Oldalképek
PDF

Where, far as he could dart his wandering eye, Booi n,

He nought but boundless water could descry. ch!>P-n

With equal reason, Keswick's favoured pool Arch'solo-
Is made the theme of every wondering fool.' Gists And

Explorers,

Within a few months, this poem—little as it is now remembered—went through two editions. It was soon followed by a more ambitious flight. In 1796, its author published 'The Progress of Civil Society; a didactic poem.'

The impression which had been made, in that day of feeble verse (as far as the southern part of the realm is concerned), by The Landscape, gained for The Progress of Civil Society an amount of attention of which it was intrinsically unworthy. The work deals with social progress, and it treats the convictions dearest to Christian men as being simply the conjectures of 'presumptuous ignorance.' It is the work of a man who writes after nine generations of his ancestors and countrymen have had a free and open Bible in their hands, and who none the less puts the worship of Nature, and of her copyists, in the place of the worship of Nature's God. This.' didactic poem ' is written in the land of Bacon, Milton, and Shakespeare, and it bases itself on the 'fifth book of Lucretius.'

Not the least curious thing about the matter is the effect which was wrought by Mr. Knight's poetic flight upon the mind of a brother antiquarian. The work absolutely inspired Horace Walpole with a serious and deep regret that he was consciously too near the grave to undertake the defence of Christian philosophy against its new assailant. Such a labour, from such a pen, would indeed have been a curiosity of literature.

Horace

Feeling that for a man who was almost an octogenarian Walmu

^ 1 ON THE

'Progress

writes to Mason. He entreats him to expose the daring soc^Vr.

7»6.

the tasks of controversy would be too much, Walpole

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

poetaster. His earnestness in the matter approaches passion. 'I could not, without using too many words,' he says, 'express to you how much I am offended and disgusted by Mr. Knight's new, insolent, and self-conceited poem. Considering to what height he dares to carry his insolent attack, it might be sufficient to lump [together] all the rest of his impertinent sallies . . as trifling peccadillos. . . . The vanity of supposing that his authority—the authority of a trumpery prosaic poetaster—was sufficient to re-establish

the superannuated atheism of Lucretius! I cannot

engage in an open war with him Weak and broken

as I am, tottering to the grave at some months past seventyeight,! have not spirits or courage enough to tap a paper war.'

Walfole then adverts to a foregone thought, on Mason's part, to have taken up the foils on the appearance of The Landscape. 'I ardently wish,' he says, 'you had overturned and expelled out of gardens this new Priapus, who is only fit to be erected in the Palais de l'Egalite.' And he urges his correspondent not to let the present occasion slip. Irony and ridicule, he thinks, would be weapons quite sufficient to overthrow this 'Knight of the Brazen Milk-Pot,'

The last thrust was unkind indeed. It was hard that our Collector, whatever his other demerits, should be reproached for his passion to gather small bronzes, by the builder and furnisher of Strawberry-Hill.

For, amidst all his devotion to poetry and pantheism, Mr. Knight carried on the pursuits of connoisseurship with insatiable ardour. Among the choicer acquisitions which speedily followed the Diomede [?] purchased in 1785, were the mystical Bacchus—a bronze of the Macedonian period—found near Aquila in 1775; a colossal head of Minerva, found near Rome by Gavin Hamilton; and a figure of Mercury of great beauty. The last-named bronze Bookii, had been found, in 1732, at Pierre-Luisit, in the Pays de Cjloil Bugey and diocese of Lyons. A dry rock had sheltered a,*TMTM^" the little figure from injury, so that it retained the perfec- ElPLO,u!BS tion of its form, as if it had but just left the sculptor's »,ss,m. hand. It passed through the hands of three French owners in succession before it was sold to Mr. Knight, by the last of them, at the beginning of the Reign of Terror.

The year 1792, in which he acquired this much-prized 'Mercury/ is also the date of a remarkable discovery of no less than nineteen choice bronzes in one hoard, at Paramythia, in Epirus. They had, in all probability, been buried during nearly two thousand years. The story of the find is, in itself, curious. It shows too, in relief, the energy and perseverance which Mr. Knight brought to his work of collectorship, and in which he was so much better employed th*"oaid

r> r J Of Bbonzks

—both for himself and for his country—than in philo- »°UMD AT

Pakauy

sophising upon human progress, from the standpoint of TtiJA, IN Lucretius.

Some incident or other of the weather had disclosed appearances which led, fortuitously, to a search of the ground into which these bronzes had been cast—perhaps during the invasion of Epirus, B.C. 167—and, by the finder, they were looked upon as so much saleable metal. Bought, as old brass, by a coppersmith of Joannina, they presently caught the eye of a Greek merchant, who called to mind that he had seen similar figures shown as treasures in a museum at Moscow. He made the purchase, and sent part of it, on speculation, to St. Petersburgh. The receiver brought them to the knowledge of the Empress Catherine, who intimated that she would buy, but died before the acquisition was paid for. They were then shared, it seems, between a Polish connoisseur and a Russian dealer. One ctop'ii' bronze was brought to London by a Greek dragoman and Classical shown to Mr. Knight, who eagerly secured it, heard the Oistsand story of the discovery, and sent an agent into Russia, who Eiplorem. succeecje(j m obtaining nine or ten of the sculptures found at Paramythia. Two others were given to Mr. Knight by Lord Aberdeen, who had met with them in his travels. They were all of early Greek work. Amongst them are figures of Serapis, of Apollo Didymceus, of Jupiter, and of one of the Sons of Leda. All these have been engraved among the Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, published by the Society of Dilettanti.

Few sources of acquisition within the limits which he had laid down for himself escaped Mr. Payne Knight's research. He kept up an active correspondence with explorers and dealers. He watched Continental sales, and explored the shops of London brokers, with like assiduity. Coins, medals, and gems, shared with bronzes, and with the original drawings of the great masters of painting, in his affectionate pursuit.

In his search for bronzes he welcomed choice and characteristic works from Egypt and from Etruria, as well as the consummate works of Greek genius. His numismatic cabinet was also comprehensive, but its Greek coins were pre-eminent. For works in marble he had so little relish that he actually persuaded himself, by degrees, that the greatest artists of antiquity rarely 'condescended' to touch marble. But he collected a small number of busts in that material.

For one volume of drawings by Claude, Mr. Knight gave the sum of sixteen hundred pounds.

Among his later acquisitions of sculpture in brass was the very beautiful Mars in Homeric armour. This figure was brought to England by Major Blagrave hi 1S13. The Bacchic Mask (No. 35. in the second volume of the Sped- Boo«ii,

v' Chap. II.

mens) was found, in the year 1674, near Nimeguen, in a Classical stone coffin. It was preserved by the Jesuits of Lyons, in 0ist3a»d their Collegiate Museum, until their dissolution. Prom them Exl'L0SEa9it passed into the possession of Mr. Roger Wilbraham, from whom Mr. Knight obtained it.

On the thorough study of the fine Collection which had ^D,„ been gathered from so many sources—here indicated by but 'NT0THB

w DYMBOL1SM

a scanty sample—and on that of other choice Collections Oigm*

AttT AND

both at home and abroad, Mr. Knight based the most Mytuoloqi elaborate—perhaps the most valuable—work of his life, next to his Museum itself. The Inquiry into the Symbolism of Greek Art and Mythology bears, indeed, too many traces of the narrowness of the author's range of thought, whenever he leaves the purely artistic criticism of which he was, despite his limitations, a master, in order to dissertate on the interdependence or on the 'priestcraft' of the religions of the world. But hi3 genuine lore cannot be concealed by his flimsy philosophy. The student will gain from the Inquiry real knowledge about ancient art. He will find, indeed, not a few statements which the author himself would be the first to modify in the light of the new information of the last fifty years. But he will also find much which, in its time, proved to be suggestive and fruitful to other minds, and which prepared the way for wider and deeper studies. It may do so yet. The book is one which the student of archaeology cannot afford to overlook. Whilst he may well afford a passing smile at the philosophic insight which prompted our author's eulogies (1) upon the 'liberal and humane spirit which still prevails among those nations whose religion is founded upon the principle of emanations;' (2) upon the wisdom of the 'Siamese, who

« ElőzőTovább »