Architecture and History
(1834 - 1896)
William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he helped win acceptance of socialism in fin de siècle Great Britain. (From : Wikipedia.org.)
Architecture and History
We of this Society at least know the beauty of the weathered and time-worn surface of an ancient building, and have all of us felt the grief of seeing this surface disappear under the hands of a "restorer;" but though we all feel this deeply enough, some of us perhaps may be puzzled to explain to the outside world the full value of this ancient surface. It is not merely that it is in itself picturesque and beautiful, though that is a great deal; neither is it only that there is a sentiment attaching to the very face which the original builders gave their work, but dimly conscious all the while of the many generations which should gaze on it; it is only a part of its value that the stones are felt to be, as Mr. Ruskin beautifully puts it, speaking of some historic French building, now probably changed into an academic model of its real self, that they are felt to be "the very stones which the eyes of St. Louis saw lifted into their places." That sentiment is much, but it is not all; nay, it is but a part of the especial value to which I wish to-day to call your attention, which value briefly is, that the untouched surface of ancient architecture bears witness to the development of man's ideas, to the continuity of history, and, so doing, affords never-ceasing instruction, nay education, to the passing generations, not only telling us what were the aspirations of men passed away, but also what we may hope for in the time to come.
You all know what a different sprit has animated history in these latter days from that which used to be thought enough to give it interest to thinking men. Time was, and not so long ago, when the clever essay writer (rather than historian) made his history surrounded by books whose value he weighed rather by the degree in which they conformed to an arbitrary standard of literary excellence, than by any indications they might give of being able to afford a glimpse into the past. So treated, the very books were not capable of yielding the vast stores of knowledge of history which they really possessed, if dealt with by the historical method. It is true that for the most part these books were generally written for other purposes than that of giving simple information to those to come after; at their honestest the writers were compelled to look on life through the spectacles thrust on them by the conventional morality of their own times; at their dishonestest, they were servile flatterers in the pay of the powers that were. Nevertheless, though the art of lying has always been sedulously cultivated by the world, and especially by that part of it which lives on the labor of others, it is an art which few people attain to in its perfection, and the honest man by the use of sufficient diligence can generally manage to see through the veil of sophistry into the genuine life which exists in those written records of the past; nay, the very lies themselves, being for the most part of a rough and simple nature, can often be dissolved and precipitated, so to say, into historical substance, into negative evidence of facts.
But the academical historians of whom I have spoken were not fitted for the task; they themselves were cursed with a fatal though unconscious dishonesty; the world of history which they pictured to themselves was an unreal one; to them there were but two periods of continuous order, of organized life: the period of Greek and Roman classical history was one, the time from the development of the retrospection into that period till their own days was the other; all else to them was mere accidental confusion, strange tribes and clans with whom they had no relation, jostling against one another for no purpose save that of a herd of bisons; all the thousands of years devoid of creation, laden only with mere obstruction, and out of that, as I said, two periods of perfection, leaping fully equipped like Pallas from the brain of Zeus. A strange conception, truly, of the history of the "famous men and our fathers that begat us," but one which could not hold out long against the natural developmentof knowledge and society. The mists of pedantry slowly lifted and showed a different picture; inchoate order in the remotest times, varying indeed among different races and countries, but swayed always by the same laws, moving forward ever towards something that seems the very opposite of that which it started from, and yet the earlier order never dead but living in the new, and slowly molding it to a recreation of its former self. How different a spirit such a view of history must create it is not difficult to see. No longer shallow mockery at the failures and follies of the past, from a standpoint of so-called civilization, but deep sympathy with its half-conscious aims, from amid the difficulties and shortcomings that we are only too sadly conscious of to-day; that is the new spirit of history; knowledge I would fain think has brought us humility, and humility hope of that perfection which we are obviously so far short of.
Now, further, as to the instruments of this new knowledge of history, were they not chiefly two: study of language and study of archaeology? that is, of the expression of men's ideas by means of speech, and by means of handiwork, in other words the record of man's creative deeds. Of the first of these instruments, deeply as I am interested in it, and especially on the side which, tending towards comparative mythology, proclaims so clearly the unity of mankind, of this I lack the knowledge to speak, even if I had the time; on the second, archaeology, I am bound to speak, as it is above all things the function of our Society to keep before people's eyes its importance as an instrument of the study of history, which does in very truth lead us towards the solution of all the social and political problems over which men's minds are busied.
I am all the more bound to speak on this subject because, in spite of the ascendancy which the new spirit of history has over cultivated minds, we must not forget that many minds are uncultivated, and in them the pedantic spirit still bears sway; and you will understand that when I speak of uncultivated minds, I am not thinking of the lower classes, as we civilly, but too truly, call them, but of many of those who are in responsible positions, and responsible especially as to the guardianship of our ancient buildings; indeed, to meet one conceivable objection, I can understand a man saying that the half-ignorant, half-instructed, and wholly pedantic way of dealing with an ancient building is historical also, and I can admit some logic in the objection; destruction is, alas! one of the forms of growth; indeed those pedantic historians I have been speaking of had their share also in history, and it is a curious question, which I cannot follow at present, as to how far their destructive pedantry was a sign of strength as compared with our reasonable research and timidity; I say that I cannot follow this question up, though I think it would lead to conclusions astonishing to some people, and so will content myself with saying that if the narrowness, the vulgarity of mind (I know no other word), which deals with our ancient monuments, as if Art had no past and is to have no future, be an historical development (and I don't gainsay it), so also is the spirit which animates us to resist that vulgarity - "for this among the rest was I ordained."
Now, I am sure that, so far I have carried you with me as members of our Society; you cannot doubt that in one way or other the surface of an ancient building, the handling of the old handicraftsman that is, is most valuable and worthy of preservation, and I am sure also that we all feel instinctively that it cannot be reproduced at the present day; that the attempt at reproduction not only deprives us of a monument of history, but also of a work of art. In what follows I have to attempt the task of showing you that this impossibility of reproduction is not accidental, but is essential to the conditions of life at the present day; that it is caused by the results of all past history, and not by a passing taste or fashion of the time; and that consequently no man, and no body of men, however learned they may be in ancient art, whatever skill in design or love of beauty they may have, can persuade, or bribe,or force our workmen of to-day to do their work in the same way as the workmen of King Edward I. did theirs. Wake up Theoderic the Goth from his sleep of centuries, and place him on the throne of Italy; turn our modern House of Commons into the Witenagemote (or meeting of the wise men) of King Alfred the Great; no less a feat is the restoration of an ancient building.
Now, in order to show you that this is necessary and inevitable, I am compelled very briefly to touch upon the conditions under which handiwork has been produced from the classical times onward; in doing so I cannot avoid touching on certain social problems, on the solution of which some of you may differ from me. In that case I ask you to remember that though the Committee has ordered me to read this paper to you, it cannot be held responsible for any opinions outside the principles advocated in its published documents. The Society should not be regarded as dangerous, except, perhaps, to the amusement of certain country parsons and squires, and their wives and daughters.
Well, it must be admitted that every architectural work is a work of cooperation. The very designer, be he never so original, pays his debt to this necessity in being in some form or another under the influence of tradition; dead men guide his hand even when he forgets that they ever existed. But, furthermore, he must get his ideas carried out by other men; no man can build a building with his own hands; every one of those men depends for the possibility of even beginning his work on someone else; each one is but part of a machine; the parts may be but machines themselves, or they may be intelligent, but in either case must work in subordination to the general body. It is clear that men so working must be influenced in their work by their conditions of life, and the man who organizes their labor must make up his mind that he can only get labor of a kind which those conditions have bred. To expect enthusiasm for good workmanship from men who for two generations have been accustomed by the pressure of circumstances to work slovenly would be absurd; to expect consciousness of beauty from men who for ten generations have not be allowed to produce beauty, more absurd still. The workmanship of every piece of cooperative work must belong to its period, and be characteristic of it. Understand this clearly, which I now put in another form: all architectural work must be cooperative; in all cooperative work the finished wares can be no better in quality than the lowest, or simplest, or widest grade, which is also the most essential, will allow them to be. The kind and quality of that work, the work of the ordinary handicraftsman, is determined by the social conditions under which he lives, which differ much from age to age.
Let us then try to see how they have differed, and glance at the results to Art of that difference; during which inquiry we shall have much more to do with the developed Middle Ages, with the work of which our Society is chiefly concerned, than with any other period.
In the classical period industrial production was chiefly carried on by slaves, whose persons and work alike belonged to their employers, and who were sustained at just such standard of life as suited the interests of the said employers. It was natural that under these circumstances industrialism should be despised, but under Greek civilization, at least, ordinary life for the free citizens, the aristocracy in fact, was simple, the climate was not exacting of elaborate work for the purposes of clothing and shelter, the race was yet young, vigorous, and physically beautiful. The aristocracy, therefore, freed from the necessity of rough and exhausting work by their possession of chattel slaves, who did all that for them, and little oppressed with anxieties for their livelihood, had, in spite of the constant brawling and piracy which forms their external history, both inclination and leisure to cultivate the higher intellectual arts within the limits which their natural love of matter of fact and hatred of romance prescribed to them; the lesser arts, meantime, being kept in rigid, and indeed slavish subordination to them as was natural. May I break off here to ask you to consider,in case any Athenian gentleman had attempted to build a Gothic cathedral in the days of Pericles, what sort of help he would have had from the slave labor of the day, and what kind of Gothic they would have produced for him?
Well, the ideal of art established by the intellect of the Greeks with such splendid and overwhelming success lasted throughout the whole Roman period also, in spite of the invention and use of the arch in architecture, or rather in building; and side by side with it chattel slavery, under somewhat changed conditions, produced the ordinary wares of life; the open-mouthed contempt for the results of industrial production expressed by the pedant Pliny, whether it were genuine or artificially deduced from the conventionalities of philosophy, well illustrates the condition of the slave-produced lesser arts of the later classical period.
Meantime, and while Pliny was alive, the intellectual arts of classical times had long fallen from their zenith, and had to wade through weary centuries of academicalism, from which they were at last redeemed by no recurrence of individual genius to the earlier and human period, but by the breakup of classical society itself; which involved the change of chattel slavery, the foundation of classical society, into serfdom or villeinage, on which the feudal system was based. The period of barbarism or disorder between the two periods of order was long doubtless, but the new order rose out of it at last bright and clear; and in place of the system of aristocratic citizen and chattel slave without rights, dominated by the worship of the city, which was the ideal, the religion of classic society, was formed a system of personal duties and rights, personal service and protection in subordination to a priori ideas of mankind's duties to and claims from the unseen powers of the universe. No doubt, as was natural in this hierarchical system, the religious houses, whose distinct duty it was to hold the hierarchical ideal up as a banner among imperfect men, fulfilled towards the arts in the earlier Middle Ages, amid the field-serfs and their lords, the function which in classical times the cultivated Greek free man fulfilled amid his crowd of enslaved menials. But the serf was in a very different condition from the chattel slave; for, certain definite duties being performed for his lord, he was (in theory at least) at liberty to earn his living as he best could within the limits of his manor. The chattel slave, as an individual, had the hope of manumission, but collectively there was no hope for him but in the complete and mechanical overturn of the society which was founded on his subjection. The serf, on the other hand, was, by the conditions of his labor, forced to strive to better himself as an individual, and collectively soon began to acquire rights amid the clashing rights of king, lord, and burgher. Also, quite early in the Middle Ages, a new and mighty force began to germinate for the help of labor, the first signs of secular combination among free men, producers, and distributors.
The guilds, whose first beginning in England dates from before the Norman Conquest, although they fully recognized the hierarchical conditions of society, and were indeed often in early times mainly religious in their aims, did not spring from ecclesiasticism, nay, in all probability, had their roots in that part of the European race which had not known of Rome and her institutions in the days of her temporal domination. England and Denmark were the foremost countries in the development of the guilds, which took root latest and most feebly in the Latinized countries.
The spirit of combination spread; the guilds, which at first had been rather benefit societies or clubs than anything else, soon developed into bodies for the protection and freedom of commerce, and rapidly became powerful under the name of merchant guilds; in the height of their power there formed under them another set of guilds, whose object was the regulation and practice of the crafts in freedom from feudal exactions. The older merchants guilds resisted these newer institutions; so much so that in Germany there was bloody and desperate war between them; the great revolt of Ghent, you will remember as anillustration of this hostility, was furthered by the lesser crafts, as Froissart calls them; and again remember that Ghent, the producing city, was revolutionary, Bruges, the commercial one, reactionary. In England the merchant guilds changed in a more peaceable manner, and became in the main the corporations of the towns, and the craft-guilds took their definite place as regulators and protectors of all handicrafts. By the beginning of the fourteenth century the supremacy of the craft-guilds was complete, and at that period at least their constitution was thoroughly democratic; mere journeymen there were none, the apprentices were sure, as a matter of course, to take their places as masters of their craft when they learned it.
Now before we go on to consider the decline and fall of the guilds, let us look at the way in which the craftsmen worked at that period: and first a word as to his conditions of life: for I must tell you very briefly that he lived, however roughly, yet at least far easier than his successor does now. He worked for no master save the public, he made his wares from beginning to end himself, and sold them himself to the man who was going to use them. This was the case at least with nearly all, if not all, the goods made in England; some of the rarer goods, such as silk cloth, did come into the chaffering market, which had to be the case all the more for this, that the materials of any country were chiefly wrought into goods close to their birthplace. But even in the cases of these rarer goods they were made primarily for home consumption, and only the overplus came into the hands of the merchant; concerning which latter you must also remember that he was not a mere gambler in the haphazard of supply and demand as he is today, but an indispensable distributor of goods; he was paid for his trouble in bringing goods from a place where there was more than was needed of them to a country where there was not enough, and that was all; the laws against forestallers and regraters give an idea of how this matter of commerce was looked on in the Middle Ages, as commerce, viz, not profitmongering. A forestaller was a man who bought up produce to hold it for a rise, a regrater, a man who bought and sold in the same market or within five miles of it. On the advantages of the forestaller to the community it is scarcely necessary to dwell, I think: as to the regrater, it was the view of the benighted people of the Middle Ages that a man who bought, say, a hundred-weight of cheese for 2d. a pound at nine in the morning and sold it at eleven for 3d. was not a specially useful citizen. I confess I am sufficiently old-fashioned and conservative to agree with them on that head, although I cannot help perceiving that all "business," properly so called, is now forestalling and regrating, and that we are all the slaves of those delightful and simple professions - so that the criminals of one age have become the benevolent masters of the next.
Well, anyhow, it followed from this direct intercourse between the maker and the consumer of goods, that the public in general were good judges of manufactured wares, and, in consequence, that the art, or religion rather, of adulteration was scarcely know; at least, it was easy to win the fame of a confessor, if not a martyr, of that noble creed.
Now, as to the manner of work, there was little or no division of labor in each craft; that I think is some mitigation of the evil - for I look upon it as such, of a man being bound down to one craft for his life long (as he is now also) - some mitigation, because, after all, there was plenty of variety in the work of a man who made the whole of a piece of goods himself, instead of making always one little piece of a piece. Also you must note that the freemen of the guilds had their share in the pasture lands of the country, as every free man at least had. Port Meadow, at Oxford, for instance, was the communal pasture of the freemen of that city.
These were the conditions of life and work of the English craftsmen of the fourteenth century. I suppose most of us have declined to accept the picture of him which we have had presented to us by the half ignorant and wholly misleading pedants of whom I have spokenbefore. We who have studied the remains of his handicrafts have been, without any further research, long instinctively sure that he was no priest-ridden, down-trodden savage, but a thoughtful and vigorous man, and in some sense, at least, free. That instinct had been abundantly confirmed by painstaking collectors of facts, like Mr. Thorold Rogers, and we now know that the guild craftsman led the sort of life in work and play that we should have expected from the art he produced. He worked, not for the profit of a master, but for his own livelihood, which, I repeat, he did not find it difficult to earn, so that he had a good deal of leisure, and being master of his time, his tools, and his material, was not bound to turn out his work shabbily, but could afford to amuse himself by giving it artistic finish; how different that is from [the] mechanical or trade finish some of us, at least, have learned - maybe, by the way of Weeping Cross. Well, that artistic finish or ornament was not venal, it was given freely to the public, who, I rather think, paid for it by interest in and sympathy for the work itself, which, indeed, I consider a good payment in times when a man could live otherwise without payment more gross and material. For here I must make the confession that what is called in modern slang the "wages of genius," were much neglected by the builders of our ancient buildings; for art, as Mr. Thorold Rogers justly says, was widespread; the possession of some skill in it was the rule and not the exception. As a rule, those who could afford to pay for a building, were able to do the necessary planning and designing, obviously because they would naturally find help and harmonious intelligence among the men they had to employ. For instance, the tower of Merton College Chapel at Oxford was carried out by ordinary masons, under the superintendence of the Fellows of the College. Well, judging from the wretched tinkering that the present Fellows have allowed to be perpetuated on their beautiful succursal house, St. Albans' Hall, I would not venture to trust the present most respectable Fellows of that ancient House with such a job now.
So it followed from this widespread skill in the arts, that those poor wretches who had skill and taste beyond their fellow-workmen, and who in consequence had pleasanter work than they, had to put up with a very moderate additional wage, and in some cases with nothing additional; it seems they could not make good the claim now preferred for that much sinned against - and much sinning - company, men of genius, that the conformation of their stomachs and the make of their skin is different from that of other men, and that consequently they want more to eat and drink and different raiment from their fellows. In most sober earnest, when we hear it said, as it often is said, that extra money payment is necessary under all circumstances to produce great works of art, and that men of special talent will not use those talents without being bribed by mere gross material advantages, we, I say, shall know what to reply. We can appeal to the witness of those lovely works still left us, whose unknown, unnamed creators were content to give them to the world, with little more extra wages than what their pleasure in their work and their sense of usefulness in it might bestow on them.
Well, I must now say that it seems to me that a body of artificers, so living as we have seen, and so working, with simple machines or instruments, of which they were complete masters, had very great advantages for the production of architectural art, using that word at its widest; and that one would, reasoning a priori, expect to find in their work that thoughtfulness and fertility of resource that blended freedom and harmonious cooperation, which, as a matter of fact, we do find in it. Nevertheless, in spite of this free intelligence of the medieval workman, or even because of it, he was still compelled to work only as a tradition would allow him to do. If it could ever have occurred to any man's mind to build some Parthenon or Erectheum by the banks of [the] Thames, or Warfe, or Wensum, in the fourteenth century, how far do you think his fellow-workman's skill would have been able to second his folly?
But we must leave the fourteenth century awhile, and hurry on in our tale of the workman's lot. I have said that the constitution of the craft guild was at first thoroughly democratic or fraternal, but it did not long remain so. As the towns grew bigger and population flowed to them from the enfranchised field-serfs and other sources, the old craftsmen began to form a separate and privileged class in the guilds with their privileged apprentices, and the journeyman at last made his appearance. After a while the journeymen attempted to form guilds under the master crafts, as the latter had done under the merchant guilds; but the economic conditions of the time tended now more and more towards manufacturing for a profit, beat them, and they failed. Nevertheless, the conditions of work did not change much, the masters were checked by laws in favor of the journeymen, and wages rather rose than fell all through the fifteenth century; nor did division of labor begin till much later; everywhere the artisan was still an artist.
The beginning of the great change came with the Tudors in the first quarter of the sixteenth century, during which time England, from being a country of tillage cultivated for livelihood, became a grazing country farmed for profit. He who runs may read the tale of this change and its miseries in the writings of More and Latimer. All I need say about it here is, that it had a very direct influence upon the conditions of life and manner of work of the artisans, for the crafts were now flooded by the crowds of landless men, who had nothing but the force of their bodies to live upon, and were obliged to sell that force day by day for what those would give them who certainly would not buy the article labor unless they could make a profit by it. The brutal rapine with which the change of religion in England was carried out; the wanton destruction of our public buildings which accompanied the stealing of our public lands, doubtless played its part in degrading what art was still possible under the new conditions of labor.
But the Reformation itself was but one of the aspects of the new spirit of the time produced by great economical changes, and which dealt with art and its creator, labor, for more completely than any series of accidents could do, however momentous they might be. The change in the conditions of labor went on speedily, though there was still a good deal of what may be called domestic manufacture: the workmen in the towns got to be more dependent on their employers, more and more mere journeymen, and a great change was coming over the manner of their work; the mere collection of them into big workshops under one master, in itself merely gave economy of space, rent, fire, lighting, and the rest, but it was the prelude to a much greater change; division of labor now began, and speedily gained head. Under the old medieval conditions the unit of labor was a master craftsman who knew his business from beginning to end; such help as he had was from mere apprentices who were learning their business, and were not doomed to life-long service. But with the new system of master and men came this change, that the unit of production was a group, each member of which depended on every one of the others, and was helpless without them. Under this system, called the division of labor system, a man may be, and often is, condemned for the whole of his life to make the insignificant portion of an insignificant article of the market. I use the present tense, because this system of division of labor is still going on side by side with the last development of manufacturing for profit, of which more anon.
Now, it is necessary for you to understand that the birth and growth of this division of labor system was no mere accident, was not the result, I mean, of some passing and inexplicable fashion which caused men to desire the kind of work which could be done by such means; it was caused by the economical changes which forced men to produce no longer for a livelihood as they used to do, but for a profit. Almost all goods, all except those made in the most domestic way, had now got to go through the market before they reached theusers' hands. They were made for sale, not primarily for use, and when I say "they," I mean the whole of them; the art in them as well as their mere obvious utility was now become a marketable article, doled out according to the necessities of the capitalist who employed both machine-workman and designer, fettered by the needs of profit; for by this time, you understand, the division of labor had so worked, that instead of all workmen being artists, as they once were, they were divided into workmen who were not artists, and artists who were not workmen.
This change was complete, or nearly so, by the middle of the eighteenth century: it is not necessary for me to trace the gradual degradation of the arts from the fifteenth century to this point. Suffice it to say that it was steady and certain; only where men were more or less outside the great stream of civilization, where life was rude, and production wholly domestic, did the art produced retain any signs of human pleasure: elsewhere pedantry reigned supreme. The picture-painters who were wont to show us, as through windows opened by them, the longings and lives of the saints and heroes, nay, the very heavens and city of God hanging over the earthly city of their love, were turned, what few of them were aught else than pretentious daubers, into courtly flatterers of ill-favored fine ladies and stupid supercilious lords. As for the architectural arts, what could you expect to get of them from a set of human machines, co-operating indeed, but only for speed and precision of production, and designed for at best by pedants who despised the life of man, and at worst by mechanical drudges, little better in any way than the luckless workmen? Whatever might be expected, nothing was got but that mass of foolish toys and costly ministrations to luxury and ostentation, which has since those days been most worthily contemned under the name of upholstery.
Is that the end of the story of the degradation of the arts? No, there is another act to the drama; worse or better according as to whether you are contented to accept it as final, or have been stimulated to discontent, that is, hope for something better. I have told you how the workman was reduced to a machine, I have still to tell you how he has been pushed down from even that giddy eminence of self-respect.
At the close of the eighteenth century England was a country that manufactured among other countries that manufactured: her manufactures were still secondary to her merely country life, and were mixed up with it; in fifty years all that was changed, and England was the manufacturing country of the world - the workshop of the world, often so called with much pride by her patriotic sons. Now this strange and most momentous revolution was brought about by the machinery which the chances and changes of the world, too long a tale even to hint at here, forced on our population. You must think of this great machine industry as though on the one hand merely the full development of the effects of producing for profit instead of livelihood, which began in Sir Thomas More's time, yet on the other as a revolutionary change from that of the mere division of labor. The exigencies of my own work have driven me to dig pretty deeply into the strata of the eighteenth-century workshop system, and I could clearly see how very different it is from the factory system of to-day, with which it is commonly confounded; therefore it was with a ready sympathy that I read the full explanation of the change and its tendencies in the writings of a man, I will say a great man, whom, I suppose, I ought not to name in this company, and who cleared my mind on several points (also unmentionable here) relating to this subject of labor and its products. But this at least I must say, that whereas under the eighteenth-century division of labor system, a man was compelled to work for ever at a trifling piece of work in a base mechanical way, which, also, in that base way he understood, under the system of the factory and almost automatic machine under which we now live, he may change his work often enough, may be shifted from machine to machine, and scarcely know that he isproducing anything at all: in other words, under the eighteenth-century system he was reduced to a machine; under that of the present day he is the slave of a machine. It is the machine which bids him what to do on pain of death by starvation. Yes, and by no means metaphorically so; the machine, for instance, can, if it pleases, if it chooses to hurry, make him walk thirty miles a day instead of twenty, and send him to the workhouse if he refuses.
Now if you ask me ('tis a by question) which is the worst off, the machine workman of the eighteenth century or the slave to the machine of the nineteenth, I am bound to say that I think the former is. If I gave you my reasons, few of you would agree with me, and I am not sure that you would allow me to finish this discourse: at any rate they are somewhat complicated. But the question as to which set of workmen produced the better work can be answered with little complication. The machine workman had to be well skilled in his contemptible task at least, the slave to the machine needs but little skill, and, as a matter of fact, his place has been taken by women and children, and what skill is needed in the work goes in the overlooking of the labors of these latter. In short, the present system of the factory and its dominating machine tends to doing away with skilled labor altogether.
Here, then, is a strange contrast, which I most seriously invite you to consider, between the craftsman of the Middle Ages and him of to-day. The medieval man sets to work at his own time, in his own house; probably makes his tool, instrument, or simple machine himself, even before he gets on to his web, or his lump of clay, or what not. What ornament there shall be on his finished work he himself determines, and his mind and hand designs it and carries it out; tradition, that is to say the minds and thoughts of all workmen gone before, this, in its concrete form of the custom of his craft, does indeed guide and help him; otherwise he is free. Nor must we forget that even if he lives in a town, the fields and sweet country come close up to his house, and he at whiles occupies himself in working in them, and more than once or twice in his life he has had to take the bow or brown-bill from the wall, and run his chance of meeting the great secret face to face in the ranks of battle; oftenest, indeed, in other men's quarrels, yet sometimes in his own, nor wholly unsuccessfully then.
But he who has taken his place, how does he work and live? Something of that we all know. There he has to be at the factory-gates by the time the bell rings, or he is fined or "sent to grass." Nay, not always will the factory-gate open to him; unless the master, controlled himself by a market of which he knows little and the hand nothing, allows him space to work in and a machine to work at, he must turn back and knock about the streets, as many thousands are doing to-day in England. But suppose him there, happy before his machine; up and down he has to follow it, day in, day out, and what thoughts he has must be given to something else than his work. I repeat, 'tis as much as he can do to know what thing the machine (not he) is making. Design and ornament, what has he to do with that? Why, he may be tending a machine, which makes a decent piece of work, or, on the other hand, may be an accomplice (a very small one) in turning out a blatant piece of knavery and imposture; he will get as much wages for one as the other, nor will one or other be in the least degree within his control. All the religion, morality, philanthropy, and freedom of the nineteenth century, will not help him to escape that disgrace. Need I say how and where he lives? Lodged in a sweltering dog-hole, with miles and miles of similar dog-holes between him and the fair fields of the country, which in grim mockery is called "his." Sometimes on holidays, bundled out by train to have a look at it, to be bundled into his grimy hell again in the evening. Poor wretch!
Tell me, then, at what period of this man's working life will you pick him up and set him to imitating the work of the free crafts-guildsman of the fourteenth century, and expect him to turn out work like his in quality?
Well, not to weaken my argument by exaggeration, I admit that though a huge quantity of would-be artistic work is done by this slave of the machine at the bidding of some ridiculous market or other, the crafts relating to building have not reached that point in the industrial revolution; they are an example of my assertion that the eighteenth-century division of labor system still exists, and works side by side with the great factory and machine system. Yet, here, too, the progress of the degradation is obvious enough, since the similar craftsmen of the eighteenth century still had lingering among them scraps of tradition from the times of art now lost. while now in those crafts the division of labor system has eaten deep from the architect to the hod-man, and, moreover, the standard of excellence, so far from its bearing any relation to that of the free workman of the guilds, has sunk far below that of the man enslaved by division of labor in the eighteenth century, and is not a whit better than that of the shoddy-maker of the great industries; in short, the workman of the great machine industry is the type of labor to-day.
Surely it is a curious thing that while we are ready to laugh at the idea of the possibility of the Greek workman turning out a Gothic building, or a Gothic workman turning out a Greek one, we see nothing preposterous in the Victorian workman producing a Gothic one. And this, although we have any amount of specimens of the work of the Renaissance period, whose workmen, under the pedantic and retrospective direction of the times, were theoretically supposed to be able to imitate the ancient classical work, which imitation, as a matter of fact, turned out obstinately characteristic of their own period, and derived all the merit it had from those characteristics - a curious thing, and perhaps of all the signs of weakness of art at the present day one of the most discouraging. I may be told, perhaps, that the very historical knowledge, of which I have spoken above, and which the pedantry of the Renaissance and eighteenth century lacked, has enabled us to perform that miracle of raising the dead centuries to life again; but to my mind it is a strange view to take of historical knowledge and insight, that it should set us on the adventure of trying to retrace our steps towards the past, rather than give us some glimmer of insight into the future; a strange view of the continuity of history, that it should make us ignore the very changes which are the essence of that continuity. In truth, the art of the past cycle, that of the Renaissance, which flickered out at last in the feeble twaddle of the dilettantism of the latter Georges, had about it, as I hinted above, a supercilious confidence in itself, which entirely forbade it to accept any imitation of style but one, as desirable, which one was that which it regarded as part of itself. It could make no more choice in style than Greek or Gothic art could; it fully, if tacitly, admitted the evolution of history, accepted the division-of-labor workman, and so, indeed, did its best, and had a kind of life about it, dreary as that life was, and expressive enough of the stupid but fearless middle class domination which was the essence of the period.
But we, I say, we refuse to admit the evolution of history. We set our slave to the machine to do the work of the free medieval workman or of the man of the transition period indifferently. We, if no age else, have learned the trick of masquerading in other men's castoff clothes, and carry on a strange hypocritical theatrical performance, rather with timid stolidity than with haughty confidence, determined to shut our eyes to everything seriously disagreeable, nor heeding the silent movement of real history which is still going on around and underneath our raree show.
Surely such a state of things is a token of change - of change, speedy perhaps, complete certainly; of the visible end of one cycle and the beginning of another. For, strange to say, here is a society which on its cultivated surface has no distinct characteristics of its own, but floats, part of it hither, part thither - this set of minds drifting toward the beauty of the past, that toward the logic of the future, each tacitly at least believing that theyneed but count of heads on their side to establish a convention of many, which should rule the world, despite of history and logic, ignoring necessity which has made even their blind feebleness what it is. And all the while beneath this cultivated surface works the great commercial system, which the cultivated look on as their servant and the bond of society, but which really is their master and the breaker-up of society; for it is in itself and in its essence a war, and can only change its character with its death: man against man, class against class, with this motto, What I gain you lose, that war must go on till the great change comes whose end is peace and not war.
And what are we, who are met together here after seven years of humble striving for existence, for leave to do something? Mere straws in that ocean of half-conscious hypocrisy which is called cultivated society? Nay, I hope not. At least, we do not turn round on history and say, That is bad and that is good; I like this and I don't like that; but rather we say, This was life, and these, the works of our fathers, are material signs of it. That life lives in you, though you have forgotten it; those material signs of it, though you do not heed them, will one day be sought for: and that necessity which is even now forming the society of the time to be, and shall one day make it manifest, has among other things forced us to do our best to treasure them, these tokens of life past and present. The society of to-day, anarchical as it is, is nevertheless forming a new order of which we in common with all those who, I will say it, have courage to accept realities and reject shams, are and must be, a part; so that in the long run our work, hopeless as it must sometimes seem to us, will not be utterly lost. For, after all, what is it that we are contending for? The reality of art, that is to say, of the pleasure of the human race. The tendency of the commercial or competitive society, which has been developing for more than 300 years, has been towards the destruction of the pleasure of life. But that competitive society has at last developed itself so far that, as I have said, its own change and death is approaching, and as one token of the change the destruction of the pleasure of life is beginning to seem to many of us no longer a necessity but a thing to be striven against. On the genuineness and reality of that hope the existence, the reason for existence of our Society depends. Believe me, it will not be possible for a small knot of cultivated people to keep alive an interest in the art and records of the past amid the present conditions of a sordid and heart-breaking struggle for existence for the many, and a languid sauntering through life for the few. But when society is so reconstituted that all citizens will have a chance of leading a life made up of due leisure and reasonable work, then will all society, and not our "Society" only, resolve to protect ancient buildings from all damage, wanton or accidental, for then at last they will begin to understand that they are part of their present lives, and part of themselves. That will come when the time is ripe for it; for at present even if they knew of their loss they could not prevent it, since they are living in a state of war, that is to say, of blind waste.
Surely we of this Society have had the truth driven home practically often enough, have often had to confess that if the destruction or brutification of an ancient monument of art and history was "a matter of money," it was hopeless striving against it. Do not let us be so feeble or cowardly as to refuse to face this fact, for, for us also, although our function in forming the future of society may be a humble one, there is no compromise. Let us admit that we are living in the time of barbarism betwixt two periods of order, the order of the past and the order of the future, and then, though there may be some of us who think (as I do) that the end of that barbarism is drawing near, and others that it is far distant, yet we can both of us, I the hopeful and you the unhopeful, work together to preserve what relics of the old order are yet left us for the instruction, the pleasure, the hope of the new. So may the times of present war be less disastrous, if but a little - the times of coming peace more fruitful.
Architecture and History (1884).
1. 1 July 1884: Before SPAB at the Annual Meeting held at the Society of Arts, Adelphi Street, Adelphi, London. The Hon R. C. Grosvenor was chairman.
1. `Between the Past and the Future', The Architect, 12 July 1884, pp. 15-16.
1. As `Paper Read by Mr. Morris', SPAB Report, 1884, (London 1884), 49-76.
2. [Portions] as `Medieval and Modern Craftsmanship', The Architect, 13 September 1884, pp. 171-73.
3. [Portions] in The Clarion, October 1884.
4. As Architecture and History and Westminster Abbey, (London: Chiswick Press 1900), pp. 1-33. This was printed using the Golden Type.
5. [Dutch translation] in Kunst en Maatschappij, (Rotterdam 1903), pp. 1-30.
5. The Collected Works of William Morris, ed. May Morris, (London: Longman, Green & Co. 1910-15), Vol. XXII, pp. 296-317.
6. As `Paper Read at the Seventh Annual Meeting of the SPAB, 1 July, 1884', William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist, ed. May Morris, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1936), Vol. I, pp. 124-45.
7. William Morris on Architecture, ed. Chris Miele, (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1996), pp. 99-121.
From : Marxists.org
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