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Contrasting visions of history: The Rambler’s rejection of Pugin

  • Seán O’Reilly


The historic and once august hierarchy of Rome some generations ago lost its chance of being the religion of the future by … throwing over the little band of New Catholics who were making a struggle for continuity by applying the principle of evolution to their own faith, joining hands with modern science, and outflanking the hesitating English instinct towards liturgical restatement.

Thomas Hardy, Late Lyrics and Earlier (London, 1922)

Pugin’s interpretation of the history of the medieval world shaped progressive architectural taste in the later nineteenth century. It touched on every aspect of the styles of the era, first through his application of its lessons to his own work, and then through the affirmation or the rejection of its precepts by others. Significantly the most fundamental opposition to Pugin’s historical interpretations was that expressed by his adopted Roman Catholic Church. In a coherent body of informed criticism his aspiration to a romantic recreation of a lost medieval culture was undermined by representatives of that church and, ultimately, dismissed. Two complementary articles published in the Roman Catholic periodical, The Rambler, at either end of the 1850s, constituted a firm theoretical counterblast to Pugin’s dogma, and form the main subject of this essay.



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1 Pevsner, Nikolaus, Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford, 1972) lays the essential foundation for the present analysis, though while Pevsner opens his discussion of ‘Copyism v. Originality’, pp. 222-23 et seq., by referring to the controversy inspired by The Rambler, he develops this as an examination of The Builder.

2 Houghton, Walter E. (ed.), The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900, 3 vols (1966, 1972, 1979); later referred to as the Wellesley Index.

3 Wellesley Index, 11 (1972), p. 732.

4 Altholz, Joseph L., The Liberal Catholic Movement in England. The ‘Rambler and its Contributors (London, 1962), esp. chapter 1, ‘John Moore Capes and the Rambler, 1848-1854’, pp. 7-24.

5 See in particular the association between Lord Acton and Richard Simpson, as discussed in Altholz, Josef Lewis and McElrath, Damian (eds), The Correspondence of Lord Acton and Richard Simpson, 2 vols (Cambridge, 1971-72).

6 On Capes’s association with the journal see Altholz, The Liberal Catholic Movement, loc. cit., and, in particular for the specific articles associated with Capes, , Wellesley Index, II (1972), pp. 732-84. See also the biographical end-notices repeated in the volumes of Dessain, Charles Stephen (and Blehl, Vincent Ferrer) (eds), The Letters and Diaries offohn Henry Newman (Birmingham, 1961-).

7 Capes, J. M., To Rome and Back (London, 1873), p. iii .

8 Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England, South and West Somerset (London, 1985), p. 96 ; Squibbs, Phillip J., A Bridgwater Diary, 1800-1967 (Bridgwater, 1968), p. 59 , and Evans, Roger, Bridgwater with and without the ‘e’ (Bridgwater, 1994), pp. 172-73.

9 Evans, Bridgwater, p. 167.

10 Dessain, Letters, loc. cit.

11 Dessain, , Letters, XI (1961) p. 205 , Newman to J. M. Capes, 13 July 1846 and p. 207, Newman to J. M. Capes, 14 July 1846. Newman’s later relationship with The Rambler, including his editorial role, is considered in detail in Altholz, The Liberal Catholic Movement, loc. cit.

12 Quoted in Wellesley Index, 11, p. 733.

13 Ibid., p. 742.

14 Ibid., p. 735.

15 Simpson’s life is reviewed in the Dictionary of National Biography, but see also Altholz, The Liberal Catholic Movement, and Altholz and McElrath, Correspondence.

16 ‘Recollections of Pugin’, Rambler, XXVIII (3rd series), September 1861, pp. 394-401. On the attribution of this article to Simpson see Wellesley Index, 11 (1972), p. 783. Altholz and McElrath, Correspondence, provides a full consideration of Simpson’s interests.

17 Altholz and McElrath, Correspondence, 1, p. xiv. On Simpson’s association with Newman see McElrath, Damian, ‘Richard Simpson and John Henry Newman: The Rambler, Laymen and Theology’, Catholic Historical Review, LII, January 1967, pp. 509-33.

18 ‘Town Churches’, Rambler, v, January 1850, pp. 11-18. The site of the model church is described as ‘imaginary’ (p. 16), and the implication is that the scheme was developed in response to Capes’s enquiries. The article was the first of an informal sequence of three, including also ‘Town Churches’, Rambler, v, February 1850, pp. 124-26; and ‘Town Churches No. III’, Rambler, v, June 1850, pp. 525-26.

19 Wellesley Index, II, p. 748.

20 Pugin’s reply appeared as Some remarks on the articles which have recently appeared in the ‘Rambler’, relative to ecclesiastical architecture and decoration (London, 1850).

21 Rambler, IV, June 1849, pp. 89-97.

22 Rambler, IV, July 1849, pp. 233-36.

23 Rambler, IV, December 1849, pp. 498-503.

24 ‘Modern church architecture’, loc. cit., pp. 233-34.

25 Ibid., p. 234.

26 (Capes, John Moore, attrib.), ‘Mr. Pugin and the “Rambler”’, Rambler, v, April 1850, pp. 367-75, p. 367.

27 Pugin, Remarks. The details of his response, though interesting as a summary of his thought, are of concern here only in so far as they provide a context for Capes’s response.

28 Wellesley Index, 11, p. 749.

29 ‘Mr. Pugin and the “Rambler”’, p. 370.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., p. 371.

35 Ibid.

36 Pugin, Remarks, p. 12.

37 ‘Mr. Pugin and the “Rambler”’, p. 371.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid., p. 372.

40 Ibid.

41 Pugin, Remarks, p. 4.

42 ‘Mr. Pugin and the “Rambler”’, p. 372.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid., p. 373.

45 Ibid.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.

48 (Richard Simpson), D. N., ‘The Development of Gothic Architecture’, Rambler, VI (3rd series), May 1859, pp. 7789 .

49 Ibid., p. 79.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid., p. 78.

52 Ibid., p. 80.

53 Ibid., p. 81.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid., p. 82.

59 Ibid., p. 81.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid., p. 89.

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

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Contrasting visions of history: The Rambler’s rejection of Pugin

  • Seán O’Reilly


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