- BuyGod’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain by Rosemary Hill
Allen Lane, 602 pp, August 2007, ISBN 978 0 7139 9499 5
Modern lives look prim beside the turbulent existence of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Distractions and misfortunes proliferated throughout his career: shipwreck (he was in his own boat, trading antiquities as a teenager, and barely escaped drowning), bankruptcy, three marriages, several tumultuous love affairs, children conceived out of wedlock, and a series of uncertain commercial ventures. He was a passionate convert to Catholicism, at a time when anti-Catholic feeling ran high. He swore loudly and often, devised his own peculiar costume (nautical, more or less), and wasn’t too careful about personal hygiene. No one thought he was a gentleman, a fact that didn’t trouble him in the least. His erratic behaviour eventually turned into insanity, probably resulting from syphilis caught during his rowdy years in the theatre as a young man. These complications could not chill his exuberant flow of invention, or exclude him from centres of prestige and power. Dazzlingly precocious, he was designing furniture for the king in Windsor Castle at the age of 15. Towards the end of his short life (he died in 1852, at the age of 40), he was almost single-handedly responsible for the decoration and furnishing of the Palace of Westminster, impressing his personality on the heart of the political establishment. Big Ben, that icon of British identity, was an expression of Pugin’s imagination. The famous clock tower, named after the great bell inside, was built according to his directions. It has become his best-known legacy, though it hardly represented his real achievement as a designer. He planned dozens of houses and churches (many now demolished or unrecognisably altered), three cathedrals and a Cistercian monastery. Many of his buildings were startlingly original and graceful, and any traces of condescension towards their idiosyncrasies have long since passed. But his most potent influence lay in his reconfiguring of the domestic ideal.
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Vol. 29 No. 19 · 4 October 2007
In his masterly (not ‘masterful’, as Dinah Birch in the same issue would have it) survey of the current state of the European Union, Perry Anderson twice uses the word ‘referenda’ (LRB, 20 September). But as every schoolboy once knew, or should have known, referendum is a gerund, and in Latin – once the lingua franca of the decrepit continent Anderson so brilliantly anatomises – there is no plural form of the gerund. It could conceivably be a neuter plural gerundive, though in that case it would denote a plebiscite on a number of issues, rather than a number of plebiscites. As bogus Latinate plurals go, ‘referenda’ may not be quite as egregious as, say, ‘quora’. Still, accuracy aside, ‘referendums’ is surely preferable, for much the same reason that no one in their right mind would talk about ‘watering the gerania’.
Vol. 29 No. 20 · 18 October 2007
Martin Sanderson dislikes my choice of the word ‘masterful’ – rather than ‘masterly’ – to describe Rosemary Hill’s biography of Pugin (Letters, 4 October). But ‘masterful’ is what I meant. Not only is the book skilful, it is written with force and authority. ‘Masterly’ would have conveyed a different meaning, and not the one I wanted.
University of Liverpool
Vol. 29 No. 21 · 1 November 2007
I expect there is a valid debate to be had on ‘masterly’ v. ‘masterful’, but my greater concern is with Martin Sanderson’s attack on ‘referenda’ (Letters, 4 October). ‘Referendum’ as used by Perry Anderson is an English language word, albeit adopted from Latin. Its plural form is derived as a matter of usage; ‘referenda’ and ‘referendums’ are both in common usage and in that sense are both correct. The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors (1981) recommends ‘referendums’, and this form, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, seems likely to prevail. We shall see. Official attempts to regulate language, however logically, generally fail.
Although ‘watering the gerania’ was an amusing end to Mr Sanderson’s letter, it is unfortunately an example of arguing by (in this case, false) analogy, ‘geranium’ not being a gerund. A much better analogy is that ‘no one in their right minds’ would talk about ‘agendums’ (‘agendum’ being a gerund and therefore exactly analogous to ‘referendum’).