turret, expand into a hall, coil into a staircase, or spring into a spire, with undegraded grace and unexhausted energy; and whenever it finds occasion for change in its form or purpose, it submits to it without the slightest sense of loss either to its unity or majesty,+subtle and flexible like a fiery serpent, but ever attentive to the voice of the charmer. And it is one of the chief virtues of the Gothic builders, that they never suffered ideas of outside symmetries and consistencies to interfere with the real use and value of what they did. If they wanted a window, they opened one; a room, they added one ; a buttress, they built one; utterly regardless of any established conventionalities of external appearance, knowing (as indeed it always happened) that such daring interruptions of the formal plan would rather give additional interest to its symmetry than injure it. So that, in the best times of Gothic, a useless window would rather have been opened in an unexpected place for the sake of the surprise, than a useful one forbidden for the sake of symmetry. Every successive architect, employed upon a great work, built the pieces he added in his own way, utterly regardless of the style adopted by his predecessors; and if two towers were raised in nominal correspondence at the sides of a cathedral front, one was nearly sure to be different from the other, and in each the style at the top to be different from the style at the bottom.
The most striking outward feature in all Gothic architecture is, that it is composed of pointed arches, as in Romanesque that it is in like manner composed of round ; and this distinction would be quite as clear, though the roofs were taken off every cathedral in Europe. And yet, if we examine carefully into the real force and meaning of the term “roof,” we shall, perhaps, be able to retain the old popular idea in a definition of Gothic architecture, which shall also express whatever dependence that architecture has upon true forms of roofing. Roofs are generally divided into two parts; the roof proper, that is to say, the shell, vault, or ceiling, internally visible; and the roof-mask, which protects this lower roof from the weather. In some buildings these parts are united in one frame-work; but in most they are more or less independent of each other, and in nearly all Gothic buildings there is a considerable interval between them. Now it will often happen, that owing to the nature of the apartments required, or the materials at hand, the roof proper may be flat, coved, or domed, in buildings which in their walls employ pointed arches, and are, in the straitest sense of the word, Gothic in all other respects. Yet so far forth as the roofing alone is concerned, they are not Gothic unless the pointed arch be the principal form adopted either in the stone vaulting or the timbers of the roof proper. I shall say then, in the first place, that “Gothic architecture is that which uses, if possible, the pointed arch in the roof proper.” This is the first step in our definition. Secondly. Although there may be many advisable or necessary forms for the lower roof or ceiling, there is, in cold countries exposed to rain and snow, only one advisable form for the roof-mask, and that is the gable, for this alone will throw off both rain and snow from all parts of its surface as speedily as possible. Snow can lodge on the top of a dome,
not on the ridge of a gable. And thus, as far as roofing is concerned, the gable is a far more essential feature of Northern architecture than the pointed vault, for the one is a thorough necessity, the other often a grateful conventionality; the gable occurs in the timber-roof of every dwelling-house and every cottage, but not the vault; and the gable built on a polygonal or circular plan, is the origin of the turret and spire; and all the so-called aspiration of Gothic architecture is nothing more than its development. So that we must add to our definition another clause, which will be at present by far the most important, and it will stand thus: “Gothic architecture is that which uses the pointed arch for the roof proper, and the gable for the roof-mask.”
And here, in passing, let us notice a principle as true in architecture as in morals. It is not the compelled, but the wilful, transgression of law which corrupts the character. Sin is not in the act, but in the choice. It is a law for Gothic architecture, that it shall use the pointed arch for its roof proper; but because, in many cases of domestic building, this becomes impossible for want of room (the whole height of the apartment being required every where), or in various other ways inconvenient, flat ceilings may be used, and yet the Gothic shall not lose its purity. But in the roof-mask there can be no necessity nor reason for a change of form: the gable is the best; and if any other—dome, or bulging crown, or whatsoever else—be employed at all, it must be in pure caprice and wilful transgression of law. And wherever, therefore, this is done, the Gothic has lost its character; it is pure Gothic no In Ore.
I plead for the introduction of the Gothic form into our domestic architecture, not merely because it is lovely, but because it is the only form of faithful, strong, enduring, and honorable building, in such materials as come daily to our hands. By an increase of scale and costs it is impossible to build, in any style, what will last for ages; but only in the Gothic is it possible to give security and dignity to work wrought with imperfect means and materials. And I trust that there will come a time when the English people may see the folly of building basely and insecurely. It is common with those architects against whose practice my writings have hitherto been directed, to call them merely theoretical and imaginative. I answer, that there is not a single principle asserted either in the “Seven Lamps” or here, but is of the simplest, sternest veracity, and the easiest practicability; that buildings, raised as I would have them, would stand unshaken for a thousand years; and the buildings raised by the architects who oppose them will not stand for one hundred and fifty, they sometimes do not stand for an hour. There is hardly a week passes without some catastrophe brought about by the base principles of modern building : some vaultless floor that drops the staggering crowd through the jagged rents of its rotten timbers; some baseless bridge that is washed away by the first wave of a common flood; some fungous wall of nascent rottenness that a thunder-shower soaks down with its workmen into a heap of slime and death. These we hear of day by day; yet these indicate but a thousandth part of the evil. The portion of the national income sacrificed in mere bad building, in the perpetual repairs, and swift condemnation and pulling down of ill-built shells of houses, passes all calculation. And the weight of the penalty is not yet felt; it will tell upon our children some fifty years hence, when the cheap work, and contract work, and stucco and plaster work, and bad iron work, and all the other expedients of modern rivalry, vanity, and dishonesty, begin to show themselves for what they are.