I will not detain you by any attempt at a comparison between the relative beauties of the Gothic and Grecian architecture, or their respective fitness for ecclesiastical buildings. The very name of the former seems sufficient to stamp its inferiority; and perhaps you will blame the employment of a term which was obviously intended at the outset as an expression of contempt; but I still retain the epithet, as one generally received, and therefore, commonly understood. It may be added, that the modern French seem to be the only Goths, in the real and true acceptation of the word. They, to the present day, build Gothic churches; but, instead of confining themselves to the prototypes left them, they are eternally aiming at alterations, under the specious name of improvements. Horace was indignant that, in the Augustan age, the meed of praise was bestowed only upon what was ancient: the architects of this nation of recent date seem under the influence of an opposite apprehension. They build upon their favorite poet:—
“Loin d’ici ce discours
Que l’art pour jamais degenere,
Que tout s’eclipse, tout finit;
La nature est inepuisable,
Et le genie infatigable
Est le Dieu qui la rajeunit.”
But they overlook, what Voltaire makes an indispensable requisite, that art must be under the guidance of genius: when it is not so, and caprice holds the reins, the result cannot fail to be that medley of Grecian, Norman, Gothic, and Gallic, of which this country furnishes too many examples.
The church of St. Ouen is unquestionably the noblest edifice in the pointed style in this city, or perhaps in France; the French, blind as they usually are to the beauties of Gothic architecture, have always acknowledged its merits. Hence it escaped the general destruction which fell upon the conventual churches of Rouen, at the time of the revolution; though, during the violence of the storm, it was despoiled and desecrated. At one period, it was employed as a manufactory, in which forges were placed for making arms; at another, as a magazine for forage.
Nor was this the first instance of its being violated; for, like most of the religious buildings at Rouen, it was visited in the sixteenth century with the fury of the Calvinists, who burned the bodies of St. Ouen, St. Nicaise, and St. Remi, in the midst of the temple itself; and cast their ashes to the winds of heaven. The other relics treasured in the church experienced equal indignities. All the shrines became the prey of the eager avarice of the Huguenots; and the images of the saints and martyrs, torn from their tabernacles, graced the gibbets which were erected to receive them in various parts of Rouen.