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From Scotland to India: the Sources of James Fergusson’s Theory of Architecture’s “True Styles”

De l’Écosse à l’Inde : les sources de la théorie des « True Styles » chez James Fergusson
Peter Kohane

Résumés

Les ouvrages de James Fergusson (1808-1886) sur l’architecture ont connu une large diffusion en Grande-Bretagne, en Amérique, en Inde et en Australie. Né dans la ville écossaise d’Ayr et formé à la Royal High School d’Édimbourg, ce sont ses relations familiales qui lui ont permis de travailler et de voyager en Inde entre 1829 et 1839. Fergusson prit alors des notes sur quantité de monuments anciens. Il entreprit la publication de ces notes en Grande-Bretagne au cours des années 1840 et rassembla le tout dans son ouvrage paru en 1876 sous le titre The History of the Indian and Eastern Styles of Architecture. Chaque style architectural d’Inde y est classé selon sa région et sa période historique, ainsi que selon la religion et la race des bâtisseurs. L’article discute ici les descriptions de l’Inde par Fergusson au regard du contexte écossais, plus particulièrement ce qui est livré dans les lettres adressées à sa sœur et dans son journal. Jamais traités par la recherche parce qu’inédits, ces documents avancent des idées intégrées plus tard dans la théorie d’architecture de Fergusson, en particulier celle de distinction entre les styles « vrais » et « faux », ce dernier caractérisant l’œuvre architecturale en Occident depuis la Renaissance. La « copie » de monuments du passé a fait que les styles « faux » qui en ont résulté étaient jugés indignes de leurs sociétés dynamiques et avancées. Fergusson avait relevé la pratique d’une stratégie alternative en Inde. Ses réseaux écossais incluaient le monde des affaires où la richesse s’ancrait à la culture de la terre. Lors de ses voyages à travers l’Inde, il a pu relever un idéal dans lequel l’agriculture et l’architecture seraient pratiquées de manière rationnelle. Fergusson fut particulièrement impressionné par la façon dont les Indiens respectaient des principes logiques dans la construction et la décoration d’un édifice. Un tel édifice était décrit comme « pur » et obéissait à la définition plus tardive des styles « vrais » en architecture.

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Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

style, race, ethnicité

Index by keyword :

style, race, ethnicity

Indice de palabras clave :

estilo, raza, etnicidad

Schlagwortindex :

Stil, Volk, Ethnie

Parole chiave :

stile, razza, appartenenza etnica

Index géographique :

Asie, Asie du Sud, Inde, Écosse, Europe du Nord

Index chronologique :

XIXe siècle

Personnes citées :

Fergusson James (1808–1886)
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Texte intégral

  • 1 The author would like to thank Alex Bremner and two anonymous readers, who commented extensively o (...)
  • 2 The 1834 tour is documented in the published letters. Ibid., p. 178-184; and James Fergusson, “Let (...)

1James Fergusson (1808-1886) was one of the most significant architectural historians of the nineteenth century, whose books were widely read in Britain, America, India and Australia. He was born in the Scottish town of Ayr (fig. 1). His father, Dr. William Fergusson, served as an assistant surgeon in the British army, which involved spending time in remote locations, including the West Indies. This aspect of William’s career played a part in James’s appreciation of travel. However, he was educated in Britain not overseas. James enrolled as a student at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, to later shift to a private school in Hounslow, to the west of the centre of London. In 1829, family connections made it possible to travel to Bengal, where he met his elder brother, William, a partner in the Calcutta-based business of Fairlie, Fergusson, and Co. Having been employed for a short period of time in the firm, he moved from the highly Anglicized city of Calcutta to work as an indigo planter in the small town of Jessore, 100 kilometres to the northeast.1 Much of the next few years was spent securing his fortune. With this accomplished, Fergusson left the world of commerce to travel thorough India and study its monuments (fig. 2). Free of pressing commitments, he made extensive journeys throughout India, recording observations in letters to his sister and in a diary. Fergusson first toured beyond Bengal in 1834, making several more trips before taking a ship from Bombay in March 1839. Rather than return to Scotland, he lived in London, devoting the rest of his life to the study of architecture. Fergusson’s friend William White referred to a return visit to India in 1845.2

Figure 2: Map of India tracing the route of his tours, 1837-9.

Figure 2: Map of India tracing the route of his tours, 1837-9.

Source: James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, London: Hogarth, 1848, frontispiece.

  • 3 For a discussion of methodological issues associated with Scotland, England and the British empire (...)
  • 4 For representations related to the trip, see Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Monuments, Objects, Histories.  (...)

2In contributing to scholarship on Fergusson, this essay considers the implications of his Scottish networks for an account of India’s architecture, where styles were defined as “pure,” “natural,” and “native.”3 He believed that builders used their common sense when constructing and adorning an edifice. Fergusson’s work between 1829 and 1839 encompassed drawing and documenting aspects of life in India. He was concerned with the people, as well as their ceremonies, agricultural practices, and methods of constructing buildings.4 Analysis of these will be based on Fergusson’s letters to his sister and an unpublished diary, written between 1834 and 1839. These documents, which have never been considered in detail in research on Fergusson before, introduced ideas that remained central to his later publications on architecture. His time spent in business, both within the Scottish firm in Calcutta and then his own in Jessore, involved growing crops for opium and indigo. While agriculture associated with export ensured Fergusson’s wealth, its dire implications for people in India were conceded, albeit indirectly, in his letters and a travel diary. These referred to the misuse of fertile land. He associated good agricultural practices with architecture. The two arts were deemed natural, because they belonged to their particular locations and were cultivated in a common-sensical manner. Fergusson was impressed by the way workers respected “natural” principles when constructing buildings. His connection to Scotland was germane to an understanding of India, particularly the notion that its buildings are “pure” and conform to a category later termed the “true styles.”

Understanding Indian antiquities: the picturesque, the sublime, and the real

3Fergusson’s letters and diary refer to three ways of interpreting India’s monuments, which involve the picturesque, the sublime, and an appraisal deemed to be objective. A letter to his sister from 1834 stressed the capacity to appreciate the beauty of buildings that eluded other Westerners. He was so impressed by the Palace of Shah Jahan at Agra that assumptions about the superiority of Western architecture were reconsidered:

  • 5 James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 14 March 1889, vol. 5, p. 199. (Letter from Agra, 26 Jul (...)

I wandered from one court to another, round the galleries that surrounded them, from hall to hall and pavilion to pavilion, bewildered by the beauty that was around me on every side, and lost in amazement that such works of art that I have never seen equalled should be so little known or esteemed.5

  • 6 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 103b. (11 March, 1839).
  • 7 Ibid., p. 7a, 18 (June 1837). For the implications of the picturesque and the sublime to interpret (...)

A note in Fergusson’s diary for 1839 criticized the aesthetic sensibilities of Europeans, who were disgusted “with the country and all it contains […] they can see no beauty in the buildings and feel no interest in its antiquities.”6 While most travellers had little interest in Indian architecture, the cognoscenti, schooled in the ideas of the eighteenth-century picturesque and sublime, found much to admire. Like earlier authors, such as William Hodges and Thomas and William Daniell, Fergusson enjoyed viewing India’s buildings within their settings of plains, hills, mountains or rivers. In a diary entry from 1837, he remembered being told that “India is the native country of the picturesque [;] there is nothing […] that is not the subject for a painter.”7 Fergusson identified himself as a traveller in search of the picturesque through several passages of evocative writing. The most impressive was a letter from 1834 describing the approach to Benares. Wishing to behold the “Holy city by sunrise,” he woke before dawn to walk along the riverbank till opposite the centre of the city. There he stopped “to watch the city stealing out of darkness into sunshine and beauty.” His appreciation of the scene was visual, filtered through the prism of memories of Scotland’s urban settings:

  • 8 James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 28 Feb. 1889, vol. 5, p. 183. (Letter from Benares, 1834 (...)

It next struck me as resembling the old town of Edinburgh as seen from Princes Street […] though infinitely more beautiful […]. The splendid river from which [the city] rises, its crescent form, the noble ghauts and temples standing in the water, and above these the immense mass of tall, picturesque houses, tier above tier, in most admired confusion, and the whole crowned by the minars […].8

4Fergusson moved further upstream and crossed the river by boat. This provided “an excellent opportunity of seeing leisurely all principal ghauts of the city, and of seeing the whole under various points of view.”

5Such carefully framed views, no matter how picturesque to the Western gaze, could not fully satisfy the curiosity of one also keen to behold the sublime in what he perceived as the exotic East. From the viewpoint of a distant observer, Fergusson entered the city in search of more immediate and intense sensations.

  • 9 Ibid., p. 184.

It will be long before I forget the impression made on me on first entering the largest [temple]. The dark, sombre colour of the building, the obscurity of the adytum, so deep as to render the hideous deity almost invisible except from the shining of his jewels, the dampness of the whole from the continued washing of the holy water, the suffocating smell of decaying flowers, and the silence, unbroken but by the repeated toll of the large bell hung in the entrances, and which every devotee strikes as he passes in—the whole sent a creeping horror through the blood that it is impossible to express […] I stood for some time entranced with the sight, and only woke […] to examine the place more in detail.9

  • 10 The most influential formulation of the category of the sublime was Edmund Burke, A Philosophical (...)

6The aesthetic category of the sublime, rather than the picturesque, was invoked in Fergusson’s account for an attraction to a disorienting and repellent ritual and space. Central to his stereotypical account of the East as Other is the assumed superiority of European civilization. His gaze is that of an enlightened Westerner, who momentarily delights in a strange, confused, and claustrophobic spatial experience, but ultimately remains in control.10

  • 11 In a letter sent from Bindrabun, in 1838, Fergusson refers to the usefulness of this portable opti (...)
  • 12 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, London: John Murray, 1876. For an ove (...)

7Fergusson’s third mode of interpreting architecture, namely discerning the “real” India, was introduced in the last sentence of his account of the temple in Benares, where he woke from a trance to “examine the place more in detail.” He was no longer concerned with sensations, such as the “creeping horror through the blood.” Comments based on cultural conventions and subjective aesthetic experiences, whether picturesque or sublime, were discarded in favour of the detached scientific observer. Orientalism now underpinned a terseness of language that conforms to a proclaimed neutrality. With an emphasis on straightforward, incisive descriptions, this mode of writing was complemented by accurate visual recordings of buildings. When travelling in the 1830s, precise drawings of monuments were made with the aid of his camera lucida.11 Fergusson’s research in London from the late 1850s continued with the aid of photographs sent from India. Valued as even more accurate in depicting a monument, photographs of buildings were essential to the classification of styles in the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture (1876).12 Fergusson’s letters and diary therefore allude to three interpretations of architecture. His memories of Edinburgh added to an appreciation of the picturesque beauty of India’s towns. The aesthetic category of the sublime was invoked to convey the unsettling effects of dark and confined architectural spaces. According it the third approach, buildings described in an accurate manner refer to the real India.

  • 13 The “scientific gaze” and European travel reportage are addressed in Barbara Stafford, Voyage into (...)

8The works of English and Scottish scholars offer insight into Fergusson account of architecture in India, particularly its “pure” styles. According to his An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, More Especially with Reference to Architecture from 1849, Francis Bacon (1561-1626) introduced an experimental and empirical approach to research, where an author presents accurately the substance of phenomena, stripped of subjective interpolations.13 Fergusson claimed to have endorsed this in his architectural writings. He also respected nineteenth-century orientalist scholarship, because scientific principles were applied to the investigation of languages and texts. A stimulus for his work was acknowledged in a lecture delivered in 1866 to the Royal Society of Arts, titled “On the Study of Indian Architecture.” Fergusson looked back on the years spent in India:

  • 14 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” Journal of the Society of Arts, vol. 15, 1 (...)

At that time, thanks to the learning and enthusiasm of Mr. James Prinsep, great progress was being made in the decipherment of Indian inscriptions, and the study of the antiquities of the country, and I determined to try if the architecture could not be brought within the domain of science.14

  • 15 For a discussion of the work of other orientalists, such as William Jones, Nathaniel Halhed and Ch (...)

9While Prinsep (1799-1840) was born and died in England, he spent a major part of his life in India, working on ancient Brahmi and Kharosthi scripts. His knowledge of Sanskrit writings and Hindu religion was highly regarded. When residing in Calcutta during the 1830s, Prinsep became the founding editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. A prominent figure within the cultural life of the city, his work as an orientalist impressed Fergusson. Prinsep was an inspiration for an aspect of the younger man’s life in Bengal, namely the decision to shift from the world of business to that of scholarship.15 Fergusson began a new career, in which India’s architectural styles were to be analysed in a scientific manner.

  • 16 Ian Duncan, “Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment in the Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature,” (...)
  • 17 Jane Rendell, “Scottish Orientalism from Robertson to James Mill,” The Historical Journal, vol. 25 (...)
  • 18 See Martha McLaren, British India and British Scotland, 1780-1830: career building, empire buildin (...)
  • 19 Martha McLaren, British India and British Scotland, op. cit. (note 18), p. 11-12, 119-128.

10During the eighteenth century, Scottish authors like David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, John Millar and Thomas Reid were concerned with the nature of a human being.16 As noted by Jane Rendell, these Enlightenment thinkers recognized that the “history of the development of language was integrally related to the history of the human mind.”17 This underscored ideas about people at different times and in different places of the world. The doctrines of the Scottish Enlightenment remained vital to scholars in the early nineteenth century, who delivered lectures at the universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Teachers such as Dugald Stewart had an impact on students, some of whom subsequently left Scotland to find employment as administrators in India.18 The successful careers of Thomas Monroe and Mountstuart Elphinstone depended on their research into India’s languages and writings. Ideas set out in the Scottish Enlightenment were disseminated by these two men, as well as another Scotsman of equal renown, John Malcom.19 The orientalist studies of Monroe, Elphinstone and Malcom, as well as Prinsep, contribute to an understanding of Fergusson’s work. Yet while recognizing the significance of languages and texts, he believed that buildings are the most compelling and reliable as guides for fathoming India’s past and present.

  • 20 On James Mill, see Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 22, and Jane Rendell(...)
  • 21 See Jane Rendell, “Scottish Orientalism: From Robertson to James Mill,” op. cit. (note 17), p. 45- (...)
  • 22 Theodore Koditschek, Liberalism, Imperialism, and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth-Century V (...)
  • 23 Ibid., p. 87-88.

11The Scottish Enlightenment was invoked in nineteenth-century conceptions of India, including those of James Mill, Vans Kennedy, and Fergusson. These three scholars were born and grew up in Scotland. Only Mill did not spend time in India. Having left Scotland to live in London, he worked on The History of British India, which was published in 1817.20 For him, a society is characterised by connections between the economy, government, culture and the life of the people.21 He also focussed on a hierarchy of societies. With Mill arguing that despotism permeates all facets of India, it was placed near the bottom of this ladder. Britain was situated well above. By contrasting Indian’s decline with Britain’s progress, he justified the supreme rule of the Raj. Indeed, British administrators in India need not interact with indigenous people.22 This account of India provoked critical responses from Scottish orientalists who, unlike Mill, lived in India and studied its languages and writings. Kennedy, for instance, delivered a talk at the Bombay Literary Society on the 29th of February I820, titled “Remarks on the sixth and seventh chapters of Mill’s The History of British India, respecting the religion and manners of the Hindus.”23 According to Kennedy, Mill’s book had errors of judgement, which stemmed from his claim that a lack of comprehension of India’s languages assisted in writing an objective history. Mill’s definition of Hindu society as debased was rejected by Kennedy, who stressed its existence over a long period of time, as well as admirable customs and literature. Moreover, Kennedy believed that a scholarly work could foster connections, not differences, between India and Britain. Mill’s ideas were addressed directly by Kennedy and indirectly by Fergusson. Like Mill, Fergusson was born in Scotland but lived most of his life in London. Indebted to Scottish Enlightenment writers, they both viewed a society as a totality, which has a place within a hierarchy of civilizations. As will be shown, Mill’s distinction between India and Britain was endorsed by Fergusson, who stressed the impoverished nature of Hindu religion and art. Mill’s disapproval of all aspects of India’s society, however, was questioned by Kennedy and Fergusson, with the latter admiring architecture. Scottish Enlightenment moral philosophers, such as Thomas Reid, were invoked by Fergusson when stressing that common sense was, and remains, an attribute of people in India, who construct and then embellish their buildings. The resulting styles of architecture are esteemed as “pure.”

12An account of Fergusson’s concern as a scholar to uncover the “real” India will focus on statements made when travelling in the country between 1834 and 1839. Impressed by contemporary work on the deciphering of inscriptions, he focussed on the “chisel marks” made by craftsmen who constructed buildings. For him, what was once incomprehensible becomes known and useful to the West. The Scottish Enlightenment, as well as nineteenth-century research by orientalists into languages and writings, informed Fergusson’s claim that a scientific investigation of architecture sheds light on the nature of India. For him, an empirical and objective method underpins an ethnological portrait of the people of India, specifically their physiognomic characteristics, rituals, agriculture, and buildings.

Physiognomies and rituals

  • 24 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 73a-b (8 February 1839).
  • 25 Ibid., p. 27b (8 December 1838).
  • 26 Fergusson appears to have formulated a theory of race in the late 1840s; and refined it in the fol (...)

13The notion that India is inferior to the West was relevant to Mill’s book, as well as Fergusson’s letters and diary, written when travelling through the country and scrutinizing the occupants. His diary contains several physiognomic portraits, one of which involved observing his bearers and guides. Some had “dark features,” while others, “the hill people,” had a fairer complexion, with noses that are “sharp and pointed.” There were also “two very fine specimens—easily distinguished by their handsome European caste of features.”24 The superiority of a Western physiognomy was emphasized in a note concerning handsome women who were “fair—the features almost Grecian.”25 An ideal of Western physical beauty contributed to his assessment of Indians. The inferiority of the “natives” was explained “scientifically” in Fergusson’s books from the late 1840s and 50s, which introduced his theory of races. Indians were categorized as primarily Turanian, a racial group that lacked the capacity to progress.26 Hence, in his view, the decayed state of Indian society.

  • 27 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 9b, 10b and 11a (24 June 1837).

14The ideas of Enlightenment authors in France, including Montesquieu, were endorsed by Mill and Fergusson, who stressed India’s lack of civilization and despotism. While on tour to Orissa in 1837, he viewed a religious ceremony near Puri. Having keenly described “the Spectacle,” Fergusson stressed the “absurdity and childishness” of fanning the sculptures of the Gods to keep them cool. This whole event was a “serious folly” that “reminded me of [a] pantomime.”27 He discussed secular rituals by alluding to the social order, which was represented by dress codes and processions. Writing in October 1838, Fergusson noted that at Lucknow there was a

  • 28 William White points out that Fergusson used the term to refer to the mounted attendants of a grea (...)
  • 29 Ibid., p. 310 (25 October 1838).

magnificence of the moving mass, the numerous and splendid sowarri28 that at all hours of the day crowd its thoroughfares […] no man with any pretensions to respectability goes out without half a dozen of footmen in gay liveries moving alongside, and as many horsemen with spears and matchlocks prancing before and behind his palankeen […]. The sowarri, however, of the Royal Family are certainly the most splendid […] the effect of the whole is very gorgeous and magnificent.29

15Such a display, however, also expressed the low level of society of the participants.

  • 30 Ibid., p. 310 (25 October 1838).

Then, at night, when lit by the flare of a thousand torches—how beautiful! All this may be false glare, and hide much misery and oppression beneath it—as, indeed, the unequal distribution of wealth usually does in half-civilised countries […]. Besides what is the East but the land of gorgeous splendour, and the land, I fear, where the rights of man were never dreamed of? I should be very sorry to think that greater and more heartless oppression exists anywhere than in these lands.30

16This alluded to India’s inferiority to the fully civilized Britain, which remained central to his later publications. Accurate travel reportage, as well as books on the history of architecture, were founded on a science that justifies the relationship between the ruled and ruler.

  • 31 See Edward Said, Orientalism, op. cit. (note 10), p. 28.
  • 32 See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 310 (25 October 1838).

17Fergusson’s work contributed to the body of knowledge known as orientalism, which contrasts stasis or decline in the East with progress in the West.31 This informed his view that India was the still-living embodiment of the society that prevailed during the European Middle Ages. The Lucknow parade prompted his reflection: “But who does not love to read of the gay pageants of our forefathers, when in the same state of advancement as these people are?”32 He applied the social and historical sentiments expressed here to architecture, arguing that current building practices in India revealed the working methods employed by Gothic masons. Before exploring these ideas, however, attention is devoted to the analogy between the arts of agriculture and architecture.

“A fine or handsome plant”: agriculture and the “pure” styles architecture

  • 33 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 42b (5 January 1839). For similar comments, see Ibid(...)
  • 34 Ibid., p. 81a (10 February 1839). Travelling near Agra in January 1839, Fergusson implicated the B (...)
  • 35 Ibid., p. 31b (23 December 1838).
  • 36 Ibid., p. 109a (14 March 1839). Fergusson was travelling from Neemula to Bombay, where the state o (...)
  • 37 James Fergusson, “Our Indian Architecture,” Quarterly Review, vol. 103, no. 205, 1858, p. 253-278.

18Agriculture adds to an understanding of Fergusson’s work, particularly because the practices that established his wealth in Bengal were questioned when referring to an ideal, which pertained to the well-being of people in India. Scottish business networks underpinned his role in the Calcutta firm of Fairlie, Fergusson, and Co., as well as the ability to set out alone in Jessore. Fergusson was aware that trade in opium and indigo disrupted the lives of local agricultural workers, adding to their poverty and servitude. Problems faced by the peasants led to their major revolt in Jessore during the late 1850s. Having left the world of commerce, he chose not to refer to an involvement in foreign trade. This is evident in the letters and diary. As a traveller, Fergusson’s recently acquired knowledge of agriculture was invoked in discussions of a way of cultivating the soil. He referred to India’s misguided or corrupt forms of government. In a typical statement from the diary, Fergusson noted in 1839 that “[t]he government of these states must be miserable indeed to leave desolate such noble plains as I have passed.”33 The British were occasionally criticized. Journeying from Agra to Bombay in early 1839, he explained that “a few years of steady government might bring all the plain under the plough—but is I fear not to be hoped for—I once thought the Mahamatton the worst government in India but I fear the rightful Lords are just as bad. They all take all they can squeeze.”34 However, Fergusson never questioned Britain’s potential to rule wisely; and was confident improvements would be implemented. The capacity to change, after all, was a defining attribute of the West: “We certainly have ground the people to a fearful state—but we are a civilized people and may improve our Government of this country.”35 Reforms must come from the British. Fergusson believed the “native princes” could still be protected, so long as a more integrated rule was fashioned. A stabilizing and productive class had to fill the present void “between the Prince and his greedy sycophants and the oppressed slave.”36 These ideas were reiterated in the aftermath of the Indian Mutiny (or Great Sepoy Revolt), when he called upon the British middle-class to take on this mediating role.37

  • 38 William Cobbett, Rural Rides, [1rst published in 1830], Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. For a study (...)

19Like William Cobbett’s Rural Rides, written when travelling in the south of England during the 1820s, Fergusson’s letters and diary from the 1830s note the impoverishment of the countryside.38 Both authors associated unproductive land with the political interests of individuals removed from the places of production. Reflecting on the devastation wrought by poor management in India, Fergusson envisaged an alternative, where good government promoted traditions of cultivating crops. These would be sustained not undermined.

  • 39 Fergusson developed these ideas, outlining the relationship between the different arts. See James (...)

20Fergusson’s appraisals of agriculture coincided with his earliest statements about “pure” architecture. For him, agriculture provides nourishment, while architecture creates shelter. These two arts are essential to the survival of a human being. Moreover, they belong to a region, defined in terms of its local materials, as well as labour skills developed over time.39 This theory of architecture informed his discussions of building practices in past and present India. During the 1834 visit to Benares, he wrote a letter that identified two styles of architecture: one, like good agriculture, belonged to its setting; the other, copied alien Italian forms:

  • 40 James Fergusson, “Letters,” (note 1), p. 178 (1834).

I had never before seen any specimens of pure Hindoo architecture, all the specimens in the Delta being mixed up with horrible abortions from the Italian, and it certainly struck me as much finer and magnificent than I had anticipated.40

21Fergusson’s work in Bengal, where crops were grown for overseas not local markets, was criticized when he referred to cultivating agriculture in a manner that establishes a connection with a “pure” style of architecture. His letter of 1834 introduced the natural integrity and beauty of Hindu buildings.

22Mill’s book and Fergusson’s writings stress India’s low rank in a hierarchy of societies. Yet as noted, the two men differed because Fergusson identified the “purity” of architecture in India. While the succession of styles over time demonstrated decay, buildings remained founded on “natural” principles. Only the recent introduction of Italian Renaissance forms threatened the debasement of architecture. When travelling in the vicinity of Agra in January 1839, he explained that

  • 41 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 43b (6 January 1839).

It is sad to think how art has declined in this country and I fear it is […] not likely to revive again. If it does it will probably be in the form of a bastard Italian style – which like other exotic styles can never become a fine or handsome plant.41

  • 42 Ibid., p. 312. (Letters from Bindrabun, 10 November 1838 and 6 June 1839).

23Fergusson documented Italian influences in India’s recent and current buildings, suggesting that a transformation in architectural practice was unfortunately beginning. When at Bindrabun (Vrindavan) in November 1838, he described a “temple built within the last twenty or thirty years by a Calcutta banker.” It comprised “very pretty” parts like the sikra in a “pure Hindoo style” as well as an arcade exhibiting the “sad symptoms of degeneration into that debased style of corrupt Italian architecture prevalent in Calcutta.”42 Fergusson endorsed a principle, where the cultivation of a plant applies to the arts of agriculture and architecture. The latter involved constructing a building that is not “exotic” but “pure” because based on common sense.

The East and the West: “natural” and “exotic” styles of architecture

  • 43 This argument would form the core of his theory as stated in James Fergusson, An Historical Inquir (...)
  • 44 James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 310 (Letter from Lucknow, 25 October1838).
  • 45 Fergusson’s more detailed account of the disruption to Indian styles through copying of European f (...)

24Fergusson’s account of modern India as a living expression of medieval Europe led to consideration of the architectural problem of copyism. The present in India reminded him of an historical crisis in the West, when the prevailing “true style” of the Gothic was undermined by Italian Renaissance architects, who instituted the principle of imitating classical buildings.43 Renaissance monuments were flawed because they were “exotic.” India’s “pure” architecture was similarly threatened. Writing from Lucknow in October 1838, he identified the “debased” style of a new building for the present King. According to Fergusson, the builders “have not yet ventured to introduce Italian pillars or entablatures into it, but the forms are approaching to it, just as the Gothic in England did in the early part of Elizabeth’s reign.”44 He admired India’s current “natural” traditions and the West’s medieval architecture.45

  • 46 The same argument could be applied to the jarring presence of Western clothing in the East, in thi (...)

25Fergusson’s dismay with the expressions of the colonial society in India, to which he belonged, underscored his attack on copyism in architecture.46 Having succeeded in businesses that depended on connections with Scotland, he could travel in India. The letters and diary ignored his recent work in Calcutta and Jessore, to focus on agricultural practices that benefitted, rather than diminished, the lives of workers. This was accompanied by the perception of architecture’s “pure” styles. When documenting India’s buildings, he praised traditional “specimens.” A letter from Agra, sent to his sister in July 1834, noted that:

  • 47 See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 199 (25 July 1834).

I was […] pleased to see a good deal of building going on, and in the native styles, which are always beautiful and natural, unlike the hideous masses Anglicized baboos rear, in Orders, the application of which they cannot understand.47

26Fergusson’s gaze was that of the orientalist, who described in accurate scientific language an India construed as a traditional society. Copyism produced irrational, Western-influenced buildings, which fractured his vision of a seamless and authentic India. His letters and introduced the ideal of a “natural” or “native” mode of building, which was distinguished from an “exotic” approach to design that stemmed from copying foreign forms.

A building’s structure and ornament

  • 48 See Peter Kohane, “James Fergusson’s Theory of Architecture: Construction and Ornament,” in Anurad (...)

27According to Fergusson, Indian monuments from all periods of history were constructed according to a common-sensical process, whereby the structure was completed and then enriched by ornaments, including sculptures. This was identified when travelling in the country between 1834 and 1839. Fergusson’s letters and diary refer to workers, who were constructing buildings in a “natural” manner. He endorsed their strategy in books, including the True Principles of Architecture of 1849 and the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture from 1876.48 According to these publications, Indian buildings belonged to the category of the “true styles.”

  • 49 James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 1 (...)

28At the beginning of the True Principles of Architecture, Fergusson stressed that a valuable compositional strategy was “elaborated from a study of Indian, Mahomedan, and Gothic architecture.”49 He fathomed an architectural logic, which was vital to contemporary buildings in the East and medieval ones in the West. The Gothic was Europe’s last “true style.” Referring to ensuing developments in Britain, he noted that

  • 50 Ibid., p. 163.

though for the last two or three centuries we have been steadily progressing in every other respect, our arts have been stationary or retrograde; we have done nothing that is creditable, and have no hope for the future, nor can we till we retrace our steps and get into the right direction again.50

  • 51 For Fergusson’s theory of progress, see Ibid., p. 1-174. His analysis of the negative impact of th (...)
  • 52 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 71.
  • 53 For a discussion of the relationship between the buildings of India and the modern West, see Matth (...)

29The split between architecture and society in the West occurred in Italy during the fifteenth century, when designers copied ancient classical forms to create the first of the “false styles.”51 Buildings constructed during and since the Renaissance were nothing but copies of past works; irrelevant to, and unworthy of, their dynamic and progressive societies. Fergusson demanded an architectural style in the present that conformed with progressive achievements of the nineteenth century. His lecture to the Royal Society of Arts in 1866 outlined the way to proceed: the “true principles” of India’s buildings have a “bearing on our own architectural development.”52 India was pivotal to his theory because it remained committed to a common-sensical way of building. Yet for him, the “true principles” could also be discerned in European medieval architecture. Indian and Gothic buildings must not be copied; but assist in re-establishing universally valid principles in the West.53

30Fergusson’s talk to the Royal Society of the Arts referred to builders in India’s past and present, as well Europe’s middle-ages. He noted that

  • 54 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 74.

you may now see those who can neither read, nor write, nor draw, building temples as beautiful in form and detail as those of their forefathers, and which are not copies, but elaborated on the same principles as resulted in the productions of our great medieval cathedrals.54

31Illiterate workers construct buildings in present-day India that conform to the “true principles” of architecture. He chose not to relate mass literacy in modern Europe with the publication of architectural texts, which contained representations of buildings imitated in designs. The problem of “copyism,” however, contributed to Fergusson’s recognition that India’s oral modes of communication informed architecture, which is “natural” and “pure.” His ideal of a “living art” pertained to India and a literate European society, whose designers read architectural publications but did not copy the illustrated buildings. The principles guiding present and past Indian builders would contribute to a progressive “true” architectural style in the West.

32Letters written by Fergusson while in India, as well as the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, refer to the close study of buildings under construction. When travelling in the 1830s, he was impressed by the Jaina pilgrimage centre at Sutrunjya (also called Palitana) in Gujarat (fig. 3). Palitana is

  • 55 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 228. On Palita (...)

one of the most interesting places that can be named for the philosophical student of architectural art, inasmuch as he can there see various processes by which cathedrals were produced in the Middle Ages, carried on a larger scale than almost anywhere else, and in a more natural manner. It is by watching the methods still followed in designing buildings in that remote locality that we become aware how it is that the uncultivated Hindu can rise in architecture to a degree of originality and perfection which has not been attained in Europe since the Middle Ages, but which might easily be recovered by following the same processes.55

Figure 3: The Sacred Hill of Sutrunjya, near Palitana.

Figure 3: The Sacred Hill of Sutrunjya, near Palitana.

Source: James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Styles of Architecture, London: John Murray, 1876, p. 222-223

  • 56 James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 311. (Letter from Deeg, 9 November 1838). On the (...)
  • 57 James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 311.

33Although specific design strategies were not addressed, Fergusson identified a distinction between the construction of an edifice and its embellishment. The compositional theme was addressed more thoroughly in a letter of November 1838 to his sister, which considered an eighteenth-century edifice at Deeg. The building was left in an incomplete state. He noted that “I know of no modern building in India so completely satisfactory, altogether in such good taste, as the palace at Deeg.”56 This exemplary “specimen” was based on two themes. The first one was addressed in a comment about the function of forms, particularly the sloping shape of the lower of the building’s two cornices: “At first its appearance is rather disagreeable to a European eye, but one soon becomes accustomed to it, after observing its use in throwing off the rain and in covering the upper end of the purdahs” (fig. 4).57 Secondly, Fergusson found confirmation for his view that Indian buildings were always constructed in a simple and direct manner, with ornaments added at a later stage.

  • 58 Ibid., p. 311.

One accustomed to native buildings […] [knows that they] are always built rough, and fitted and sculptured afterwards—a curious instance of which exists in this palace. In the fountain-hall one arch consists of roughly-hewn stones without any heading; the next one has one side cut out, but not smoothed, the other in block; and the next one is just one stage further advanced, being all cut out, but only one side smoothed.58

Figure 4: View from the Central Pavilion in the Palace at Deeg.

Figure 4: View from the Central Pavilion in the Palace at Deeg.

Source: James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Styles of Architecture, London: John Murray, 1876, p. 483.

34According to this statement, the edifice is not an object of delight for the traveller in search of the picturesque or sublime. Fergusson considered the way materials were organized to produce a sound structure that was subsequently embellished. For him, such a process underpinned the construction of medieval cathedrals, as well as past and present buildings in India.

35Fergusson’s travels in India contributed to an understanding of a monument, whose structure is adorned with sculptures. A source for this was a trip in 1837 to Orissa, specifically the study of the Black Pagoda (Surya Deul, or Temple of the Sun) at Konaraka. The sketches in his diary of the plinth and columns provided detailed information that, ten years later, informed the representation of the overall monument, published in the Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan (1848) (fig. 5).

  • 59 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 13. (27 June 1837). For a discussion of the publishe (...)

I do not know of any instance […] [of] a form of roof so graceful as that of this temple unless indeed it is the German Gothic open work spire […]. The Roman dome may be a more graceful outline but does not admit of the display of sculpture and ornament than this possesses.59

36He introduced a facet of the theory set out conclusively in the True Principles of Architecture, where a building comprises a sound “technic” form, as well as added ornaments. It therefore conformed to the category of a “true style.”

Figure 5: James Fergusson, The Black Pergoda at Konaraka.

Figure 5: James Fergusson, The Black Pergoda at Konaraka.

Source: James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, London: Hogarth, 1848, p. 28.

  • 60 James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 1 (...)

37In the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, Fergusson recalled spending time scrutinizing buildings in India “until I could read in the chisel marks […] the ideas that guided the artist in his designs, till I could put myself by his side and identify myself with him through his work.”60 He explained that buildings in the East played a part in fathoming the flawed nature of architecture in the West:

  • 61 Ibid., p. xiii-iv.

I have also had the good fortune to spend the best years of my life in countries where Art, though old and decrepit, still follows the same path that led it towards perfection in the days of its youth and vigour, and though it may be effete, it is not insane. In the East, men still use their reason in speaking of art, and their common sense in carrying their views into effect. They do not, as in modern Europe, adopt strange hallucinations that can only lead to brilliant failures; and, in consequence, though we may feel inclined to despise the results, they are perfection itself compared with what we do, when we take into account the relative physical and moral means of the Asiatic and the Anglo Saxon.61

38The study of Indian buildings in situ underpinned Fergusson’s regard for common sense, which involves workers resolving the structure and then embellishing it. This strategy was germane to the architecture of Europe until the end of the middle-ages. Modern Western architects could therefore claim to derive a valuable theory from present day India, as well as their own past. Fergusson’s travels in India during the 1830s served as a foundation for his work as a theorist and historian of architecture. With agriculture as a guide, he stressed that workers construct “natural” and “pure” buildings. He claimed to have discovered what the West had lost and now needed, namely a common-sensical principle to underpin the making of modern buildings.

Work in London: the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture

39While Mill and Fergusson belonged to different generations, both were born in Scotland and spent much of their lives in London. Mill was in his late twenties when he settled in the metropolis and initiated research for The History of British India. Fergusson was in his early thirties when he decided to live in London and begin publishing on India. His culminating monograph was the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. Yet only Fergusson’s Scottish connections led to work in Bengal. This was concealed in his letters and diary, written while travelling in India during the 1830s. He shifted attention from wealth attained by growing crops for export to the ideal of a “handsome plant,” which was relevant to the arts of agriculture and architecture. Another step in relinquishing his Scottish mercantile background was to depart from India in 1839 and, rather than return to Scotland, reside in London. He stayed in the city for the rest of his life, devoting time to scholarly pursuits. Indebted to the Scottish Enlightenment, both Mill and Fergusson stressed that reason is fundamental to a progressive society. This informed Mill’s thorough-going criticism of India. Yet despite Fergusson also discerning India’s decline, it did not question his esteem for the common sense of builders, who constructed monuments that conform to the “true styles” of architecture. Like Mill, Fergusson left Scotland to write and become an anglicized citizen of Britain.

40Fergusson’s house in London was constructed during 1842 in the Italianate style. While he later designed several buildings, this one was conceived by the architect David Mocatta. At the age of just thirty-four, Fergusson financed the construction of an imposing four-storey dwelling in Langham Place. The overall building comprised four homes, with the largest extending over the central entrance arch belonging to Fergusson. For him, the Renaissance in Italy, rather than a style derived from Scotland or India, was a suitable point of departure for the composition of the dwelling. This conforms with his interpretation of architecture in the East and West. The fashioning of a “natural” style contributed to his criticism from 1839 of London’s recent buildings. The problem in the city involved designs made during the same period of Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Gothic buildings. Such co-existence of buildings contravened the assumption of a given epoch having its unique architectural style. Pluralism in London will inevitably baffle future historians, who could not look to architecture to fathom the nature of the society. Fergusson’s writings on India informed one way to proceed. Buildings from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Italy were flawed, because their architects copied ancient classical monuments. Yet when living in London, he argued that the Italianate style could be adapted to meet new requirements; and was therefore appropriate for Government buildings, railway stations, club houses and homes. One of the most admired examples was Charles Barry’s Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall of 1832. Fergusson lived in a home, whose Italianate forms were deemed to be innovative and suitable for modern London.

  • 62 James Fergusson, Illustrations of the Rock-cut Temples of India, London: Weale, 1845; and James Fe (...)
  • 63 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 71.
  • 64 For a discussion of Fergusson’s concern to write general books, especially those that identify con (...)

41The home incorporated an impressive library, where Fergusson wrote his essays and books, including several devoted to Indian architecture. Two early monographs were titled Illustrations of Rock Cut Temples of India (1845) and Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan (1848).62 He conceded that these failed in commercial terms: “the public were not then prepared for such works, and, like most authors in a similar predicament, I tired of publishing expensive books which nobody bought, or read […].”63 Fergusson then directed his energies to monographs on general themes, including The Illustrated Handbook of Architecture (1855) and A History of the Modern Styles of Architecture (1862).64

  • 65 James Fergusson, “Our Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 37) p. 253-278. The British Government’ (...)
  • 66 Ibid., p. 254.
  • 67 John Ruskin, The Two Paths (1859), in John Ruskin, Works, Edward Tyas Cook and Alexander Wedderbur (...)
  • 68 James Fergusson, “Our Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 37), p. 271.

42The Indian Mutiny (or Great Sepoy Revolt) of May 1857 prompted Fergusson to focus intently on India. He addressed the “mighty and unexpected revolution” in an essay, which appeared in the January 1858 issue of the Quarterly Review. Although ostensibly on the subject of “Our Indian Architecture” [italics added], emphasis was placed on social and political issues.65 Fergusson explained that “India is now the country towards which all eyes are turned; and Indian questions […] are everywhere of the most engrossing interest.”66 He linked the Revolt to misguided decisions by government, rather than the racial inferiority of the citizens, as writers like John Ruskin would do.67 Fergusson suggested changes. English “peaceful settlers” should live in contact with the “natives” and thereby replace the “soldiers or all-powerful civilians, backed, as they are, by the whole power of a despotic Government.”68 Moreover, the British at home and abroad must learn about India to rule effectively.

43The importance of understanding India was reiterated in Fergusson’s lecture from 1866 for the Royal Society of the Arts, titled “On the Study of Indian Architecture.” The presentation noted that an inquiry into the people and architecture in India was of interest to a wide audience. Fergusson asserted his stature in a scholarly discipline that contributed to Britain’s knowledge and control of India. His talk stressed the significance of a cogent organisation of India’s past architecture:

  • 69 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 71.

When I was in India, between twenty and thirty years ago, the subject of Indian architecture had hardly been touched. Views of Indian buildings had, it is true, been published by Daniell and others, but no attempt had been made to classify them, and the vaguest possible ideas prevailed as to their age […]. For several years I pursued the study almost unremittingly, and bit by bit the mystery unravelled itself.69

  • 70 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12). For discussions o (...)

44Fergusson’s work on India may have begun with letters and a diary, written when travelling, but his statements were too fragmentary to serve as a foundation for classifying the country’s inhabitants and buildings. Additional study in London was recalled in the talk from 1866, which referred to India in terms of “well-defined local provinces” and “ethnological divisions of the people.” Yet ten more years of research were required to complete the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. This was published in 1876, the year that Queen Victoria became Empress of India.70

  • 71 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 4. In the same (...)
  • 72 See James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12) p. 34. While F (...)
  • 73 These were dated to the first century AD. See Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India, (...)
  • 74 Fergusson noted that these were constructed in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. They are now dat (...)
  • 75 Fergusson’s account of Buddhist sculpture is considered by Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, (...)
  • 76 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12) p. 34-35.

45Mill’s monograph on India was invoked in Fergusson’s History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, particularly the latter’s statement that “It cannot of course be for one moment contended that India ever reached the intellectual supremacy of Greece, or the moral greatness of Rome.”71 The religions and races of India determined its low place in a hierarchy of societies. According to Fergusson’s book on India, religion played a part in the quality of sculptures adorning an edifice. He was impressed by Buddhist monuments. An early example, located at Bharhut, was esteemed for sculptures with remarkable naturalistic characteristics.72 A loss of precision was identified in the carvings of the later gateways at Sañci.73 The ensuing sculptures of Amaravati did not fit into the theme of deterioration. Such works of art were later in date, yet acclaimed by Western-trained observers.74 Fergusson’s explanation took into consideration the notion that the decline of Indian art can be arrested by the influence of a superior society, namely the Indo-Greek colonies in Bactria.75 With a Greek “parent” style, the Amaravati sculptures “may probably be considered as the culminating point attained by the art in India.”76 The country’s highest achievement in sculpture was a Buddhist monument, inspired, albeit indirectly, by Greece. As the Greek influence dwindled, India’s artistic flowering came to an end. Fergusson’s History of Indian and Eastern Architecture argued that decline characterised religions and art. For him, Buddhism succumbed to the corrupt and superstitious faith of Hinduism, which is evident in its overly ornate and decadent sculptures and buildings. His studies of Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic styles led to the view that

  • 77 Ibid., p. 34.

sculpture in India may fairly claim to rank, in power and expression, with medieval sculpture in Europe, and to tell its tale of rise and decay with equal distinctness; but it is also interesting as having that curious Indian peculiarity of being written in decay.77

46This trajectory informed all examples of Eastern art and architecture; and was so entrenched in India that the vitality initially fostered by Islamic rulers soon disappeared.

47Fergusson’s racial theory was set out in An Illustrated History of the True Styles of Architecture from 1855 and reiterated over twenty years later in the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. According to the earlier book’s introduction:

  • 78 James Fergusson, The Illustrated Handbook of Architecture, op. cit. (note 26), vol. 1, p. iii. Fer (...)

It is thus that, looking on ancient building, we can not only tell in what state of civilisation its builders lived, or how far they were advanced in the arts, but we can almost certainly say also to what race they belonged, and what their affinities were with the other races or tribes of mankind. So far as my knowledge extends, I do not know a single exception to this rule; and, as far as I can judge, I believe that architecture is in all instances as correct a test of race as language, and one far more easily applied and understood.78

  • 79 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 324.
  • 80 See Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 242-243.

48This invoked a theme of the Scottish Enlightenment, which involved the relationship between language and the mind of a human being. Fergusson also recalled the later work of orientalists in India, whose deciphering of texts was critical to understanding people in locations and past periods. Inspired by the achievements of Prinsep, Fergusson stressed that the “natural” and “pure” architectural styles of India also offered insight into societies and links between them. A building was important because it stays in a place and may not change over time. Moreover, by the 1840s, he stressed the connection between a monument and the race of the people who built it. However, this theory was inconclusive, as evident in the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. One problem pertained to Fergusson’s account of the people of Northern India, who were a mix of Aryan invaders from the North and indigenous Turanians. When defining these two races in terms of fixed, unchanging attributes, he claimed that the Aryans are intellectual and literary, while the inferior Turanians are enthusiastic builders. He could only demonstrate that all Indian styles, even the admired Buddhist, were constructed by the native Turanian races.79 The Aryan presence in India, however, established a link between Britain and India. Yet at the same time, the Turanian races were associated with the impoverished state of Indian society. For him, racial differences explained contemporary Britain’s progressive nature and justified its rule of a declining India.80

  • 81 Fergusson’s account of India’s past architecture contributed to the design of buildings that were (...)

49With photographs sent from India to London between the late 1850s and the 1870s, Fergusson completed the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. Religions and races were taken into consideration when proving to his own satisfaction that decline is the characteristic of India. Fergusson acquired and organized a body of knowledge about India that was useful to the West. The comprehensive survey and classification of architecture conformed to Britain’s imperial ambitions; and he was recognized by contemporaries as the foremost authority on India’s architecture.81

Conclusion

50Fergusson’s Scottish background has offered insight into his account of India, specifically buildings that are “pure” and belong to the “true styles.” His financial success between 1829 to 1834 in Calcutta and Jessore depended on growing crops for overseas markets. However, the relevant business networks encompassing Scotland and India were veiled, initially during the second half of the 1830s, when travelling beyond Bengal. Fergusson’s letters and diary focussed on people in a region, who benefitted from cultivating the land. Moreover, the arts of agriculture and architecture were linked. This involved his concept of a plant growing from its soil, which is germane to a building’s “natural” character. In more specific terms, he highlighted the common sense of builders in India, who construct and then adorn an edifice. Fergusson’s wealth made it possible to leave India and live in London, where he constructed an impressive Italianate home. The Scottish Enlightenment, as well as Mill’s The History of British India, informed Fergusson’s writings, most significantly the History of Indian and Eastern Architecture. He was committed to the view that India is inferior to Britain. Yet like Scottish orientalists, such as Vans Kennedy, Fergusson recognized India’s achievements. He stressed that its buildings are not tainted by copyism; and can therefore stimulate a solution for Europe’s malaise of co-existing styles. India’s “pure” architecture was critical to the West’s fashioning of a modern “true style.”

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Notes

1 The author would like to thank Alex Bremner and two anonymous readers, who commented extensively on the essay. See James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 28 February 1889, vol. 5, p. 178-179. (Letter from Calcutta, 4 June 1829).

2 The 1834 tour is documented in the published letters. Ibid., p. 178-184; and James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 14 March 1889, vol. 5, p. 198-200. Fergusson’s diary records two journeys. This diary (hereafter cited as Diary), covering trips from 1837 to 1839, is held in the British Library (London, United Kingdom). Each double-page spread is numbered, with the number on the left-hand page. I have therefore cited the left-hand page as “a,” and the right-hand page as “b.” The first trip was relatively short, from 18 June to 5 July 1837. See James Fergusson, Diary, British Library, p. 1-19. A trip to Orissa in July 1838 is referred to in the letters. See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 1), p. 227-278. As recorded in his diary and letters, he left Calcutta again on 26 August 1838 and arrived in Bombay 22 March 1839: James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 20b-112; James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 11 April 1889, vol. 5, p. 228; James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 6 June 1889, vol. 5, p. 309-313. According to William White, in his introduction to the publication of the letters, Fergusson was in Bombay in 1845. See note 1, p. 178. A map of India tracing the route of his tours was included in James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, London: Hogarth, 1848, frontispiece.

3 For a discussion of methodological issues associated with Scotland, England and the British empire, which highlights the significance of architecture, see G. A. Bremner, “The expansion of England? Rethinking Scotland’s place in the architectural history of the wider British world,” Journal of Art Histography, vol. 18, June 2018, p. 1-17.

4 For representations related to the trip, see Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Monuments, Objects, Histories. Institutions of Art in Colonial and Postcolonial India, New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2004, p. 3-42.

5 James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 14 March 1889, vol. 5, p. 199. (Letter from Agra, 26 July 1834).

6 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 103b. (11 March, 1839).

7 Ibid., p. 7a, 18 (June 1837). For the implications of the picturesque and the sublime to interpretations of India, see Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters. A History of European Reactions to Indian Art, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, p. 120-140.

8 James Fergusson, “Letters,” RIBA Journal, 28 Feb. 1889, vol. 5, p. 183. (Letter from Benares, 1834). A Ghat is a flight of steps or a platform leading down to the water. The term minars refers to minarets.

9 Ibid., p. 184.

10 The most influential formulation of the category of the sublime was Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, [1st published in 1757] J. T.  Boulton (ed.), Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968. An early key text for understanding the East as Other is Edward Said, Orientalism, New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1978, p. 1-28.

11 In a letter sent from Bindrabun, in 1838, Fergusson refers to the usefulness of this portable optical device when drawing the interior of a temple. See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 8), p. 183. (Letter from Benares, 10 Nov. 1838). On the camera lucida, see Martin Kemp, The Science of Art. Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990, p. 188, 200-201. For a discussion of the role of this device in producing accurate images, see Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Monuments, Objects, Histories, op. cit. (note 4), p. 11.

12 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, London: John Murray, 1876. For an overview of the book’s content, see Colin Cunningham, “James Fergusson’s History of Indian Architecture,” in Catherine King (ed.), Views of difference: different views of art, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999 (Art and its histories, 5), p. 43-46.

13 The “scientific gaze” and European travel reportage are addressed in Barbara Stafford, Voyage into Substance: Art, Science, and the Illustrated Travel Account, 1760-1840, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984, p. 31-56. For the reference to Bacon, see James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, Especially with Reference to Architecture, London: Longman, 1849, p. 17-18.

14 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” Journal of the Society of Arts, vol. 15, 1866, p. 71.

15 For a discussion of the work of other orientalists, such as William Jones, Nathaniel Halhed and Charles Wilkins, as well as the Indian scholar Rám Ráz, see Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain’s Raj, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989, p. 25. Prinsep and Rám Ráz, along with the background to Fergusson’s work, are considered in Pramod Chandra, “Studies in Indian Temple Architecture,” Papers presented at a Seminar in Varanasi, 1967, New Delhi: American Institute of Indian Studies, 1975, p. 1-3; and Pramond Chandra, On the Study of Indian Art. The Polsky Lectures in Indian and Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983, p. 9-13.

16 Ian Duncan, “Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment in the Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature,” in Ian Brown, Thomas ClancySusan Manning and Murray Pittock (eds.), The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature. 2. Enlightenment, Britain and Empire (1707–1918)), Edinburgh: Edinburgh university Press, 2007, p. 71-79. The common sense tradition stemming from Thomas Reid (1710-96) is noted in Cairns Craig, “Nineteenth-Century Scottish Thought,” ibid., p. 267-276.

17 Jane Rendell, “Scottish Orientalism from Robertson to James Mill,” The Historical Journal, vol. 25, no. 1, 1982, p. 51.

18 See Martha McLaren, British India and British Scotland, 1780-1830: career building, empire building, and a Scottish school of thought on Indian governance, Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2001 (Series on international, political and economic history), p. 65-66; and Jane Rendell, “Scottish Orientalism from Robertson to James Mill,” op. cit. (note 17) p. 45-46.

19 Martha McLaren, British India and British Scotland, op. cit. (note 18), p. 11-12, 119-128.

20 On James Mill, see Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 22, and Jane Rendell, “Scottish Orientalism from Robertson to James Mill,” op. cit. (note 17), p. 43-69.

21 See Jane Rendell, “Scottish Orientalism: From Robertson to James Mill,” op. cit. (note 17), p. 45-48, 61.

22 Theodore Koditschek, Liberalism, Imperialism, and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth-Century Visions of a Greater Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, p. 82.

23 Ibid., p. 87-88.

24 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 73a-b (8 February 1839).

25 Ibid., p. 27b (8 December 1838).

26 Fergusson appears to have formulated a theory of race in the late 1840s; and refined it in the following decades. The theory was addressed briefly in James Fergusson, The Illustrated Handbook of Architecture: Being a Concise and Popular Account of the Different Styles of Architecture Prevailing in All Ages and Countries, London: John Murray, 1855. However, a detailed account of the theme was vetoed by the publisher, John Murray III (1808-1892). The theory of race, including the discussion of the Turanians, appeared as an appendix in James Fergusson, A History of the Modern Styles of Architecture, London: John Murray, 1862, p. 501-507.

27 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 9b, 10b and 11a (24 June 1837).

28 William White points out that Fergusson used the term to refer to the mounted attendants of a great man, as well as elephants, camels and footmen. See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 310, note.

29 Ibid., p. 310 (25 October 1838).

30 Ibid., p. 310 (25 October 1838).

31 See Edward Said, Orientalism, op. cit. (note 10), p. 28.

32 See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 310 (25 October 1838).

33 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 42b (5 January 1839). For similar comments, see Ibid., p. 41a-b, 100b-101b, 109a.

34 Ibid., p. 81a (10 February 1839). Travelling near Agra in January 1839, Fergusson implicated the British in his account of the devastating effects of a recent famine. The immediate cause of the season’s crop failure was due to “the want of rain for an unusually long period of time.” However, the deeper causes lay with the British government, which had cut “all inducements [for the farmer] to cultivate more than is absolutely required to feed himself and family,” and had encouraged “the capitalist” to store grain “for resale to a people who had not a coin left to purchase from them with.” He continued: “Even this [last] year there was abundance of grain to spare in [the drought] districts [which could] have fed the famine population ten times over. But there was no capital to purchase it with—this I know as a merchant who sent grain up the country.” Fergusson compared this creation of surplus to “the rich landlord who puts £5 in the poor plate on Sunday and on Monday drives whole families [from] his estate.” Ibid., p. 39b-40b.

35 Ibid., p. 31b (23 December 1838).

36 Ibid., p. 109a (14 March 1839). Fergusson was travelling from Neemula to Bombay, where the state of cultivation of the land prompted his criticisms of British support for corrupt princes.

37 James Fergusson, “Our Indian Architecture,” Quarterly Review, vol. 103, no. 205, 1858, p. 253-278.

38 William Cobbett, Rural Rides, [1rst published in 1830], Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. For a study of Cobbett’s life and theories, see Raymond Williams, Cobbett, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.

39 Fergusson developed these ideas, outlining the relationship between the different arts. See James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 13) p. 72-106.

40 James Fergusson, “Letters,” (note 1), p. 178 (1834).

41 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 43b (6 January 1839).

42 Ibid., p. 312. (Letters from Bindrabun, 10 November 1838 and 6 June 1839).

43 This argument would form the core of his theory as stated in James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 13), as well as the classification of styles in his later general historical books.

44 James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 310 (Letter from Lucknow, 25 October1838).

45 Fergusson’s more detailed account of the disruption to Indian styles through copying of European forms was published in The History of Modern Styles. See James Fergusson, A History of the Modern Styles of Architecture, op. cit. (note 26) p. 408-422.

46 The same argument could be applied to the jarring presence of Western clothing in the East, in this case, Turkey. Fergusson noted: “When, however, we find the surtout-coat and tight-fitting garments of the West in possession of the streets of Constantinople, superseding their own beautiful costume, we ought not to be surprised at the “Orders” being introduced simultaneously: and when native princes in India clothed their armies like caricatures of European infantry, it was impossible that they should escape the architectural contagion also.” Ibid, p. 409. On this issue, see Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 15.

47 See James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 199 (25 July 1834).

48 See Peter Kohane, “James Fergusson’s Theory of Architecture: Construction and Ornament,” in Anuradha Chatterjee (ed.), Surface and Deep Histories. Critiques and Practices in Art, Architecture and Design, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, p. 111-127.

49 James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 13), p xiii.

50 Ibid., p. 163.

51 For Fergusson’s theory of progress, see Ibid., p. 1-174. His analysis of the negative impact of the Renaissance is addressed in the James Fergusson, A History of the Modern Styles of Architecture, op. cit. (note 26), p.  1-10.

52 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 71.

53 For a discussion of the relationship between the buildings of India and the modern West, see Matthew Mullane, “The Architectural Fossil: James Fergusson, Geology, and World History,” Architectural Theory Review, vol. 20, no. 1, 2015, p. 46-66.

54 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 74.

55 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 228. On Palitana, see Pramod Chandra, “Studies in Indian Temple Architecture,” op. cit. (note 15), p. 33; and Pramond Chandra, On the Study of Indian Art, op. cit. (note 15), p. 14, 24.

56 James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 311. (Letter from Deeg, 9 November 1838). On the palace at Deeg (modern Dig), begun in 1725 and left incomplete at the ruler’s death in 1763, see James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 481-484, fig. 272.

57 James Fergusson, “Letters,” op. cit. (note 2), p. 311.

58 Ibid., p. 311.

59 James Fergusson, Diary, op. cit. (note 2), p. 13. (27 June 1837). For a discussion of the published drawing, see Tapati Guha-Thakurta, Monuments, Objects, Histories, op. cit. (note 4), p. 13. The representation appeared in James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, op. cit. (note 1), p. 28. It was also illustrated in James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 222-223.

60 James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 13), p. xviv.

61 Ibid., p. xiii-iv.

62 James Fergusson, Illustrations of the Rock-cut Temples of India, London: Weale, 1845; and James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, op. cit. (note 1). During the 1840s and 50s, Fergusson published numerous essays in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society; and delivered lectures for an architectural audience at the RIBA. His work was influenced by an acquaintance, Edward Norris, the Assistant Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society and editor of the journal. The assistance of Norris was acknowledged in Fergusson’s preface of 1849 to the True Principles. See James Fergusson, An Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, op. cit. (note 13), p. xii, 160-161.

63 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 71.

64 For a discussion of Fergusson’s concern to write general books, especially those that identify connections between styles, see Petra Brouwer, “The Pioneering Architectural History Books of Fergusson, Kugler, and Lübke,” Getty Research Journal, no. 10, 2018, p. 105-120.

65 James Fergusson, “Our Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 37) p. 253-278. The British Government’s institution of direct rule of the country was made during the following year.

66 Ibid., p. 254.

67 John Ruskin, The Two Paths (1859), in John Ruskin, Works, Edward Tyas Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (eds.), London and New York: George Allen; London: Longmans, Green and Co., vol. 16, 1905, p. 265-266. Ruskin’s theories of Indian art are analysed in Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, op. cit. (note 7), p. 238-249.

68 James Fergusson, “Our Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 37), p. 271.

69 James Fergusson, “On the Study of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 14), p. 71.

70 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12). For discussions of the book, see Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 57, 241-243; and Colin Cunningham, “James Fergusson’s History of Indian Architecture,” op. cit. (note 12), p. 43-46.

71 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 4. In the same vein, he commented that Indian buildings “contain nothing so sublime as the hall of Karnac, nothing so intellectual as the Parthenon, nor so constructively grand as a medieval cathedral.” See Ibid., p. 6. This remark is discussed in Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, op. cit. (note 7), p. 262.

72 See James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12) p. 34. While Fergusson dated these works c.250-200 B.C., more recent studies have placed them slightly later, c.185-72 B.C. See Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India. Buddhist/Hindu/Jain. The Pelican History of Art, [1st published in 1970], Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970, p. 77-84; and James Harle, The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. The Pelican History of Art, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, p. 26-29.

73 These were dated to the first century AD. See Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India, op. cit. (note 72), p. 96-99; and James Harle, The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, op. cit. (note 72), p. 31-34.

74 Fergusson noted that these were constructed in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. They are now dated to the second and third centuries. See Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India, op. cit. (note 72), p. 207-211; and James Harle, The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, op. cit. (note 72), p. 34-38.

75 Fergusson’s account of Buddhist sculpture is considered by Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, op. cit. (note 7), p. 257-258; and Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 49. For recent analyses of these sculptured stone railings surrounding a central stupa, see See Benjamin Rowland, The Art and Architecture of India, op. cit. (note 72), p. 77ff; and James Harle, The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent, op. cit. (note 72), p. 26ff.

76 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12) p. 34-35.

77 Ibid., p. 34.

78 James Fergusson, The Illustrated Handbook of Architecture, op. cit. (note 26), vol. 1, p. iii. Fergusson’s statement is quoted and discussed in Partha Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, op. cit. (note 7), p. 265.

79 James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Architecture, op. cit. (note 12), p. 324.

80 See Thomas Metcalf, An Imperial Vision, op. cit. (note 15), p. 242-243.

81 Fergusson’s account of India’s past architecture contributed to the design of buildings that were suited to political ambitions. By mixing Hindu and Mughal forms, the new rulers fashioned the Indo-Saracenic style to proclaim their appropriation of, and continuity with, India’s past. The British saw themselves as following the model of Akbar, whose synthesis of past buildings was viewed in terms of the mastery of India. Fergusson’s book on history and the Indo-Saracenic style were tantamount to Britain’s post-Mutiny aim of taking control of India by possessing its past. See ibid., p. 55-104.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Photograph of James Fergusson.
Crédits Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/​wikipedia/​commons/​7/​77/​James_Ferguson_architect.jpg. Accessed 5 July 2019.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/5551/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 85k
Titre Figure 2: Map of India tracing the route of his tours, 1837-9.
Crédits Source: James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, London: Hogarth, 1848, frontispiece.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/5551/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 150k
Titre Figure 3: The Sacred Hill of Sutrunjya, near Palitana.
Crédits Source: James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Styles of Architecture, London: John Murray, 1876, p. 222-223
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/5551/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 162k
Titre Figure 4: View from the Central Pavilion in the Palace at Deeg.
Crédits Source: James Fergusson, History of Indian and Eastern Styles of Architecture, London: John Murray, 1876, p. 483.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/5551/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 241k
Titre Figure 5: James Fergusson, The Black Pergoda at Konaraka.
Crédits Source: James Fergusson, Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindostan, London: Hogarth, 1848, p. 28.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/abe/docannexe/image/5551/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 147k
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Peter Kohane, « From Scotland to India: the Sources of James Fergusson’s Theory of Architecture’s “True Styles” », ABE Journal [En ligne], 14-15 | 2019, mis en ligne le 28 juillet 2019, consulté le 20 octobre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/abe/5551 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.5551

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Peter Kohane

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

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La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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