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VOL. X. PART I.
ART. I.–An Historical and Architectural Account of the Colle
giate 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 Mæsogoths, 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