James Bryce Bryce.

University and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain online

. (page 11 of 24)
Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 11 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

reporter who interviews a criminal makes to obtain
absolute accuracy about the details of the crime are
not successful, and that he does not even get credit
for the strenuousness of those efforts. And I confess
it is a serious drawback to the profession of the poli-
tician and legislator that one-half of his tune and effort
is apt to be spent, not in securing the passing of good
laws, but in preventing the passing of those laws, be
they good or bad, which the opposite party seeks to

You, gentlemen (I am reminded of this by my
reference to the transitory character of a great deal of
the work politicians do), have one satisfaction which
belongs to you, as compared with some of those other
professions I have referred to. It is this: You do attain
a solid, visible, tangible result. You produce something.
There is the building. It stands there for the world
to look at, and for yourself to admire. It stands ; it
continues to serve some useful purposes ; it is there as
something definitely attained and effected; and if after
some fifty or sixty years faults in the construction
cause it perchance to totter and fall, by that tune it
will have been forgotten who was the architect; and
as for yourself, you will not suffer from any criticism,
because you will be elsewhere, and will no doubt be
enjoying a happiness sufficient to make you entirely
indifferent to criticism.

So I come back to the conclusion that you are, on
the whole, fortunate in your profession. And you have


one other great advantage. You are following a pro-
fession, the study of which, pursued in an aesthetic as
well as scientific spirit all your life through, and con-
sisting largely in examining the masterpieces of archi-
tecture that have been erected before our own time,
and in our own time, is in itself altogether profitable
and delightful.

Now, I cannot honestly say that the whole of the
study of the law is enjoyable. In every system of
law there is much that is artificial. The system of pro-
cedure is full of dreary technicalities which sometimes
obstruct the march of justice. Statutes contain many
arbitrary rules. There are cases which establish prece-
dents that have to be followed because the decision was
so given, although we think them opposed to sound prin-
ciple. But you are not hampered in any such way.
You have to follow principles based on science, and
canons of taste which have been, for the most part,
settled by the practice of the greatest among your
predecessors, while nevertheless leaving ample scope for
your own sense of beauty in their application to the ob-
jects of the building and the conditions of the spot in
which it is to be placed. A large part of your training
consists in the study of the noblest works erected by
men of genius in earlier times. In the study of those
which remain from antiquity in Egypt, Greece, and
Italy, and in the study of the far greater number pro-
duced in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance
in many parts of Europe, you have an ever fresh


and undiluted source of pleasure. I can remember no
happier days than I have spent, and I am sure they
would have been still more happy had it been my good
fortune to possess a special and technical knowledge of
your art, in examining and sometimes trying to
sketch old churches and old castles and old city walls
and municipal buildings and palaces, especially in the
cities of Italy and Spain. One can hardly think of
any higher or keener enjoyment than lies in seeing
what man has done hi the effort to combine beauty
and convenience in buildings meant to endure, and in
following by the light of history the progress of archi-
tecture from Greek and Roman days down to the
eighteenth century, as one sees that progress in Italy,
France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Britain. To
this I may add that your art has a special claim upon
all who love the past, because it is, more than any
other art, the sister and interpreter of history. There
is nothing that helps so much to a comprehension of
history as the study of the buildings of a country. In
them you see how men faced the conditions of their
life ; you see exactly what they needed in the way of
defence and in the way of comfort ; you see what form
of structure and what internal arrangements the usages
of religion prescribed for houses of worship ; you see
by tracing the type of buildings in each particular prov-
ince or district of a country what were the racial, politi-
cal, and cultural influences that operated upon that
district at the time when the building you are studying


was erected ; and you are able, in a word, to make the
buildings of a country illustrate its history and make
its history explain the buildings. Someone ought to
write a manual of travel for those who visit civilized
countries, such as the Manual Francis Galton, compiled
for explorers in wild countries thirty years ago; and
in such a manual there might well be allotted to the
elements of architectural history a chapter sufficiently
full to enable an intelligent observer to find pleasure
in the study of buildings as well as of Nature. It is a
pleasure which has this advantage, that one can hunt
up buildings both in city and in country, whereas in
the city one can pursue no branch of natural his-
tory other than the discovery of microbes. I doubt if
there is anything which could be better done for a stu-
dent of history than to send him on an architectural
tour through France, for instance ; make him learn to
comprehend the Northern, Eastern, and Southern types
of building, and to distinguish between the subdivisions
of these types, and to comprehend what were the influ-
ences that gave one character to the churches of Lorraine
or of Burgundy, let us say, and other characters to those
of Provence or Aquitaine. How interesting it is to com-
pare the Romanesque of Germany with the more gener-
ally graceful Romanesque of France and the perhaps
almost more perfect work of the same age in the
churches of such a Spanish city as Avila. Everywhere
the buildings interpret the age and the age interprets
the buildings.


When one thinks of all the exquisite monuments of
architectural genius which adorn such a country as
Italy or France, one has to remember that they repre-
sent the accumulated ingenuity and skill and labour
and taste of many generations of men. No one of
those generations of men ever had such opportunities
as architects both here and in England have during
the last sixty years enjoyed. It is true that artistic
designers of the last sixty years have not had quite so
free a field as we assume that your predecessors had in
the Renaissance, because they have been more ham-
pered by committees, boards of trustees, municipal
councils and other authorities who cannot realize, as
did Lorenzo the Magnificent at Florence or King John
III of Portugal, or other equally large-minded princes,
that the great architect ought to have carte blanche
for the building he has planned. But, except as re-
spects that difficulty, you have enjoyed in this country,
and in western Europe also, extraordinary opportunities
during more than half a century of economic prosperity.
Never, I suppose, was there a time when so many
edifices, and so many large and important edifices,
were erected, when there was so general an interest in
building, and when so much money was lavishly
spent in bricks and mortar. In England we de-
veloped some seventy years ago a sudden access of
zeal in ecclesiastical matters which not only covered
the outskirts of our growing cities with new churches,
but set people to the repairing of old churches. And I


grieve to have to confess that this zeal has in one way
worked for evil rather than good. We have committed
a crime which you here could not commit I hope
that even if the opportunity had presented itself, you
would not have committed it, but have resisted the
temptation. Anyhow, the opportunity did not come to
you ; and to us it did come, and we, purely from want
of thought, yielded to the temptation. We have been
restoring not only some of our cathedrals, but many of
our ancient parish churches, of which there were
more that had come down untouched from before
the Reformation of the sixteenth century than any
other country could boast, and having sometimes
restored them almost out of recognition, we have un-
fortunately obliterated a great deal of the history that
was written in those churches. The same thing has
happened in France, but not so widely, because not so
much interest has been taken there in the parish
churches. Some of the French cathedrals, however,
have suffered more seriously than any English cathe-
dral. The vast and splendid cathedral church of
Perigueux, probably the grandest building of Byzantine
character north of the Alps, has been so transformed
by restoration that it is practically impossible to
discover the features it had half a century ago. As
regards England, it was not till after much irreparable
harm had been done that between twenty and thirty
years ago an enlightened band of scholars and artists,
the most energetic and conspicuous of whom was


the poet William Morris, took the field and exerted
themselves to rouse the public and to stop, as far as
possible, the process of transmogrifying an old church
into something that was neither new nor old, but a hope-
less jumble. The work of ruin has now been checked,
but the harm already done is a calamity to weep over.
Here you have not had ancient buildings to injure, and
historical feeling has made you spare most of the build-
ings that possessed any sort of interest and dated
more than a century back.

This, however, is a digression. I return to the main
subject by observing that neither in England nor any-
where in western Europe has full use been made of
the opportunities for the display of original genius in
architecture which the expenditure of vast sums of
money on the erection of an immense number of build-
ings provided. We have not succeeded there, nor any
more do architects in Germany or France seem to have
succeeded, in evolving anything that can be called a
new style distinctive of our age. When we look back
upon every century from the end of the eighteenth to
the beginnings of the West European Romanesque type
of building in the tenth or eleventh century, we see that
the buildings of almost every age show something that
is characteristic of the time, some forms which at once
denote to us the date of the work. But if we look at
the work of our own and of the last century and the
same thing is as generally true in France and Germany
as in Britain we see a motley array of all sorts of


different styles, from the eleventh century to the eigh-
teenth. I speak chiefly of ecclesiastical architecture,
for of course in private residences and municipal
buildings some styles are less convenient for practical
purposes than others. Efforts are sometimes made
to combine the features of different styles, but this
eclecticism is seldom successful, and the total result
in beautiful and impressive buildings is not worthy of
the amount of knowledge and pains that has been
devoted to the work as a whole and of the amount of
money that has been spent upon it. Some fine things
have been produced, but few in proportion to the

Neither have you here in the United States developed
any characteristically American style of building since
the so-called " colonial " type of pre-Revolutionary
days. There is no style distinctive of the different
sections of the country, except a few traces of Spanish
work in Santa Fe (in New Mexico), and here and
there in California, and a touch of French influence
in the older parts of New Orleans. Nowhere in the
western world does one find any parallel to the long
architectural history of Europe or of India. Even
in Spanish America, where people built from the first
in stone, whereas your ancestors built in wood, there
is little variety. Nearly all the churches and public
buildings vary but little from the prevalent sixteenth
century type which the Spaniards brought with them
from Europe. Will this be always so, or will you of


the New World, after two, three or four centuries, de-
velop one or more styles characteristic of America,
and offer to the historians of a still distant future a
field of study like that which the Old World presents
to us now ?

Here in the United States you seem to have made
one new departure in which you have gone ahead
of us Europeans. Your designs for houses in cities,
and perhaps even more for suburban houses and sea-
side cottages, have more variety, more freshness, more
charm than the designs of those descriptions have in
most parts of Europe. You have certainly made more
use in cities of some of the earlier mediaeval forms of
architecture than we have succeeded in doing in Eng-
land, and in that respect your recent work may
show more originality than ours does. But still, you
would probably agree that you have not yet succeeded
either in inventing a new style, which perhaps may
(for all we laymen know) be impossible, for, after
all, the possibilities of invention are limited, or
in so combining and harmonizing some of the features
of different styles as to make one which shall be dis-
tinctive of the nineteenth or twentieth century. Now
that is just what the students of history would be now
looking out for and longing for, if there were grounds
for expecting it. Three or four hundred years hence,
when the student follows the course of the develop-
ment of architecture from the tenth century to his
own time, he will find, as he descends the stream of


time to the eighteenth, that there is a regular succes-
sion of forms of construction and decoration, and that
he can approximately fix the date of a building by its
general style and structure as well as by its mouldings
and its ornaments. But when he comes to the
nineteenth century he would be completely at a loss.
He will find that of three churches erected about the
same time, one was designed to reproduce the style of
the twelfth century, another that of the fifteenth, a
third that of the seventeenth. So the historically
minded layman feels, when he tries to project himself
into the position of an historian living in the twenty-
fourth century, that this latter would rejoice to be
able to realize what the twentieth century had been
doing through its buildings as we to-day realize what
the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries did.

There is, at any rate, a wide field still open in this
country for inventive genius. You have had several
architects of unquestioned genius, and will doubtless
have more. Your wealth, the growth of your popula-
tion, your noble contempt for expense, your bold-
ness and grandeur of conception are known to all men
on both sides of the Atlantic.

The new Central Station at Washington, with its
two long vaulted halls, is as fine as anything of the kind
in Europe. Still vaster and more majestic are the halls
of the station which the Pennsylvania railroad company
is erecting in New York. I have seen magnificent
plans for the decoration of Washington ; I have seen a


still more wonderful plan for the building of a new
Chicago out in the lake, a plan which we in England, or
indeed people anywhere in Europe, would not be able to
consider on the score of cost. But expense has for you
no terrors. I will not say that there is nothing that
Congress will not do for Washington, because I am
told that you and other men of light and leading have
projects looking to the beautifying of Washington for
which Congress is still hesitating to vote the money
required ; but I know that there is nothing that Chicago
fears to do if it will increase the splendour of that great
city, and I dare say that is true of many other cities also.
He who marvels at the gigantic schemes that are being
attempted in New York and Chicago, is ready to believe
that there is no enterprise designed for the benefit of
such great communities from which its liberal and
large-minded citizens will recoil on the score of cost.

I congratulate you, therefore, not only on the attrac-
tions of the profession to which you belong, but on the
great opportunities which are open to you. We shall
watch you from our side of the Atlantic without any
jealousy of your superior wealth, but with admiration
of your energy and with high hopes of what you will
achieve for the adornment of those enormous cities
which have sprung up on the North American


RUARY 12, 1909.


RUARY 12, 1909.

You are met to commemorate a great man, one of
your greatest, great in what he did, even greater in
what he was. One hundred years have passed since in
that lowly hut in the neighbouring state of Kentucky
this child of obscure and unlettered parents was born
into a country then still wild and thinly peopled.
Three other famous men were born in that same year
in England: Alfred Tennyson, the most gifted poet
who has used our language since Wordsworth died;
William Gladstone, the most powerful, versatile, and
high-minded statesman of the last two generations in
Britain; and Charles Darwin, the greatest naturalist
since Linnaeus, and chief among the famous scientific
discoverers of the nineteenth century. It was a won-
derful year, and one who knew these three illustrious
Englishmen whom I have named is tempted to speak
of them and compare and contrast each one of them
with that illustrious contemporary of theirs whose
memory we are met to honour. He quitted this



world long before them, but with a record of great
work done to which a long life could scarcely have
added any further lustre.

Of the personal impression he made on those who
knew him, you will hear from some of the few yet
living who can recollect him. All I can contribute
is a reminiscence of what reached us in England.
I was an undergraduate student in the Univer-
sity of Oxford when the Civil War broke out. Well do
I remember the surprise we felt when the Republican
national convention nominated him as candidate for
the Presidency, for his name was hardly known on our
side of the Atlantic, and it had been expected that the
choice would fall upon William H. Seward. I recol-
lect how it slowly dawned upon Europeans in 1862
and 1863 that the President could be no ordinary man,
because he never seemed cast down by the reverses
which befell his armies; because he never let himself
be hurried into premature action, and because he did
not fear to take so bold a step as was the Emancipa-
tion Proclamation when he saw that the right moment
had arrived. And above all I remember the shock of
awe and grief which thrilled all Britain when the news
came that he had perished by the bullet of an assassin.
There have been not a few murders of the heads of
states in our time, but none smote us with such
horror and such pity as the death of this strong and
merciful man, just when his long and patient efforts
had been crowned with victory, and peace was begin-


ning to shed her rays over a land laid waste by the
march of armies.

We in England then already felt that a great as
well as a good man had departed, though it remained
for later years to enable us all (both you here and us
in the other hemisphere) fully to appreciate his great-
ness. Both among you and with us his fame has con-
tinued to rise till he has now become one of the grand-
est figures whom America has given to World history, to
be a glory first of this country, then also of mankind.

A man may be great by intellect or by character
or by both. The highest men are great by both;
and of these was Abraham Lincoln. Endowed with
powers that were solid rather than shining, he was not
what is called a brilliant personality. Perhaps the
want of instruction and stimulation during his early
life prevented his naturally vigorous mind from learning
how to work nimbly. Yet the disadvantages of his
boyhood, the want of books and of teachers and of the
society of men with powers comparable to his own,
were all so met and overcome by his love of knowledge
and his strenuous will that he drew strength from them.
Thoughtfulness and intensity, the capacity to reflect
steadily and patiently on a problem till it has been
solved, is one of the two most distinct impressions
which one gets from that strong, rugged face with its
furrowed brow and deep-set eyes.

The other impression is that of unshaken and un-
shakable resolution. Slow in reaching a decision, he


held fearlessly to it when he had reached it. He had
not merely physical courage, and that in ample meas-
ure, but the rarer quality of being willing to face
misconception and unpopularity. It was his un-
daunted firmness and his clear thinking that fitted
Lincoln to be the pilot who brought your ship through
the wildest tempest that ever broke upon her.

Three points should not be forgotten which, if they
do not add to Lincoln's greatness, make it more winning
and attractive. One is the fact that he rose all unaided
to the pinnacle of power and responsibility. Rarely in-
deed has it happened in history, hardly at all could it
have happened in the last century outside America, that
one born in poverty, with no help throughout his youth
from intercourse with educated people, with no friend
to back him except those whom the impression of his
own character drew around him, should so rise. A
second is the gentleness of his heart. He who has
to refuse every hour requests from those whom a pri-
vate person would have been glad to indulge, he who
has to punish those whom a private person would
pity and pardon, can seldom retain either tenderness
or patience. But Lincoln's tenderness and patience
were inexhaustible.

It is often said that every great man is unscrupulous,
and doubtless most of those to whom usage has attached
the title have been so. To preserve truthfulness and
conscientiousness appears scarcely possible in the stress
of life where immense issues seem to make it neces-


sary, and therefore to make it right, to toss aside the
ordinary rules of conduct in order to secure the end de-
sired. To Abraham Lincoln, however, truthfulness
and conscientiousness remained the rule of life. He
felt and owned his responsibility not only to the peo-
ple, but to a higher power. Few rulers who have
wielded like power amid like temptations have so stain-
less a record.

To you, men of Illinois, Lincoln is the most famous
and worthy of all those who have adorned your Com-
monwealth. To you, citizens of the United States, he
is the President who carried you through a terrible
conflict and saved the Union. To us in England, he
is one of the heroes of the race whence you and we
spring. We honour his memory as you do, and it is
fitting that one who is privileged here to represent the
land from which his forefathers came should bring,
on behalf of England, a tribute of admiration for
him and of thankfulness to the Providence which
gave him to you in your hour of need.

Great men are the noblest possession of a nation
and are potent forces hi the moulding of national char-
acter. Their influence lives after them, and, if they
be good as well as great, they remain as beacons light-
ing the course of all who follow them. They set for
succeeding generations the standards of the youth
who seek to emulate their virtues in the service of the
country. Thus did the memory of George Washing-
ton stir and rouse Lincoln himself. Thus will the


memory of Lincoln live and endure among you, gath-
ering reverence from age to age, the memory of one
who saved your republic by his wisdom, his con-
stancy, his faith in the people and in freedom; the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceUniversity and historical addresses, delivered during a residence in the United States as ambassador of Great Britain → online text (page 11 of 24)