Two Architects with Genius
John Nash, Architect to King George IV. By John Summorson. (Allen and Unwin. 10s. 6d.) THE vicissitudes of taste have reacted curiously upon the posthumous esteem in which Nash and Paxton have been held. Both men, in their day, won the favour of their Sovereign : both were the target of public ridicule : both achieved fame, yet lost it as the standards of a new era took shape ; and both regained their position of honour as the age in which they
lived passed out of living memory into the focus of history. Nash, indeed, has fully undergone the change, whereas Paxton is still emergiag from the miasma of reactionary prejudice which will shortly be dispersed by the clarity- of historical perspective.
Mr. Suttunerson, in his very excellent study of John Nash, has emphasized the individuality—the love of audacious 'experiment—which marked the character of the architect ; a quality, indeed, which brought him into troublous con - tioversy with his more conservative contemporaries, yet made him the fitting servant to his royal 'patron, strangely unconventional in matters of art. Brighton Pavilion and the Pagoda Bridge in St. James's Park were, indeed, exotic fire- works, but they were not so far removed from Nash's general style as to make them entirely isolated achievements and, as Mr. Summerson's illustrations to his text will show, there was hardly a building left unfestooned by some deliciously fanciful dome or unadorned by some fantastic portico.
Mr. Summerson's book will satisfy both types of readers who are likely to examine its pages : the architectural student and the lover of social history. On the one hand, the writer describes, carefully every phase of Nash's architectural career, appending his fuller descriptions in the main body of the text . by an admirable chronological list of Nash's works, thus showing that the architect was a more versatile and prolific worker than the average person supposes, his range extending • from castles, palaces, pavilions, lodges, quadrants, churches, terraces and crescents to gaols, cottages, stables and cow- 'houses. On the other hand, he provides a wealth of intimate historical detail : anecdotes of the inner circle of contem- porary society.
The principal impression of Nash's achievement, commu- nicated to the reader by Mr. Summerson's vivid description, is that of his sense of order. Nash, for all his caprices of fancy,
possessed that menialili classique which distinguishes the French town-planner from his English counterpart, and thus
he gave to London a central architectural design, retrieving it from the meaningless jumble into which it seems, alas, once more to be relapsing. One feels, indeed, in reading the book, that the destruction of Nash's central line, from Waterloo Place to the stately terraces of Regent's Park, was one of the major aesthetic crimes.
• Nash's favour was more than usually ephemeral. He "embodied everything which the nineteenth century hated about the eighteenth, so when Victorians remembered him it was only to spurn him or to use his memory as a scarecrow
to frighten young architects away from stucco." In the face of Victorian conservatism, indeed, it was a wonder that the unprecedented and so startling an achievement as Joseph Paxton's ferro-vitreous erection ever saw the light of creation. Miss Markham's life of Paxton has fulfilled a purpose
similar to that of Mr. Summerson's "Nash." She has written "complete and intimate memoir" of a man about 'whom frnv have had the "sympathy, and curiosity to write." Iler book, indeed, most lucidly describes the romance of that 'extraordinary genius who combined the qualities of energy and simplicity, each to its fullest extent. "Romance" it_cer- tainly was, the life of the under-gardener's boy, who rose
to be the Duke of Devonshire's life-long servant and com- panion, met the Duke's housekeeper's niece on the morning of arrival at Chatsworth and married her, and set a milestone along the road of social history by his scheme for housing the Great Exhibition in a colossal glass-house, which was designed and built within seventeen weeks.
Since the publication of Miss Markham's book and some recent correspondence in The Times, it is now common know- ledge that Paxton's horticultural triumph, the building of a conservatory which would coax the temperamental Victorhi Regia into lily-flower, was the forerunner of the Crystal Palace ; but it is less widely known that Paxton's tmbounding mental resources led. him to found the Daily News and to launch the scheme, as Member for Coventry, of sending navvies to the Crimea to help the expeditionary forces. The tale which Miss Markham tells is fascinating in itself, aad is made doubly interesting by her sympathetic style and her learned research of hitherto unpublished facts. No one, indeed, was more fitted to undertake this work than she; Sir