Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

tian holiday—when it obtrudes its vulgarity upon human miseries, and into scenes over which benevolence would draw the curtain of obscurity -when it exchanges the natural delicacy of youth for “ strong carnations,” and the healthy glow of manhood for the purply brick-dust of a nervous debauchery-it absorbs all character and truth, and becomes the destroyer of grandeur by the destruction of natural simplicity and unity, without which no artist will ever become truly great, and no cultivated mind can ever be fully satisfied by his works. This, as it appears to us, is the besetting sin and danger of the present school in England -a fault from which our Scottish school is comparatively free.

The strength of the present School of English Artists, as represented by Frost, and Frith, and Stone, and Pickersgill, and Soloman, and Hunt, and Ellmore, and Egg, is a strength only remarkable for its essential and inherent weakness. It bears the same relative value to high art as the polished verses of Pope do to Shakspere's “ Tempest," or Milton's " Paradise Lost." Nothing can surpass it in practical knowledge, and it is perfect as a process of artistic manipulation, but it is destitute of vivid imagination or powerful thought. It scarcely ever reaches an attempt at a true idea of the beautiful in the epic, while all simplicity, reality, and elegance has been nearly banished from their historical subjects, under the pressure of barbarous affectation or meretricious novelty. They have studied rules to repletion; but, as Sir Joshua Reynolds justly said, there ought to be a time“ when genius begins and rules end.” The works of these men are well drawn, respectably composed, prettily coloured, and display considerable powers for the rendering of expression. There is nothing in them positively bad, but, as works of high art, they are intolerably worthless notwithstanding. They are, generally speaking, bodies without souls, and destitute of that, without which all pictures, in the highest sense, are but respectable specimens of painted furniture, having more affinity to the manufactures of Messrs Jennings and Betteridge, at Birmingham, or “the West End," than the pictorial creations of artistic genius. David Scott had more thinking power than them all put together, although they, perhaps, like Smith of Chichester, may be feasted by fashion and burdened by commissions, while he, like Richard Wilson, could scarcely by his genius keep body and soul together.

But let us take a high example of this fashionable style, as at present rampant in London, and contrast it with a somewhat kindred subject exhibited by J. Noel Paton in our last exhibition. The “ Disarming of Cupid,” painted for Prince Albert, by Mr Frost, is from the text of Shakspere's ballads; the subject of Mr Paton's picture illustrates an incident in the text of one of the great dramatist's plays: but they are both illustrations, notwithstanding, and may be very fairly contrasted. No one who has seen the two pictures can fail to have been struck with the poverty of invention and meagreness of fancy displayed by the southern as compared with the northern artist. In the work of the former, although there was large scope for introducing that play, fun, and frolic, which would so well have harmonised with those tripping nymphs stealing the dart of Cupid while the little urchin was asleep, yet the whole scene is as staid, solemn, and formal, as a meeting of maidens belonging to the Society of Friends, compared to the endless revelling and everbounding delight which fills the creation of the latter. The one, if we may so express it, is evidently the product of a starving, the other, that of an overflowing imagination: besides, Mr Paton has aimed at, and succeeded in becoming a great moral teacher by his art; Mr Frost, by the sensuous style of his colour, and the peculiar quality of his drawing, has barely escaped from becoming very much the reverse. The difference in drawing, too, is very remarkable, and illustrates forcibly the disadvantages of mere academic study as compared with the study of nature. After a fashion, Mr Frost's figures are all pretty well drawn. They are all modelled upon the most justly esteemed specimens of the antique, and are carefully made out in their extremities; but they are more like painted statues, than living, breathing forms. There is a want of that discriminating power—the nice appreciation of that little more or less in the delineations of form which constitutes grace, imperceptible to the vulgar eye, but essential, nevertheless, to perfect elegance. In everything but colour, Frost's figures bear a strong resemblance to those of David; but, as Fuseli used to say, they have more of "de pudding” about them, or of dancing skin-tights, well stuffed with sawdust, or some kindred material. He has substituted manner for style; and, as a necessary consequence, his whole drawing presents a remarkable contrast to that graceful and elegant perception of form which Mr Paton has derived almost altogether from the study of nature. In colour, Mr Frost has, in one sense, surpassed his northern brother, while the latter remains at an infinite distance behind the former in all the mechanical appliances and manipulative dexterities of the art; but, in all the higher qualities, Mr Paton towers high above all London competitors who have exhibited this season, in his own department, which is one of the very highest walks of pictorial art; and yet the one is barely noticed by gentlemen who“ do the fine arts for the English public, while the other is bespattered with lengthy and unmeasured praise; and the corporation to whom Mr Frost belongs are to have the public purse completely at their command, while the body which has the honour of numbering Mr Paton among its members is, according to the “lords” of Manchester, unworthy of the smallest amount of public patronage.

[ocr errors]

ROYAL PANOPTICON OF SCIENCE AND ART. We have gone carefully over the Prospectus of this new Institution, and have no hesitation in stating our decided opinion, that, if supported as its claims demand, it will at once contribute immensely to the encouragement of science and art, and to the pleasure and profit of a very large and ever-increasing portion of our population. Our readers are referred to our advertising sheet for full information relative to the principle on which the Panopticon is based, and the plan in accordance with which it is proposed to be worked ; and those of them who wish well to the interests of science and the fine arts, will, we are confident, countenance the new and important undertaking, either in the way of contributing to its capital, or availing themselves of the numerous advantages it so liberally and so cheaply offers. The Panopticon, we are glad to see, enjoys the most distinguished literary and scientific patronage.

J. ROGG, PRIKTKR, NICOLPON STREET, EDINHUNGA,

THE PALLADIUM.

OCTOBER, 1850.

THE COMMONWEALTH.

Two hundred years ago, this island was in the agony and crisis of a great revolution. The heart of humanity was stirred to its depths by the loftiest thoughts, and its hand, taking hold of mortal steel, was stretched forth against principalities and powers, in the manly endeavour to build up what was deemed to be the kingdom of heaven upon the earth. There had been seven years of bloody civil war, and many fields, which are now vocal with the song of reapers cutting down the corn, resounded to the clash of arms and the tumultuous noise of the battle.

The triune embodiment of King, Lords, and Commons, was rent in twain, and the divided parts were pitted in mortal antagonism. The king and his nobility, representing old, worn-out principles, came in collision with the Parliament and people, representing the everlasting growth and development of the human soul-and the result was the great civil war. Seven years of that war were over in the beginning of 1650; but, though the king had been vanquished in the battlefield, and had laid down his life on the scaffold, the contest was not yet at an end. The Commonwealth was set up, but it rested on a volcano. A great man was at the head of it - a high-souled, truly heroic man; but, though by his own might, or" by the help of the Lord," as he would have said,

he was able to sustain the fabric which he was mainly instrumental in setting up, and kept the volcanic elements under control to the close of his life, his death liberated the imprisoned forces, and in one short year the Commonwealth succumbed to the “ Blessed Restoration.” It is two hundred years ago. All trace of thot stirring time seems to have passed away. In our common moods, we see it only as a dim speck in the receding past; we hear the murmur of it only as the feeble voices of a dream. But, in sober truth, the Commonwealth is yet present with us; it, and all the epochs and eras, impinge upon our own time, are mixed up with it, and give colour and direction to the life and activities of the nineteenth century.

Each of us, navigates his little barque of life on narrow seas, with more or less of light upon his track from the beacon-fires of memory and of hope. The boy-sailor sees only the immediate yesterday and tomorrow, and steers, with merry heart, under the sun-bow which stretches from the one to the other. When the man is drifted into broader longitudes of the great deep, the horizon widens, and memory expands into

[ocr errors]

world-history, and hope into prophetic illumination. But, as boy or as man, his environments are substantially the same. They are the yesterdays and the to-morrows, and the lights and shadows on his path are the lights and shadows of setting and of rising suns. The sunbow of the boy, the little arch of white light through which he steers out of port, becomes a rainbow to the man far out at sea. The pure white gives place to the prismatic colours, which are the reflection of his own manycoloured thoughts; and, instead of resting on the twin-pillars of yesterday and to-morrow, with only a day between, the bow now rests on, or springs up from, all the yesterdays and all the to-morrows: it stretches farther than the arch of heaven, and loses itself in the two eternities.

From these antipodes of duration, and from all intervening points, come lights of strange radiance, and voices which whisper deep things to the heart. The fleeting present is thus linked to the past and the future, and, apparently, takes its complexion equally from both. But, if we closely consider it, the light of hope is only a reflected light; the voices of the future are but echoes of the past. It is the setting sun that gilds the eastern mountain-tops at eventide; it is his light that shines from the moon, as she walks in beauty among the stars. So, also, hope is but the reflection of memory; and whatever light may come to us from the near or far unwritten future, is light which arose in the past days and ages. In picturing a millennial day, each man for himself, or millennial ages for the coming generations, or a new heavens and a new earth when time shall be no longer, we draw exclusively from the ever-accumulating stores of the past behind us—from the scroll of Providence, which has been unrolling from the beginning, on which are inscribed the sacred oracles and the scriptures of universal history; and on a small, but dear, and to each man infinitely important, corner of which his own individual history is recorded.

The possibilities of the present would thus seem to be greater than those of any former age, inasmuch as it is richer in experience. An ingenious, but somewhat extravagant, writer says:

“Consider, the spirit of prophecy never becomes mute among men. Having once uttered itself, it is a voice for ever. First, a disembodied sound, awful, solemn, mystical, it becomes incarnated in events, and history is at once its commentary and fulfilment. It never becomes mute-nay, rather, do not its flute-voices and thunder-voices become clearer and louder, as they sweep down the avenues of the ages! Like whirlwinds and waterspouts (which, in their beginnings, were zephyrs and dewdrops, which sweep over seas and continents, tearing up forests, sucking up streams and rivers, as they pass, the still small voices of prophecy absorb, in their course, the manyfold and many-coloured events of time, and beat with their united force on the rocks and shores whither the present generation has been drifted. The spirit of prophecy never becomes mute, if we only had an open ear to hear it. The spiritual is the only perennial. Hast thou ever thought of the element in which thou movest and hast thy being ? Hast thou ever thought that the things which thou deemest most substantial—thy own body, the house in which thou dwellest, the civil government under which thou livest, all thy institutions in church and state: the commercial, municipal, and parochial laws, which hem thee in on every hand, and read thee stern lessons on the limitations of thy boasted free will and liberty-are all founded on a substratum of divine and human thought, or have grown out of it! I advise thee to think of these things with all thy might, and to search and know, that not only the divine voices which were uttered of old at the springs and fountain-heads of inspiration, but the human will of all who have lived before thee, combine to make thee what thou art, and hold thee in a net from which thou wilt in vain endeavour to escape."

[graphic]

“ The finger-posts of prophecy,” he continues, changing the figure,“ point backwards, as well as forwards, teaching, in their mute, symbolical way, that the past, as well as the future, is the home and school-house of mau's soul. Thou canst know nothing of the eternity which lies before thee, but for the past which lies behind—nay, the present, on which thou layest thy hand, and huggest to thy bosom, vainly endeavouring, too often, to draw a love and life from it which it refuses to yield to thee, what canst thou know of it, even, but for the interpretation of the yesterdays? Plunged in the fabled Lethe, stript of thy memory, and turned out amongst thy fellows, how shouldst thou find thyself? Thou wouldst not know thy own mother, and thy wife and children would be strangers to thee. The heavens and the earth would be a perplexing, though an illuminated enigma. Thou shouldst have to begin anew (and by many falls, be assured) to learn the mystery of good and evil, and to be led by'a higher wisdom than thine own into the awful presence of the divine and human heroism and sorrow by which the one is subordinated to the other. It is thy memory which maketh thee to differ from the beasts that perish; and it is the memory of nations, which we name history, which maketh one nation to differ from another, and exalts it above its fellows on the platform of civilisation.”

Through the exuberance of words and imagery in these passages, we discern a vein of thought, which, patiently followed up, might lead us to high regions of contemplation. It is true, in the most important sense, that the voice of prophecy never becomes mute, which means, in other words, that the sublimities of man's life (the theme of early prophecy) are perennial

, and might be progressive. The sublimities themselves are not progressive; they are substantially the same for ever. But new light is ever shed upon them in the individual experience of every healthy soul, and it were pleasant to be able to cherish the faith, that the path of the succeeding generations shall be like the path of the just man, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. And why should it not be so? “The thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns," and in widened thought there is a possibility, at least, for increase of wisdom. The eternal verities do not change, but they may become clearer. The first prophetic utterances were of them, and the reverberations of that earliest prophecy were heard far away in the unborn ages, and the early hers had thu an intimation hat in the latter days the truth of Heaven should be the acknowledged law of the whole earth.

Although, therefore, there would seem to be ebbs and flows in the life of humanity-seasons of illumination alternating with seasons of dimnesswe should be inclined to pause, if asked for an unfavourable verdict upon our own time. The nineteenth century has much to answer for, if it is not better than the eighteenth, the seventeenth, or than any former century. But it lies under the accusation of having sold its noble inheritance for a mess of pottage, and of having no open sense for the heroism of past ages. Its accuser carries no small weight in his name. Thomas Carlyle, speaking of English Puritanism, says: “Few nobler heroisms -at bottom, perhaps, no nobler heroism-ever transacted itself on this earth; and it lies as good as lost to us, overwhelmed under such an avalanche of human stupidities as no heroism before ever did. Intrinsi

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »