Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
A Summary of the Progress of Taste
By Horace Walpole (17171797)
From Anecdotes of Painting
THE STAGES of no art have been more distinctly marked than those of architecture in Britain. It is not probable that our masters the Romans ever taught us more than the construction of arches. Those, imposed on clusters of disproportioned pillars, composed the whole grammar of our Saxon ancestors. Churches and castles were the only buildings, I should suppose, they erected of stone. As no taste was bestowed on the former, no beauty was sought in the latter. Masses to resist and uncouth towers for keeping watch were all the conveniences they demanded. As even luxury was not secure but in a Church, succeeding refinements were solely laid out on religious fabrics, till by degrees was perfected the bold scenery of Gothic architecture, with all its airy embroidery and pensile vaults. Holbein, as I have shown, checked all that false, yet venerable style, and first attempted to sober it to classic measures; but not having gone far enough, his imitators, without his taste, compounded a mongrel species, that had no boldness, no lightness, and no system. This lasted till Inigo Jones, like his countryman and cotemporary, Milton, disclosed the beauties of ancient Greece, and established simplicity, harmony, and proportion. That school, however was too chaste to flourish long. Sir Christopher Wren lived to see it almost expire before him; and after a mixture of French and Dutch ugliness had expelled truth, without erecting any certain style in its stead, Vanbrugh, with his ponderous and unmeaning masses overwhelmed architecture in mere masonry. Will posterity believe that such piles were erected in the very period when St. Pauls was finishing?
Vanbrughs immediate successors had no taste; yet some of them did not forget that there was such a science as regular architecture. Still, there was a Mr. Archer, the groom-porter, who built Hethrop, and a temple at Wrest; and one Wakefield, who gave the design of Helmsley; each of whom seemed to think that Vanbrugh had delivered the art from shackles, and that they might build whatever seemed good in their own eyes.