American Ruins

American Country Houses of the Gilded Age

Modern Dwellings, Part I, continued

and Revett has had a more successful Career. But while the "counterfeit presentments" of the temples of the gods have mocked the eye with their exterior of wood and whitewash, so within we might sometimes find the Pythia with a wash-bench for a tripod, with the fumes of soap-suds representing the vapor of inspiration.

But the Gothic revival, started by the masterly hand of Pugin, glorified and made national by such men as Street and Ruskin, seemed to have decided the matter, and both England and America have rested with unmolested satisfaction for the past half century until within the last three years, when suddenly it has been discovered that the Gothic, however well adapted to ecclesiastical purposes, is lacking in essential points for domestic uses; and Norman Shaw, J. J. Stevenson, and others have openly advocated the heresy. Their argument was that the Gothic meant the development of the arched construction in the pointed work, vaulting, and traceried windows, and that, while these features were suited to churches and great halls, they were unfitted for modern domestic structures, divided as they are into comparatively low stories; therefore that even in the dwellings of the Middle Ages, when this style reached its highest perfection, its characteristic features could not be displayed. In fact, Gothic architecture was not originally intended to meet domestic wants.

These writers, then, exempt themselves from a slavish conformity to the Gothic; admirable as it may be in its proper sphere, on the ground that it is manifestly inadequate to meet all modern requirements. One of the principles upon which the promoters of the Gothic revival insisted with energy and eloquence was "truth in architecture" — that the construction should not be hidden under some fair-seeming mask, which had no affinity with it, and often represented something very different from it, but should be made apparent, and the basis of whatever adornment should be employed. But these new reformers say that truth is not the peculiar possession of Gothic architecture; and, indeed, modern Gothic has often found the temptations of an age that loves to be deceived too strong for it, and has fallen into the errors of the system it has attempted to replace. What, then, do they propose as a substitute for this in domestic architecture? They claim that in what is loosely called the "Queen Anne" style we find the most simple mode of honest English building worked out in an artistic and natural form, fitting with the sash windows and ordinary doorways, which express real domestic needs (of which it is the outcome), and so in our house building conserving truth far more effectively than can be done with the Gothic. One great practical advantage in adopting this and other styles of the "free classic" school is that they are in their construction and in the forms of the mouldings employed the same as the common vernacular styles with which our workmen are familiar. They are described by Mr. Ridge somewhat as follows: "The Queen Anne revival shows the influence of the group of styles known as the Elizabethan, Jacobite, and the style of Francis I., which are now, indeed, to be arranged under the general head of 'free classic,' but the Queen Anne movement has also been influenced by what is known s the 'cottage architecture' of that period." These cottages are partly timbered, partly covered with tile hangings, and have tall and spacious chimneys of considerable merit. They have really nothing by which to fix their date. Their details partook strongly of the classic character, while the boldness of their outline bore striking resemblance to the picturesque and ever-varying Gothic. Nevertheless, they were very genuine and striking buildings, and have been taken freely as suggestions upon which to work by Mr. Norman Shaw in Leyeswood, Cragside, and a house at Harrow Weald, which are certainly some of the most beautiful and suitable specimens of modern cottage architecture in England; and the cottages erected by the British government on the Centennial grounds at Philadelphia are adequate illustrations of this style.

In America it is the privilege of nearly all classes to build for themselves homes in the country, where, for the same rent as they would pay for a flat or tenement in town, they can secure an entire house, with sufficient ground for a garden and ornamental lawn; and if not immediately in a village, sufficient acres can be obtained to afford the luxury of a horse and cow, the products of the little farm going far toward the support of an extra man, and with good management may be made a source of profit also.

Railroads and steamboats have now become so numerous that all classes, from the humblest mechanic to the wealthy banker, can have their homes in the country, reaching them in about the same time, and as cheaply, or nearly so, as they could ride from the City Hall to the upper part of the city. It is not an occasion for wonder, then, that there are so many ready to avail themselves of this rapid transit, and that we see studded along the lines of our railroads picturesque and cheerful homes, where the heads of families are not only recuperating from the deleterious effects of the confinement of city life, but are, with the aid of fresh air and wholesome food, laying the foundation of greater strength and increased happiness for their children.

In the selection of a site, of course sanitary considerations are paramount. Next

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