Architecture and Induction: Whewell and Ruskin on Gothic

A talk presented at "Science and British Culture in the 1830s," Trinity College, Cambridge, July 1994

Jonathan Smith
Humanities Department
University of Michigan-Dearborn
Dearborn, MI 48128-1491

In Fisch and Schaffer's recent Composite Portrait of William Whewell, Whewell's interest in architecture appears only in the background. Becher (4-8) briefly discusses the scientific nature of Whewell's architectural writings and their relationship to his views on other subjects; Schaffer (215-17) sketches the religious and political interests that these architectural writings were meant to serve. Since the three editions of Whewell's major architectural work, Architectural Notes on German Churches, appeared in 1830, 1835, and 1842, a celebration of Whewell's place in the science and culture of the 1830s, a crucial decade for the Gothic Revival, presents an opportune moment for pursuing this aspect of his thought in greater detail. In doing so, I must inevitably carry my analysis beyond the 1830s, for another cluster of Whewell's architectural writings appeared around 1850, during the same years that John Ruskin was publishing his Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and Stones of Venice (1851-53). My general purpose here is to show in greater detail the relationship between Whewell's architectural writings and the rest of his work, in particular his theory of induction. More specifically, by contrasting Whewell and Ruskin, I want to argue that, in spite of many similarities, the two men were at odds in their methodologies, and that this methodological difference was intertwined with deeper and more fundamental disagreements about religion and political economy.

My contrast would come as no surprise to either contemporary or modern students of the Gothic Revival. Charles Eastlake, in his 1872 History of the Revival, named three men--Whewell, Whewell's architectural mentor and travelling companion Thomas Rickman, and Whewell's friend and Trinity colleague Robert Willis--as the leading "scientific" students of Gothic architecture, Ruskin its most influential "sentimental" apologist. Almost a century later, Paul Frankl also included Whewell, Rickman, and Willis in "the scientific trend" in the study of Gothic, while criticizing Ruskin as a dilettantish member of "the ethical period" for his moralizing. This broad contrast, however, not only overlooks all that Whewell and Ruskin had in common, and thus that might have led us to expect congruence in their architectural views, but also obscures the fact that each man evaluated the other's work from within a scientific framework.

Each read the other's books. Whewell seems to have studied with some care all five volumes of Ruskin's Modern Painters (1843-60). He reviewed The Seven Lamps for Fraser's, took an interest in Ruskin's involvement in the Pre-Raphaelite controversy, and almost certainly read at least some of Ruskin's writings on political economy in 1860-63. Ruskin was familiar not only with Whewell's Architectural Notes but also with the History and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, and he read Whewell's Six Lectures on Political Economy (1862) when Whewell sent him a copy.

If art, rather than science, was Ruskin's forte, omniscience could be said to have been, as Sidney Smith said of Whewell, his foible. The study of nature was vital to his work, and like Whewell he took an interest in and wrote on moral philosophy, natural theology, political economy, education, and literature. The example of geology is perhaps most instructive as an indicator of the extensive intellectual points of contact between the two men. As an undergraduate at Oxford in the 1830s, Ruskin studied with William Buckland, who was not only the author of the Bridgewater Treatise on Geology and Mineralogy but also the first president of the Oxford Architectural Society, of which Ruskin was a member. As a lover of the Alps, Ruskin's most serious scientific studies were made in geology: he published a number of articles on it, was a member of the Geological Society, and even served as one of the secretaries of the Geological Section at the Oxford British Association meeting in 1847 (Works 26:xx; 8:xxv). Ruskin consistently drew comparisons between mountains and cathedrals--the stones of the Alps meant as much to him as those of Venice--and his discussions of nature in Modern Painters, The Seven Lamps, and Stones are permeated with the language of natural theology. Whewell, although not a practicing geologist, was of course a Bridgewater author and Geological Society president, a member of the ruling elite in a way that Ruskin was decidedly not, but both men were friends of J.D. Forbes and public advocates of his glacier theories.

The two men also adopted broadly similar positions on social and political issues. One of the running themes of the essays in the Fisch and Schaffer volume is Whewell's consistent opposition to utilitarian moral and political philosophy, a trait shared by Ruskin. Like Whewell, Ruskin looked with displeasure on the forces of democracy and defended the necessary connection of church and state. Although the differences between them on these issues were important--and I shall explore these differences later--Whewell saw enough of a kindred spirit in Ruskin to invite the younger man to Trinity for a visit (Works 8:xl). Ruskin stayed at the Master's Lodge from April 5-8, 1851. His visit included several architectural conversations and rambles with Whewell and Willis, and the three men visited the cathedral at Ely together. Viewed from this perspective, the contrast between Whewell's approach to Gothic architecture and Ruskin's becomes less inevitable.

By the time of this visit, Whewell's anonymous review of The Seven Lamps had already appeared in Fraser's, a review that makes a useful starting point for developing the difference in the two men's inductive methodologies. Modern commentators on Whewell's review have rightly seen it as less than enthusiastic (see Becher, 7; Pevsner, "William Whewell," 46). Becher (8) has suggested that Whewell saw Ruskin as a throwback, a return to the unscientific era of architectural study that existed prior to Rickman. This view is in keeping with the long tradition of separating architecture critics into "scientific" and "sentimental" schools, but it seems inadequate. As Yeo ("Scientific Method") has shown, a simplistic, monolithic conception of scientific method did not exist within the scientific community or the larger cultural community of Victorian Britain. Ruskin presented his architectural views as "scientific" and specifically inductive; Whewell's criticism of Ruskin's methodology is not that it is unscientific but that, in essence, it violates Whewell's theory of induction. Indeed, Whewell opens his review by implicitly placing himself in the same category with Ruskin. He defends the contributions of "unprofessional writers" and "speculators"--by which he means non-architects like himself and the explicitly-named Willis as well as Ruskin--to architectural study (151). In keeping with his views on the value of erroneous or incomplete hypotheses in science, Whewell contends that even "fanciful" theories often contain some truth or can lead to truth (Becher, 6-7). The body of the review, however, places far more emphasis on what is fanciful in Ruskin's book than on what is true. Whewell's repeated references to Ruskin's "eloquence" emphasize the absence from Ruskin's work of one of Whewell's most important desiderata in inductive inquiry: clear and distinct ideas. First-time readers of the book are likely to be "borne along the stream of its style, surrounded, as it were, by rainbow clouds and sweet strains of music," and thus Whewell devotes himself to rendering Ruskin's views "in a more distinct and simple form" (152). This is particularly necessary because Ruskin is a poor systematizer. His seven lamps "are neither exactly co-ordinate principles, nor clearly distinguished from each other, nor always quite consistent" (153).

The problem was not that Ruskin was a "speculator," but with the way he speculated, leaping prematurely from a few facts to statements of wide generalization. Ruskin's editors describe his architectural notes and drawings for The Seven Lamps as "severely technical and laboriously detailed, . . . show[ing] very forcibly that Ruskin's generalisations were founded upon minute study of particular instances" (8:xxx). In the preface to the book Ruskin declared that his views had been "obtained in every case by personal observation" (8:3), and he defended the accuracy of his plates "even to the cracks in the stones, and the number of them" (8:5). The reader was reminded that although the book was "a statement of general principles, illustrated each by one or two examples" (8:5), these general principles were the result of inductive inference from many examples. However, many of Ruskin's readers, Whewell among them, were unimpressed by Ruskin's details, which they saw as idiosyncratic and unrepresentative (Garrigan, 48-53; Brooks, 71-17). Ruskin had leapt to hasty generalizations without the benefit of clear and distinct ideas. Because his conceptions were unclearly explicated, the general principles resulting from the bringing together of fact and theory--the process Whewell called the colligation of facts--were inconsistent, imprecise, and even contradictory.

Although proclaiming that this lack of "systematic completeness" and "logical precision" is "no grave defect," and despite denying his intention to "enter into argument," Whewell then launches into a fairly detailed argument that exposes Ruskin's inconsistencies and challenges some of his most important principles. Even where he concurs with Ruskin, Whewell tends to qualify his praise. While endorsing in general terms Ruskin's call for structural truth in architecture, Whewell does so only after he has demonstrated Ruskin's "one-sided application" of this principle; while assenting to the importance of the form of window tracery as an indicator of the decline of Complete Gothic, he rejects Ruskin's explanation for the cause of this decline. These particular points of disagreement had, as we shall see, deeper significance.

Whewell had acknowledged, somewhat apologetically, his own speculations in Architectural Notes. In the preface to the first edition, Whewell acknowledges that his title is misleading: instead of producing a Baconian set of detailed observations on individual buildings, his original intention, he has been led to produce a theoretical "disquisition" in which his observations were "subordinated" to his theory of the origin of Gothic. He "cannot . . . pretend to deny" that he has "mixed up" with his antiquarian statements "something of theory and system." Moreover, this theorizing "has taken place almost without my having intended it" (18-19). Nonetheless, later in the preface he defends theories as "general facts", and he asserts that his use of a classificatory scheme based on his theories is necessary because "descriptions in detail without some classification are scarcely readable" (40).

A letter to Jones written during Whewell's architectural tour in Germany suggests, however, that these comments are themselves a bit misleading. It is true that Whewell did not go to Germany to study Gothic architecture and develop a theory of its origin, but the development of his theory occurred very quickly and was clearly integral to any presentation of his observations: "As I went on I found the peculiarities of one group [of churches] illustrating each other, and at the same time leading me on to another set, again a little different, in such a way that it made the most amusing progress that can be imagined, and I made my other objects give way to this" (31 July 1829; Todhunter, 2:99). He did not sit down to write a series of antiquarian observations of individual churches that turned, almost against his will, into a theoretical "disquisition." But even in this letter, Whewell was careful to distinguish his theorizing from German theorizing in general, presenting his own as firmly grounded in facts: "I wonder how it is that this quantity of materials never set the German heads to work to classify and theorize, a task they are so fond of when their materials are more scanty. I suppose they are like that kind of spider which does not like to have its thread attached to too many fixed objects, but lets one end of it float loose to hoist itself up in the air. So many facts would no doubt cramp a bad theory very materially."

Todhunter was the first to suggest that Whewell's theory of the formation and development of Gothic in Architectural Notes is characteristic of his view of induction, specifically his use of what he would later call a "fundamental idea" (1:44). According to Whewell, the adoption of the pointed arch arose from the need for arches of equal height in spanning different widths. This change gradually led to other structural characteristics of Gothic, "in proportion as the idea, or internal principle of unity and harmony in the newer works, became clear and single." Whereas the "characteristic forms" corresponding to the Classical idea were "horizontal, reposing, definite," those corresponding to the Gothic idea were "vertical, aspiring, indefinite" (19-20).

Whewell was forced in the preface to the second (1835) edition to modify his theory of the pointed arch resulting from vaulting requirements, thanks largely to Willis's demonstration in Remarks on the Architecture of the Middle Ages (1835) that the Romans had solved this problem without resorting to the pointed arch. Nonetheless--and this has been overlooked--Whewell continued to maintain the importance of the idea of verticality. Of the five most important structural features distinguishing Classical and Gothic architecture, features which Whewell drew from Rickman and Willis, "the predominant sway of the vertical lines" is "of a more wide and general nature" than the others; it is "the peculiar and characteristic principle of the Gothic style." Historically, it was "the full apprehension of this idea" which gave "unity and consistency" to the Gothic (10). Willis's demonstration merely forced Whewell to qualify his earlier claim: it was the vaulting problem, combined with the need to maintain architectural harmony, that was the central cause of the introduction of the pointed arch, and this in turn led to the emergence of vertical lines as the central idea of Gothic form (12-15).1

In the preface to the third edition, Whewell offers a less specific defense of his theoretical views. If the interpretations of his "theoretical history of architecture" were such as "have not always been confirmed by further research," they had enough truth in them to lead others to make further observations, thus "promoting . . . clearer insight into the nature of architecture. . . . Theoretical views, even when only partly true, or even when false, may serve to exhibit clearly and pointedly relations which would otherwise seem vague and obscure" (xi-xii). This should not, however, be seen as a retreat, for Whewell reprinted the lengthy prefaces to the first two editions and added a series of historical notes on German churches, written by his friend, the Prussian architectural inspector M.F. de Lassaulx, and designed to support Whewell's structurally-derived theoretical conclusions. Moreover, the Quarterly Review article that Whewell acknowledges as the spur to bringing out a new edition (xi) was highly complimentary of Whewell's "ideal" theory of the origin of Gothic ([Sewell] 113-15, 117-18, 134, 137). As Whewell declared privately to Hare at about this time, in a letter disavowing Hare's praise of his wide learning, "[i]f you had called me a persevering framer of systems, or had said that in architecture, as in some other matters, by trying to catch the principle of the sysytem, I had sometimes been able to judge right of details, I should have recognised some likeness to myself" (26 February 1841; Douglas, 217).

Indeed, by 1850, in an article for the Archaelogical Journal that appeared just six months after his review of The Seven Lamps, Whewell was able to present his own work as an exemplar of the clear and distinct system-framing that leads to accurate detail-judging. He opens the article with a surprisingly direct statement of the shortcomings of his own approach: determining the historical development of architectural styles "cannot be performed in the course of a rapid tour, nor superseded by any views, however ingenious and persuasive, of the effects which, as we conceive, must have been produced by necessities of construction, or principles of harmony, or tendencies and ideas which have governed and moulded the fabrics of different ages. Such theoretical and imaginative views always require to be substantiated and confirmed by actual history" ("Remarks," 217). Nonetheless, such "general speculations" are "not without their value," so he goes on to outline his earlier theory. Unlike in 1842, however, Whewell proclaims that work by French historians of architecture in the 1840s has confirmed his views. Emboldened by this success, he proposes to extend his "ideal view of German architecture"; having developed a theory of the origin of Gothic in Architectural Notes, he will here suggest a theory of its dissolution (218). As in the earlier work, Whewell is concerned much less with "enumeration and description of details" than with the "principles" of German Gothic, tracing in general terms the "suppression and extinction of those principles . . . which establish a connection among the different parts" (232, 236; see also Pevsner, "William Whewell").

Ruskin's view of induction was quite different from Whewell's. I have argued elsewhere that Ruskin wanted the study of nature, whether in art or science, to be rooted in a naively Baconian phenomenology, a theoretically-neutral observation of the visible. The artist or scientist capable of this, if endowed with Imagination (for Ruskin the "highest intellectual power known to man," capable of reaching truths otherwise unreachable (Works 4:228, 251)), was then free to render these observational truths in non-mimetic ways. Thus, his frequent attacks on materialist science, and especially in later years on John Tyndall's "scientific use of the imagination", challenged the factual base of materialism as inadequately Baconian and its theorizing as improperly imaginative (Smith, 152-79). We can see Ruskin's famous discussion of "the pathetic fallacy"--when our emotions "produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things" (5:205)--in Modern Painters III (1856) as directed at scientists as well as poets and artists, all of whom can fall victim to "perceiving wrongly." In a sharp satire of German philosophy, which he blames for the prevalence of the pathetic fallacy among Romantic poets, Ruskin complains of "two of the most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians,--namely, 'Objective,' and 'Subjective,'" the use of which leads philosophers to believe that "everything in the world depends upon [their] seeing or thinking of it, and that nothing, therefore, exists, but what [they] see or think of" (5:201-02). In an additional appendix, Ruskin remarked that he never spoke of German Idealism but in "depreciation" because "the immediate tendency of the English mind is to rate [it] too highly" (5:424).

We have no evidence to indicate whether or not Ruskin saw Whewell's as one of those English minds overly enamored of German philosophy. Given the difficulties Whewell had in setting the intellectual world straight about the distinctions between his philosophy and that of Kant, it seems likely that Ruskin would have reacted similarly. Certainly Whewell saw that Ruskin's conception of the pathetic fallacy and criticism of German philosophy were at odds with his own epistemology--"the fundamental antithesis of philosophy"--the unavoidable intertwining of sensation and the mind in the act of perception.

Modern Painters III was published on 15 January 1856; two months later Whewell was reading it at the Athenaeum and discussing it in a series of letters with his neice, Kate Marshall. Ruskin's remarks on German philosophy were the first on which Whewell commented at any length: "Do you observe how he begins these speculations by a most fierce denunciation of the distinction of subjective and objective; knowing well (how can he help but know?) that that is precisely the distinction on which he has to insist? . . . There is a witchcraft about this antithesis which compels people to go on talking about it when once they begin" (15 March 1856; Douglas 464). While complimenting Ruskin for his critique of the excesses to which this distinction leads, Whewell will not accept the absoluteness of the distinction itself, which is precisely what Ruskin wants to restore. Like his review of The Seven Lamps, Whewell's comments in these letters, while sprinkled with words of general praise, are dominated by criticism and disagreement and exposure of Ruskin's inconsistencies. He advises his neice to enjoy Ruskin's "eloquence and wit" but not to be troubled by his "paradoxes": "If you try ever so hard, and seem for a time to understand them, you will find they will soon enough have vanished out of your mind. To attempt to preserve them is like making a collection of soap-bubbles, on account of their beautiful colours" (23 March 1856; Douglas, 467).

The appearance of Modern Painters IV confirmed for Whewell that Ruskin was equally wrong about imaginative truth. The volume was issued in mid-April; Whewell had it in hand a week later, and Ruskin's discussion of "Turnerian Topography" immediately drew his criticism. Having praised Turner in Modern Painters I for his faithful delineations of nature, Ruskin in this volume celebrated the imaginative truth of Turner's landscapes. One of his central examples is Turner's drawing of the "Pass of Faido." Comparing this drawing with his own sketch of the same spot, Ruskin shows that Turner has altered the scene's topographical details but argues that Turner has done so out of an "imperative dream" that enhances "the sacredness of the truth of Impression" (6:36, 38). Turner sacrifices topographical truth for the higher truth of representing the impression that the actual scene produced on the mind--a truth for Ruskin nonetheless inhering in the scene itself and not simply in Turner's mind. For Whewell, this stretched the notion of truth too far. "I am amused," he wrote to Kate Marshall, "with [Ruskin's] present notion of truth in painting. Your picture is true if you paint what you see in your own mind. Accordingly, when Turner, painting a scene where there is one mountain ridge 3,000 feet high, represents three ridges each 10,000 feet high, it is true, because a dream told him to do it" (22 April 1856, Douglas, 471).

These differing conceptions of induction were linked to what were perhaps even more fundamental disagreements between the two men about religion and politics and their place in the study of architecture. Crucial here were the theological issues associated with the Gothic Revival and the position of the Cambridge Camden Society.

The Camden Society was founded in 1839 by a group of Trinity College undergraduates who defined what they called ecclesiology, the science of church-building and decoration. In 1841 the society launched publication of its official organ, The Ecclesiologist, and by 1843 its membership had grown to over seven hundred, a figure that included two archbishops, sixteen bishops, thirty-one peers and MP's. Thomas Thorp, a Trinity fellow and later Archbishop of Bristol, served as the Society's president from 1839 to 1859 (White, 36-45).

The Society presented ecclesiology as an inductive science to be pursued along lines remarkably indebted to Whewell and similar to the arrangement of the British Association. Like the British Association, the leaders of the Society directed for their own purposes an army of Baconian fact-collectors, in this case local parsons and antiquarians, who were sent out to compile observations of individual churches that were then sent back to Cambridge. Many of the Society's publications were designed to assist these amateurs in carrying out informed observations, and the works of Whewell, Willis, and Rickman were among those the Society recommended to its recruits (White, 52-57; Morrell and Thackray 17-29, 119-27; Schaffer, 216). Indeed, the Society's publications and widely-distributed master form for making observations may well have been based on the third chapter of Architectural Notes, "Suggestions on the Manner of Making Architectural Notes," in which Whewell contends that any "architectural observer" can "throw light upon the history of architecture; for in this study, as in all others, any sound speculation must be founded on accurate knowledge of an extensive collection of particular instances" (132-33). Whewell then provides step-by-step instructions on what to look for, the order in which to look for it, and the nomenclature and system of notation to employ--all of these instructions, of course, based not simply on the method employed by Whewell, but also on the theory he has developed.

I have been able to locate no evidence, however, suggesting that Whewell was a member of the Society or that he attended its meetings. This is all the more striking given that Whewell's friends Willis and Adam Sedgwick were members, Willis serving as a vice-president. Whewell's many commitments may have made active participation impossible, especially after his appointment as Master of Trinity in 1841, but a more likely reason lies in the Society's theological agenda. White calls the Society's official position banning theological debate a "smokescreen": in fact, the younger and more active members were sympathetic with the goals of the Oxford Movement and saw ecclesiology as directed towards restoring Anglican churches, as physical buildings, to their Catholic roots (White, 26-28, 35, 134-44). Indeed, the tone of an article in the very first issue of the Ecclesiologist led twelve members, headed by Willis and including Sedgwick, to send a letter of remonstrance, in which they complained that "there exists in some quarters a desire to convert the Society into an engine of polemical theology, instead of an instrument for promoting the study and the practice of Ecclesiastical Architecture" (Willis, et al., 25; White, 117-20). Matters only worsened over the ensuing years, leading to a tumultuous meeting on 8 May 1845 at which Sedgwick was a leader in an unsuccessful attempt to dissolve the Society because of its theology (White, 144-55).

Whewell could not have looked favorably on a group that proclaimed to study architecture inductively while engaging in religious controversy, but he must have shuddered at the sight of his own architectural studies being appropriated for the purpose of Tracterian polemics. Such a conclusion draws support not only from Yeo's recent work on Whewell's defense of science against Tracterian critiques (Defining Science, 118-24, 185-87), but also from an examination of Whewell's resistance to the Camden Society's calls for the renovation of the Church of Great St. Mary's, the University church, in spite of his friendship with A.J. Beresford-Hope.

Beresford-Hope attended Trinity, where he was one of Whewell's favorite pupils, taking his B.A. in 1841 and his M.A. in 1844. In addition to serving as a Conservative M.P. and co-founding the Saturday Review in 1855, he was, according to one modern historian of the Gothic Revival, "the high priest of ecclesiology." One of the Society's earliest members, its most active lay member, and at one point its president, Beresford-Hope not only wrote extensively on Gothic architecture and its connections to church ritual, he also funded restorations of the Master's Lodge at Trinity shortly after Whewell became Master (Crook, 81; Douglas, 251-53, 272, 305; DNB; White, 36-37).

Despite his friendship with Beresford-Hope and his ability to work with him on such secular architectural projects as the restoration of the Lodge, Whewell adamantly opposed the Society's plans for Great St. Mary's. As early as 1842, a letter to the Ecclesiologist, endorsed by the editor, complained that the pulpit rather than the altar was the focal point of the church and that this was due to the presence of a long gallery reserved for university dignitaries (presumably including the Master of Trinity) that both blocked the congregation's view of the altar and itself faced away from it (Anonymous). Less than a year later, a paper was read at one of the Camden Society's meetings, and subsequently published in the Society's Transactions, detailing the history of the changes in the church's interior arrangement and offering the same criticisms. Special condemnation was reserved for the eighteenth-century alteration "by which our holy and beautiful house . . . was degraded from its true and high purpose as 'a house of prayer,' and made to become, as far as was possible with the work of a Catholick architect, a mere preaching house" (Venables, 247). "Is it too much to hope in these days," the article asked, "when we are beginning to recover long-lost principles, and are awaking to something like a perception of the true charcter which a church ought to bear," that the University should engage in "the glorious work of blotting out the disfiguring traces of a sensual and latitudinarian age?" (250).

By 1860, a Committee had been formed, a plan put forward, and a fund established. But pledges were still insufficient for beginning the proposed restorations, and the call went out for all the Colleges to subscribe to the fund (Luard). Whewell responded with a pamphlet in which he argued against the changes (which he called "alterations" rather than "restorations") on both practical and religious grounds. "To make a large change in our University Church," he wrote, "at a time when controversy of the subject of forms in religious services has been going on for years, and the University has hitherto wisely and happily abstained from taking any part on either side, would, I think, be very unfortunate" ("On the Proposed Alterations," 2). The notion that Gothic architecture is "essential to religion" Whewell dismissed as an emphemeral matter of taste, arguing that it was pointless to go to considerable trouble and expense when the current fashion for Gothic would someday--perhaps soon--die out (3). But these practical objections were especially weighty for Whewell precisely because the religious grounds were so tenuous. The claim that the dignitaries' gallery was irreverent he termed "not only fanciful and puerile, but superstitious" (2). Responding to the charge that St. Mary's had been "degraded into a mere preaching-house," Whewell declared that "St. Mary's Church is a Church, as much as it has ever been, or ever will be. The new architectural decorations will not make it more so. And Christian preaching has ever been, and must ever be, a most important work in the religious assemblies of Christians."

Ruskin also yoked his architectural studies to "polemical theology," but of the Evangelical rather than the Tracterian variety. Both The Seven Lamps and, to a lesser extent, Stones, are permeated by passages of what Rukin later disavowed as "rabid Protestantism" (8:15) directed at both past Papal corruption and present Catholic Emancipation (Brooks, 42-49). For Ruskin, the "corruption" of Gothic architecture was connected to "the peculiar degradation of the Romanist superstition, and of public morality in consequence" (9:44). Extending this line of thought to modern-day England, he contends that it is "of the highest importance, in these days, that Romanism should be deprived of the miserable influence which its pomp and picturesqueness have given it over the weak sentimentalism of the English people" (9:436). Responding specifically to A.W.N. Pugin's aggressive association of Gothic architecture with Catholicism, Ruskin says that "of all . . . fatuities, the basest is the being lured into the Romanist Church by the glitter of it, like larks into a trap by broken glass" (9:437). His anti-Catholic animus was so great that it spilled over into an appendix to Stones that in turn grew into a separate pamphlet, "Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds" (1851). Although arguing for a reunion of the various parties within the Anglican Church for a common attack on the Papacy, "Notes" does so with an obvious Evangelical bias, condemning the "fallacies" of "Puseyism," its "bold refusals to read plain English; its elaborate adjustment of tight bandages over its own eyes, as a wholesome preparation for a walk among traps and pitfalls; its daring trustfulness in its own clairvoyance all the time, and declarations that every pit it falls into is a seventh heaven; and that it is pleasant and profitable to break its legs" (12:533).

Whewell's review of The Seven Lamps is silent about Ruskin's theology. This silence is somewhat surprising in light of the fact that most reviewers focused heavily on the religious component of Ruskin's architectural theories (Brooks, 50-53). It should not, however, be taken as a sign of acquiescence (Ruskin's rabid Evangelicalism seems unlikely to have been more palatable than Tracterianism) but of disapproval. In this case, Whewell expresses his criticism of bringing theological controversy into the scientific study of architecture by not acknowledging it openly. Indeed, Whewell's only allusion to Ruskin's theology suggests that Whewell was among those who stressed the similarities between the content of Ruskin's theories and that of Pugin and the ecclesiologists, and feared Catholic or Anglo-Catholic appropriations of them. Ruskin's Lamps, Whewell complains, "not infrequently remind us of the lights which, in some cathedral where the pomp of a gorgeous ceremonial appeals to the sense, are half dilated and half lost among the clouds of incense" (152).

Whewell's silence on the politics of Ruskin's architectural theories should also be seen in this manner. Ruskin toured France in August-November 1848, and his conservative response to the revolutionary events he witnessed there could not be kept out of Seven Lamps (Alexander). Of architecture's seven lamps, that of Obedience is "the crowning grace." "Noble" architecture embodies the Polity, Life, History, and Religious Faith of a nation, and Obedience is the principle to which "Polity owes its stability, Life its happiness, Faith its acceptance, Creation its significance." By contrast, "how false is the conception, how frantic the pursuit, of that treacherous phantom which men call Liberty" (8:248). Whewell, in contrast, had handled a similar experience in a remarkably different way. Touring Picardy and Normanday together in the summer of 1832, he and Rickman were briefly detained and marched under guard from Norrey to Bretteville (Whewell to Jones, 23 August 1832, and Whewell to Wilkinson, 2 October 1832, Todhunter, 2:144-45, 146-47; Douglas, 147). Whewell's architectural observations from this tour were added to the second edition of Architectural Notes and included a brief account of this encounter. Yet where Ruskin's later experiences became expressions of alarm, Whewell's became the basis for an amusing anecdote, the punchline of which declares that "antiquaries are not dangerous people" (294). Yet it seems clear that both Ruskin and Whewell saw the politics of the other's architectural theories--whether overt or implied--as dangerous.

I want to demonstrate this in three ways: 1) by contrasting Ruskin's general approach to architecture with that of Willis and Whewell; 2) by examining more closely Ruskin's ostensibly complimentary references to Willis and Whewell in The Seven Lamps and Stones; and 3) by tracing each man's response to the other's writings on political economy.

In 1838, Whewell wrote a poem entitled "Gothic Architecture" that captures the essence of his approach to the study of architecture. The speaker recounts the tale of his conversion from devotee of Classical architecture to lover of Gothic. Returning from Italy, confirmed in the precept that architecture should be "proportion'd, simple, and symmetrical," he sees the medieval cathedrals of northern Europe as "lofty piles": on the outside they are "formless and wild," while on the inside they reveal "still wider disarray" and "deeper confusion unintelligible." Looking more closely, however, and following the lines from vault to shaft to floor, he suddenly appreciates the structural mechanics of the cathedral:

behold! each shaft
Bore its own burden in that branched vault,
And all that ponderous mass was firm upheld
By staves, each staff apportioned to its load.
And when again the eye from floor to roof
Had travelled up the pillar's side,--behold!
Those oblique shafts retired had each its load,
Each its due portion of that stony frame,
Yet ordered all beneath that pillar'd vault.

Instead of seeing meaningless complexity, the speaker now sees a system of interrelationships: the simplicity and symmetry of Classical architecture is "well replaced" by "subordination" and "sympathy"--"not likeness, . . . but a bond / Of common ends" (Sunday Thoughts, 19-23).

Whewell and Willis both studied architecture from a structural perspective that emphasized the building's mechanics. Becher (4-5) has noted that Whewell used architectural examples in his mechanics textbooks; in Architectural Notes, Whewell's theory of the origin of Gothic grew out of an engineering problem. His view of the organic interrelation of the parts of a cathedral was--as in his poem--a structural organicism. Willis became Jacksonian Professor of Applied Mechanics in 1837, two years after the appearance of his Remarks, and in 1841 published his Principles of Mechanics, a work with which Whewell linked his own treatment of mechanics in two works of that same year, the sixth edition of An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics and The Mechanics of Engineering (Whewell to Forbes, 30 September 1840 and 12 March 1841, Todhunter, 2:290, 295). Willis's nephew, author of the Dictionary of National Biography's entry on him, makes the suggestive comment that "he treated a building as he treated a machine: he took it to pieces." Whewell, in his History of the Inductive Sciences, had already acknowledged and extended this connection. Drawing heavily on Willis's account of Gothic construction in Remarks, Whewell argues that medieval architecture is one of the few exceptions to this otherwise "stationary period." Although the knowledge of mechanical principles necessary for building a Gothic cathedral cannot be said to be science because it is not systematic and speculative, the architecture of the Middle Ages does show evidence of "the progress of scientific ideas" and of being "the prelude to the period of discovery." In Whewell's view, the "possession" of "the idea of mechanical pressure and support" necessary for the construction of Gothic cathedrals "led . . . to its speculative development as the foundation of a science; and thus architecture prepared the way for mechanics" (History, 361-63).

Ruskin presumably had approaches like Whewell's and Willis's in mind when he complained in the introductory chapter of The Seven Lamps about the "prevalence" of the "technical" over the "imaginative" element in "the distinctively political art of Architecture." For Ruskin, architecture requires a balance between these two elements, but the technical element is the "lower" of the two, the "body" of the building as compared to the "soul" that is its imaginative element. The tendency to focus on construction, "like every other form of materialism, is increasing with the advance of the age" (8:20-21). From Ruskin's perspective, the emphasis of Whewell and Willis on structure and mechanics was implicitly materialistic. To avoid such implications in his own work, Ruskin stresses the moral and imaginative aspects of architecture, and he emphasizes ornament rather than structure (Garrigan, 62-88). Where Whewell's structural interrelations were those of the machine, Ruskin's are those of his beloved Alps:

In the edifices of Man there should be found reverent worship and following, not only of the spirit which rounds the pillars of the forest, and arches the vault of the avenue . . . but of that also which reproves the pillars of the earth, and builds up her barren precipices into the coldness of the clouds, and lifts her shadowy cones of mountain purple into the pale arch of the sky. (8:102-03)

With this fundamental difference in approach in mind, we can see Ruskin's ostensibly complimentary references to Whewell and Willis in a new light. In the case of Whewell, The Seven Lamps contains just one reference to him, in a discussion of St. Ouen at Rouen. Ruskin invokes Whewell's Architectural Notes in support of his claim that its traceries mark it as one of the most "debased" and "degraded" of Gothic cathedrals (8:65 and n). The moral condemnation implied by Ruskin's language is not accidental: the "fall" of Gothic architecture is not simply the gradual dissolution of its structural unity as a coherent style, but a sign of moral and religious decay throughout Europe. Using a tracery from Rouen Cathedral, Ruskin argues that the key shift occured when medieval architects stopped looking at the spaces outlined by the tracery moldings and instead attended to the forms of the moldings themselves. This shift "was the great watershed of Gothic art" (8:89) because the stone moldings were now presented as flexible rather than stiff, a sacrifice, in Ruskin's view, of "a great principle of truth" and thus "ultimately ruinous" (8:92). The sacrifice of this single truth led to a complete breakdown of Gothic's "order, consistency, and organization," its being "swept away" by "the foul torrent of the Renaissance" (8:98).

Ruskin's view of the decline of the Complete French Gothic was, in its general outline and its emphasis on traceries, in keeping with views already expressed by Whewell and Willis. Whewell, as we have seen, noted and endorsed this view in his review of The Seven Lamps. But Whewell dissented sharply from the details of Ruskin's view. He was no doubt miffed at seeing his discussion of St. Ouen, which he had called in Architectural Notes a "beautiful church" with an "exquisite tower" and "fine flying buttresses" (265), employed in one of Ruskin's most caustic diatribes. According to Ruskin, St. Ouen is "one of the basest pieces of Gothic in Europe," a "sickly phantom" the tower of which is "overrated" and the decorative buttresses of which are a "barbarism" (8:64-65 and n). But more was at stake here than mere taste. Whewell recognized that Ruskin was putting forward, despite his complimentary nod to Willis (8:87-88), a different theory about traceries, one based ultimately in moral rather than structural judgments. For Whewell, St. Ouen and Rouen Cathedral provided evidence of "the distinctive features of the successive styles of French Gothic" (262) but certainly not of social, moral, or religious decline.2

A similar scenario emerges from Ruskin's use of Willis in Stones. Willis's Remarks helped to rescue Italian Gothic from contempt and neglect because, as Whewell had done with German Gothic, Willis treated it on its own terms as a consistent style (Willis, 1, 13; Crook, 67-68; Pevsner, Robert Willis, 10). Nonetheless, Willis left no doubt about his own preferences: Italian Gothic was simply not comparable to Northern Gothic for beauty and grandeur, and there was "no genuine Gothic building in Italy" (2). Thus Ruskin, while acknowledging his debt to Willis's Remarks at several points in the first volume of Stones (9:133, 152, 183), does so only on structural points. This first volume, punningly subtitled "The Foundations," is the base on which the other volumes stand. It is heavily factual in the sense that it is dominated by discussion first of the structure of buildings and then of their decoration. But for Ruskin, of course, this foundational volume is less important than the two volumes that are erected upon it and that tell the story of the decline of the Venetian empire through its architecture. The only point at which Ruskin takes issue with Willis in this first volume is, significantly, on ornamentation, specifically the polychromatic exterior ornamentation of Italian churches (9:348), which Willis had condemned (12).

Indeed, in the second volume of Stones, Ruskin sweeps aside the many recent efforts--of which Whewell's and Willis's were prominent--to base the definition of Gothic form on roof-vaulting, endeavors which he considered "subtle and ingenious" but "forced and futile" (10:245; Garrigan, 78-88). Ruskin's definition of Gothic, seeking to avoid both the utilitarian assumptions and materialist implications of an exclusively structural focus, includes not only structural elements but also "the mental tendencies of the builders" (10:183). In The Seven Lamps, he had already claimed that "the right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this--was the carver happy while he was about it?" (8:218). His emphatic negative in the case of most modern machine work led him, in his famous chapter on "The Nature of Gothic" in Stones, to contrast medieval and modern workers, the latter being "slaves" and "animated tools." "There might be more freedom in England," says Ruskin, "though her feudal lords' lightest words were worth men's lives, . . .than there is while the animation of her multitudes is sent like fuel to feed the factory smoke" (10:192-93). Division of labor divides not labor but the men themselves, breaking them "into small fragments and crumbs of life; so that all the little piece of intelligence that is left in a man is not enough to make a pin, or a nail, but exhausts itself in making the point of a pin and the head of a nail" (10:196).

Although Whewell and Ruskin shared a dislike of the deductivist, Benthamite political economy of Ricardo and Mill, neither saw the other in these terms (Checkland, De Marchi and Sturges, Henderson, Hollander, Rashid). Mill was Ruskin's primary target in Unto This Last, the essays on political economy that originally appeared in the Cornhill in August-November 1860 but that met with such violent opposition that the editor ceased publication of them (17:17). He attacked "the modern soi-disant science of political economy" for its treatment of the human being "merely as a covetous machine," a steam engine whose "motive power" is the accumulation of wealth, without concern for the morality either of how this wealth is accumulated or of how it is spent (17:25-29). He stepped up these attacks in another series of essays that appeared in Fraser's between June 1862 and April 1863. It seems likely that Whewell read one or both of these series, for he sent Ruskin a copy of his own Six Lectures on Political Economy (1862)--delivered to the Prince of Wales at the request of Prince Albert in 1861.

Whewell's lectures were essentially a compilation of, and commentary on, passages from foundational works in political economy, including those of Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Mill, and Jones. In his preface, Whewell defended the book's many "common-places" as of a sort that "young men of rank . . . ought to know" (viii). It is thus hard to avoid the conclusion that Whewell, in sending them to Ruskin, was essentially drawing attention to Ruskin's own lack of understanding about the basics of political economy. Ruskin's critique of political economy owed much to Carlyle (he later dedicated the Fraser's essays to him), in whom Whewell had seen danger twenty years earlier. In 1840, Whewell answered Carlyle's Chartism, which he said had "fascinated some of our young men," with a poem entitled "The Isle of the Sirens" that he hoped would "disenchant" them (Whewell to his sister, 8 April 1840, Douglas, 196-97; Sunday Thoughts, 101). For Ruskin, the content of Whewell's lectures certainly provided little reason to see Whewell as a like-minded critic of "the soi-disant science." "'Like all other books I ever opened, from Adam Smith downwards, written by clever men on the subject,'" Ruskin wrote to Whewell in acknowledgement of the gift, "'it fills me with wonder. . . . You know (I suppose by your sending me the book) that I am entirely opposed to all the modern views on this subject'" (Todhunter, 1:237-38). Ruskin received the book in time to insert in his final Fraser's essay a note that dissents from Whewell's view that the morality of lending money at interest needs no defense (17:271n; Six Lectures, 41).

In his study of the rhetoric of scientific method in nineteenth-century Britain, Yeo writes that "a proper grasp of its significance . . . demands attention to the various points of emphasis and tension, and to the ways in which these related to different contexts and preoccupations" ("Scientific Method," 289). The differences between Whewell and Ruskin on architecture, when viewed as a debate taking place not between a scientist and non-scientist but between two members of a broadly defined "scientific" community, illustrate this strikingly. Despite common ideological enemies--Tracterians on the one side, Benthamites on the other--each looked upon the other's conception of induction, as applied to the study of architecture, with suspicion and disapproval, seeing in it the existence of, or the potential for, theological and political danger.


1. Given the work of Fisch and Yeo on the importance of the years 1830 to 1834 for the development of Whewell's philosophy, the differences between the prefaces of the first and second editions of the Architectural Notes, and the path of Whewell's architectural studies generally from the late 1820s to the early 1840s, this may be of wider significance. In the famous 1831 letter to Jones in which Whewell proclaims his inability to "see his way" to a general view of the applicability of induction to subjects other than natural philosophy, Whewell is perhaps most optimistic, after Jones's work in political economy, about "antiquities, especially architecture, of which something may be made" (Todhunter, 2:116). Yeo has suggested that Whewell's ability to study architectural styles as organic systems developed in a specific cultural context may have influenced his view of the history of the sciences even before the emergence of his anit-empiricist epistemology (Defining Science, 154-55).

2. In his later work, Whewell's criticism of French Flamboyant tracery is much stronger and larded with moralistic expressions: for most observers, its "prodigal display of variety and caprice" ("Remarks," 223) is viewed with "repugnance" (225) as a sign of the "perversion" (230) of Gothic principles. But even here Whewell is speaking of a loss of structural unity and interrelation--the "repugnance" is the result of a lack of symmetry in the tracery.


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