16 OCTOBER 1880, Page 21

TASTE.* IN spite of a very ambitious and somewhat alarming

title, this book is by no means dull, and it is not extravagantly absurd. It is a thin volume, well got up, and charmingly bound, profess- ing to be the work of G-.-L.," and bearing as a frontispiece a photograph of a gentleman wearing a moustache and a very new frock-coat, which, we presume, is intended to notify to the author's friends that the original is the real " G.-L.," and to show the public at large how a man of consummate taste dresses himself before he sits for his portrait to a photographer. The book commences with a definition, and the author tells us in his preface that :—

* The Melee of Taste. By G.-L." London: Stanford. 1879. " This book is not published because or an insufficiency iu the number of works devoted to Art-culture, but because, notwith- standing all that has been written upon the subject, guiding prin- ciples are still unelticidated ; a collection of opinions has been substituted for a code of fundamental laws, and this collection is diffused over a succession of disconnected volumes, the perusal of which leaves one under the impression that aesthetic appreciation in one depart - ment has nothing whatever to do with msthotic appreciation in another. We are told in a recent treatise that principles are indeed necessary,' but that 'they must be the servants of the decorator, and not his master.' My object is to show that they must, be not only his master, but his sole guide."

This is rather a stiff beginning ; but let not the casual reader be discouraged at the outset, for he will find very little about "prin- ciples " in the course of the work, and the only " general law," which Mr. G.-L. constantly reiterates, and to illustrate which most of his examples are made to tend, is that there is no such thing as taste in England at all, whether among architects, or decorators, or art critics, or authors, or orators, or the public at large,—all of which, to a certain extent, is perfectly true. And our author has further shown himself a skilful advocate of his own position, inasmuch as the examples of British bad-taste that he has chosen are, as a rule, sufficiently happy. But lie weakens the force of his own argument by a too universal condemnation. Indeed, there is no satisfying him. The Midland Railway Hotel at St. Pancras, and the British Museum at Bloomsbury, are equally obnoxious to him ; the Royal Exchange in the City delights him not, and the new Law Courts in the Strand offend him. Red brick and gable-ends he condemns as severely as the more familiar metropolitan architecture of Gower Street. The bronze lions on the Thames Embankment excite his derision, and the bronze dolphins his scorn. Though his taste tends towards living in flats, the Queen Anne's Gate Houses are, in his eyes, a " structural monstrosity ;" the new Foreign Office is a "penitentiary," the railings of the British Museum are "vulgar," the decorations of the Albert Hall " preposterous." Nelson's Pillar is unto him a stone of stumbling, and Cleopatra's Needle a rock of offence. The Holloway Jail, indeed, he con- siders "handsome and attractive," but this, unfortunately, is just as it ought not to be, and lie would rather, with a view of making incarceration really deterrent, imprison our London malefactors " in the region of Bloomsbury." Perhaps the new Law Courts, whose architecture he considers a "disgrace," may have been so designed by a paternal and aesthetic Government with a view of discouraging litigation, by driving away intending suitors. It is certainly unfortunate that the Holloway Jail is so much more attractive than the National Gallery. However, perhaps it is not quite so agreeable inside.

But Mr. " G.-L." does not confine his strictures to the archi- tecture of London. Even Nature does not always come up to his standard of taste. The poor india-rubber plant does not please him, and the mango tree he considers as " inimical to beauty." And then he objects not only to chimney-pot hats, but also to the new English loans to India without interest. He does not like the policeman's helmet, but then he equally objects to Mendelssohu's " Wedding March" being played upon church organs. The English sailor's dress " could not," in his opinion, " be more ill-adapted to the human form ; " but then he is equally distressed at the word " muusiff " being translated " judge," or a " pandit " being called a learned Nan. And finally, he con- siders that "we refuse to march with the times, and the result is, the most advanced Continental nations leave us behind." And he then denounces, in the name of good-taste and common- sense, our laws, our ethics, our politics, our diplomacy, the con- duct of our hostilities, our public worship, our navigation, our advertisements, our not living in flats, and our settlement of the Alabama' claims.

It will easily be seen that it is very difficult to follow so uni- versal a critic. He is, as the old countrywoman said, " neither for to have nor to hold."

Still, to a certain extent, a8 long as our author confines him- self to hostile criticism, he is amusing, and when not too original, decidedly sensible. But when he comes to make sug- gestions of his own,—oh, ye gods and little fishes ! Let us take King Log and the architectural simplicity of Gower Street, rather than be delivered over to the :esthetic tender mercies of such an artistic stork as " G.-L." A full-page draw- ing (p. 23) of new park-gates, with which " G.-L." would replace the existing colonnade entrance at Hyde-Park Corner, must be seen to be appreciated. Suffice it to say that the colonnade is designed apparently to illustrate the author's theory of the

architectural beauty of circles. Again, having selected no less than eight specimens of iron rail-heads, "between 92 and 111 Piccadilly," none of which can be called offensive, seeing they are somewhat common-place, he proceeds to assert that they are objectionable, chiefly, it appears, because they are "obviously all taken from spears, arrows, halberds, and other weapons, as suggestive of defence ; and the intervening urns, &c., are there to indicate the consequent fruits of security. They are no more effective than railings of geometric designs ; but the fascination lies in their supposed symbolism." Now the amount of symbolism that is to be found in making an iron rail-head after the pattern of a spear scarcely appears to us to be artistically objectionable, and the heavy and involved ironwork, figured on page 98, by which Mr. " G-..L." proposes to replace our conventional street-railings, is simply and unsym- bolically frightful.

But it is in the decoration of the human form that the ab- surdities of " G.-L.'s" suggestions culminate. After a number of very sensible and practical criticisms upon dress, both male and female, he ventures to propose a new morning costume for the gentlemen of the nineteenth century ; and he has further had the temerity to figure his artistic ideal on p. 182. The legs are the legs of an ill-dressed bishop, the head is the head of a stage fox- hunter, and the body is a combination of the body of an un- official gentleman at one of her Most Gracious Majesty's Levees and the body of a rural letter-carrier ; the whole being more suggestive of an unarmed French sportsman than anything else in Nature or Art.

On the other hand, the views of " G.-L." on female costume are peculiarly sensible, though we cannot say we agree with him in admiring the hair cut over the forehead in the form of a " fringe." In distinguishing between pictorial and decorative art our author is sufficiently happy, and his remarks on so-called " arabesques," as well as his reasons for preferring white to painted ceilings, are both theoretically and practically good. His views on the proper subordination of accessories are both just and well expressed, and yet when he comes to design a picture-frame (p. 112), he produces an elaborate ornament which so entirely takes off the attention from the picture which it is presumably meant to show off, that it may be almost said to conceal it.

There are curious views of cause and effect in the book which startle the reader from time to time, but they appear rather to proceed from unmanageability of style than anything else. In the following passage, for instance :—

" The chimney-pot hat is supposed to impart height ; and so is the ridiculous boar-skin, which an unfortunate Foot Guard is compelled to wear. In the same way, flanging trousers are introduced with the object of making the feet look small. Both these desirable cha- racteristics will be developed in reality by a little attention to healthy exercise, proper ventilation, and such like ; but their simula- tion is nonsensical."

Now, however excellent may be healthy exercise and proper ventilation, we very much doubt if they would be likely either to " impart height" or to make " the feet look small." Similarly, though we may agree that " it should be the aim of the British people to render their homes bright and cheerful, and the metropolis of their kingdom cleanly and beautiful," we very much doubt if the abandonment of "wide, open collars," and " loose, neglige ties," as suggested by the author in another place, would exercise a material influence upon Great Britain or even London.

We have said that " G.-L." has made many practical sug- gestions as to ladies' dress. He has also attacked a theory with reference to female beauty or proportion in a way that is at once sensible, and, as among professors of taste at the present day, sufficiently original r-

" It is said that the natural figure is' much more like an H than a V,' and therefore Mrs. —objects to any artificial contraction which draws it out of similitude with an H ; supplementing her protestations by physiological diagrams, extracted from some medical work, exhibit- ing the terrible consequences of tight-lacing. That many women do possess figures more like an H than a V no one will deny ; but to the ideal figure, such as that which is based upon an intimate knowledge of the human frame, and which should serve as a guide in all sugges- tions, the very converse of this description applies. Whenever exercise is taken which developes every part of the body, the waist naturally becomes slim. And, not only slim, but so pliant as to succumb to pressure, and need it, for keeping one together.' All people habituated to athletic discipline both wear, and have occasion for, cinctures of some kind. The use of corsets, then, to which the lady in question objects in toto, is dictated by physical requirements, and does not, moreover, necessarily lead to tight-lacing. Extremes of all kinds are objectionable ; but an occasional indulgence in them is

no argument for the abandonment of those fundamental rules from which they are offshoots. Indeed, we have already advocated the advisability of never, in any matter, departing from 'the modesty of Nature.' " But we cannot agree with the reason of the theory that "all lines, whether they be those of trimmings or of mere seams, should converge towards the waist; for this, as the centre of pliancy, is the chief feature which denotes the charm of woman's disposition." This is surely symbolism as far-fetched as the lions and spear-heads that offend our author so much.

On the whole, the book, although it professes to be a scientific treatise, is sufficiently amusing, and although it has no pre- tensions to be called a treatise, still less to be called scientific, it is full of just criticism and useful suggestions. And while we laugh at its many extravagances, we may learn a little from its criticisms.