§ 1. I NEVER intended to have republished this book, which has become the most useless I ever wrote; the buildings it de- scribes with so much delight being now either knocked down, or scraped and patched up into smugness and smoothness more tragic than uttermost ruin.1
But I find the public still like the book and will read it, when they won't look at what would be really useful and helpful to them; and as the germ of what I have since written is indeed here, however overlaid with gilding, and overshot, too splashily and cascade-fashion, with gushing of words, here it is given again in the old form; all but some pieces of rabid and utterly false Protestantism,2 which are cut out from text and appendix alike, and may serve still to give the old editions some value yet, in the eyes of book collectors and persons studious (as the modern reviewing mind mostly is to its large profit) of mistakes in general.
§ 2. The quite first edition, with the original plates, will always, I venture to say, bear a high price in the market;3 for its etchings were not only, every line of them, by my own hand, but bitten also (the last of them in my washhand basin at "La Cloche" of Dijon,) by myself, with savage carelessness (I being then, as now, utterly scornful of all sorts of art dependent on blotch, or burr, or any other "process" than that of steady hand and true line) : out of which disdain, [15/16] nevertheless, some of the plates came into effects both right and good for their purpose, and will, as I say, be always here- after valuable.4
3. The copies of them, made for the second edition by Mr. Cuff, and here reprinted, are quite as good for all practical illustration, and much more admirable as pieces of careful and singular engraver's skill. For the original method of etching was not easily imitated by straightforward engraving. When I use the needle-point directly on the steel, I never allow any burr or mystery of texture; (see the plates by my own hand in Modern Painters;5) but, in these architectural notes of shadow, I wanted mere spaces of gloom got easily; and so used a process shown me, (I think, by a German engraver my memory fails me about it now6 — ) in which, the ground being laid very soft, a piece of tissue-paper is spread over it, on which one draws with a hard pencil seeing, when the paper is lifted, approximately what one has got of shadow. The pressure of the point removes the wax which sticks to the tissue-paper, and leaves the surface of the plate in that degree open to the acid. The effect thus obtained is a kind of mixture of mezzotint etching and lithograph; and, except by such skill as Mr. Cuff possessed in a peculiar degree, not to be imitated in any other manner. The vignette frontis- piece is also an excellent piece of work by Mr. Armytage, to whose skill the best illustrations of Modern Painters7 owe not only their extreme delicacy but their permanence. Some of his plates, which I am about to re-issue with portions of the book separately, arranged according to their subjects, show scarcely any loss of brightness for any use hitherto made of them.8 [16/17]
But, having now all my plates in my own possession,9 I will take care that none are used past the time they will properly last; and even the present editions of these old books can never become cheap though they will be, I trust, in time, all sufficiently accessible.
§ 4. Some short notes are added to the text of The Seven Lamps, now reprinted; but the text itself (the passages above mentioned being alone omitted,) is given word for word, and stop for stop : it may confirm the reader's assurance on that matter, to know that I have not even revised the proofs, but left all toil of that kind to my good publisher, Mr. Allen, and his helpful children,10 who have every claim, for what good the reader may get of the book, to his thanks no less than to mine.11
Last modified 15 July 2010