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Chapter Xvi Building a House - the Critic

A short time after his arrival, and when the gloomy sub jects of conversation which were the order of the day had been exhausted, they began to talk about Paul's house (as it was the custom at the chateau to call it). M. Durosay asked to see the designs."Building and I are old acquaint ances; I know something about it,"said he.

Eugene could not repress a smile; but the speaker took no notice of it, his mishaps as a builder having left no pain ful recollections in his mind.

"Capital !"said M. Durosay, when they had explained the plans to him, and he had examined them."I have seen houses in Belgium something like this. There are very good ideas here; it will be a very pleasant habitation if our friends the Prussians let you finish it.... Will you allow me to make one or two remarks about it?" "Certainly." "Not that I presume for a moment to suggest any change in these plans, which appear to me admirable.... But I have had the opportunity of a wide field of observa tion and comparison.... Well, then, to tell you frankly my first impression, this seems to me to have rather the character of a town-house, what we call a h8tel, than a country-house.... You will excuse my saying so, will you not?... I do not understand a country-house thus shut in : I should like to see a portico round it, or at least a wide veranda; - windows opening out - a more decided reflex of exterior life." "But, my dear friend,"said M. de Gandelau,"I expect that my children will come and spend a good part of the year here; it is no object with them to have one of those habitations in which people reside only for the two or three summer months, and where they entertain the idlers of the city; they want a good house, which will perfectly exclude wind and wet, where they can live comfortably at every season of the year." "Certainly - a very proper consideration; but what do you think of those North Italian villas, where the climate is pretty severe in winter and spring, but which are not the less charming with their porticos, terraces, wide open entrance-halls, and their balconies looking out over the country? All these habitations have a dignified aspect; they ennoble life, we may say, and enlarge those narrow ideas to which our age is only too prone.... And then, does it not seem to you that there is a too manifest want of symmetry, at least in one of the façades? Doesn't this make the house look a little like those edifices which have been built piecemeal, with a view to satisfy successive requirements - in short, is there not a want of that unity which ought to be found in every work of art?" "But it is not a work of art that I wish to leave my daughter; it is a good house - convenient and substantial." "Very good. But you will allow that if we can secure both kinds of excellence, so much the better. For a person of such extreme refinement and so charming in every respect as your daughter, it is but proper that a habitation should be provided reflecting in its exterior the charms and graces of its occupant. It would be a pleasure to you, in visiting Madame Marie, to see in the distance her little family grouped around her under a portico of delicate architecture, or under a loggia.... But this seems to me more like the house of some grave Flemish alderman. In these gables there is a kind of severity which - " "Come, come, my dear friend, gables are not severe; they are gables - that's all." "But indeed these gables with their high roofs have a severe aspect, which by no means agrees with the idea one forms of a house built for pleasure." "But it is not a house built for pleasure; it is a house built for people who are going to live in it, not for summer loungers - especially as we never have such people in our neighbourhood." "Still, however, I should have liked to give a warmth to these fronts (which have a somewhat frigid aspect) by light and airy projections, and a covered gallery, with a terrace over it." "Warmth? warmth? Why instead of that, you would give us the rheumatism with your galleries. They may do very well at Nice or Mentone, but they are not to be thought of in our part of the country. We want the sun upon the walls of our habitations, while your porticos are like mushroom-houses." "I see, my dear friend,"resumed M. Durosay, after a pause,"that you keep to your taste for what you call the practical side of things. Yet see what a good opportunity you have of giving your daughter one of those dwellings which, while satisfying the material requirements of life, would possess that perfume of art which is too rarely found in our country districts. A little exterior elegance -is a powerful charm which leaves an indelible trace in the mind. It is thus that the Italians preserve the poetry of the brilliant eras of their civilization. They are willing, at need, to sacrifice something of what we call ' comfort ' the material conveniences of life - to keep up among them the noble traditions of high art" "I do not know what the traditions of high art are, or whether those traditions preserve us from rain, wind, and sun; but I must confess that your Italian villas in the environs of Verona and Venice appear very dull and gloomy with their colonnades and closed shutters. I have never had the wish to visit them, for I imagine one would be very uncomfortable in them. If they build them so with a view to offer tourists models of architecture, all well and good; but I make no pretensions to amuse or interest tourists, and my daughter shares my ideas in the matter." "Perhaps... but just now your daughter is travelling in Italy; she is going to sojourn on the shores of the Bos porus; who knows whether on her return here she would not be charmed to meet a kind of souvenir of the im pressions she will not fail to have experienced there, and whether the surprise you have in store for her would not be still more delightful if you tried in some measure to re vive those impressions? What do you think of it, Mr.

Architect?" "As for myself,"said Eugene,"I am listening, and cannot but be delighted to hear you discourse so ably on our art." "I may take it for granted, then, that you share my opinion, and that you would be inclined to give this habita tion, which you have so skilfully arranged, some of those external charms in which perhaps it is now deficient." "I cannot say that I should. M. de Gandelau, with his usual courtesy, has left us quite at liberty, and has simply stated the limit of expense to which he is prepared to go. As regards other considerations, our programme having been agreed upon, we have not been restricted to an exces sive severity of style, nor forbidden the adoption of what you consider the exterior charms of a dwelling-house." "Well; although my friend with his practical mind does not appear sensible to these charms, do not you, as an artist, think it desirable to add something to these fronts, which are perhaps a little severe in aspect, and which certainly with the help of your talent you could render less cold? You know Italy; you have visited Pompeii : do you not find in the architecture of those countries abundant suggestions from which inspiration may be drawn - charming models, in fact?" "Yes; I have visited Italy and France, but I must con fess that I have never been struck by the architectural works of those countries, except so far as they preserved the imprint of the manners and customs of those whose genius produced them. You mention Pompeii. That which has vividly affected me in the remains of this little provincial town of Italy is precisely this characteristic. Its small dwellings exactly suited the habits of antiquity, the time when they were erected, and the climate of the district. But from the study of these habitations I infer that since we do not live on the shores of the Gulf of Naples, and have customs very different from those which suited the Pompeians, our dwellings ought not in any way to suggest the peculiarities of theirs; that while, for exam ple, it may have been very agreeable to them to sup in an open triclinium, sheltered from the wind by a velum, we cannot arrange dining-rooms after this model in the De partement de l'Indre; and that though it might have been a luxury to them to sleep in a room whose area was only five or six square yards and the door of which, left open, introduced you to a court surrounded by a portico, this would be very inconvenient here, as we should run great risk of catching cold if we left the door open, or of being suffocated if we shut it." "But as you have mentioned ancient dwellings, allow me to remark that those of Pompeii, even the most luxurious, do not exhibit externally any of those magnificent features which you seem to admire. The ancients reserved for the interior such luxury as they affected, and it does not. appear that they troubled themselves to display anything of it to the passers-by. I have not a very clear idea of what their villas, - their country-houses, - may have been; but everything leads me to believe, as far as we can judge from the remains preserved to us, that in them nothing was sacrificed to that distinctively modern vanity which aims to make an external display of architectural forms to strike the vulgar.

"I believe that those country palaces of Northern Italy with which you have been so deeply smitten, are rather products of vanity than abodes adapted to the habits of those who have erected them; in fact, they have scarcely been inhabited, and the dilapidated condition in which you see them does not date from yesterday. Erected to satisfy vanity and the desire to make a show, they lasted as habitations only as long as works due to vanity are accustomed to last - that is, for a few years of the life of an individual; after which they were abandoned." "You call vanity,"replied M. Durosay,"what I think to be love of art - the desire to exhibit a work of art." "Probably we shall never agree upon that point,"an swered Eugene."I think that art - in architecture at least - consists in being truthful and simple. You see in it only a form that charms or repels you : I look for some thing else; or rather I consider first whether this form is really the expression of a requirement - whether a reason can be given for its existence; and it charms me only so far as this condition is fulfilled, according to my judgment." "You consider a barn, therefore, a work of art?" "Certainly; if it is constructed so as to afford a suitable shelter for what it is intended to hold, it is, in my view, more admirable than an inconvenient palace, though decorated with colonnades and pediments." "You ought to go to America." "Perhaps it would be wise to do so, if I knew that its people tried to build simply in accordance with the tastes and requirements of the inmates. But in America, as everywhere else now-a-days, they make pretensions to style, and copy what they believe to be the beautiful par excellence; that is, they follow, without discrimination, traditions whose origin and principle they do not care to investigate." "Come,"said M. de Gandelau, who found the discussion rather tedious,"we have travelled a good way from Paul's house; but to satisfy you, when you come and see my daughter in her new dwelling, we will have a pasteboard portico put up in front of one of the facades, and under the shade some Berri maidens dressed up as Venetians, and some gentlemen in scarlet robes playing on the guitar and the bassoon. It is getting late, and time to go to bed."

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art, daughter, charms, italy and habitations