« ZurückWeiter »
exist ruins of architecture and statuary not one whit behind the foreign remains of forty centuries in power of execution, and far vaster in respect to age and size. At every change of position as we came through the sandstone cañon to the Green River this same morning, the giant buttresses of red sandstone at one side showed some new sculpture which lacked nothing to compete with the half-reliefs of the kings whose slumber was broken by Layard, or the frontfaced colossi carved on the African ruins. Strong, stern, characteristic faces were there; no feature was missing; no imagination was needed to eke out their details. Rather was there needed an imagination of the means by which nature mimicked art after such faithful fashion, or indeed, at first glance, of the possibility that it could be unassisted nature at all. The Church Buttes surpass all natural feats of this order which I have ever seen in my life, even that wonderful succession of palaces, temples, and cemetries between Monument Creek and the foot of Pike's Peak. I have often been asked why they had never been spoken of in such extravagant terms before I wrote of them. The reasons are: because the hardy pioneers who live among the wonders of this Continent get hardened to them by familiarity; because, even if they remained impressible, they have too much stern matter of fact in their existence (and for a generation to come will have) to give them time for the cultivation of the aesthetic; because this class does not, as a usual thing, correspond with magazines and journals; because the trail which runs by Church Buttes is not the one followed by the vast majority of travellers; and because most of those who do pass them are night-and-day men, who spend most of their time in sleeping between the Missouri and Washoe.
Twenty-one miles east of Fort Bridger, a line of sand and sandstone bluffs which for the last hour had been seen skirting our southern horizon at the distance of a league, suddenly curved toward us, sending out in a nearly due-north direction a narrow spur, at whose extremity, and abutting upon our track, rose the mighty mass of which, with a foregoing sense of inadequacy, I must now try to convey some idea. The impression produced by the Church Buttes upon one standing about fifty yards from their façade (the best distance for attaining the perfect harmony of their effect) is that of a stupendous cathedral or basilica, admirable for the breadth and dignity of its design, and the absolute symmetry of its proportions, built after a new style of architecture, as justly deserving a place among the most strongly individualized orders of the art and science as the pure Greek of the Parthenon or the Gothic of Salisbury Cathedral. Almost simultaneously we exclaimed, “O that all our American architects could see this marvelous model!” for we irresistibly felt that here were the suggestions for an order as fresh and original as comported with the virgin fields and forests, life and energy, spirit and material of the New World. Were I an architect, I should to-morrow be on my way to spend a year, if need be, in the study of the Church Buttes; not coming away till I had made myself master of every line in the structure, and arrived at the method of repeating it in accordance with the limitations of stone and mortar and the principles conditioning habitable structure. The first temple of art, science, or religion which I constructed upon this plan in New York would be that city's greatest ornament, and the
guarantee of my immortality on the roll of the civilized world's artistic benefactors. If this assertion seem vainglorious, let it be remembered that it is also hypothetical; for in the great temple, at whose holiest holy minister Vaux, and Mould, and Wight, and Gambrill, I worship in the Gentiles' court, —loving the art dearly, but afar; also that were I an architect, and successful as my hypotheses, the praise would belong not to me, but to the nature I had humbly studied. With these explanations I shall be granted the mere amateur's license to commit purely technical blunders, and make an occasional misuse of names. The ground-plan of the Church Buttes Cathedral deviates in a slight degree from the circular contour, being a quatre-foil whose four component curves dif. fer very little in their elements, but meet each other at internal angles sufficiently acute to give an impression of the cruciform outline proper to Christian architecture. The nave and transept find their places here, though the curved have been substituted for the right-lined exterior. Upon this base-line the body of the Cathedral rises to a height of about three hundred feet. (I give the dimensions approximately, for the reason that the half-hour conceded to our halt was necessarily consumed, as indeed a hundred times that period might have been, in familiarizing ourselves with the artistic proportions and scientific composition of the magnificent mass. A few hasty sketches, or memoranda of its impression on us at different elevations, were all that we had time for, anything like an accurate trigonometrical observation being quite out of the question. I have taken care that my estimates understate the facts where they err at all.) The body of the structure consists of a perpendicular wall following (in cross sections) the curves of the base-line, braced at intervals of astonishing equality by massive buttresses of the same altitude as itself. At the proper distance for a comprehensive view, these buttresses apparently differ from each other in size and shape scarcely more than if they had been erected upon one single and uniform plan. The space between the buttresses further carries out the minute resemblance to the planned offspring of a human intellect, by exhibiting in several places the appearance of deep, arched recesses, which it needs but little imagination to regard as windows or niches for the reception of statuary. I hardly dare to add the assertion that in several of these niches the statues for which they seem the intended receptacles actually exist, and are by no means the least startling elements in a mimicry which descends to the minutest details of its working pattern. Had not my travelling companions (some of whom never in their lives rode a fantasy without curb and snaffle) noticed these images, and called my attention to their striking enhancement of the vraisemblance of the structure, — this, too, long before I could make up my mind to speak of them at the risk of having my lively imagination cast in my teeth, –I should hesitate to refer to them in these pages, lest the incredulous reader, whose prosecution of acquaintance with mouldy European ruins has denied him the time to visit nature's immortal temples in the heart of his own Continent, should say, “Well ! this is going a little too far.” Let me hasten to save my credit by recording one break in the continuity of the imitation. The figures, which at the proper focal distance for a harmonious view of the tout-ensemble appear absolutely statuesque, are in no case entirely detached from the wall, but, on close approach, are perceived to be irregular knobs and projections from its surface. Fortunately for the Church Buttes' If they could be moved, some American Turk would have long ago split them in pieces to make commemorative paper-weights when he returned from his journey; some Lord Elgin or Barnum would have long ere this had them labeled on the shelves of his museum. As a further concession to incredulity, let me add that although their statue-like appearance at the proper point of view is most wonderful, Nature does not tax our astonishment by the still more elaborate consistency of making them religious in their sentiment like the temple which they adorn. She acts as if her mighty effort of architecture (as happens so sadly often in other fields worked by genius) had toppled down her reason just as she came to the final adornment of her nobly realized conception. Her overstrained intellect became ungeared just as she grasped the chisel which was to people her niches with patriarchs and saints, prophets, apostles, martyrs, cherubim, and grown-up angels.
To return to the architectural part of the subject. The superstructure resting on the buttresses consisted of two domes, one superimposed upon the other; the upper inclosing the crown of the lower, and descending over it to the extent of about one third its height. Each of these domes was surrounded by a series of butments proportioned to their size, and seeming the diminished continuations of those about the body of the edifice below. The school of architects which makes truth rather than beauty the guide of the builder, and introduces conscience into the arena of art, will cavil at the proposal to imitate any such ar