When I have seen by Time's fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age,
When sometimes lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal, slave to mortal rage . . .
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
SHAKESPEARE, Sonnet lxiv.
IT was, of course, in no meek abandon but in positive orgies of philistinism that throughout the nineteen-twenties and -thirties the British people once and for all jettisoned their sorely tried architectural tradition. They fairly precipitated themselves upon a piecemeal destruction of the architectural glories of their capital and provincial cities. In concerts of jubilation bishops, aldermen and captains of commerce urged the tearing down of churches by Wren, bridges by Rennie, terraces and town palaces by Adam. There seemed to be no limits to the appetite of our leaders for malignant and calculated iconoclasm. (When the Germans lent their assistance, free gratis, to this same end in the early nineteen-forties these men, by some freakish mental process, were loud in their denunciations.) But what was worse, the monuments these iconoclasts sacrificed gave place to a series of new buildings unparalleled in the annals of the world's history for the infringement of every artistic canon. In this respect England, Wales and Scotland were unique in christendom.
But to-day, since Great Britain has won the war, we exist (for human beings have long ceased to live) in a more progressive vacuum--one of political ineptitude, social decadence, spiritual deadlock and artistic gelidity. We are, for the time being, tired of destroying. There is of course so much less of merit left to destroy, and while we are still allowed by those little subfusc men at Westminster to retain a semblance of our native sanity, we may yet soothe our minds--starved like our bellies--in nostalgic reflections upon that earlier, less progressive age, when politics was a game, society an art and art religion. And so our last solace is to let our minds drift, as often as they may, upon delicious tides of retrogression, away from the present quagmire of existence, towards the quickened elegance of eighteenth-century living.
In 1904 Mr. Percy Fitzgerald prefaced the first chapter of the first book on Robert Adam with the words: "For many years now have I been striving to secure recognition for that gifted architect and artist, Robert Adam." Since that date, besides innumerable learned treatises, two important books on Robert and his brothers have established the belated "recognition". They are Mr. John Swarbrick Robert Adam . . .