Adam Bede’s ‘Discourse on Building’ (1859)

By George Eliot

This speech on building- and on architects- was made by Adam, to Mr Poyser, and comes in Chapter 49 of the novel.

It was pointed out to us by the Eliot scholar, Dermot Coleman, who added that ‘it is generally a safe bet that views on such matters expressed by Adam Bede are those of the author’.

Cassius Goldsmith, Front Elevation, Design for a Gate Lodge, c.1827. Pen, ink and watercolour on Whatman 1827 paper, 252 × 382 mm. DMC 2706.1.
Cassius Goldsmith, Plan, Design for a Gate Lodge, c.1827. Pen, ink and watercolour, 295 × 445 mm. DMC 2706.3.

But he’s [the new steward] got no notion about buildings: you can seldom get hold of a man as can turn his brains to more nor one thing; it’s just as if they wore blinkers like th’horses, and could see nothing o’ one side of ‘em. Now there’s Mr Irwine has got notions o’ building more nor most architects; for as for th’ architects, they set up to be fine fellows, but the most of ‘em don’t know where to set a chimney so as it shan’t be quarrelling with a door. My notion is, a practical builder, that’s got a bit o’ taste, makes the best architect for common things; and I’ve ten times the pleasure i’ seeing after the work when I’ve made the plan myself.

George Elliot, Chapter 49, Adam Bede (1859)

Arthur J Pictor (1861–1938), Pair of semi-detached cottages with outhouse, Cottages at Pitcombe, 1903. Pen and ink on trace, 355 × 495 mm. DMC 2901.2.
Anthony Salvin (1799–1881), Designs for a lodge cottage, 1832. Pencil, Pen and wash on Whatman paper, 360 × 310 mm. DMC 2728.6 r.
W H Colt Son & Co, Plans for Colt Houses, Island of Colonsay, 1951. DMC 3256.5.
William F May (1915–2011), Plans of Useful and Cheap Cottage, 3 postcards of cottage designs, 1900–1920. Printed Postcard, 88 × 140 mm. DMC 3281.2.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), Proposed Gate Lodge at Auchenbothie, Auchenbothie Lodge, Kilmacolm, 1901. Pen, coloured ink and wash on waxed paper, 517 × 715 mm. DMC 2911.2.