« AnteriorContinuar »
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 belief of the report, that the Introduction is from the pen of another person, whose pursuits have been directed to subjects of antiquarian research. The concealment is, however, obviously studied, and we shall therefore leave it to our readers to form their own conjectures.
In this essay an attempt is made to trace the history of architec-' ture from the earliest ages of Egypt to the period of the Roman conquest of Greece. Vitruvius is silent upon the subject of the obligations due from the Greeks to the architecture of that country. He never mentions the temples of Egypt excepting to notice their situation on the banks of the Nile, in corroboration of his dictates as to appropriate situations for sacred edifices. From his writings, indeed, (unless his silence arose from the omission of his guides and instructors,) the inference to be deduced is, that Greece was in no wise indebted to Egypt for her knowledge of that science for which she was so celebrated: all its peculiarities and characteristics are derived from the early buildings in wood of Greece and her Asiatic settlers. One thing, however, is certain, that whatever is different in character, or in mode of construction, may be fairly set down to the invention of the Greeks. In Egypt, where professions were hereditary, and where the sacred ministry descended from father to son, through successive generations, the same line of policy was applicable to the priests and the temples in which they officiated. In these we find no variation of principle nor of constituent parts, except that which greater or less magnificence and extent rendered indispensable, in an interval of more than thirteen hundred years. The zodiac, in a temple of the ancient Latopolis, has at least this priority of execution above that at Tentyra ; and whilst these demonstrate the distant periods in which they were constructed, the buildings themselves prove that no advances had been made in the science of architecture.
It appears somewhat extraordinary,' says the writer of the Introduction, that the Greeks, who carried the practice of many sciences and arts to a degree of perfection which has since been: unattainable, should have been so little solicitous to examine the causes of this rise amongst them, or with any care to trace their progress.' (p. 15.) We can hardly expect that this supineness should be conquered by those who were not professed writers of history; and therefore must not be surprized that the Greek architects, whose works were known to Vitruvius, should have omitted all reference to a subject to which their own historians had afforded no clue. The poems of Homer present a singular picture of knowledge and ignorance.-The early advances in the art of design by the vatives on the coasts of Syria and Egypt are obvious from many passages of the poem:-every object of beauty or elegance is described as the pro
duction of Sidonian workmen, whilst the wealth and splendour of the Egyptians are not less unequivocally portrayed. Egypt at this period was the seat of learning and the sciences. Diodorus entertained an opinion that Homer had visited Egypt, from the variety of its notions introduced in his poetry : with its customs he certainly displays an intimate acquaintance. Herodotus says, that he introduced into Greece the religion of Egypt, being led to this conclusion by the knowledge of its rites and traditions exhibited in his poems, which were not openly promulgated. It seems strange therefore, with all this development of their mysteries, that he should not have expatiated upon subjects less difficult of access; and have betrayed so great an ignorance of their architecture as is exemplified in the Iliad. In this poem there is no indication of any thing like architectural embellishment. Nor can it be said in explanation, that in thus abstaining from any notice of an art which as yet had made no progress in Greece, he offers to our view a faithful picture of the age he is describing. In this case it would have been sufficient to withhold all details of the art from the account of the palaces of the Greeks and Trojans; but no such attention to synchronism would have been necessary in the ideal mansions of these countries, which he paints as possessing a knowledge of the arts and sciences beyond that of the Greeks. A fair opportunity presented itself in the description of the palace of Alcinoüs, where sculpture is exaggerated far beyond its powei's, and where the costliness of the materials of the edifice is merely imaginary. The palaces of Jupiter and Neptune too would have afforded ample scope for the display of architectural knowledge, had the author possessed any beyond what night be gained from the edifices of his own country.
The identity of the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey is a subject which has engaged the attention of many learned writers. Those who contend for the earlier age of the former, support their hypothesis by remarking the more advanced state of the arts as they are described throughout the Odyssey. The learned author of the 'Prolegomena ad Homerum' contrasts the different state of society and the more recent inventions, with the ruder efforts and less civilized order of things portrayed in the Iliad. In the work before us that contrast is extended to the architecture; and the arguments, which are extremely ingenious, tend to the same conclusion..
In proceeding to notice the introduction of the orders of architecture, as related by Vitruvius, Mr. Wilkins prepares us for the fables connected with the subject by the character which he previously draws of the writer.
• Vitruvius,' he says, • brought to the composition of his work the possession of much of the learning of that period so much indeed VOL. XXI. NO. XLI.
as probably to embrace the extensive range of acquirements which he has himself laid down as necessary for the architect. To this he added a mind replete with notions in a high degree fanciful and visionary, and influenced by a strong bias to metaphysical distinction and refinement. Hence arose the laboured dissertations on the unintelligible connexion of architecture and music, and the institution of that scale of harmonic proportions which has esercised the ingenuity of the learned to little purpose down to the present day. Hence arose too his perceptions of the analogy which he supposed to exist between the members of architecture and those of the human frame, a notion which he has pursued to a great extent.-P. xvii.
This character, excepting in the opinion of more extensive learning, accords pretty nearly with the view which we have taken of the qualifications of Vitruvius, and demonstrates the absolute necessity of receiving with caution those precepts which are accompanied by an affected display of great and various reading. Many of the refinements suggested as indispensable in practice are not sanctioned by the authority of the Greeks, nor do they appear to have been adopted at Rome. The historical sketch which follows, and traces the progress of architecture down to the period of the Macedonian conquest, embraces a field which has not before been occupied; it is both concise and perspicuous, and well deserves the attention of the historian and the antiquary. At this period an innovation occurred which certainly marks an important era in the annals of architectural knowledge-we mean the invention of the arch geometrically constructed. Many writers have attempted to prove the familiar use of the arch by the early artists of Greece and Rome; the work before us denies this knowledge, and demonstrates that the descriptions afforded by ancient writers are applicable to a mode of building far less artificial.
We have lately seen in the British Museum the geometrical drawings of the treasury of Atreus at Mycenæ, one of the buildings in which it was thought the principles of a dome have been observed. The description of this building afforded by ancient authors, and another of similar construction at Orchomenus erected at the same period, have been selected as offering a complete proof of the existence of an arched or vaulted roof, so early as the thirteenth century before the Christian era. These accurate drawings are evidences of a mode of construction which has nothing in common with the principles of an arch. The plan of the building is circular and its section is a parabola ; it is formed with blocks laid in horizontal beds, that is, with their upper and lower surfaces in planes parallel to the horizon, and projecting one before the other, from the bottom to the top, where they nearly meet. The interior surface was covered with plates of brass; the nails by