Imágenes de páginas

Wales might, with equal reason, indulge the same lofty expectations. They are indeed a century behind their transatlantic brethren; but their population has increased faster, their territory is more extensive, their soil more fertile, and their climate far more salubrious: the embryo statesmen, philosophers, and warriors of that boundless continent may therefore (and perhaps they do) sagely calculate the time when, having shaken off the dominion of feudal Europe, and started in the full career of republicanism, they shall, in their progress, whiten every sea,' in the language of Mr. Bristed,* 'with their commercial canvass, bear their naval thunders in triumph to earth's extremest verge, peer above the sovereignty of other nations,' even the great American one; and cause it, even before its head is 'white with the hoar of age,' to bow, with its venerable parent, to the influence of Australasia, the 'youngest daughter of the civilized globe.'

ART. II.-The Civil Architecture of Vitruvius, containing those Books of this Author relating to the Public and Private Edifices of the Ancients. Translated by William Wilkins, A. M. late fellow of Caius College, Cambridge. Part I. London. Part II. completing the work, 1818. INNUMERABLE have been the speculations as to the sources

of that vast pre-eminence in the liberal arts and sciences, which raised Athens so far above every other state of ancient days. Whilst some have attributed it to the form of government, and to the freedom enjoyed by the people under the republic, others trace it to national vanity and the ambition of surpassing the efforts of contemporary states. Neither of these explanations is satisfactory: there are not wanting examples, either in ancient or modern times, of national ambition carried to equal extent, in works of science and art. The history of Athens itself affords a refutation of the hypothesis. Perhaps at no one period, compared with the advances made by preceding ages, did Athens offer a more brilliant picture than during the dominion of the Pisistratidæ, more especially in the early part of the reign of Hipparchus; who, inheriting the taste of his father, was a most liberal patron of poets, philosophers, and artists. Under his directions great part of Athens was rebuilt the advance of the arts was manifested in the splendid

We give the whole passage, because it furnishes no unfair specimen of American composition, as adopted by the best writers in that language. America shall spring forward during the next, with the same velocity and force with which she has moved progressively during the last fifty years: she will then whiten every sea with her commercial canvass; bear her naval thunders in triumph to earth's extremest verge; peer above the sovereignty of other nations, and cause the elder world to bow its venerable head, white with the hoar of ages, beneath the paramount power and influence of this younger daughter of the civilized globe.'--p. 454.


appearance of the city; and the progress of science was no less conspicuous in the polished manners of the age.

The truth seems to be, that mankind are too prone to draw general inferences from insulated occurrences. If we take a retrospect of the state of things a little time prior to the age of Pericles, we shall find that various causes contributed to the glory which Athens subsequently attained under this celebrated statesman.

The plunder of the Persian camp after the battle of Platæa, added to the spoils of other important victories, was productive of individual wealth and universal luxury. Private citizens became possessed of property to an amount hitherto unknown, and superior opulence was the great, and indeed the only, mark of distinction. Another source of wealth was the redemption of the captives; whilst the thousands unransomed filled the state with slaves whose employment cost it nothing beyond the food which they consumed. The silver mines of Laurium, which had been abandoned as unproductive, in consequence of the high price of labour, again became a profitable speculation to the government and to individuals.

Xenophon instances Attica as an example of a state flourishing from many and various sources. Amongst them be reckons its silver mines, its marble quarries, its temperate climate, and, what will surprize the traveller of the present age, its superior agriculture and produce! Situated between Egypt, the islands of the Egean sea, the coast of Asia Minor, and the continent of Greece, with numerous and commodious harbours, Attica became the emporium of a great portion of the known world, and the resort of traders of all nations. Little were the Athenians aware that this vast influx of wealth was to become the cause of their future degradation, and even total ruin: but the distant effects of this state of unbounded opulence and unlimited commerce are foreign to our purpose; our object is to draw a picture of that prosperity when the revenues so far exceeded the expenditure, that the superfluity was applied in realizing the magnificent conceptions of the most enlightened of mankind. Pericles, to whose discretion the expenditure of the public money was confided, (the treasury being now removed from Delos to Athens,) possessed the means as well as the inclination to gratify his taste for the liberal arts and sciences; he felt too the necessity of diverting the public attention from the government to objects gratifying to the vanity of the people, who lost sight of every thing else in contemplating the growing splendour of their capital. The most magnificent structures were now designed, and nothing was spared to induce the most skilful and celebrated artists to contribute to their execution. Some conception of the sums expended upon the embellishment of the city may be formed from the cost of the Parthenon, which alone is computed to have


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.

[ocr errors]

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 meanest 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, his 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, Boeotia, 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 name must be familiar to the generality of our readers.

Through the numerous editious and translations of Vitruvius, a degree of celebrity has been attached to his 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 measure, 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.

[ocr errors]

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 knowledge 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 admitted 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 spurned 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 bitterness. 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


« AnteriorContinuar »