THE NEW BUILDING OF THE BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
By T. R. Sullivan[Originally published in the January 1896 issue of SCRIBNER'S MAGAZINE]
When one turns from Clarendon Street or Boylston Street toward Boston's new Public Library building it is difficult at first to realize its capacity to contain a million and a quarter of volumes. Across the open space of Copley Square the dark roof-tiles and their cresting stand out against the sky, so far detached from the neighboring roofs and towers that none among them will serve the eye as a gauge of measurement. A glance shows the architectural style to be that technically known as Italian Renaissance, but at this distance an extreme simplicity of outline makes the dominant impression. Upon a nearer approach, however, the dimensions begin to assert themselves with monumental force and dignity. The walls are of granite, peculiarly warm in tone, faintly tinged with rose-color; and the ornamental details, coming out little by little, are seen to be not only in perfect harmony with the design of the building and its use, but also interesting in themselves, as well as of great beauty; until, long before reaching the doors, one stops instinctively to study them.
Just over the bust of Pallas, carved upon the keystone of the central arch, is the library seal in white marble relief of heroic size, designed and executed by Augustus St. Gaudens. The shield has for device an open book with the motto "Lux Omnium Civium," and it is supported by two boyish figures holding lighted torches. The sculptor of the Farragut and the Lincoln has surpassed himself in these supporting torch-bearers, strongly original in their treatment, faultlessly modelled with indescribable grace and delicacy. Flanking this work are the city and State seals, from the same hand, upborne by plunging dolphins. And to right and left along the front, continued also in the side facades, stretches away a double line of tablets bearing their host of noble names cut deep into the granitea fitting memorial to the gods and heroes of the temple inscribed upon its outer walls. Above this level rise the high-arched windows of the principal reading-room, and between the arches is a series of stone medallions faithfully reproducing the emblems of famous printers from the earliest times to our own day. These printers' marks, full of suggestion, prove admirably decorative. Here are the dolphin and anchor of Aldus, Elzevir's sage, Caxton's cipher, old Thomas Woodcock's chanticleer, praising the Lord "in full-throated ease;" and among modern devices the Riverside rising sun and Pandean piper stand pleasantly conspicuous. Higher still, in letters so large that it seems as if the world might read them, a broad band of inscription states the fact that the library was built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning. The heavy stone cornice is relieved by carved ornament which accentuates the lines with due regard for light and shadow; and the bronze-work surmounting it repeats in little the marble dolphins of the seals. These details
help the eye to determine the scale of the building, and only those who have followed its growth day by day can be aware how carefully all were considered in their relation to the general effect; how models were made, tested, and destroyed; how new ones were set up only for new rejection; the very stones, afterward, being cut and re-cut, until the zealous ardor that combined them seemed to have something mediaeval in its constancy. The architects, McKim, Mead & White, should follow a good French fashion and sign their work. That trifling honor is not only accorded to the painter or the sculptor, but demanded of him. Architecture like this is a fine art. Why should the hand and brain excelling in it be denied the poor privilege of a name which those who come after us may read?
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