« AnteriorContinuar »
and explain many things, many great actions, many failings, many crimes, as no memoir and no history can ever possibly do for us. The alliance of history and prints is a natural union: with the two together the past is no longer a sealed book-it lives! Not that the French school should be neglected. On the contrary, it is eminently artistic and pleasing, and represents such radically different ways of thought and means of expressing them that it clashes in no way with our own fine school, and rather serves as the natural pendant to it. Greuze, Fragonard, Debucourt, Lavreince, St. Aubin, Janinet, Freudeberg, Moreau le Jeune, and, many others, have left us a delightful record in its way of the age they lived in, more particularly in the detail of costume and in the representation of interiors. But here art comes first and nature limps along with halting steps almost out of sight: the manliness, fidelity to life, and breadth of treatment of the English school are wanting: we tire à la fin des fins even of Greuze's prettiness and Fragonard's sham pastorals, and are mainly attracted by the remarkable technique and delicate work of the best of the French engravers.
Cavillers are always ready to remark that engraving is only an imitative faculty and does not represent original work. In a sense this is true; but, on the other hand, how many painters would have been condemned to oblivion but for the faithful yet independent and brilliant art of the engravers? Take an original drawing of the period and compare it with the engraving, say, by J. R. Smith. Who can deny that Smith at least and he did not stand alone-was an artist in the truest and best sense, conveying with fidelity the whole life and meaning of the picture, and yet placing the indelible impress of his own artistic temperament upon his task, making the print
a true work of art, one too which remains to-day as full of life, subtlety, and color as though fresh drawn from the plate, while the drawing has faded to an almost lifeless and monotonous daub.
Two things can hardly fail to strike a collector of fine prints of the early English school. The first is the recollection that the years 1770-1815 synchronized with the fiercest wars and most violent political commotions of our modern history, yet that there is hardly a sign or echo of war or tumult in the artistic record of the age. Hardly a tragedy, here and there a battlepiece, but never a sign of national passion: pathos, yes; but while the tempests raged outside the artists pursued the even tenor of their way, secure in their island fastness, as though murder and sudden death, defeats, rebellions, and treacheries were things that did not exist. And the second point is that all this great galaxy of talent, this consummate good taste and almost perfect sense of the beautiful and dignified in art, sprang exclusively from the lower classes of provincial England. Except Peters and Wilson, Lavinia Bingham and Lady Diana Beauclerk, the two latter, thanks to the engravings of Gillray and Tomkins,hardly a single man or woman of gentle birth contributed a jot to the revival which brought to British art such universal, well-merited, and undying fame. Let rich men and social magnates recall the fact that it is almost exclusively as patrons that a few gentlefolk have succeeded in entwining their names with the immortals. Admiral Keppel by taking Reynolds to Italy as his guest; Sir George Beaumont by aiding Constable; Sir Thomas Dyke Acland by recognizing the merit of Samuel Cousins and furthering his career. These and other patrons will be remembered so long as the story of British art is told, thanks
to acts of generosity which may have appeared to them at the time as scarcely deserving of mention in their diaries.
Whether we take the artists who designed or the engravers who translated and popularized their works with such fine art and superb technique, we find that nine-tenths from first to last were not only self-made but for the greater part self-taught. Reynolds, whose father was teacher in a small grammar-school; Gainsborough, son of a clothier; Lawrence and Woollett, sons of publicans; Hoppner, the Whitechapel choir-boy; Constable, the handsome miller; Romney, one of eleven children of a cabinet-maker; Morland, son of а bankrupt picture-dealer; Wheatley, a tailor's son,-all these and many others started in life and practiced for long under conditions which seemed ill-calculated to promise the brilliant results which one and all Blackwood's Magazine.
achieved. It was a popular movement, and it was native genius that triumphed in nature study, expressing itself in the highest terms of art. I know nothing to equal it, unless it be the success in other paths of glory that the sons of hairdressers, bandits, and smugglers were winning under the First Empire at the same moment for the future marshals of France.
To-day the devotees of art are drawn from all classes, and we see them leave our shores in throngs to study in Paris, Rome, Berlin,-here, there, and everywhere save in our own fields and lanes and cities, which provided adequate inspiration for our great masters. Yet all this forced hatching of art by foreign incubation has not given us a Reynolds, a Gainsborough, or a Romney, and until nature study occupies a higher place in the world of art I am disposed to think it never will.
"That we must lie off a lightless coast
And haul and back and veer
At the will of the breed that have wronged us most For a year and a year and a year.
like the intervention of this element. Great men, they must admit, have introduced it,-Scott and Hawthorne, for instance. Nevertheless, they generally feel that it is a device recourse to which is lawful but not expedient,-8 license which should be kept for the very great. We do not altogether agree with this verdict. The element of the supernatural enters a good deal into life. It is impossible to map out correctly the human heart and mind, leaving out that half-lit region which lies outside the realm of fancy and beyond the bounds of actual belief where those theories take shape whose propositions most men will not affirm and yet dare not deny. "Half-beliefs," as Mr. Bagehot calls them, have a great influence upon life; consequently their discussion has a place in fiction. Very often they are nothing but the ghosts of that passed-away host of certainties which kept up the light heart of our youth, belief in some of which we would perhaps have died to retain, but almost all of which we have probably lived to doubt. In our opinion, no author has ever known his way about the spiritualistic side of the commonplace mind better than Mrs. Oliphant. She was a past-mistress of what we may call the domestic supernatural. She never trespassed upon the vulgar precincts of mere horror, nor lost her way in the celestial country of pure poetry; neither, though her stories of the unseen are certainly religious, did she invade the various folds of the orthodox faith. She dealt exclusively with those improbable possibilities so dear to the heart, so foreign to the intelligence, of
"half-beliefs" play in life, and how bare and cold would be the appearance of the world if they were suddenly swept away.
Few of us, we suppose, would be prepared to say we believe that one mind can influence another from a distance without the help of speech, writing, or action. We are all ready to condemn the unscrupulous impostors who accept 30s. a week in remuneration for "absent treatment" of some poor credulous invalid. We are sure that we cannot project the number of a five-pound note into another man's mind, and that if we asked our friends to dinner by a process of willing, we could not tell the butler even approximately how many to lay for. All the same, when we write to a friend and our letter crosses his, it gives us pleasure to notice that the two were written upon the same day, and if, as not infrequently happens, the letters turn upon the same subjects, we think, even if we do not believe, that some means for communication other than that of the post exists between us. Friendship would be a much poorer thing, and the world a much more lonely place, if we were sure that memory alone keeps up the fire of love in the minds of the absent.
None but Roman Catholics dare to dogmatize upon the vicarious efficacy of works of supererogation. We agree with David and with Matthew Arnold that "no man can save his brother's soul nor pay his brother's debt," and we regard those who shut themselves up in convents and give their lives to vain repetitions of "Aves" and "Paternosters" to deliver the world from the Devil as so many pious wasters of time. All the same, how much pathos would be taken out of life, and how much bitterness would take its place, if we had not some hazy idea that the sufferings of good people do benefit the worthless individuals for whom they are often undertaken. The idea of
imputed righteousness lies at the root of love, but it is a sentiment which turns to ashes at the least touch of logic. We all have a vague notion that we can by mere willing do each other good or harm. If we hear a person wishing another bad wishes, we are shocked, not because we think he is doing harm to his own mind and soul -this may very well be the case-but probably we despise him too much at the moment to care a pin. Our instinctive feeling is that we have witnessed an injury and are sorry. The feeling is not, of course, so poignant as if the injury had been actual, but the one sensation is the shadow of the other. If we happen to say that we hate some one, and then immédiately hear that he is ill, we instinctively take back our words. We do not definitely think that our expression of opinion could stand in the way of his recovery, but we anxiously avoid the possibility of its doing So. The dislike to speak ill of those lately dead has been proverbial for ages. The feeling no doubt springs largely from a chivalrous fear of slandering those who can no longer speak in their own defence; but have we not also a secret feeling that our thought may injure a soul which has cast off all material protection? True, we do not feel this of the dead we have never known; the dead in history are as the dead in fiction. Impersonal hates are not very pointed, and can probably injure no one. That a sense of well-being arises in the minds of those who feel that many people actively wish them well, we all vaguely know. To look for an opportunity to do a man a good turn is, we suspect, to benefit him in some manner, even though the actual opportunity should never arise. To hate some one to the extent of desiring to do him a mischief is to sin, we are certain, and that not only against our own souls. Many of us have experienced, or have imagined we experi
enced, in moments of doubt, perplexity, or suffering, a sense of suggestion, as if some friend prompted us to a course of action, or offered us an argument, a consolation, or a conviction. If we had asked that friend whether or no he was aware of our mental distress on that particular day, he would probably have told us that he was absorbed in his work or his amusement, and never thought of us at all. Perhaps this might prove to our mind that the whole thing was imagination; on the other hand, it might prove nothing of the sort, and we might consider that we had still a right to associate our friend with our moment of mental relief. We know next to nothing about the spiritual laws of the unseen world. The person we thought of is sure to be some one who has actually desired our happiness, and expended his mental and moral force for our good or our pleasure, perhaps when we were in no immediate need. That force, for anything we know, may stand to our credit, and uphold us when we want it most.
Sensible people if they are asked whether they believe in ghosts generally reply, with a mixture of irritation and sincerity, that they certainly do not. If, however, it is not impossible that we may be in some sort of touch with those at a distance, why is it impossible that we should be in touch with those at the greatest distance of all, with those, we mean, who have passed beyond the horizon of death? It would greatly add to the sadness of life if every man were absolutely certain that no one he had ever loved, no one whom any one had ever loved, could ever again show him, by any manner of means, the slightest sympathy or the slightest approval, that nothing he ever did while he remained in the world could ever again be of the least consequence to the person to whom, maybe, for many years his affairs were the most important thing in