I have no doubt that the Gothic, which is capable of infinite modification, so that every house built in that style may be as different from every other house as one tree is from every other, can be adapted to our modern uses, and will be, when artists catch its spirit instead of merely copying its old forms. But just now we are taking the Gothic very literally, as we took the Greek at one time, or as we should probably have taken the Saracenic, if the Moors had not been colored. Not even the cholera is so contagious in this country as a style of architecture which we happen to catch; the country is just now broken out all over with the Mansard-roof epidemic.
And in secular architecture we do not study what is adapted to our climate any more than in ecclesiastic architecture we adopt that which is suited to our religion.
We are building a great many costly churches here and there, we Protestants, and as the most of them are ill adapted to our forms of worship, it may be necessary and best for us to change our religion in order to save our investments. I am aware that this would be a grave step, and we should not hasten to throw overboard Luther and the right of private judgment without reflection. And yet, if it is necessary to revive the ecclesiastical Gothic architecture, not in its spirit (that we nowhere do), but in the form which served another age and another faith, and if, as it appears, we have already a great deal of money invested in this reproduction, it may be more prudent to go forward than to go back. The question is, “Cannot one easier change his creed than his pew?”
I occupy a seat in church which is an admirable one for reflection, but I cannot see or hear much that is going on in what we like to call the apse. There is a splendid stone pillar, a clustered column, right in front of me, and I am as much protected from the minister as Old Put’s troops were from the British, behind the stone wall at Bunker’s Hill. I can hear his voice occasionally wandering round in the arches overhead, and I recognize the tone, because he is a friend of mine and an excellent man, but what he is saying I can very seldom make out. If there was any incense burning, I could smell it, and that would be something. I rather like the smell of incense, and it has its holy associations. But there is no smell in our church, except of bad air,—for there is no provision for ventilation in the splendid and costly edifice. The reproduction of the old Gothic is so complete that the builders even seem to have brought over the ancient air from one of the churches of the Middle Ages,—you would declare it had n’t been changed in two centuries.