The results in England, where it is best studied, are those soft, beautiful houses, which affect us by their perfect re-pose and harmony, rest and simplicity; no stress or striving here, only peace and quiet. They take their place in the landscape more like some work of Nature than of man, nestling among the verdure almost like some larger plant, more as if they grew than as if they were made. Rules of the books, recipes from the schools, seem very thin and profitless in their presence.
These buildings are not dependent on the paint shop or the planing-mill; they are brothers to the soil - what else are the brick and mortar and rough-hewn timber? They are not designed under an artificial rule derived from nothing in nature. Then the adornment of these English houses does not consist of motives invented for use on Greek temples five hundred years before Christ. What detail and ornament they have were invented painfully, lovingly, and slowly through the centuries by the people themselves, improving and bettering as they came up out of their darkness of ignorance and poverty. Eloquent of a people's history, those who live in these houses own them in a very real sense.
As for their use in this country, the utilitarian has no complaint on that score, as they are perfectly suited to our climate. The plaster makes a warmer wall in winter and a cooler one in summer than can be had with only wood. When properly done it is very durable and there is no cost of upkeep. It can be made thoroughly charming in color itself and wonderfully harmonious among the surrounding vegetation.
Of course in considering the modern work one must not expect to find in it the charm and fascination which so delight us in the old English crofts and manors. It is an exceedingly difficult thing to judge architecture per se, that is to separate the architecture, the conscious design, entirely from its setting, and pass judgment on it solely as an artistic composition, without regard to the accidental or fortuitous in its surroundings, or to those caressing marks by which we may know that Father Time has passed that way. This added beauty begins where the architect left off, but he is too often given credit for the beauty that is of Nature and not of man - the perfect result that neither may obtain alone. The English cathedrals - were they so beautiful, so noble, so satisfying, when the architect stood off and looked at his finished work, their future history unborn and timid Nature looking on from afar, not yet ready to run up and cling about its base and storm its walls and find a footfold in every cranny? I fear they were not so good then, for every picture is helped by its frame.
Your architect prefers the cathedrals of France, standing in the midst of squalid villages, with the old houses circling thick about the base, clinging to its very skirts. These buildings are less appealing, less soft and beautiful, less picturesque and charming, but they stand without adventitious aid to proclaim and attest the greatness of their designers and builders.
And then, to be reckoned with, in its very powerful but extremely subtle appeal to the sensitive mind, is the potent power of age. For time means history, and nothing is more effective in making us feel the presence and reality of the past, in recalling historic events than- buildings which saw or may have even sheltered them. The power which such works have of revivifying the former life which surged about them and profoundly affecting and moving the imagination of the onlooker by the subtle aura that hangs about and permeates them, is a force that must be carefully taken into account and guarded against by him who would sit in judgment on architectuure.
These pleasant emanations are, for the critic, illegitimate and must first of all be exorcised, before he is fit to don the ermine.
Let us therefore be a little careful before we are quite sure that our admiration is wisely bestowed and that our old buildings are really so much finer works than any we produce to-day. Let us eliminate Mother Nature and her accessories of verdure and decay, let us forget the singularly happy results she obtains by sagging our roofs and staining our walls, by blunting our edges and playing havoc generally with the specifications. It is all so delightful - but it is not architecture.
In the same way let us banish Father Time from our thoughts, with the rich pageant that follows in his train, and try to discover only what it was our designer had in his heart, what colored his thoughts, what guided his hand, when he stood before his empty field with visions swarming through his mind.
Let us look now at what this English half-timber work was in its birthplace and what we make of it to-day. We shall notice in looking over the illustrations chosen for reproduction that many of the buildings are not entirely done in half-timber. Many of the most successful ones are those that use it in connection with plain plaster or brick, the black and white used as an accent, as a precious thing.
A particularly strong point of the English work is that your Englishman will spend $100,000 and when he is through will have a simple, quiet, modest cottage. We, on the other hand, with half the money at our command, at once try for a palace, Corinthian columns through three stories, and plenty of carved stone. We build the cottage only when we can afford nothing else. But it is pleasant to think that this quiet simple work is becoming more common with us every day. We are coming to recognize its picturesqueness and adaptability to varying conditions of site, its homelike quality and freedom from ostentation. All these considerations act powerfully towards making it the one suitable style for our country homes.