This Will Destroy That

Our fair readers must forgive us if we halt a moment here and endeavour to unearth the idea hidden under the Archdeacon’s enigmatical words:

“This will destroy That. The Book will destroy the Edifice.”

To our mind, this thought has two aspects. In the first place it was a view pertaining to the priest—it was the terror of the ecclesiastic before a new force—printing. It was the servant of the dim sanctuary scared and dazzled by the light that streamed from Gutenberg’s press. It was the pulpit and the manuscript, the spoken and the written word quailing before the printed word—something of the stupefaction of the sparrow at beholding the Heavenly Host spread their six million wings. It was the cry of the prophet who already hears the far-off roar and tumult of emancipated humanity; who, gazing into the future, sees intelligence sapping the foundations of faith, opinion dethroning belief, the world shaking off the yoke of Rome; the prognostication of the philosopher who sees human thought volatilized by the press, evaporating out of the theocratic receiver; the terror of the besieged soldier gazing at the steel battering-ram and saying to himself, “The citadel must fall.” It signified that one great power was to supplant another great power. It meant, The Printing-Press will destroy the Church.

But underlying this thought—the first and no doubt the less complex of the two—there was, in our opinion, a second, a more modern—a corollary to the former idea, less on the surface and more likely to be contested; a view fully as philosophic, but pertaining no longer exclusively to the priest, but to the scholar and the artist likewise. It was a premonition that human thought, in changing its outward form, was also about to change its outward mode of expression; that the dominant idea of each generation would, in future, be embodied in a new material, a new fashion; that the book of stone, so solid and so enduring, was to give way to the book of paper, more solid and more enduring still. In this respect the vague formula of the Archdeacon had a second meaning—that one Art would dethrone another Art: Printing will destroy Architecture.

In effect, from the very beginning of things down to the fifteenth century of the Christian era inclusive, architecture is the great book of the human race, man’s chief means of expressing the various stages of his development, whether physical or mental.

When the memory of the primitive races began to be surcharged, when the load of tradition carried about by the human family grew so heavy and disordered that the word, naked and fleeting, ran danger of being lost by the way, they transcribed it on the ground by the most visible, the most lasting, and at the same time most natural means. They enclosed each tradition in a monument.

The first monuments were simply squares of rock “which had not been touched by iron,” as says Moses. Architecture began like all writing. It was first an alphabet. A stone was planted upright and it was a letter, and each letter was a hieroglyph, and on every hieroglyph rested a group of ideas, like the capital on the column. Thus did the primitive races act at the same moment over the entire face of the globe. One finds the “upright stone” of the Celts in Asiatic Siberia and on the pampas of America.

Presently they constructed words. Stone was laid upon stone, these granite syllables were coupled together, the word essayed some combinations. The Celtic dolmen and cromlech, the Etruscan tumulus, the Hebrew galgal, are words—some of them, the tumulus in particular, are proper names. Occasionally, when there were many stones and a vast expanse of ground, they wrote a sentence. The immense mass of stones at Karnac is already a complete formula.

Last of all they made books. Traditions had ended by bringing forth symbols, under which they disappeared like the trunk of a tree under its foliage. These symbols, in which all humanity believed, continued to grow and multiply, becoming more and more complex; the primitive monuments—themselves scarcely expressing the original traditions, and, like them, simple, rough-hewn, and planted in the soil—no longer sufficed to contain them: they overflowed at every point. Of necessity the symbol must expand into the edifice. Architecture followed the development of human thought; it became a giant with a thousand heads, a thousand arms, and caught and concentrated in one eternal, visible, tangible form all this floating symbolism.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.