This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Such an impulse has been given to the public mind as will eventually lead to a thorough reformation, and place our domestic architecture in a position worthy of a people so enlightened, prosperous, and independent.
Much, however, has yet to be done. It can not be denied but that there is a very general ignorance among the masses of the people, in regard to architecture. Much as the works referred to have accomplished, in the way of arousing taste and feeling on the subject, they have done little, very little, to disseminate a knowledge of the rudiments and details of architecture. They have portrayed the advantages of comfortable and convenient houses, the moral and social influence of tasteful and beautiful homes, and they have laid before our eyes handsome pictures for us to imitate; but the principles of beauty and fitness, the details of structure, are as badly understood as ever, and plans and elevations are scarcely intelligible to one in a thousand. This is positively the case among even the well-read and most intelligent and refined portion of the community; and our belief is, that while such ignorance exists, we shall continue to witness, as we do now, a large number of the attempts to build tasteful houses resulting in blunders and deformities.
What we want, then, is a popular knowledge of architecture, and a cultivated popular taste. "Good sense," observes an eminent writer, "may exist without good taste; yet from their intimate connection, many persons are as much offended at having their taste as their understanding disputed. Hence, the most ignorant being generally the most obstinate, I have occasionally found that as a little learning is a dangerous thing, a little taste is a troublesome one. Both taste and understanding require cultivation and improvement. Natural taste, like natural genius, may exist to a certain degree; but without study, observation, and experience, they lead to error." "The requisites of taste," says another distinguished writer, "are, first, a lively imagination; second, the power of distinct apprehension; third, the capacity of being easily, strongly, and agreeably affected with sublimity, beauty, harmony, and correct imitation, &c; fourth, sympathy, or sensibility of heart; and, fifth, judgment, or good sense, which is the principal thing".
Every day we witness what vagaries "men of taste," without knowledge or experience can perpetrate in the way of building. They desire to erect a tasteful and beautiful house, - something that will arrest attention as well as excite admiration. They call in the service of an architect, perhaps, to give advice and draw a "plan." This architect may be a very competent man, and give sound and excellent advice; but the chances are otherwise. When his plan is drawn and submitted for examination, the misfortune is, his patron does not comprehend it; the size alone is intelligible to him. Yet he has some cherished notion of his own, which, right or wrong, must be carried out; and so some addition or alteration is made, and whatever proportion and harmony existed in the design before, is probably destroyed, the whole structure deformed, and very likely made ridiculous. There are others, again, who dispense entirely with the services of an architect. They have searched and found some building which they take as a model: but some of its parts are not quite to their taste, and they and their builder adopt some improvement; and this spoils the whole.
It takes but a very trifling alteration or addition to make an excellent design a laughing-stock, just as the finest portrait may, with the slightest touch of the brush, be converted into a disgusting caricature.*
Thus the architecture of the country suffers the moment that any thing beyond the plainest and simplest structures are attempted. Out of the large cities it is difficult to find really skillful, tasteful, well-trained architects. Indeed. there is little use for them, because most of the country people design and superintend the building of their own houses, with such aid as they can get from a master builder and the few who do employ an architect, are scarcely willing to pay enough to compensate an artist for the mechanical execution of the drawing, to say nothing whatever of the mental labor performed in studying the design. Hence it is that so many of our country houses are without harmony and proportion in their parts, simply rectangular boxes, destitute of a single feature that can impart an idea of the beautiful.
On all these accounts, therefore, and regarding architecture as of great importance, not merely in an economical point of view, but as calculated to exercise a great influence on the aspect of the country, and on the taste and habits of the people, we desire to see it studied and taught in our common schools and academies. Drawing is wofully neglected in the course of ordinary education, and yet is one of the most useful and delightful acquirements; - useful in all pursuits that men engage in; and delightful, as affording in all places an opportunity to take accurate notes of objects which we wish to preserve in our memory. If people generally possessed some knowledge of drawing, they would be vastly more competent to examine and understand architectural plans and designs, and they would also be more competent to design and superintend the erection of their own buildings. There is scarcely an hour in the day in which persons engaged in rural or mechanical pursuits do not feel the necessity of being able to sketch with the pencil.
But what proportion can do it ? Not one in ten thousand!
* One of the most conspicuous and costly private dwellings in a city not far from where we write - a square building - has a dome large enough for a cathedral, and a light iron veranda, that has the appearance of wire-work - a well executed caricature that every body laughs at Yet, every man to his taste.
Let us urge upon parents the propriety, yea, the necessity, of looking to the matter. Let us also urge it on the attention of trustees and directors of schools, and school teachers too. We would particularly invite the attention of directors of the agricultural schools which are now about being founded in various parts of the country. We look to them with the greatest hope. The study of drawing, both geometrical and perspective, in connection with the study of the rudiments of architecture, must by all means be included in their course. It may, perhaps, be difficult to get a proper architectural text-book; we have not met with any that we should consider adapted to schools; yet there may be some. Our readings and researches in this department we confess to be not very extensive. We do not wish to be understood as hoping or desiring to make every person an architect. Professional architects must not suspect us of any such malicious or foolish design, as that of robbing them of their bread. The information we seek to have disseminated would be a direct aid to the profession; for people would know what architecture is, and as they would be competent to examine and appreciate a good design, and a good drawing, so they would place a proper estimate on the labors and services of talented and tasteful architects.