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Chapter 7


MR. RUSKIN'S denunciation of the New Town of
Edinburgh includes, as I have heard it repeated, nearly
all the stone and lime we have to show. Many however
find a grand air and something settled and imposing in
the better parts; and upon many, as I have said, the
confusion of styles induces an agreeable stimulation of
the mind. But upon the subject of our recent villa
architecture, I am frankly ready to mingle my tears with
Mr. Ruskin's, and it is a subject which makes one envious
of his large declamatory and controversial eloquence.

Day by day, one new villa, one new object of
offence, is added to another; all around Newington and
Morningside, the dismallest structures keep springing up
like mushrooms; the pleasant hills are loaded with them,
each impudently squatted in its garden, each roofed and
carrying chimneys like a house. And yet a glance of an
eye discovers their true character. They are not houses;
for they were not designed with a view to human
habitation, and the internal arrangements are, as they
tell me, fantastically unsuited to the needs of man.
They are not buildings; for you can scarcely say a thing
is built where every measurement is in clamant
disproportion with its neighbour. They belong to no
style of art, only to a form of business much to be

Why should it be cheaper to erect a structure where
the size of the windows bears no rational relation to the
size of the front? Is there any profit in a misplaced
chimney-stalk? Does a hard-working, greedy builder gain
more on a monstrosity than on a decent cottage of equal
plainness? Frankly, we should say, No. Bricks may be
omitted, and green timber employed, in the construction
of even a very elegant design; and there is no reason why
a chimney should be made to vent, because it is so
situated as to look comely from without. On the other
hand, there is a noble way of being ugly: a high-aspiring
fiasco like the fall of Lucifer. There are daring and
gaudy buildings that manage to be offensive, without
being contemptible; and we know that 'fools rush in where
angels fear to tread.' But to aim at making a common-
place villa, and to make it insufferably ugly in each
particular; to attempt the homeliest achievement, and to
attain the bottom of derided failure; not to have any
theory but profit and yet, at an equal expense, to
outstrip all competitors in the art of conceiving and
rendering permanent deformity; and to do all this in what
is, by nature, one of the most agreeable neighbourhoods
in Britain:- what are we to say, but that this also is a
distinction, hard to earn although not greatly

Indifferent buildings give pain to the sensitive;
but these things offend the plainest taste. It is a
danger which threatens the amenity of the town; and as
this eruption keeps spreading on our borders, we have
ever the farther to walk among unpleasant sights, before
we gain the country air. If the population of Edinburgh
were a living, autonomous body, it would arise like one
man and make night hideous with arson; the builders and
their accomplices would be driven to work, like the Jews
of yore, with the trowel in one hand and the defensive
cutlass in the other; and as soon as one of these masonic
wonders had been consummated, right-minded iconoclasts
should fall thereon and make an end of it at once.

Possibly these words may meet the eye of a builder
or two. It is no use asking them to employ an architect;
for that would be to touch them in a delicate quarter,
and its use would largely depend on what architect they
were minded to call in. But let them get any architect
in the world to point out any reasonably well-
proportioned villa, not his own design; and let them
reproduce that model to satiety.

Robert Louis Stevenson

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