Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor have suffered perhaps more harshly than most architects from the fancies of taste. Certain of their buildings are discussed here: the Writing School and the Goose-pie House, which, characteristically, have been demolished; and two others, Grimsthorpe Castle and St. Mary Woolnoth, which have at moments been threatened with demolition. But this article is concerned less with history than with what might be called the critical situation of Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh, which it examines under two aspects. The first is a tradition of concerns-some contemporary, some of which seem only to have surfaced in the work of later commentators-that seem necessary for an understanding of what Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor were doing. These include: the notion of "effect"; Pope's distinction between "rules" and "the reasoning of the eye"; the 18th-century record of Gothic architecture; Hobbes's account of the active mind; the resurgence of patriotism of England; and, at the end, the idea of historical meditation that Johnson alluded to in his notes on topographical poetry. The second aspect is the growing body of formal and informal criticism of architecture in England in the 18th century, most of which-even aside from Lord Burlington's-found the work of Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh puzzling or wrong. It is suggested that this tradition of criticism is of service. For what it refers to is the originality and the indecorousness of what Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor did. Originality now is unoriginal; indecorousness is perhaps impossible. Within the tradition Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor knew, these qualities were significant and new, and yet-as the record shows-they were a matter of confusion for many.
- Copyright 1984 The Society of Architectural Historians