Wydawnictwo Neriton, 2005
NORWICH, UNIVERSITY OF EAST ANGLIA
OLD ENGLISH, ALTDEUTSCH.
SOME NINETEENTH-CENTURY APPROPRIATIONS OF A "HOMELY" PAST
"The past is a foreign country" runs a familiar line. Ali the more do we strive to know it, and, more
importantly, to love it. One obvious way of avoiding foreignness from the start, it would seem, is to study
and "use" the past of one's own country. But whichever one of the periods of the past we want to be familiar
with, home or foreign, it requires the most thorough kind of study - which of course sounds only too
obvious. But "study" means more than trying to know ail that happened in the chosen period of the past, it
also means "creating" a past. It is not the purpose here to enter into discussion with the age-old conundrum
of the historical sciences, the question whether the professional historian's account of the past can be classified
as subjective or objective. The issues discussed in this article were not those launched primarily by and for
the world of the professional historian, but for a more popular sphère of architecture and especially domestic
design, as well as for an ever widening audience of lovers of "old buildings". In this article the way of
designing new buildings and the way buildings from the past are appreciated are considered in tandem.
Some of the ways in which most of us still see and love the "old" was a major contribution of nineteenth-
century historians, illustrators and designers1.
Old English and old German were first of ail, and had probably been for a long time, common parlance for
everything familiar, indigenous and old, as well as old fashioned. During the eighteenth century, in a new and
emerging consciousness of art and architectural history, the terms were applied to the great monuments of the
countries' médiéval pasts. For the first half of the nineteenth century altdeutsch was used virtually synony-
mously with Gothic, which seemed to make sensé as the Germans believed Gothic to be a style "invented" in
German-speaking countries. However, the actual topie for this contribution is not the "old..." in its wider meanings,
but two spécifie movements in architecture and the applied arts which occurred from the 1830s to the 1880s.
Neither the Old English, nor the altdeutsche revivais of those décades were concerned primarily with
Gothic or médiéval design, but rather with the post-medieval periods, though that meant chiefly the beginnings
of Early Modem, and certainly not mature Classical design. Old English and altdeutsch cannot be adequately
described with the more conventional stylistic labels. More appropriate would be the term "eclecticism" in
its mid-nineteenth century sensé, meaning the free combination of forms from several styles, notably the
blending of médiéval and classical styles. However, the term "eclecticism" also entailed a degree of
indifférence, or non-commitment and a déniai of précision as regards the meaning of individual styles.
"Eclectics" (Eclecticists) claimed not to specially саге for, nor to condemn, any style of the past, in contrast
to the "revivalists", especially the Gothic revivalists, who built a complète idéal world around their cherished
monuments and at the same time hated "the other" style. Members of the "Old ..." movements, like the
This article forms part of ongoing work on the design of the nineteenth-century interior.