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Porter, A. K., on Medieval Masonry

After a long and specialized training, Arthur E. Porter, Harvard University, devoted the whole of his career to Gothic Architecture, and for many years studied the still-existing buildings at first hand, and while doing so studied the history of the period in which the buildings were erected and existing documents connected with them.

His knowledge of Medieval architecture was encyclopedic. Near the end of his career he published in two volumes his great Medieval Architecture, illustrated throughout not by pictures for sake of pictures but by photographs and drawings essentially a part of the text, and with exhaustive bibliographies. This work stands in contrast to other histories of the Gothic style on three fundamentals: it makes clear that the Gothic style was a single, organic formula, not a collection of separate elements, or a revision of previous styles; it sees in each building a document of its times, and therefore itself a chapter in history; more important still, and for the first time with any adequacy, it begins not with the buildings but with the builder, and finds in the building something thought out, designed, and constructed by them, and for their own purposes.

Historians before Porter had written--though it is hard to believe--as if a Gothic cathedral had been built by a pale abstraction called the Gothic style; as if the masonry had built itself. Medieval Architecture is the most useful of books for students of Medieval Freemasonry. The early Gothic Freemasons emerge from it as living and breathing men, easily understandable, men who in character, mind, education, and skill towered unapproachably above other men in their period; and it is easy to see that it was they, and not the village stone masons, who found out for themselves and transmitted that set of truths which was carried on century after century and into Speculative Lodges. Porter's work and C. G. Coulton's Art and the Reformation, if placed together, comprise the most encyclopedic and the clearest account of Medieval Freemasonry now in print. (Medieval Architecture: Its Origin and Development, by Arthur Kingsley Porter, Baker & Taylor; New York; 1909; two volumes.)

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