Hopes and Fears for Art
William Morris

Part 2 out of 3

to comfort us, to make us look upon this break in the continuity of
the golden chain as an accident only, that itself cannot last: for
think how many thousand years it may be since that primeval man
graved with a flint splinter on a bone the story of the mammoth he
had seen, or told us of the slow uplifting of the heavily-horned
heads of the reindeer that he stalked: think I say of the space of
time from then till the dimming of the brightness of the Italian
Renaissance! whereas from that time till popular art died unnoticed
and despised among ourselves is just but two hundred years.

Strange too, that very death is contemporaneous with new-birth of
something at all events; for out of all despair sprang a new time of
hope lighted by the torch of the French Revolution: and things that
have languished with the languishing of art, rose afresh and surely
heralded its new birth: in good earnest poetry was born again, and
the English Language, which under the hands of sycophantic verse-
makers had been reduced to a miserable jargon, whose meaning, if it
have a meaning, cannot be made out without translation, flowed
clear, pure, and simple, along with the music of Blake and
Coleridge: take those names, the earliest in date among ourselves,
as a type of the change that has happened in literature since the
time of George II.

With that literature in which romance, that is to say humanity, was
re-born, there sprang up also a feeling for the romance of external
nature, which is surely strong in us now, joined with a longing to
know something real of the lives of those who have gone before us;
of these feelings united you will find the broadest expression in
the pages of Walter Scott: it is curious as showing how sometimes
one art will lag behind another in a revival, that the man who wrote
the exquisite and wholly unfettered naturalism of the Heart of
Midlothian, for instance, thought himself continually bound to seem
to feel ashamed of, and to excuse himself for, his love of Gothic
Architecture: he felt that it was romantic, and he knew that it
gave him pleasure, but somehow he had not found out that it was art,
having been taught in many ways that nothing could be art that was
not done by a named man under academical rules.

I need not perhaps dwell much on what of change has been since: you
know well that one of the master-arts, the art of painting, has been
revolutionised. I have a genuine difficulty in speaking to you of
men who are my own personal friends, nay my masters: still, since I
cannot quite say nothing of them I must say the plain truth, which
is this; never in the whole history of art did any set of men come
nearer to the feat of making something out of nothing than that
little knot of painters who have raised English art from what it
was, when as a boy I used to go to the Royal Academy Exhibition, to
what it is now.

It would be ungracious indeed for me who have been so much taught by
him, that I cannot help feeling continually as I speak that I am
echoing his words, to leave out the name of John Ruskin from an
account of what has happened since the tide, as we hope, began to
turn in the direction of art. True it is, that his unequalled style
of English and his wonderful eloquence would, whatever its subject-
matter, have gained him some sort of a hearing in a time that has
not lost its relish for literature; but surely the influence that he
has exercised over cultivated people must be the result of that
style and that eloquence expressing what was already stirring in
men's minds; he could not have written what he has done unless
people were in some sort ready for it; any more than those painters
could have begun their crusade against the dulness and incompetency
that was the rule in their art thirty years ago unless they had some
hope that they would one day move people to understand them.

Well, we find that the gains since the turning-point of the tide are
these: that there are some few artists who have, as it were, caught
up the golden chain dropped two hundred years ago, and that there
are a few highly cultivated people who can understand them; and that
beyond these there is a vague feeling abroad among people of the
same degree, of discontent at the ignoble ugliness that surrounds

That seems to me to mark the advance that we have made since the
last of popular art came to an end amongst us, and I do not say,
considering where we then were, that it is not a great advance, for
it comes to this, that though the battle is still to win, there are
those who are ready for the battle.

Indeed it would be a strange shame for this age if it were not so:
for as every age of the world has its own troubles to confuse it,
and its own follies to cumber it, so has each its own work to do,
pointed out to it by unfailing signs of the times; and it is unmanly
and stupid for the children of any age to say: We will not set our
hands to the work; we did not make the troubles, we will not weary
ourselves seeking a remedy for them: so heaping up for their sons a
heavier load than they can lift without such struggles as will wound
and cripple them sorely. Not thus our fathers served us, who,
working late and early, left us at last that seething mass of people
so terribly alive and energetic, that we call modern Europe; not
thus those served us, who have made for us these present days, so
fruitful of change and wondering expectation.

The century that is now beginning to draw to an end, if people were
to take to nicknaming centuries, would be called the Century of
Commerce; and I do not think I undervalue the work that it has done:
it has broken down many a prejudice and taught many a lesson that
the world has been hitherto slow to learn: it has made it possible
for many a man to live free, who would in other times have been a
slave, body or soul, or both: if it has not quite spread peace and
justice through the world, as at the end of its first half we fondly
hoped it would, it has at least stirred up in many fresh cravings
for peace and justice: its work has been good and plenteous, but
much of it was roughly done, as needs was; recklessness has commonly
gone with its energy, blindness too often with its haste: so that
perhaps it may be work enough for the next century to repair the
blunders of that recklessness, to clear away the rubbish which that
hurried work has piled up; nay even we in the second half of its
last quarter may do something towards setting its house in order.

You, of this great and famous town, for instance, which has had so
much to do with the Century of Commerce, your gains are obvious to
all men, but the price you have paid for them is obvious to many--
surely to yourselves most of all: I do not say that they are not
worth the price; I know that England and the world could very ill
afford to exchange the Birmingham of to-day for the Birmingham of
the year 1700: but surely if what you have gained be more than a
mockery, you cannot stop at those gains, or even go on always piling
up similar ones. Nothing can make me believe that the present
condition of your Black Country yonder is an unchangeable necessity
of your life and position: such miseries as this were begun and
carried on in pure thoughtlessness, and a hundredth part of the
energy that was spent in creating them would get rid of them: I do
think if we were not all of us too prone to acquiesce in the base
byword 'after me the deluge,' it would soon be something more than
an idle dream to hope that your pleasant midland hills and fields
might begin to become pleasant again in some way or other, even
without depopulating them; or that those once lovely valleys of
Yorkshire in the 'heavy woollen district,' with their sweeping hill-
sides and noble rivers, should not need the stroke of ruin to make
them once more delightful abodes of men, instead of the dog-holes
that the Century of Commerce has made them.

Well, people will not take the trouble or spend the money necessary
to beginning this sort of reforms, because they do not feel the
evils they live amongst, because they have degraded themselves into
something less than men; they are unmanly because they have ceased
to have their due share of art.

For again I say that therein rich people have defrauded themselves
as well as the poor: you will see a refined and highly educated man
nowadays, who has been to Italy and Egypt, and where not, who can
talk learnedly enough (and fantastically enough sometimes) about
art, and who has at his fingers' ends abundant lore concerning the
art and literature of past days, sitting down without signs of
discomfort in a house, that with all its surroundings is just
brutally vulgar and hideous: all his education has not done more
for him than that.

The truth is, that in art, and in other things besides, the laboured
education of a few will not raise even those few above the reach of
the evils that beset the ignorance of the great mass of the
population: the brutality of which such a huge stock has been
accumulated lower down, will often show without much peeling through
the selfish refinement of those who have let it accumulate. The
lack of art, or rather the murder of art, that curses our streets
from the sordidness of the surroundings of the lower classes, has
its exact counterpart in the dulness and vulgarity of those of the
middle classes, and the double-distilled dulness, and scarcely less
vulgarity of those of the upper classes.

I say this is as it should be; it is just and fair as far as it
goes; and moreover the rich with their leisure are the more like to
move if they feel the pinch themselves.

But how shall they and we, and all of us, move? What is the remedy?

What remedy can there be for the blunders of civilisation but
further civilisation? You do not by any accident think that we have
gone as far in that direction as it is possible to go, do you?--even
in England, I mean?

When some changes have come to pass, that perhaps will be speedier
than most people think, doubtless education will both grow in
quality and in quantity; so that it may be, that as the nineteenth
century is to be called the Century of Commerce, the twentieth may
be called the Century of Education. But that education does not end
when people leave school is now a mere commonplace; and how then can
you really educate men who lead the life of machines, who only think
for the few hours during which they are not at work, who in short
spend almost their whole lives in doing work which is not proper for
developing them body and mind in some worthy way? You cannot
educate, you cannot civilise men, unless you can give them a share
in art.

Yes, and it is hard indeed as things go to give most men that share;
for they do not miss it, or ask for it, and it is impossible as
things are that they should either miss or ask for it. Nevertheless
everything has a beginning, and many great things have had very
small ones; and since, as I have said, these ideas are already
abroad in more than one form, we must not be too much discouraged at
the seemingly boundless weight we have to lift.

After all, we are only bound to play our own parts, and do our own
share of the lifting, and as in no case that share can be great, so
also in all cases it is called for, it is necessary. Therefore let
us work and faint not; remembering that though it be natural, and
therefore excusable, amidst doubtful times to feel doubts of success
oppress us at whiles, yet not to crush those doubts, and work as if
we had them not, is simple cowardice, which is unforgivable. No man
has any right to say that all has been done for nothing, that all
the faithful unwearying strife of those that have gone before us
shall lead us nowhither; that mankind will but go round and round in
a circle for ever: no man has a right to say that, and then get up
morning after morning to eat his victuals and sleep a-nights, all
the while making other people toil to keep his worthless life a-

Be sure that some way or other will be found out of the tangle, even
when things seem most tangled, and be no less sure that some use
will then have come of our work, if it has been faithful, and
therefore unsparingly careful and thoughtful.

So once more I say, if in any matters civilisation has gone astray,
the remedy lies not in standing still, but in more complete

Now whatever discussion there may be about that often used and often
misused word, I believe all who hear me will agree with me in
believing from their hearts, and not merely in saying in
conventional phrase, that the civilisation which does not carry the
whole people with it, is doomed to fall, and give place to one which
at least aims at doing so.

We talk of the civilisation of the ancient peoples, of the classical
times, well, civilised they were no doubt, some of their folk at
least: an Athenian citizen for instance led a simple, dignified,
almost perfect life; but there were drawbacks to happiness perhaps
in the lives of his slaves: and the civilisation of the ancients
was founded on slavery.

Indeed that ancient society did give a model to the world, and
showed us for ever what blessings are freedom of life and thought,
self-restraint and a generous education: all those blessings the
ancient free peoples set forth to the world--and kept them to

Therefore no tyrant was too base, no pretext too hollow, for
enslaving the grandsons of the men of Salamis and Thermopylae:
therefore did the descendants of those stern and self-restrained
Romans, who were ready to give up everything, and life as the least
of things, to the glory of their commonweal, produce monsters of
license and reckless folly. Therefore did a little knot of Galilean
peasants overthrow the Roman Empire.

Ancient civilisation was chained to slavery and exclusiveness, and
it fell; the barbarism that took its place has delivered us from
slavery and grown into modern civilisation; and that in its turn has
before it the choice of never-ceasing growth, or destruction by that
which has in it the seeds of higher growth.

There is an ugly word for a dreadful fact, which I must make bold to
use--the residuum: that word since the time I first saw it used,
has had a terrible significance to me, and I have felt from my heart
that if this residuum were a necessary part of modern civilisation,
as some people openly, and many more tacitly, assume that it is,
then this civilisation carries with it the poison that shall one day
destroy it, even as its elder sister did: if civilisation is to go
no further than this, it had better not have gone so far: if it
does not aim at getting rid of this misery and giving some share in
the happiness and dignity of life to ALL the people that it has
created, and which it spends such unwearying energy in creating, it
is simply an organised injustice, a mere instrument for oppression,
so much the worse than that which has gone before it, as its
pretensions are higher, its slavery subtler, its mastery harder to
overthrow, because supported by such a dense mass of commonplace
well-being and comfort.

Surely this cannot be: surely there is a distinct feeling abroad of
this injustice: so that if the residuum still clogs all the efforts
of modern civilisation to rise above mere population-breeding and
money-making, the difficulty of dealing with it is the legacy, first
of the ages of violence and almost conscious brutal injustice, and
next of the ages of thoughtlessness, of hurry and blindness; surely
all those who think at all of the future of the world are at work in
one way or other in striving to rid it of this shame.

That to my mind is the meaning of what we call National Education,
which we have begun, and which is doubtless already bearing its
fruits, and will bear greater, when all people are educated, not
according to the money which they or their parents possess, but
according to the capacity of their minds.

What effect that will have upon the future of the arts, I cannot
say, but one would surely think a very great effect; for it will
enable people to see clearly many things which are now as completely
hidden from them as if they were blind in body and idiotic in mind:
and this, I say, will act not only upon those who most directly feel
the evils of ignorance, but also upon those who feel them
indirectly,--upon us, the educated: the great wave of rising
intelligence, rife with so many natural desires and aspirations,
will carry all classes along with it, and force us all to see that
many things which we have been used to look upon as necessary and
eternal evils are merely the accidental and temporary growths of
past stupidity, and can be escaped from by due effort, and the
exercise of courage, goodwill, and forethought.

And among those evils, I do, and must always, believe will fall that
one which last year I told you that I accounted the greatest of all
evils, the heaviest of all slaveries; that evil of the greater part
of the population being engaged for by far the most part of their
lives in work, which at the best cannot interest them, or develop
their best faculties, and at the worst (and that is the commonest,
too) is mere unmitigated slavish toil, only to be wrung out of them
by the sternest compulsion, a toil which they shirk all they can--
small blame to them. And this toil degrades them into less than
men: and they will some day come to know it, and cry out to be made
men again, and art only can do it, and redeem them from this
slavery; and I say once more that this is her highest and most
glorious end and aim; and it is in her struggle to attain to it that
she will most surely purify herself, and quicken her own aspirations
towards perfection.

But we--in the meantime we must not sit waiting for obvious signs of
these later and glorious days to show themselves on earth, and in
the heavens, but rather turn to the commonplace, and maybe often
dull work of fitting ourselves in detail to take part in them if we
should live to see one of them; or in doing our best to make the
path smooth for their coming, if we are to die before they are here.

What, therefore, can we do, to guard traditions of time past that we
may not one day have to begin anew from the beginning with none to
teach us? What are we to do, that we may take heed to, and spread
the decencies of life, so that at the least we may have a field
where it will be possible for art to grow when men begin to long for
it: what finally can we do, each of us, to cherish some germ of
art, so that it may meet with others, and spread and grow little by
little into the thing that we need?

Now I cannot pretend to think that the first of these duties is a
matter of indifference to you, after my experience of the
enthusiastic meeting that I had the honour of addressing here last
autumn on the subject of the (so called) restoration of St. Mark's
at Venice; you thought, and most justly thought, it seems to me,
that the subject was of such moment to art in general, that it was a
simple and obvious thing for men who were anxious on the matter to
address themselves to those who had the decision of it in their
hands; even though the former were called Englishmen, and the latter
Italians; for you felt that the name of lovers of art would cover
those differences: if you had any misgivings, you remembered that
there was but one such building in the world, and that it was worth
while risking a breach of etiquette, if any words of ours could do
anything towards saving it; well, the Italians were, some of them,
very naturally, though surely unreasonably, irritated, for a time,
and in some of their prints they bade us look at home; that was no
argument in favour of the wisdom of wantonly rebuilding St. Mark's
facade: but certainly those of us who have not yet looked at home
in this matter had better do so speedily, late and over late though
it be: for though we have no golden-pictured interiors like St.
Mark's Church at home, we still have many buildings which are both
works of ancient art and monuments of history: and just think what
is happening to them, and note, since we profess to recognise their
value, how helpless art is in the Century of Commerce!

In the first place, many and many a beautiful and ancient building
is being destroyed all over civilised Europe as well as in England,
because it is supposed to interfere with the convenience of the
citizens, while a little forethought might save it without trenching
on that convenience; {6} but even apart from that, I say that if we
are not prepared to put up with a little inconvenience in our
lifetimes for the sake of preserving a monument of art which will
elevate and educate, not only ourselves, but our sons, and our sons'
sons, it is vain and idle of us to talk about art--or education
either. Brutality must be bred of such brutality.

The same thing may be said about enlarging, or otherwise altering
for convenience' sake, old buildings still in use for something like
their original purposes: in almost all such cases it is really
nothing more than a question of a little money for a new site: and
then a new building can be built exactly fitted for the uses it is
needed for, with such art about it as our own days can furnish;
while the old monument is left to tell its tale of change and
progress, to hold out example and warning to us in the practice of
the arts: and thus the convenience of the public, the progress of
modern art, and the cause of education, are all furthered at once at
the cost of a little money.

Surely if it be worth while troubling ourselves about the works of
art of to-day, of which any amount almost can be done, since we are
yet alive, it is worth while spending a little care, forethought,
and money in preserving the art of bygone ages, of which (woe worth
the while!) so little is left, and of which we can never have any
more, whatever good-hap the world may attain to.

No man who consents to the destruction or the mutilation of an
ancient building has any right to pretend that he cares about art;
or has any excuse to plead in defence of his crime against
civilisation and progress, save sheer brutal ignorance.

But before I leave this subject I must say a word or two about the
curious invention of our own days called Restoration, a method of
dealing with works of bygone days which, though not so degrading in
its spirit as downright destruction, is nevertheless little better
in its results on the condition of those works of art; it is obvious
that I have no time to argue the question out to-night, so I will
only make these assertions:

That ancient buildings, being both works of art and monuments of
history, must obviously be treated with great care and delicacy:
that the imitative art of to-day is not, and cannot be the same
thing as ancient art, and cannot replace it; and that therefore if
we superimpose this work on the old, we destroy it both as art and
as a record of history: lastly, that the natural weathering of the
surface of a building is beautiful, and its loss disastrous.

Now the restorers hold the exact contrary of all this: they think
that any clever architect to-day can deal off-hand successfully with
the ancient work; that while all things else have changed about us
since (say) the thirteenth century, art has not changed, and that
our workmen can turn out work identical with that of the thirteenth
century; and, lastly, that the weather-beaten surface of an ancient
building is worthless, and to be got rid of wherever possible.

You see the question is difficult to argue, because there seem to be
no common grounds between the restorers and the anti-restorers: I
appeal therefore to the public, and bid them note, that though our
opinions may be wrong, the action we advise is not rash: let the
question be shelved awhile: if, as we are always pressing on
people, due care be taken of these monuments, so that they shall not
fall into disrepair, they will be always there to 'restore' whenever
people think proper and when we are proved wrong; but if it should
turn out that we are right, how can the 'restored' buildings be
restored? I beg of you therefore to let the question be shelved,
till art has so advanced among us, that we can deal authoritatively
with it, till there is no longer any doubt about the matter.

Surely these monuments of our art and history, which, whatever the
lawyers may say, belong not to a coterie, or to a rich man here and
there, but to the nation at large, are worth this delay: surely the
last relics of the life of the 'famous men and our fathers that
begat us' may justly claim of us the exercise of a little patience.

It will give us trouble no doubt, all this care of our possessions:
but there is more trouble to come; for I must now speak of something
else, of possessions which should be common to all of us, of the
green grass, and the leaves, and the waters, of the very light and
air of heaven, which the Century of Commerce has been too busy to
pay any heed to. And first let me remind you that I am supposing
every one here present professes to care about art.

Well, there are some rich men among us whom we oddly enough call
manufacturers, by which we mean capitalists who pay other men to
organise manufacturers; these gentlemen, many of whom buy pictures
and profess to care about art, burn a deal of coal: there is an Act
in existence which was passed to prevent them sometimes and in some
places from pouring a dense cloud of smoke over the world, and, to
my thinking, a very lame and partial Act it is: but nothing hinders
these lovers of art from being a law to themselves, and making it a
point of honour with them to minimise the smoke nuisance as far as
their own works are concerned; and if they don't do so, when mere
money, and even a very little of that, is what it will cost them, I
say that their love of art is a mere pretence: how can you care
about the image of a landscape when you show by your deeds that you
don't care for the landscape itself? or what right have you to shut
yourself up with beautiful form and colour when you make it
impossible for other people to have any share in these things?

Well, and as to the smoke Act itself: I don't know what heed you
pay to it in Birmingham, {7} but I have seen myself what heed is
paid to it in other places; Bradford for instance: though close by
them at Saltaire they have an example which I should have thought
might have shamed them; for the huge chimney there which serves the
acres of weaving and spinning sheds of Sir Titus Salt and his
brothers is as guiltless of smoke as an ordinary kitchen chimney.
Or Manchester: a gentleman of that city told me that the smoke Act
was a mere dead letter there: well, they buy pictures in Manchester
and profess to wish to further the arts: but you see it must be
idle pretence as far as their rich people are concerned: they only
want to talk about it, and have themselves talked of.

I don't know what you are doing about this matter here; but you must
forgive my saying, that unless you are beginning to think of some
way of dealing with it, you are not beginning yet to pave your way
to success in the arts.

Well, I have spoken of a huge nuisance, which is a type of the worst
nuisances of what an ill-tempered man might be excused for calling
the Century of Nuisances, rather than the Century of Commerce. I
will now leave it to the consciences of the rich and influential
among us, and speak of a minor nuisance which it is in the power of
every one of us to abate, and which, small as it is, is so
vexatious, that if I can prevail on a score of you to take heed to
it by what I am saying, I shall think my evening's work a good one.
Sandwich-papers I mean--of course you laugh: but come now, don't
you, civilised as you are in Birmingham, leave them all about the
Lickey hills and your public gardens and the like? If you don't I
really scarcely know with what words to praise you. When we
Londoners go to enjoy ourselves at Hampton Court, for instance, we
take special good care to let everybody know that we have had
something to eat: so that the park just outside the gates (and a
beautiful place it is) looks as if it had been snowing dirty paper.
I really think you might promise me one and all who are here present
to have done with this sluttish habit, which is the type of many
another in its way, just as the smoke nuisance is. I mean such
things as scrawling one's name on monuments, tearing down tree
boughs, and the like.

I suppose 'tis early days in the revival of the arts to express
one's disgust at the daily increasing hideousness of the posters
with which all our towns are daubed. Still we ought to be disgusted
at such horrors, and I think make up our minds never to buy any of
the articles so advertised. I can't believe they can be worth much
if they need all that shouting to sell them.

Again, I must ask what do you do with the trees on a site that is
going to be built over? do you try to save them, to adapt your
houses at all to them? do you understand what treasures they are in
a town or a suburb? or what a relief they will be to the hideous
dog-holes which (forgive me!) you are probably going to build in
their places? I ask this anxiously, and with grief in my soul, for
in London and its suburbs we always {8} begin by clearing a site
till it is as bare as the pavement: I really think that almost
anybody would have been shocked, if I could have shown him some of
the trees that have been wantonly murdered in the suburb in which I
live (Hammersmith to wit), amongst them some of those magnificent
cedars, for which we along the river used to be famous once.

But here again see how helpless those are who care about art or
nature amidst the hurry of the Century of Commerce.

Pray do not forget, that any one who cuts down a tree wantonly or
carelessly, especially in a great town or its suburbs, need make no
pretence of caring about art.

What else can we do to help to educate ourselves and others in the
path of art, to be on the road to attaining an ART MADE BY THE

Why, having got to understand something of what art was, having got
to look upon its ancient monuments as friends that can tell us
something of times bygone, and whose faces we do not wish to alter,
even though they be worn by time and grief: having got to spend
money and trouble upon matters of decency, great and little; having
made it clear that we really do care about nature even in the
suburbs of a big town--having got so far, we shall begin to think of
the houses in which we live.

For I must tell you that unless you are resolved to have good and
rational architecture, it is, once again, useless your thinking
about art at all.

I have spoken of the popular arts, but they might all be summed up
in that one word Architecture; they are all parts of that great
whole, and the art of house-building begins it all: if we did not
know how to dye or to weave; if we had neither gold, nor silver, nor
silk; and no pigments to paint with, but half-a-dozen ochres and
umbers, we might yet frame a worthy art that would lead to
everything, if we had but timber, stone, and lime, and a few cutting
tools to make these common things not only shelter us from wind and
weather, but also express the thoughts and aspirations that stir in

Architecture would lead us to all the arts, as it did with earlier
men: but if we despise it and take no note of how we are housed,
the other arts will have a hard time of it indeed.

Now I do not think the greatest of optimists would deny that, taking
us one and all, we are at present housed in a perfectly shameful
way, and since the greatest part of us have to live in houses
already built for us, it must be admitted that it is rather hard to
know what to do, beyond waiting till they tumble about our ears.

Only we must not lay the fault upon the builders, as some people
seem inclined to do: they are our very humble servants, and will
build what we ask for; remember, that rich men are not obliged to
live in ugly houses, and yet you see they do; which the builders may
be well excused for taking as a sign of what is wanted.

Well, the point is, we must do what we can, and make people
understand what we want them to do for us, by letting them see what
we do for ourselves.

Hitherto, judging us by that standard, the builders may well say,
that we want the pretence of a thing rather than the thing itself;
that we want a show of petty luxury if we are unrich, a show of
insulting stupidity if we are rich: and they are quite clear that
as a rule we want to get something that shall look as if it cost
twice as much as it really did.

You cannot have Architecture on those terms: simplicity and
solidity are the very first requisites of it: just think if it is
not so: How we please ourselves with an old building by thinking of
all the generations of men that have passed through it! do we not
remember how it has received their joy, and borne their sorrow, and
not even their folly has left sourness upon it? it still looks as
kind to us as it did to them. And the converse of this we ought to
feel when we look at a newly-built house if it were as it should be:
we should feel a pleasure in thinking how he who had built it had
left a piece of his soul behind him to greet the new-comers one
after another long and long after he was gone:- but what sentiment
can an ordinary modern house move in us, or what thought--save a
hope that we may speedily forget its base ugliness?

But if you ask me how we are to pay for this solidity and extra
expense, that seems to me a reasonable question; for you must
dismiss at once as a delusion the hope that has been sometimes
cherished, that you can have a building which is a work of art, and
is therefore above all things properly built, at the same price as a
building which only pretends to be this: never forget when people
talk about cheap art in general, by the way, that all art costs
time, trouble, and thought, and that money is only a counter to
represent these things.

However, I must try to answer the question I have supposed put, how
are we to pay for decent houses?

It seems to me that, by a great piece of good luck, the way to pay
for them is by doing that which alone can produce popular art among
us: living a simple life, I mean. Once more I say that the
greatest foe to art is luxury, art cannot live in its atmosphere.

When you hear of the luxuries of the ancients, you must remember
that they were not like our luxuries, they were rather indulgence in
pieces of extravagant folly than what we to-day call luxury; which
perhaps you would rather call comfort: well I accept the word, and
say that a Greek or Roman of the luxurious time would stare
astonished could he be brought back again, and shown the comforts of
a well-to-do middle-class house.

But some, I know, think that the attainment of these very comforts
is what makes the difference between civilisation and
uncivilisation, that they are the essence of civilisation. Is it so
indeed? Farewell my hope then!--I had thought that civilisation
meant the attainment of peace and order and freedom, of goodwill
between man and man, of the love of truth and the hatred of
injustice, and by consequence the attainment of the good life which
these things breed, a life free from craven fear, but full of
incident: that was what I thought it meant, not more stuffed chairs
and more cushions, and more carpets and gas, and more dainty meat
and drink--and therewithal more and sharper differences between
class and class.

If that be what it is, I for my part wish I were well out of it, and
living in a tent in the Persian desert, or a turf hut on the Iceland
hill-side. But however it be, and I think my view is the true view,
I tell you that art abhors that side of civilisation, she cannot
breathe in the houses that lie under its stuffy slavery.

Believe me, if we want art to begin at home, as it must, we must
clear our houses of troublesome superfluities that are for ever in
our way: conventional comforts that are no real comforts, and do
but make work for servants and doctors: if you want a golden rule
that will fit everybody, this is it:


And if we apply that rule strictly, we shall in the first place show
the builders and such-like servants of the public what we really
want, we shall create a demand for real art, as the phrase goes; and
in the second place, we shall surely have more money to pay for
decent houses.

Perhaps it will not try your patience too much if I lay before you
my idea of the fittings necessary to the sitting-room of a healthy
person: a room, I mean, in which he would not have to cook in much,
or sleep in generally, or in which he would not have to do any very
litter-making manual work.

First a book-case with a great many books in it: next a table that
will keep steady when you write or work at it: then several chairs
that you can move, and a bench that you can sit or lie upon: next a
cupboard with drawers: next, unless either the book-case or the
cupboard be very beautiful with painting or carving, you will want
pictures or engravings, such as you can afford, only not stop-gaps,
but real works of art on the wall; or else the wall itself must be
ornamented with some beautiful and restful pattern: we shall also
want a vase or two to put flowers in, which latter you must have
sometimes, especially if you live in a town. Then there will be the
fireplace of course, which in our climate is bound to be the chief
object in the room.

That is all we shall want, especially if the floor be good; if it be
not, as, by the way, in a modern house it is pretty certain not to
be, I admit that a small carpet which can be bundled out of the room
in two minutes will be useful, and we must also take care that it is
beautiful, or it will annoy us terribly.

Now unless we are musical, and need a piano (in which case, as far
as beauty is concerned, we are in a bad way), that is quite all we
want: and we can add very little to these necessaries without
troubling ourselves, and hindering our work, our thought, and our

If these things were done at the least cost for which they could be
done well and solidly, they ought not to cost much; and they are so
few, that those that could afford to have them at all, could afford
to spend some trouble to get them fitting and beautiful: and all
those who care about art ought to take great trouble to do so, and
to take care that there be no sham art amongst them, nothing that it
has degraded a man to make or sell. And I feel sure, that if all
who care about art were to take this pains, it would make a great
impression upon the public.

This simplicity you may make as costly as you please or can, on the
other hand: you may hang your walls with tapestry instead of
whitewash or paper; or you may cover them with mosaic, or have them
frescoed by a great painter: all this is not luxury, if it be done
for beauty's sake, and not for show: it does not break our golden

All art starts from this simplicity; and the higher the art rises,
the greater the simplicity. I have been speaking of the fittings of
a dwelling-house--a place in which we eat and drink, and pass
familiar hours; but when you come to places which people want to
make more specially beautiful because of the solemnity or dignity of
their uses, they will be simpler still, and have little in them save
the bare walls made as beautiful as may be. St. Mark's at Venice
has very little furniture in it, much less than most Roman Catholic
churches: its lovely and stately mother St. Sophia of
Constantinople had less still, even when it was a Christian church:
but we need not go either to Venice or Stamboul to take note of
that: go into one of our own mighty Gothic naves (do any of you
remember the first time you did so?) and note how the huge free
space satisfies and elevates you, even now when window and wall are
stripped of ornament: then think of the meaning of simplicity, and
absence of encumbering gew-gaws.

Now after all, for us who are learning art, it is not far to seek
what is the surest way to further it; that which most breeds art is
art; every piece of work that we do which is well done, is so much
help to the cause; every piece of pretence and half-heartedness is
so much hurt to it. Most of you who take to the practice of art can
find out in no very long time whether you have any gifts for it or
not: if you have not, throw the thing up, or you will have a
wretched time of it yourselves, and will be damaging the cause by
laborious pretence: but if you have gifts of any kind, you are
happy indeed beyond most men; for your pleasure is always with you,
nor can you be intemperate in the enjoyment of it, and as you use
it, it does not lessen, but grows: if you are by chance weary of it
at night, you get up in the morning eager for it; or if perhaps in
the morning it seems folly to you for a while, yet presently, when
your hand has been moving a little in its wonted way, fresh hope has
sprung up beneath it and you are happy again. While others are
getting through the day like plants thrust into the earth, which
cannot turn this way or that but as the wind blows them, you know
what you want, and your will is on the alert to find it, and you,
whatever happens, whether it be joy or grief, are at least alive.

Now when I spoke to you last year, after I had sat down I was half
afraid that I had on some points said too much, that I had spoken
too bitterly in my eagerness; that a rash word might have
discouraged some of you; I was very far from meaning that: what I
wanted to do, what I want to do to-night is to put definitely before
you a cause for which to strive.

That cause is the Democracy of Art, the ennobling of daily and
common work, which will one day put hope and pleasure in the place
of fear and pain, as the forces which move men to labour and keep
the world a-going.

If I have enlisted any one in that cause, rash as my words may have
been, or feeble as they may have been, they have done more good than
harm; nor do I believe that any words of mine can discourage any who
have joined that cause or are ready to do so: their way is too
clear before them for that, and every one of us can help the cause
whether he be great or little.

I know indeed that men, wearied by the pettiness of the details of
the strife, their patience tried by hope deferred, will at whiles,
excusably enough, turn back in their hearts to other days, when if
the issues were not clearer, the means of trying them were simpler;
when, so stirring were the times, one might even have atoned for
many a blunder and backsliding by visibly dying for the cause. To
have breasted the Spanish pikes at Leyden, to have drawn sword with
Oliver: that may well seem to us at times amidst the tangles of to-
day a happy fate: for a man to be able to say, I have lived like a
fool, but now I will cast away fooling for an hour, and die like a
man--there is something in that certainly: and yet 'tis clear that
few men can be so lucky as to die for a cause, without having first
of all lived for it. And as this is the most that can be asked from
the greatest man that follows a cause, so it is the least that can
be taken from the smallest.

So to us who have a Cause at heart, our highest ambition and our
simplest duty are one and the same thing: for the most part we
shall be too busy doing the work that lies ready to our hands, to
let impatience for visibly great progress vex us much; but surely
since we are servants of a Cause, hope must be ever with us, and
sometimes perhaps it will so quicken our vision that it will outrun
the slow lapse of time, and show us the victorious days when
millions of those who now sit in darkness will be enlightened by an


I have to-night to talk to you about certain things which my
experience in my own craft has led me to notice, and which have bred
in my mind something like a set of rules or maxims, which guide my
practice. Every one who has followed a craft for long has such
rules in his mind, and cannot help following them himself, and
insisting on them practically in dealing with his pupils or workmen
if he is in any degree a master; and when these rules, or if you
will, impulses, are filling the minds and guiding the hands of many
craftsmen at one time, they are busy forming a distinct school, and
the art they represent is sure to be at least alive, however rude,
timid, or lacking it may be; and the more imperious these rules are,
the wider these impulses are spread, the more vigorously alive will
be the art they produce; whereas in times when they are felt but
lightly and rarely, when one man's maxims seem absurd or trivial to
his brother craftsman, art is either sick or slumbering, or so
thinly scattered amongst the great mass of men as to influence the
general life of the world little or nothing.

For though this kind of rules of a craft may seem to some arbitrary,
I think that it is because they are the result of such intricate
combinations of circumstances, that only a great philosopher, if
even he, could express in words the sources of them, and give us
reasons for them all, and we who are craftsmen must be content to
prove them in practice, believing that their roots are founded in
human nature, even as we know that their first-fruits are to be
found in that most wonderful of all histories, the history of the

Will you, therefore, look upon me as a craftsman who shares certain
impulses with many others, which impulses forbid him to question the
rules they have forced on him? so looking on me you may afford
perhaps to be more indulgent to me if I seem to dogmatise over much.

Yet I cannot claim to represent any one craft. The division of
labour, which has played so great a part in furthering competitive
commerce, till it has become a machine with powers both reproductive
and destructive, which few dare to resist, and none can control or
foresee the result of, has pressed specially hard on that part of
the field of human culture in which I was born to labour. That
field of the arts, whose harvest should be the chief part of human
joy, hope, and consolation, has been, I say, dealt hardly with by
the division of labour, once the servant, and now the master of
competitive commerce, itself once the servant, and now the master of
civilisation; nay, so searching has been this tyranny, that it has
not passed by my own insignificant corner of labour, but as it has
thwarted me in many ways, so chiefly perhaps in this, that it has so
stood in the way of my getting the help from others which my art
forces me to crave, that I have been compelled to learn many crafts,
and belike, according to the proverb, forbidden to master any, so
that I fear my lecture will seem to you both to run over too many
things and not to go deep enough into any.

I cannot help it. That above-mentioned tyranny has turned some of
us from being, as we should be, contented craftsmen, into being
discontented agitators against it, so that our minds are not at
rest, even when we have to talk over workshop receipts and maxims;
indeed I must confess that I should hold my peace on all matters
connected with the arts, if I had not a lurking hope to stir up both
others and myself to discontent with and rebellion against things as
they are, clinging to the further hope that our discontent may be
fruitful and our rebellion steadfast, at least to the end of our own
lives, since we believe that we are rebels not against the laws of
Nature, but the customs of folly.

Nevertheless, since even rebels desire to live, and since even they
must sometimes crave for rest and peace--nay, since they must, as it
were, make for themselves strongholds from whence to carry on the
strife--we ought not to be accused of inconsistency, if to-night we
consider how to make the best of it. By what forethought, pains,
and patience, can we make endurable those strange dwellings--the
basest, the ugliest, and the most inconvenient that men have ever
built for themselves, and which our own haste, necessity, and
stupidity, compel almost all of us to live in? That is our present

In dealing with this subject, I shall perforce be chiefly speaking
of those middle-class dwellings of which I know most; but what I
have to say will be as applicable to any other kind; for there is no
dignity or unity of plan about any modern house, big or little. It
has neither centre nor individuality, but is invariably a congeries
of rooms tumbled together by chance hap. So that the unit I have to
speak of is a room rather than a house.

Now there may be some here who have the good luck to dwell in those
noble buildings which our forefathers built, out of their very
souls, one may say; such good luck I call about the greatest that
can befall a man in these days. But these happy people have little
to do with our troubles of to-night, save as sympathetic onlookers.
All we have to do with them is to remind them not to forget their
duties to those places, which they doubtless love well; not to alter
them or torment them to suit any passing whim or convenience, but to
deal with them as if their builders, to whom they owe so much, could
still be wounded by the griefs and rejoice in the well-doing of
their ancient homes. Surely if they do this, they also will neither
be forgotten nor unthanked in the time to come.

There may be others here who dwell in houses that can scarcely be
called noble--nay, as compared with the last-named kind, may be
almost called ignoble--but their builders still had some traditions
left them of the times of art. They are built solidly and
conscientiously at least, and if they have little or no beauty, yet
have a certain common-sense and convenience about them; nor do they
fail to represent the manners and feelings of their own time. The
earliest of these, built about the reign of Queen Anne, stretch out
a hand toward the Gothic times, and are not without picturesqueness,
especially when their surroundings are beautiful. The latest built
in the latter days of the Georges are certainly quite guiltless of
picturesqueness, but are, as above said, solid, and not
inconvenient. All these houses, both the so-called Queen Anne ones
and the distinctively Georgian, are difficult enough to decorate,
especially for those who have any leaning toward romance, because
they have still some style left in them which one cannot ignore; at
the same time that it is impossible for any one living out of the
time in which they were built to sympathise with a style whose
characteristics are mere whims, not founded on any principle. Still
they are at the worst not aggressively ugly or base, and it is
possible to live in them without serious disturbance to our work or
thoughts; so that by the force of contrast they have become bright
spots in the prevailing darkness of ugliness that has covered all
modern life.

But we must not forget that that rebellion which we have met here, I
hope, to further, has begun, and to-day shows visible tokens of its
life; for of late there have been houses rising up among us here and
there which have certainly not been planned either by the common
cut-and-dried designers for builders, or by academical imitators of
bygone styles. Though they may be called experimental, no one can
say that they are not born of thought and principle, as well as of
great capacity for design. It is nowise our business to-night to
criticise them. I suspect their authors, who have gone through so
many difficulties (not of their own breeding) in producing them,
know their shortcomings much better than we can do, and are less
elated by their successes than we are. At any rate, they are gifts
to our country which will always be respected, whether the times
better or worsen, and I call upon you to thank their designers most
heartily for their forethought, labour, and hope.

Well, I have spoken of three qualifications to that degradation of
our dwellings which characterises this period of history only.

First, there are the very few houses which have been left us from
the times of art. Except that we may sometimes have the pleasure of
seeing these, we most of us have little enough to do with them.

Secondly, there are those houses of the times when, though art was
sick and all but dead, men had not quite given it up as a bad job,
and at any rate had not learned systematic bad building; and when,
moreover, they had what they wanted, and their lives were expressed
by their architecture. Of these there are still left a good many
all over the country, but they are lessening fast before the
irresistible force of competition, and will soon be very rare

Thirdly, there are a few houses built and mostly inhabited by the
ringleaders of the rebellion against sordid ugliness, which we are
met here to further to-night. It is clear that as yet these are
very few,--or you could never have thought it worth your while to
come here to hear the simple words I have to say to you on this

Now, these are the exceptions. The rest is what really amounts to
the dwellings of all our people, which are built without any hope of
beauty or care for it--without any thought that there can be any
pleasure in the look of an ordinary dwelling-house, and also (in
consequence of this neglect of manliness) with scarce any heed to
real convenience. It will, I hope, one day be hard to believe that
such houses were built for a people not lacking in honesty, in
independence of life, in elevation of thought, and consideration for
others; not a whit of all that do they express, but rather
hypocrisy, flunkeyism, and careless selfishness. The fact is, they
are no longer part of our lives. We have given it up as a bad job.
We are heedless if our houses express nothing of us but the very
worst side of our character both national and personal.

This unmanly heedlessness, so injurious to civilisation, so unjust
to those that are to follow us, is the very thing we want to shake
people out of. We want to make them think about their homes, to
take the trouble to turn them into dwellings fit for people free in
mind and body--much might come of that I think.

Now, to my mind, the first step towards this end is, to follow the
fashion of our nation, so often, so VERY often, called practical,
and leaving for a little an ideal scarce conceivable, to try to get
people to bethink them of what we can best do with those makeshifts
which we cannot get rid of all at once.

I know that those lesser arts, by which alone this can be done, are
looked upon by many wise and witty people as not worth the notice of
a sensible man; but, since I am addressing a society of artists, I
believe I am speaking to people who have got beyond even that stage
of wisdom and wit, and that you think all the arts of importance.
Yet, indeed, I should think I had but little claim on your attention
if I deemed the question involved nothing save the gain of a little
more content and a little more pleasure for those who already have
abundance of content and pleasure; let me say it, that either I have
erred in the aim of my whole life, or that the welfare of these
lesser arts involves the question of the content and self-respect of
all craftsmen, whether you call them artists or artisans. So I say
again, my hope is that those who begin to consider carefully how to
make the best of the chambers in which they eat and sleep and study,
and hold converse with their friends, will breed in their minds a
wholesome and fruitful discontent with the sordidness that even when
they have done their best will surround their island of comfort, and
that as they try to appease this discontent they will find that
there is no way out of it but by insisting that all men's work shall
be fit for free men and not for machines: my extravagant hope is
that people will some day learn something of art, and so long for
more, and will find, as I have, that there is no getting it save by
the general acknowledgment of the right of every man to have fit
work to do in a beautiful home. Therein lies all that is
indestructible of the pleasure of life; no man need ask for more
than that, no man should be granted less; and if he falls short of
it, it is through waste and injustice that he is kept out of his

And now I will try what I can do in my hints on this making the best
of it, first asking your pardon for this, that I shall have to give
a great deal of negative advice, and be always saying 'don't'--that,
as you know, being much the lot of those who profess reform.

Before we go inside our house, nay, before we look at its outside,
we may consider its garden, chiefly with reference to town
gardening; which, indeed, I, in common, I suppose, with most others
who have tried it, have found uphill work enough--all the more as in
our part of the world few indeed have any mercy upon the one thing
necessary for decent life in a town, its trees; till we have come to
this, that one trembles at the very sound of an axe as one sits at
one's work at home. However, uphill work or not, the town garden
must not be neglected if we are to be in earnest in making the best
of it.

Now I am bound to say town gardeners generally do rather the reverse
of that: our suburban gardeners in London, for instance, oftenest
wind about their little bit of gravel walk and grass plot in
ridiculous imitation of an ugly big garden of the landscape-
gardening style, and then with a strange perversity fill up the
spaces with the most formal plants they can get; whereas the merest
common sense should have taught them to lay out their morsel of
ground in the simplest way, to fence it as orderly as might be, one
part from the other (if it be big enough for that) and the whole
from the road, and then to fill up the flower-growing space with
things that are free and interesting in their growth, leaving nature
to do the desired complexity, which she will certainly not fail to
do if we do not desert her for the florist, who, I must say, has
made it harder work than it should be to get the best of flowers.

It is scarcely a digression to note his way of dealing with flowers,
which, moreover, gives us an apt illustration of that change without
thought of beauty, change for the sake of change, which has played
such a great part in the degradation of art in all times. So I ask
you to note the way he has treated the rose, for instance: the rose
has been grown double from I don't know when; the double rose was a
gain to the world, a new beauty was given us by it, and nothing
taken away, since the wild rose grows in every hedge. Yet even then
one might be excused for thinking that the wild rose was scarce
improved on, for nothing can be more beautiful in general growth or
in detail than a wayside bush of it, nor can any scent be as sweet
and pure as its scent. Nevertheless the garden rose had a new
beauty of abundant form, while its leaves had not lost the
wonderfully delicate texture of the wild one. The full colour it
had gained, from the blush rose to the damask, was pure and true
amidst all its added force, and though its scent had certainly lost
some of the sweetness of the eglantine, it was fresh still, as well
as so abundantly rich. Well, all that lasted till quite our own
day, when the florists fell upon the rose--men who could never have
enough--they strove for size and got it, a fine specimen of a
florist's rose being about as big as a moderate Savoy cabbage. They
tried for strong scent and got it--till a florist's rose has not
unseldom a suspicion of the scent of the aforesaid cabbage--not at
its best. They tried for strong colour and got it, strong and bad--
like a conqueror. But all this while they missed the very essence
of the rose's being; they thought there was nothing in it but
redundance and luxury; they exaggerated these into coarseness, while
they threw away the exquisite subtilty of form, delicacy of texture,
and sweetness of colour, which, blent with the richness which the
true garden rose shares with many other flowers, yet makes it the
queen of them all--the flower of flowers. Indeed, the worst of this
is that these sham roses are driving the real ones out of existence.
If we do not look to it our descendants will know nothing of the
cabbage rose, the loveliest in form of all, or the blush rose with
its dark green stems and unequalled colour, or the yellow-centred
rose of the East, which carries the richness of scent to the very
furthest point it can go without losing freshness: they will know
nothing of all these, and I fear they will reproach the poets of
past time for having done according to their wont, and exaggerated
grossly the beauties of the rose.

Well, as a Londoner perhaps I have said too much of roses, since we
can scarcely grow them among suburban smoke, but what I have said of
them applies to other flowers, of which I will say this much more.
Be very shy of double flowers; choose the old columbine where the
clustering doves are unmistakable and distinct, not the double one,
where they run into mere tatters. Choose (if you can get it) the
old china-aster with the yellow centre, that goes so well with the
purple-brown stems and curiously coloured florets, instead of the
lumps that look like cut paper, of which we are now so proud. Don't
be swindled out of that wonder of beauty, a single snowdrop; there
is no gain and plenty of loss in the double one. More loss still in
the double sunflower, which is a coarse-coloured and dull plant,
whereas the single one, though a late comer to our gardens, is by no
means to be despised, since it will grow anywhere, and is both
interesting and beautiful, with its sharply chiselled yellow florets
relieved by the quaintly patterned sad-coloured centre clogged with
honey and beset with bees and butterflies.

So much for over-artificiality in flowers. A word or two about the
misplacing of them. Don't have ferns in your garden. The hart's
tongue in the clefts of the rock, the queer things that grow within
reach of the spray of the waterfall; these are right in their
places. Still more the brake on the woodside, whether in late
autumn, when its withered haulm helps out the well-remembered
woodland scent, or in spring, when it is thrusting its volutes
through last year's waste. But all this is nothing to a garden, and
is not to be got out of it; and if you try it you will take away
from it all possible romance, the romance of a garden.

The same thing may be said about many plants, which are curiosities
only, which Nature meant to be grotesque, not beautiful, and which
are generally the growth of hot countries, where things sprout over
quick and rank. Take note that the strangest of these come from the
jungle and the tropical waste, from places where man is not at home,
but is an intruder, an enemy. Go to a botanical garden and look at
them, and think of those strange places to your heart's content.
But don't set them to starve in your smoke-drenched scrap of ground
amongst the bricks, for they will be no ornament to it.

As to colour in gardens. Flowers in masses are mighty strong
colour, and if not used with a great deal of caution are very
destructive to pleasure in gardening. On the whole, I think the
best and safest plan is to mix up your flowers, and rather eschew
great masses of colour--in combination I mean. But there are some
flowers (inventions of men, i.e. florists) which are bad colour
altogether, and not to be used at all. Scarlet geraniums, for
instance, or the yellow calceolaria, which indeed are not uncommonly
grown together profusely, in order, I suppose, to show that even
flowers can be thoroughly ugly.

Another thing also much too commonly seen is an aberration of the
human mind, which otherwise I should have been ashamed to warn you
of. It is technically called carpet-gardening. Need I explain it
further? I had rather not, for when I think of it even when I am
quite alone I blush with shame at the thought.

I am afraid it is specially necessary in these days when making the
best of it is a hard job, and when the ordinary iron hurdles are so
common and so destructive of any kind of beauty in a garden, to say
when you fence anything in a garden use a live hedge, or stones set
flatwise (as they do in some parts of the Cotswold country), or
timber, or wattle, or, in short, anything but iron. {10}

And now to sum up as to a garden. Large or small, it should look
both orderly and rich. It should be well fenced from the outside
world. It should by no means imitate either the wilfulness or the
wildness of Nature, but should look like a thing never to be seen
except near a house. It should, in fact, look like a part of the
house. It follows from this that no private pleasure-garden should
be very big, and a public garden should be divided and made to look
like so many flower-closes in a meadow, or a wood, or amidst the

It will be a key to right thinking about gardens if you consider in
what kind of places a garden is most desired. In a very beautiful
country, especially if it be mountainous, we can do without it well
enough; whereas in a flat and dull country we crave after it, and
there it is often the very making of the homestead. While in great
towns, gardens, both private and public, are positive necessities if
the citizens are to live reasonable and healthy lives in body and

So much for the garden, of which, since I have said that it ought to
be part of the house, I hope I have not spoken too much.

Now, as to the outside of our makeshift house, I fear it is too ugly
to keep us long. Let what painting you have to do about it be as
simple as possible, and be chiefly white or whitish; for when a
building is ugly in form it will bear no decoration, and to mark its
parts by varying colour will be the way to bring out its ugliness.
So I don't advise you to paint your houses blood-red and chocolate
with white facings, as seems to be getting the fashion in some parts
of London. You should, however, always paint your sash-bars and
window-frames white to break up the dreary space of window somewhat.
The only other thing I have to say, is to warn you against using at
all a hot brownish-red, which some decorators are very fond of.
Till some one invents a better name for it, let us call it cockroach
colour, and have naught to do with it.

So we have got to the inside of our house, and are in the room we
are to live in, call it by what name you will. As to its
proportions, it will be great luck indeed in an ordinary modern
house if they are tolerable; but let us hope for the best. If it is
to be well proportioned, one of its parts, either its height,
length, or breadth, ought to exceed the others, or be marked
somehow. If it be square or so nearly as to seem so, it should not
be high; if it be long and narrow, it might be high without any
harm, but yet would be more interesting low; whereas if it be an
obvious but moderate oblong on plan, great height will be decidedly

As to the parts of a room that we have to think of, they are wall,
ceiling, floor, windows and doors, fireplace, and movables. Of
these the wall is of so much the most importance to a decorator, and
will lead us so far a-field that I will mostly clear off the other
parts first, as to the mere arrangement of them, asking you
meanwhile to understand that the greater part of what I shall be
saying as to the design of the patterns for the wall, I consider
more or less applicable to patterns everywhere.

As to the windows then; I fear we must grumble again. In most
decent houses, or what are so called, the windows are much too big,
and let in a flood of light in a haphazard and ill-considered way,
which the indwellers are forced to obscure again by shutters,
blinds, curtains, screens, heavy upholsteries, and such other
nuisances. The windows, also, are almost always brought too low
down, and often so low down as to have their sills on a level with
our ankles, sending thereby a raking light across the room that
destroys all pleasantness of tone. The windows, moreover, are
either big rectangular holes in the wall, or, which is worse, have
ill-proportioned round or segmental heads, while the common custom
in 'good' houses is either to fill these openings with one huge
sheet of plate-glass, or to divide them across the middle with a
thin bar. If we insist on glazing them thus, we may make up our
minds that we have done the worst we can for our windows, nor can a
room look tolerable where it is so treated. You may see how people
feel this by their admiration of the tracery of a Gothic window, or
the lattice-work of a Cairo house. Our makeshift substitute for
those beauties must be the filling of the window with moderate-sized
panes of glass (plate-glass if you will) set in solid sash-bars; we
shall then at all events feel as if we were indoors on a cold day--
as if we had a roof over our heads.

As to the floor: a little time ago it was the universal custom for
those who could afford it to cover it all up into its dustiest and
crookedest corners with a carpet, good, bad, or indifferent. Now I
daresay you have heard from others, whose subject is the health of
houses rather than their art (if indeed the two subjects can be
considered apart, as they cannot really be), you have heard from
teachers like Dr. Richardson what a nasty and unwholesome custom
this is, so I will only say that it looks nasty and unwholesome.
Happily, however, it is now a custom so much broken into that we may
consider it doomed; for in all houses that pretend to any taste of
arrangement, the carpet is now a rug, large it may be, but at any
rate not looking immovable, and not being a trap for dust in the
corners. Still I would go further than this even and get rich
people no longer to look upon a carpet as a necessity for a room at
all, at least in the summer. This would have two advantages: 1st,
It would compel us to have better floors (and less drafty), our
present ones being one of the chief disgraces to modern building;
and 2ndly, since we should have less carpet to provide, what we did
have we could afford to have better. We could have a few real works
of art at the same price for which we now have hundreds of yards of
makeshift machine-woven goods. In any case it is a great comfort to
see the actual floor; and the said floor may be, as you know, made
very ornamental by either wood mosaic, or tile and marble mosaic;
the latter especially is such an easy art as far as mere
technicality goes, and so full of resources, that I think it is a
great pity it is not used more. The contrast between its grey tones
and the rich positive colour of Eastern carpet-work is so beautiful,
that the two together make satisfactory decoration for a room with
little addition.

When wood mosaic or parquet-work is used, owing to the necessary
simplicity of the forms, I think it best not to vary the colour of
the wood. The variation caused by the diverse lie of the grain and
so forth, is enough. Most decorators will be willing, I believe, to
accept it as an axiom, that when a pattern is made of very simple
geometrical forms, strong contrast of colour is to be avoided.

So much for the floor. As for its fellow, the ceiling, that is, I
must confess, a sore point with me in my attempts at making the best
of it. The simplest and most natural way of decorating a ceiling is
to show the underside of the joists and beams duly moulded, and if
you will, painted in patterns. How far this is from being possible
in our modern makeshift houses, I suppose I need not say. Then
there is a natural and beautiful way of ornamenting a ceiling by
working the plaster into delicate patterns, such as you see in our
Elizabethan and Jacobean houses; which often enough, richly designed
and skilfully wrought as they are, are by no means pedantically
smooth in finish--nay, may sometimes be called rough as to
workmanship. But, unhappily there are few of the lesser arts that
have fallen so low as the plasterer's. The cast work one sees
perpetually in pretentious rooms is a mere ghastly caricature of
ornament, which no one is expected to look at if he can help it. It
is simply meant to say, 'This house is built for a rich man.' The
very material of it is all wrong, as, indeed, mostly happens with an
art that has fallen sick. That richly designed, freely wrought
plastering of our old houses was done with a slowly drying tough
plaster, that encouraged the hand like modeller's clay, and could
not have been done at all with the brittle plaster used in ceilings
nowadays, whose excellence is supposed to consist in its smoothness
only. To be good, according to our present false standard, it must
shine like a sheet of hot-pressed paper, so that, for the present,
and without the expenditure of abundant time and trouble, this kind
of ceiling decoration is not to be hoped for.

It may be suggested that we should paper our ceilings like our
walls, but I can't think that it will do. Theoretically, a paper-
hanging is so much distemper colour applied to a surface by being
printed on paper instead of being painted on plaster by the hand;
but practically, we never forget that it is paper, and a room
papered all over would be like a box to live in. Besides, the
covering a room all over with cheap recurring patterns in an
uninteresting material, is but a poor way out of our difficulty, and
one which we should soon tire of.

There remains, then, nothing but to paint our ceilings cautiously
and with as much refinement as we can, when we can afford it:
though even that simple matter is complicated by the hideousness of
the aforesaid plaster ornaments and cornices, which are so very bad
that you must ignore them by leaving them unpainted, though even
this neglect, while you paint the flat of the ceiling, makes them in
a way part of the decoration, and so is apt to beat you out of every
scheme of colour conceivable. Still, I see nothing for it but
cautious painting, or leaving the blank white space alone, to be
forgotten if possible. This painting, of course, assumes that you
know better than to use gas in your rooms, which will indeed soon
reduce all your decorations to a pretty general average.

So now we come to the walls of our room, the part which chiefly
concerns us, since no one will admit the possibility of leaving them
quite alone. And the first question is, how shall we space them out

If the room be small and not high, or the wall be much broken by
pictures and tall pieces of furniture, I would not divide it
horizontally. One pattern of paper, or whatever it may be, or one
tint may serve us, unless we have in hand an elaborate and
architectural scheme of decoration, as in a makeshift house is not
like to be the case; but if it be a good-sized room, and the wall be
not much broken up, some horizontal division is good, even if the
room be not very high.

How are we to divide it then? I need scarcely say not into two
equal parts; no one out of the island of Laputa could do that. For
the rest, unless again we have a very elaborate scheme of
decoration, I think dividing it once, making it into two spaces is
enough. Now there are practically two ways of doing that: you may
either have a narrow frieze below the cornice, and hang the wall
thence to the floor, or you may have a moderate dado, say 4 feet 6
inches high, and hang the wall from the cornice to the top of the
dado. Either way is good according to circumstances; the first with
the tall hanging and the narrow frieze is fittest if your wall is to
be covered with stuffs, tapestry, or panelling, in which case making
the frieze a piece of delicate painting is desirable in default of
such plaster-work as I have spoken of above; or even if the
proportions of the room very much cry out for it, you may, in
default of hand-painting, use a strip of printed paper, though this,
I must say, is a makeshift of makeshifts. The division into dado,
and wall hung from thence to the cornice, is fittest for a wall
which is to be covered with painted decoration, or its makeshift,
paper-hangings. As to these, I would earnestly dissuade you from
using more than one pattern in one room, unless one of them be but a
breaking of the surface with a pattern so insignificant as scarce to
be noticeable. I have seen a good deal of the practice of putting
pattern over pattern in paper-hangings, and it seems to me a very
unsatisfactory one, and I am, in short, convinced, as I hinted just
now, that cheap recurring patterns in a material which has no play
of light in it, and no special beauty of its own, should be employed
rather sparingly, or they destroy all refinement of decoration and
blunt our enjoyment of whatever beauty may lie in the designs of
such things.

Before I leave this subject of the spacing out of the wall for
decoration, I should say that in dealing with a very high room it is
best to put nothing that attracts the eye above a level of about
eight feet from the floor--to let everything above that be mere air
and space, as it were. I think you will find that this will tend to
take off that look of dreariness that often besets tall rooms.

So much then for the spacing out of our wall. We have now to
consider what the covering of it is to be, which subject, before we
have done with it, will take us over a great deal of ground and lead
us into the consideration of designing for flat spaces in general
with work other than picture work.

To clear the way, I have a word or two to say about the treatment of
the wood-work in our room. If I could I would have no wood-work in
it that needed flat painting, meaning by that word a mere paying it
over with four coats of tinted lead-pigment ground in oils or
varnish, but unless one can have a noble wood, such as oak, I don't
see what else is to be done. I have never seen deal stained
transparently with success, and its natural colour is poor, and will
not enter into any scheme of decoration, while polishing it makes it
worse. In short, it is such a poor material that it must be hidden
unless it be used on a big scale as mere timber. Even then, in a
church roof or what not, colouring it with distemper will not hurt
it, and in a room I should certainly do this to the wood-work of
roof and ceiling, while I painted such wood-work as came within
touch of hand. As to the colour of this, it should, as a rule, be
of the same general tone as the walls, but a shade or two darker in
tint. Very dark wood-work makes a room dreary and disagreeable,
while unless the decoration be in a very bright key of colour, it
does not do to have the wood-work lighter than the walls. For the
rest, if you are lucky enough to be able to use oak, and plenty of
it, found your decoration on that, leaving it just as it comes from
the plane.

Now, as you are not bound to use anything for the decoration of your
walls but simple tints, I will here say a few words on the main
colours, before I go on to what is more properly decoration, only in
speaking of them one can scarce think only of such tints as are fit
to colour a wall with, of which, to say truth, there are not many.

Though we may each have our special preferences among the main
colours, which we shall do quite right to indulge, it is a sign of
disease in an artist to have a prejudice against any particular
colour, though such prejudices are common and violent enough among
people imperfectly educated in art, or with naturally dull
perceptions of it. Still, colours have their ways in decoration, so
to say, both positively in themselves, and relatively to each man's
way of using them. So I may be excused for setting down some things
I seem to have noticed about these ways.

Yellow is not a colour that can be used in masses unless it be much
broken or mingled with other colours, and even then it wants some
material to help it out, which has great play of light and shade in
it. You know people are always calling yellow things golden, even
when they are not at all the colour of gold, which, even unalloyed,
is not a bright yellow. That shows that delightful yellows are not
very positive, and that, as aforesaid, they need gleaming materials
to help them. The light bright yellows, like jonquil and primrose,
are scarcely usable in art, save in silk, whose gleam takes colour
from and adds light to the local tint, just as sunlight does to the
yellow blossoms which are so common in Nature. In dead materials,
such as distemper colour, a positive yellow can only be used
sparingly in combination with other tints.

Red is also a difficult colour to use, unless it be helped by some
beauty of material, for, whether it tend toward yellow and be called
scarlet, or towards blue and be crimson, there is but little
pleasure in it, unless it be deep and full. If the scarlet pass a
certain degree of impurity it falls into the hot brown-red, very
disagreeable in large masses. If the crimson be much reduced it
tends towards a cold colour called in these latter days magenta,
impossible for an artist to use either by itself or in combination.
The finest tint of red is a central one between crimson and scarlet,
and is a very powerful colour indeed, but scarce to be got in a flat
tint. A crimson broken by greyish-brown, and tending towards
russet, is also a very useful colour, but, like all the finest reds,
is rather a dyer's colour than a house-painter's; the world being
very rich in soluble reds, which of course are not the most enduring
of pigments, though very fast as soluble colours.

Pink, though one of the most beautiful colours in combination, is
not easy to use as a flat tint even over moderate spaces; the more
orangy shades of it are the most useful, a cold pink being a colour
much to be avoided.

As to purple, no one in his senses would think of using it bright in
masses. In combination it may be used somewhat bright, if it be
warm and tend towards red; but the best and most characteristic
shade of purple is nowise bright, but tends towards russet.
Egyptian porphyry, especially when contrasted with orange, as in the
pavement of St. Mark's at Venice, will represent the colour for you.
At the British Museum, and one or two other famous libraries, are
still left specimens of this tint, as Byzantine art in its palmy
days understood it. These are books written with gold and silver on
vellum stained purple, probably with the now lost murex or fish-dye
of the ancients, the tint of which dye-stuff Pliny describes
minutely and accurately in his 'Natural History.' I need scarcely
say that no ordinary flat tint could reproduce this most splendid of

Though green (at all events in England) is the colour widest used by
Nature, yet there is not so much bright green used by her as many
people seem to think; the most of it being used for a week or two in
spring, when the leafage is small, and blended with the greys and
other negative colours of the twigs; when 'leaves grow large and
long,' as the ballad has it, they also grow grey. I believe it has
been noted by Mr. Ruskin, and it certainly seems true, that the
pleasure we take in the young spring foliage comes largely from its
tenderness of tone rather than its brightness of hue. Anyhow, you
may be sure that if we try to outdo Nature's green tints on our
walls we shall fail, and make ourselves uncomfortable to boot. We
must, in short, be very careful of bright greens, and seldom, if
ever, use them at once bright and strong.

On the other hand, do not fall into the trap of a dingy bilious-
looking yellow-green, a colour to which I have a special and
personal hatred, because (if you will excuse my mentioning personal
matters) I have been supposed to have somewhat brought it into
vogue. I assure you I am not really responsible for it.

The truth is, that to get a green that is at once pure and neither
cold nor rank, and not too bright to live with, is of simple things
as difficult as anything a decorator has to do; but it can be done,-
-and without the help of special material; and when done such a
green is so useful, and so restful to the eyes, that in this matter
also we are bound to follow Nature and make large use of that work-
a-day colour green.

But if green be called a work-a-day colour, surely blue must be
called the holiday one, and those who long most for bright colours
may please themselves most with it; for if you duly guard against
getting it cold if it tend towards red, or rank if it tend towards
green, you need not be much afraid of its brightness. Now, as red
is above all a dyer's colour, so blue is especially a pigment and an
enamel colour; the world is rich in insoluble blues, many of which
are practically indestructible.

I have said that there are not many tints fit to colour a wall with:
this is my list of them as far as I know; a solid red, not very
deep, but rather describable as a full pink, and toned both with
yellow and blue, a very fine colour if you can hit it; a light
orangy pink, to be used rather sparingly. A pale golden tint, i.e.,
a yellowish-brown; a very difficult colour to hit. A colour between
these two last; call it pale copper colour. All these three you
must be careful over, for if you get them muddy or dirty you are

Tints of green from pure and pale to deepish and grey: always
remembering that the purer the paler, and the deeper the greyer.

Tints of pure pale blue from a greenish one, the colour of a
starling's egg, to a grey ultramarine colour, hard to use because so
full of colour, but incomparable when right. In these you must
carefully avoid the point at which the green overcomes the blue and
turns it rank, or that at which the red overcomes the blue and
produces those woeful hues of pale lavender and starch blue which
have not seldom been favourites with decorators of elegant drawing-
rooms and respectable dining-rooms.

You will understand that I am here speaking of distemper tinting,
and in that material these are all the tints I can think of; if you
use bolder, deeper or stronger colours I think you will find
yourself beaten out of monochrome in order to get your colour

One last word as to distemper which is not monochrome, and its
makeshift, paper-hanging. I think it is always best not to force
the colour, but to be content with getting it either quite light or
quite grey in these materials, and in no case very dark, trusting
for richness to stuffs, or to painting which allows of gilding being

I must finish these crude notes about general colour by reminding
you that you must be moderate with your colour on the walls of an
ordinary dwelling-room; according to the material you are using, you
may go along the scale from light and bright to deep and rich, but
some soberness of tone is absolutely necessary if you would not
weary people till they cry out against all decoration. But I
suppose this is a caution which only very young decorators are
likely to need. It is the right-hand defection; the left-hand
falling away is to get your colour dingy and muddy, a worse fault
than the other because less likely to be curable. All right-minded
craftsmen who work in colour will strive to make their work as
bright as possible, as full of colour as the nature of the work will
allow it to be. The meaning they may be bound to express, the
nature of its material, or the use it may be put to may limit this
fulness; but in whatever key of colour they are working, if they do
not succeed in getting the colour pure and clear, they have not
learned their craft, and if they do not see their fault when it is
present in their work, they are not likely to learn it.

Now, hitherto we have not got further into the matter of decoration
than to talk of its arrangement. Before I speak of some general
matters connected with our subject, I must say a little on the
design of the patterns which will form the chief part of your
decoration. The subject is a wide and difficult one, and my time
much too short to do it any justice, but here and there, perhaps, a
hint may crop up, and I may put it in a way somewhat new.

On the whole, in speaking of these patterns I shall be thinking of
those that necessarily recur; designs which have to be carried out
by more or less mechanical appliances, such as the printing block or
the loom.

Since we have been considering colour lately, we had better take
that side first, though I know it will be difficult to separate the
consideration of it from that of the other necessary qualifications
of design.

The first step away from monochrome is breaking the ground by
putting a pattern on it of the same colour, but of a lighter or
darker shade, the first being the best and most natural way. I need
say but little on this as a matter of colour, though many very
important designs are so treated. One thing I have noticed about
these damasks, as I should call them; that of the three chief
colours, red is the one where the two shades must be the nearest to
one another, or you get the effect poor and weak; while in blue you
may have a great deal of difference without losing colour, and green
holds a middle place between the two.

Next, if you make these two shades different in tint as well as, or
instead of, in depth, you have fairly got out of monochrome, and
will find plenty of difficulties in getting your two tints to go
well together. The putting, for instance, of a light greenish blue
on a deep reddish one, turquoise on sapphire, will try all your
skill. The Persians practise this feat, but not often without
adding a third colour, and so getting into the next stage. In fact,
this plan of relieving the pattern by shifting its tint as well as
its depth, is chiefly of use in dealing with quite low-toned
colours--golden browns or greys, for instance. In dealing with the
more forcible ones, you will find it in general necessary to add a
third colour at least, and so get into the next stage.

This is the relieving a pattern of more than one colour, but all the
colours light, upon a dark ground. This is above all useful in
cases where your palette is somewhat limited; say, for instance, in
a figured cloth which has to be woven mechanically, and where you
have but three or four colours in a line, including the ground.

You will not find this a difficult way of relieving your pattern, if
you only are not too ambitious of getting the diverse superimposed
colours too forcible on the one hand, so that they fly out from one
another, or on the other hand too delicate, so that they run
together into confusion. The excellence of this sort of work lies
in a clear but soft relief of the form, in colours each beautiful in
itself, and harmonious one with the other on ground whose colour is
also beautiful, though unobtrusive. Hardness ruins the work,
confusion of form caused by timidity of colour annoys the eye, and
makes it restless, and lack of colour is felt as destroying the
raison d'etre of it. So you see it taxes the designer heavily
enough after all. Nevertheless I still call it the easiest way of
complete pattern-designing.

I have spoken of it as the placing of a light pattern on dark
ground. I should mention that in the fully developed form of the
design I am thinking of there is often an impression given, of there
being more than one plane in the pattern. Where the pattern is
strictly on one plane, we have not reached the full development of
this manner of designing, the full development of colour and form
used together, but form predominant.

We are not left without examples of this kind of design at its best.
The looms of Corinth, Palermo, and Lucca, in the twelfth,
thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, turned out figured silk
cloths, which were so widely sought for, that you may see specimens
of their work figured on fifteenth-century screens in East Anglian
churches, or the background of pictures by the Van Eycks, while one
of the most important collections of the actual goods is preserved
in the treasury of the Mary Church at Dantzig; the South Kensington
Museum has also a very fine collection of these, which I can't help
thinking are not quite as visible to the public as they should be.
They are, however, discoverable by the help of Dr. Rock's excellent
catalogue published by the department, and I hope will, as the
Museum gains space, be more easy to see.

Now to sum up: This method of pattern-designing must be considered
the Western and civilised method; that used by craftsmen who were
always seeing pictures, and whose minds were full of definite ideas
of form. Colour was essential to their work, and they loved it, and
understood it, but always subordinated it to form.

There is next the method of relief by placing a dark figure on a
light ground. Sometimes this method is but the converse of the
last, and is not so useful, because it is capable of less variety
and play of colour and tone. Sometimes it must be looked on as a
transition from the last-mentioned method to the next of colour laid
by colour. Thus used there is something incomplete about it. One
finds oneself longing for more colours than one's shuttles or blocks
allow one. There is a need felt for the speciality of the next
method, where the dividing line is used, and it gradually gets drawn
into that method. Which, indeed, is the last I have to speak to you
of, and in which colour is laid by colour.

In this method it is necessary that the diverse colours should be
separated each by a line of another colour, and that not merely to
mark the form, but to complete the colour itself; which outlining,
while it serves the purpose of gradation, which in more naturalistic
work is got by shading, makes the design quite flat, and takes from
it any idea of there being more than one plane in it.

This way of treating pattern design is so much more difficult than
the others, as to be almost an art by itself, and to demand a study
apart. As the method of relief by laying light upon dark may be
called the Western way of treatment and the civilised, so this is
the Eastern, and, to a certain extent, the uncivilised.

But it has a wide range, from works where the form is of little
importance and only exists to make boundaries for colour, to those
in which the form is so studied, so elaborate, and so lovely, that
it is hardly true to say that the form is subordinate to the colour;
while, on the other hand, so much delight is taken in the colour, it
is so inventive and so unerringly harmonious, that it is scarcely
possible to think of the form without it--the two interpenetrate.

Such things as these, which, as far as I know, are only found in
Persian art at its best, do carry the art of mere pattern-designing
to its utmost perfection, and it seems somewhat hard to call such an
art uncivilised. But, you see, its whole soul was given up to
producing matters of subsidiary art, as people call it; its carpets
were of more importance than its pictures; nay, properly speaking,
they were its pictures. And it may be that such an art never has a
future of change before it, save the change of death, which has now
certainly come over that Eastern art; while the more impatient, more
aspiring, less sensuous art which belongs to Western civilisation
may bear many a change and not die utterly; nay, may feed on its
intellect alone for a season, and enduring the martyrdom of a grim
time of ugliness, may live on, rebuking at once the narrow-minded
pedant of science, and the luxurious tyrant of plutocracy, till
change bring back the spring again, and it blossoms once more into
pleasure. May it be so.

Meanwhile, we may say for certain that colour for colour's sake only
will never take real hold on the art of our civilisation, not even
in its subsidiary art. Imitation and affectation may deceive people
into thinking that such an instinct is quickening amongst us, but
the deception will not last. To have a meaning and to make others
feel and understand it, must ever be the aim and end of our Western

Before I leave this subject of the colouring of patterns, I must
warn you against the abuse of the dotting, hatching. and lining of
backgrounds, and other mechanical contrivances for breaking them;
such practices are too often the resource to which want of invention
is driven, and unless used with great caution they vulgarise a
pattern completely. Compare, for instance, those Sicilian and other
silk cloths I have mentioned with the brocades (common everywhere)
turned out from the looms of Lyons, Venice, and Genoa, at the end of
the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries. The
first perfectly simple in manufacture, trusting wholly to beauty of
design, and the play of light on the naturally woven surface, while
the latter eke out their gaudy feebleness with spots and ribs and
long floats, and all kinds of meaningless tormenting of the web,
till there is nothing to be learned from them save a warning.

So much for the colour of pattern-designing. Now, for a space, let
us consider some other things that are necessary to it, and which I
am driven to call its moral qualities, and which are finally
reducible to two--order and meaning.

Without order your work cannot even exist; without meaning, it were
better not to exist.

Now order imposes on us certain limitations, which partly spring
from the nature of the art itself, and partly from the materials in
which we have to work; and it is a sign of mere incompetence in
either a school or an individual to refuse to accept such
limitations, or even not to accept them joyfully and turn them to
special account, much as if a poet should complain of having to
write in measure and rhyme.

Now, in our craft the chief of the limitations that spring from the
essence of the art is that the decorator's art cannot be imitative
even to the limited extent that the picture-painter's art is.

This you have been told hundreds of times, and in theory it is
accepted everywhere, so I need not say much about it--chiefly this,
that it does not excuse want of observation of nature, or laziness
of drawing, as some people seem to think. On the contrary, unless
you know plenty about the natural form that you are
conventionalising, you will not only find it impossible to give
people a satisfactory impression of what is in your own mind about
it, but you will also be so hampered by your ignorance, that you
will not be able to make your conventionalised form ornamental. It
will not fill a space properly, or look crisp and sharp, or fulfil
any purpose you may strive to put it to.

It follows from this that your convention must be your own, and not
borrowed from other times and peoples; or, at the least, that you
must make it your own by thoroughly understanding both the nature
and the art you are dealing with. If you do not heed this, I do not
know but what you may not as well turn to and draw laborious
portraits of natural forms of flower and bird and beast, and stick
them on your walls anyhow. It is true you will not get ornament so,
but you may learn something for your trouble; whereas, using an
obviously true principle as a stalking-horse for laziness of purpose
and lack of invention, will but injure art all round, and blind
people to the truth of that very principle.

Limitations also, both as to imitation and exuberance, are imposed
on us by the office our pattern has to fulfil. A small and often-
recurring pattern of a subordinate kind will bear much less
naturalism than one in a freer space and more important position,
and the more obvious the geometrical structure of a pattern is, the
less its parts should tend toward naturalism. This has been well
understood from the earliest days of art to the very latest times
during which pattern-designing has clung to any wholesome tradition,
but is pretty generally unheeded at present.

As to the limitations that arise from the material we may be working
in, we must remember that all material offers certain difficulties
to be overcome, and certain facilities to be made the most of. Up
to a certain point you must be the master of your material, but you
must never be so much the master as to turn it surly, so to say.
You must not make it your slave, or presently you will be a slave
also. You must master it so far as to make it express a meaning,
and to serve your aim at beauty. You may go beyond that necessary
point for your own pleasure and amusement, and still be in the right
way; but if you go on after that merely to make people stare at your
dexterity in dealing with a difficult thing, you have forgotten art
along with the rights of your material, and you will make not a work
of art, but a mere toy; you are no longer an artist, but a juggler.
The history of the arts gives us abundant examples and warnings in
this matter. First clear steady principle, then playing with the
danger, and lastly falling into the snare, mark with the utmost
distinctness the times of the health, the decline, and the last
sickness of art.

Allow me to give you one example in the noble art of mosaic. The
difficulty in it necessary to be overcome was the making of a pure
and true flexible line, not over thick, with little bits of glass or
marble nearly rectangular. Its glory lay in its durability, the
lovely colour to be got in it, the play of light on its faceted and
gleaming surface, and the clearness mingled with softness, with
which forms were relieved on the lustrous gold which was so freely
used in its best days. Moreover, however bright were the colours
used, they were toned delightfully by the greyness which the
innumerable joints between the tesserae spread over the whole

Now the difficulty of the art was overcome in its earliest and best
days, and no care or pains were spared in making the most of its
special qualities, while for long and long no force was put upon the
material to make it imitate the qualities of brush-painting, either
in power of colour, in delicacy of gradation, or intricacy of
treating a subject; and, moreover, easy as it would have been to
minimise the jointing of the tesserae, no attempt was made at it.

But as time went on, men began to tire of the solemn simplicity of
the art, and began to aim at making it keep pace with the growing
complexity of picture painting, and, though still beautiful, it lost
colour without gaining form. From that point (say about 1460), it
went on from bad to worse, till at last men were set to work in it
merely because it was an intractable material in which to imitate
oil-painting, and by this time it was fallen from being a master
art, the crowning beauty of the most solemn buildings, to being a
mere tax on the craftsmen's patience, and a toy for people who no
longer cared for art. And just such a history may be told of every
art that deals with special material.

Under this head of order should be included something about the
structure of patterns, but time for dealing with such an intricate
question obviously fails me; so I will but note that, whereas it has
been said that a recurring pattern should be constructed on a
geometrical basis, it is clear that it cannot be constructed
otherwise; only the structure may be more or less masked, and some
designers take a great deal of pains to do so.

I cannot say that I think this always necessary. It may be so when
the pattern is on a very small scale, and meant to attract but
little attention. But it is sometimes the reverse of desirable in
large and important patterns, and, to my mind, all noble patterns
should at least LOOK large. Some of the finest and pleasantest of
these show their geometrical structure clearly enough; and if the
lines of them grow strongly and flow gracefully, I think they are
decidedly helped by their structure not being elaborately concealed.

At the same time in all patterns which are meant to fill the eye and
satisfy the mind, there should be a certain mystery. We should not
be able to read the whole thing at once, nor desire to do so, nor be
impelled by that desire to go on tracing line after line to find out
how the pattern is made, and I think that the obvious presence of a
geometrical order, if it be, as it should be, beautiful, tends
towards this end, and prevents our feeling restless over a pattern.

That every line in a pattern should have its due growth, and be
traceable to its beginning, this, which you have doubtless heard
before, is undoubtedly essential to the finest pattern work; equally
so is it that no stem should be so far from its parent stock as to
look weak or wavering. Mutual support and unceasing progress
distinguish real and natural order from its mockery, pedantic

Every one who has practised the designing of patterns knows the
necessity for covering the ground equably and richly. This is
really to a great extent the secret of obtaining the look of
satisfying mystery aforesaid, and it is the very test of capacity in
a designer.

Finally, no amount of delicacy is too great in drawing the curves of
a pattern, no amount of care in getting the leading lines right from
the first, can be thrown away, for beauty of detail cannot
afterwards cure any shortcoming in this. Remember that a pattern is
either right or wrong. It cannot be forgiven for blundering, as a
picture may be which has otherwise great qualities in it. It is
with a pattern as with a fortress, it is no stronger than its
weakest point. A failure for ever recurring torments the eye too
much to allow the mind to take any pleasure in suggestion and

As to the second moral quality of design, meaning, I include in that
the invention and imagination which forms the soul of this art, as
of all others, and which, when submitted to the bonds of order, has
a body and a visible existence.

Now you may well think that there is less to be said of this than
the other quality; for form may be taught, but the spirit that
breathes through it cannot be. So I will content myself with saying
this on these qualities, that though a designer may put all manner
of strangeness and surprise into his patterns, he must not do so at
the expense of beauty. You will never find a case in this kind of
work where ugliness and violence are not the result of barrenness,
and not of fertility of invention. The fertile man, he of resource,
has not to worry himself about invention. He need but think of
beauty and simplicity of expression; his work will grow on and on,
one thing leading to another, as it fares with a beautiful tree.
Whereas the laborious paste-and-scissors man goes hunting up and
down for oddities, sticks one in here and another there, and tries
to connect them with commonplace; and when it is all done, the
oddities are not more inventive than the commonplace, nor the
commonplace more graceful than the oddities.

No pattern should be without some sort of meaning. True it is that
that meaning may have come down to us traditionally, and not be our
own invention, yet we must at heart understand it, or we can neither
receive it, nor hand it down to our successors. It is no longer
tradition if it is servilely copied, without change, the token of
life. You may be sure that the softest and loveliest of patterns
will weary the steadiest admirers of their school as soon as they
see that there is no hope of growth in them. For you know all art
is compact of effort, of failure and of hope, and we cannot but
think that somewhere perfection lies ahead, as we look anxiously for
the better thing that is to come from the good.

Furthermore, you must not only mean something in your patterns, but
must also be able to make others understand that meaning. They say
that the difference between a genius and a madman is that the genius
can get one or two people to believe in him, whereas the madman,
poor fellow, has himself only for his audience. Now the only way in
our craft of design for compelling people to understand you is to
follow hard on Nature; for what else can you refer people to, or
what else is there which everybody can understand?--everybody that
it is worth addressing yourself to, which includes all people who
can feel and think.

Now let us end the talk about those qualities of invention and
imagination with a word of memory and of thanks to the designers of
time past. Surely he who runs may read them abundantly set forth in
those lesser arts they practised. Surely it had been pity indeed,
if so much of this had been lost as would have been if it had been
crushed out by the pride of intellect, that will not stoop to look
at beauty, unless its own kings and great men have had a hand in it.
Belike the thoughts of the men who wrought this kind of art could
not have been expressed in grander ways or more definitely, or, at
least, would not have been; therefore I believe I am not thinking
only of my own pleasure, but of the pleasure of many people, when I
praise the usefulness of the lives of these men, whose names are
long forgotten, but whose works we still wonder at. In their own
way they meant to tell us how the flowers grew in the gardens of
Damascus, or how the hunt was up on the plains of Kirman, or how the
tulips shone among the grass in the Mid-Persian valley, and how
their souls delighted in it all, and what joy they had in life; nor
did they fail to make their meaning clear to some of us.

But, indeed, they and other matters have led us afar from our
makeshift house, and the room we have to decorate therein. And
there is still left the fireplace to consider.

Now I think there is nothing about a house in which a contrast is
greater between old and new than this piece of architecture. The
old, either delightful in its comfortable simplicity, or decorated
with the noblest and most meaning art in the place; the modern,
mean, miserable, uncomfortable, and showy, plastered about with
wretched sham ornament, trumpery of cast-iron, and brass and
polished steel, and what not--offensive to look at, and a nuisance
to clean--and the whole thing huddled up with rubbish of ash-pan,
and fender, and rug, till surely the hearths which we have been
bidden so often to defend (whether there was a chance of their being
attacked or not) have now become a mere figure of speech the meaning
of which in a short time it will be impossible for learned
philologists to find out.

I do most seriously advise you to get rid of all this, or as much of
it as you can without absolute ruin to your prospects in life; and
even if you do not know how to decorate it, at least have a hole in
the wall of a convenient shape, faced with such bricks or tiles as
will at once bear fire and clean; then some sort of iron basket in
it, and out from that a real hearth of cleanable brick or tile,
which will not make you blush when you look at it, and as little in
the way of guard and fender as you think will be safe; that will do
to begin with. For the rest, if you have wooden work about the
fireplace, which is often good to have, don't mix up the wood and
the tiles together; let the wood-work look like part of the wall-
covering, and the tiles like part of the chimney.

As for movable furniture, even if time did not fail us, 'tis a large
subject--or a very small one--so I will but say, don't have too much
of it; have none for mere finery's sake, or to satisfy the claims of
custom--these are flat truisms, are they not? But really it seems
as if some people had never thought of them, for 'tis almost the
universal custom to stuff up some rooms so that you can scarcely
move in them, and to leave others deadly bare; whereas all rooms
ought to look as if they were lived in, and to have, so to say, a
friendly welcome ready for the incomer.

A dining-room ought not to look as if one went into it as one goes
into a dentist's parlour--for an operation, and came out of it when
the operation was over--the tooth out, or the dinner in. A drawing-
room ought to look as if some kind of work could be done in it less
toilsome than being bored. A library certainly ought to have books
in it, not boots only, as in Thackeray's country snob's house, but
so ought each and every room in the house more or less; also, though
all rooms should look tidy, and even very tidy, they ought not to
look too tidy.

Furthermore, no room of the richest man should look grand enough to
make a simple man shrink in it, or luxurious enough to make a
thoughtful man feel ashamed in it; it will not do so if Art be at
home there, for she has no foes so deadly as insolence and waste.
Indeed, I fear that at present the decoration of rich men's houses
is mostly wrought out at the bidding of grandeur and luxury, and
that art has been mostly cowed or shamed out of them; nor when I
come to think of it will I lament it overmuch. Art was not born in
the palace; rather she fell sick there, and it will take more
bracing air than that of rich men's houses to heal her again. If
she is ever to be strong enough to help mankind once more, she must
gather strength in simple places; the refuge from wind and weather
to which the goodman comes home from field or hill-side; the well-
tidied space into which the craftsman draws from the litter of loom,
and smithy, and bench; the scholar's island in the sea of books; the
artist's clearing in the canvas-grove; it is from these places that
Art must come if she is ever again to be enthroned in that other
kind of building, which I think, under some name or other, whether
you call it church or hall of reason, or what not, will always be
needed; the building in which people meet to forget their own
transient personal and family troubles in aspirations for their
fellows and the days to come, and which to a certain extent make up


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