« AnteriorContinuar »
amounted to an hundred talents of gold; although, from the multitude of slaves, manual labour was at a low price, and the materials were the produce of the soil.
Greece from the battle of Marathon, and Rome at the accession of Augustus, may be viewed as offering a similar picture of aggrandizement and affluence. We have already adverted to the increasing prosperity of Greece, and we shall give the parallel in the words of the historian of Rome. In the commonwealths of Athens and Rome, the modest simplicity of private houses announced the equal condition of freedom, whilst the sovereignty of the people was represented in the majestic 'edifices designed to the public use; nor was this republican spirit totally extinguished by the introduction of wealth and monarchy. It was in works of national honour and benefit that the most virtuous of the emperors affected to display their magnificence.....All other quarters of the capital, and all the provinces of the empire, were embellished by the same liberal spirit of public magnificence, and filled with amphitheatres, theatres, temples, porticos, triumphal arches, baths, and aqueducts, all variously conducive to the health, the devotion, and the pleasures of the meąnest citizen.' It was under the emperors, therefore, that Rome thus rose in splendour, and enabled Augustus to boast, that from a city of brick he had made it of marble. But it is not only to monarchs and demagogues that posterity is indebted for noble specimens of taste and magnificence; 'small communities, and wealthy individuals, encouraged by the example of their rulers, esteemed it honourable, and almost an obligation, to add to the splendour of their age and country. The history of Julius Atticus, the father of Herodes, is a fairy tale: his life would have closed in indigence and misery but for the fortunate discovery of immense treasures buried in an old house, the sole remains of his patrimony. Although he expended very considerable sums in the service of the public, bis son and successor left behind at Athens some noble monuments of his taste and munificence: nor was his liberality limited to this spot; the people of Epirus, Thessaly, Euboea, Bæotia, and the Peloponnesus experienced his favours, and acknowledged him as their benefactor. The state of any branch of knowledge, in an age so celebrated in the annals of taste as that of Augustus, cannot fail of being interesting; and we now proceed to notice a writer whose vame must be familiar to the generality of our readers.
Through the numerous editions and translations of Vitruvius, a degree of celebrity has been attached to bis name, far surpassing that enjoyed by writers of much higher pretensions, and beyond what he himself, with all his expectations, could have anticipated. The importance attached to his work is, in great measare, inde
pendent of the merits of the author, and arises from several circumstances : it is the only one on the subject of Architecture that has survived the attacks of time, and it discloses several precepts of the Greek writers, which, but for this notice, would never have reached us. Although the insertion of the latter had its source in the pedantry of the writer, yet, as they serve to throw light upon the state of science of his age, we shall not quarrel with him for introducing matter so little connected with the subject on which he writes. Our present business, however, is with the architecture exclusively.
The work of the author is divided, as every one knows, into ten books, each preceded by a proëmium, or preface, intended to serve by way of rhapsody to the subject which follows; but likewise containing much extraneous matter relating to the age and genius of the author. From these we collect that he was born of respectable parents, from whom he received a liberal education. Far from thinking that art was too vast for human wit, or that
one science only could one genius fit,' he aimed at universal knowledge, and by his failure realized the apophthegm of the poet. Conscious of his want of success, he appears to have adapted the scale of knowledge to the extent of his acquirements, modifying without contracting it. If we credit his assertions, we are to regard him as a considerable proficient in music, painting, sculpture, and optics, and as possessing some know ledge of
grammar, geometry, arithmetic, history, astronomy, law, and physic! To what extent he was master of most of these accomplishments, we have no other means of ascertaining than the evidence afforded by his work on architecture; but from this it is clear that his knowledge was superficial, and displayed itself more in the art of selecting and transcribing passages from various authors, than in the higher range of originality.
Nearly all of the Greek writings on the arts and sciences, from which he appears to have made copious extracts, have perished, with the exception of some fragments of Hero, Athenæus, and others of writers, on hydraulic machines and military engines. Sentences translated from the philosophers are dispersed throughout his work; many of these we are enabled to contrast with the passages in the originals. From this comparison, it is manifest, that Vitruvius did not possess either sufficient knowledge of language to give the full sense of his authors, or the power of conveying what he gained from them with adequate clearness and precision.
It ought not, however, to be forgotten, that the youth of Vitruvius was passed in that age of Roman literature, when the task of accommodating the vernacular language to the science of the
Greeks had only been attempted by few. The Latin tongue ad mitted of few expressions corresponding to the Greek terms of art; and hence Vitruvius was often reduced to the resources of his own intellect. These were insufficient to empower him to transmit them in polished or perspicuous language. His style, indeed, has nothing in it corresponding to the elegance of the writers of the Augustan age, and hence it is that, notwithstanding the conclusive testimonies on this point, the time of his writing has been referred to a different period.
The querulous tone pervading the whole of his ten proëms is plainly indicative of disappointed ambition. The only public work in which he appears to have been employed was the basilica at Fanæstrum, the mode of construction of which he amply details. He was jealous of his contemporaries, and disgusted with the neglect of Augustus, who, although at the solicitation of his sister Octavia he had appointed him director of the warlike machines, gave the preference to others in the superintendence of the magnificent edifices he had already constructed, and of those which were in progress when Vitruvius wrote. This disregard on the part of the emperor he attributes to the flattery practised by his more successful competitors, to which he never appears to have stooped. This solution may be just : we can easily conceive that the high tone he assumed, whether from vanity, supposing himself to possess extraordinary acquirements, or from pride, which spurued at the meanness of accomplishing his object by adulation of his patron, was ill calculated to make him a favourite with Augustus ; and the dedication of a work containing the expression of his feelings was little likely to conciliate the regard of a monarch in whom the thirst of flattery was insatiable.
The consequences of the want of this qualification are not contemplated with indifference; instead of submitting with magnanimity to the neglect to which he was consigned, and bearing the contempt with the dignity of a mind conscious of having committed nothing unworthy the sage and philosopher, he gives vent to his indignation against his competitors in terms of reproach and bitter
He even descends to the revenge of a pitiful mind, by not only excluding from his writings the names of his contemporaries, which, as the historian of his art, he was bound to notice, but by covert attacks on the great works in which they were employed. This is exemplified in his observations on the practice of the Greeks, who, he says, condemned, as a want of principle, the introduction of denticuli below mutules; thus attacking the architecture of the temples of Concord and Peace : and again, in reprobating, as incongruous and tasteless, the occurrence of the same ornament
in the cornice of Doric buildings; thereby stigmatizing the Doric order of the theatre which Augustus had dedicated to Marcellus.
The same jealousy of the favourites of Augustus led him to omit all mention of Horace and Virgil ; although it has been interpreted as an argument for referring the time in which he lived to a different period. It must, however, be apparent, from the mode in which he mentions Varro, Cicero, and Lucretius, that they were living at some period of his life; and there are passages
that tend to fix the time of his writing between certain limits. In describing the basilica at Fanæstrum, he mentions the temple of Augustus, which formed a part of the building. This cognomen was not assumed by Octavianus until the year 727, U. C.; it follows, therefore, that he did not write until after that year. Varro died a twelvemonth before this period, Cicero in the year 710, and Lucretius in the year 703, U.C. Again, in the proëm to the first book he mentions Octavia, the sister of Augustus, as if she were still living; he does not style his patroness diva soror, although he gives the epithet of divus to Julius. Octavia died in the year 743, U.C.; his work, therefore, appeared at some period between the years 727 and 743.
Disgusted with his want of success, he enters upon a composition which should vindicate his claim to superior talents with a more discerning age. In this he extols the works of the Greek architects, from which he drew his precepts. The names of two Roman architects only are mentioned in terms of admiration; but they were no longer objects of jealousy.
With all his professed veneration, however, for the works of the Greek architects, his vanity induced him to suggest what he considered practical improvements in the Grecian mode of building. His alterations in the proportions and arrangements of porticos is, we believe, to be traced to this egotism ; but the departure from his archetypes is not so flagrant as has been hitherto imagined.
The knowledge of optics, in which perhaps he was as well versed as the advances made in this science then permitted, was the inducement to recommend refinements in practice, never observed by his Greek predecessors, nor followed by his successors; they are introduced with a parade more calculated to set forth his own acquirements, than to benefit the cause of the science on which he is writing. The same desire of exhibiting an unwonted degree of attainment seems also to bave prompted him to attempt the introduction of echea, or brazen vessels, in theatres, for the purpose of propagating sound; this expedient leads him to descant upon the music of the ancients which he acquired, theoretically only, from the writings of Aristoxenus.
The manuscripts of Vitruvius appear to have been originally derived from one and the same source. The remarkable correspondence of almost all with which we are acquainted, in the corrupt passages, are strongly corroborative of this opinion. The degree of obscurity in which the meaning of the Seventh and Eighth Chapters of the Seventh Book is enveloped, pervades all the codices that have been made known to us. Jocundus, indeed, boasted of access to a copy in better preservation; but the addition which he makes to the end of the Sixth Chapter is, with every appearance of reason, supposed to be an interpolation of his own. In no other copy has the sentence been met with; and the subject contained in it had been previously noticed with some variations of the expressions. Under these circumstances little is to be expected from the collation of manuscripts.
It is only, however, by the restoration of the text, and by conjectures, founded upon the practice of the Greeks, where passages obviously corrupt occur, that we can hope to arrive at the real meaning of the author; but as this requires the combined talents of the scholar, the mathematician, and the architect, we can scarcely hope to meet with a commentator in whose person all these 'requisites are united. Something approximating to this character we think is to be distinguished in the translator of the Civil Architecture of Vitruvius now before us; for although his literary pretensions do not lead us to expect any great advantages arising from a perfect acquaintance with the ancient languages, yet, when combined with a knowledge of architecture and the branches of art indispensable in its attainment, they afford every reasonable hope of something very different from what has hitherto resulted from labours directed to the same end.
The reasons assigned by the author of the translation for limiting his illustrations to the four books he has selected, are certainly of weight, but there is every reason to believe that the remaining books have been rendered almost equally corrupt by the alteration of the text of the MSS. He has, however, chosen the more popular part of the author, and that portion of which he, of all ancient writers kuowu to us, exclusively treats.
The Introduction, which, more properly speaking, is an historical essay on the rise and progress of Grecian architecture, displays no common acquaintance with Greek and Latin authors, set forth in language at once perspicuous and polished ;--- the style of writing in the body of the work, we mean that part of it where the translator has not been restrained by the stiffness of the original, (for to render the obscure meaning and harsh diction of Vi truvius in elegant language is not to be expected,) is altogether different. It is ueither so smooth nor so energetic, and confirms our