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They think not, perhaps. They think it easy, and therefore contemptible, to be truthful; they have been taught so all their lives. But it is not so, whoever taught it them. It is most difficult, and worthy of the greatest men's greatest effort, to render, as it should be rendered, the simplest of the natural features of the earth; but also be it remembered, no man is confined to the simplest; each may look out work for himself where he chooses, and it will be strange if he cannot find something hard enough for him. The excuse is, however, one of the lips only; for every painter knows that when he draws back from the attempt to render nature as she is, it is oftener in cowardice than in disdain.
I must leave the reader to pursuc this subject for himself; I have not space to suggest to him the tenth part of the advantages which would follow, both to the painter from such an understanding of his mission, and to the whole people, in the results of his Jabor. Consider how the man himself would be elevated : how content he would become, how earnest, how full of all accurate and noble knowledge, how free from envy-knowing creation to be infinite, feeling at once the value of what he did, and yet the nothingness, Con. sider the advantage to the people; the immeasurably larger interest given to art itself; the easy, pleasurable, and perfect knowledge conveyed by it, in every subject; the far greater number of men who might be healthily and profitably occil. pied with it as a means of livelihood; the uscful direction of myriads of inferior talents, now left fading away in misery. Conceive all this, and then look around at our exhibitions, and behold the “cattle picces,” and “sea pieces," and “fruit pieces,” and “family pieces;” the eternal brown cows in ditches, and white sails in squalls, and sliced lemons in saucers, and foolish faces in simper8 ;—and try to feel what we are, and what we might have been.
Take a single instance in one branch of archæology. Let those who are interested in the history of religion consider what a treasure we should now have possessed, if, instead of painting pots, and vegetables, and drunken peasantry, the most accurate painters of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen. turies had been set to copy, line for line, the religious and domestic sculpture on the German, Flemish, and French cathedrals and castles; and if every building destroyed in the French or in any other subscquent revolution, had thus becn drawn in all its parts with the same precision with which Gerard Douw or Mieris paint basreliefs of Cupids. Consider, even now, what incalculable treasure is still left in ancient basreliefs, full of every kind of legendary interest, of subtle expression, of priceless evidence as to the character, feelings, habits, histories, of past generations, in neglected and shattered churches and domestic buildings, rapidly disappearing over the whole of Europe-treasure which, once lost, the labor of all men living cannot bring back again; and then look at the myriads of men, with skill enough, if they had but the commonest schooling, to record all this faithfully, who are making their bread by drawing dances of naked women from academy models, or idealitics of chivalry fitted out with Wardour Street armor, or eternal scenes from Gil Blas, Don Quixote, and the Vicar of Wakefield, or mountain sceneries with young idiots of Londoners wearing Highland bonnets and brandishing rifles in the foregrounds. Do but think of these things in the breadth of their inexpressible imbccility, and then go and stand before that broken basrelief in the southern gate of Lincoln Cathedral, and see if there is no fibre of the heart in you that will break too.
But is there to be no place left, it will be indignantly asked, for imagination and invention, for poetical power, or love of ideal beauty? Yes; the highest, the noblest place that which these only can attain when they are all used in the': cause, and with the aid of truth. Wherever imagination and
sentiment are, they will either show themselves without forcing, or, if capable of artificial development, the kind of train. ing which such a school of art would give them would be the best they could receive. The infinite absurdity and failure of our present training consists mainly in this, that we do not rank imagination and invention high enough, and suppose that they can be taught. Throughout every sentence that I ever have written, the reader will find the same rank attributed to these powers,—the rank of a purely divine gift, not to be attained, increased, or in any wise modified by teaching, only in various ways capable of being concealed or quenched. Under- . stand this thoroughly; know once for all, that a poet on canvas is exactly the same species of creature as a poet in song, and nearly every error in our methods of teaching will be done away with. For who among us now thinks of bringing men up to be poets ?-of producing poets by any kind of general recipe or method of cultivation ? Suppose even that we sce in youth that which we hope may, in its development, become a power of this kind, should we instantly, supposing that we wanted to make a poet of him, and nothing else, forbid him all quiet, steady, rational labor? Should we force him to perpetual spinning of new crudities out of his boyish brain, and set before him, as the only objects of his study, the lawe of versification which criticism has supposed itself to discover in the works of previous writers? Whatever gifts the boy had, would much be likely to come of them so treated ? nnless, indeed, they were so great as to break through all such snares of falschood and vanity, and build their own foundation in spite of us; whereas if, as in cases numbering millions against units, the natural gifts were too weak to do this, could any thing come of such training but utter inanity and spuriousness of the whole man? But if we had sense, should we not rather restrain and bridle the first flame of invention in early youth, heaping material on it as one would on the first
sparks and tongues of a fire which we desired to feed into greatness ? Should we not educate the whole intellect into general strength, and all the affections into warmth and honesty, and look to heaven for the rest ? This, I say, we should have sense enough to do, in order to produce a poet in words: but, it being required to produce a poct on canvas, what is our way of setting to work? We begin, in all probability, by telling the youth of fifteen or sixteen, that Naturo is full of faults, and that he is to improve her; but that Raphael is perfection, and that the more he copies Raphael the better ; that after much copying of Raphael, he is to try what he can do himself in a Raphaelesqnc, but yet original, manner: that is to say, he is to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something is to be properly subjected to Raphaelesque rules, is to have
principal light occupying one-seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one-third of the same; that no two people's heads in the picture are to be turned the same way, and that all the personages represented are to possess ideal beauty of the highest order, which ideal beauty consists partly in a Greek outline of nose, partly in proportions ex. pressible in decimal fractions between the lips and chin; but partly also in that degree of improvement which the youth of sixteen is to bestow upon God's work in general. This I say is the kind of teaching which through various channels, Royal Academy lecturings, press criticisms, public enthusiasm, and not least by solid weight of gold, we give to our young men. And we wonder we have no painters !
But we do worse than this. Within the last few years somo sense of the real tendency of such teaching has appeared in some of our younger painters. It only could appear in the younger ones, our older men having become familiarised with the false system, or else having passed through it and forgotten it, not well knowing the degree of harm they had sustained, This sense appeared, among our youths,-increased, -matured into resolute action. Necessarily, to exist at all, it needed the support both of strong instincts and of considerable self. confidence, otherwise it must at once have been borne down by the weight of general authority and received canon law. Strong instincts are apt to make men strange, and rude; selfconfidence, however well founded, to give much of what they do or say the appearance of impertinence. Look at the selfconfidence of Wordsworth, stiffening every other sentence of his prefaces into defiance; there is no more of it than wae needed to enable him to do his work, yet it is not a little ungraceful here and there. Suppose this stubbornness and selftrust in a youth, laboring in an art of which the executive part is confessedly to be best learnt from masters, and we shall hardly wonder that much of his work has a certain awkwardness and stiffness in it, or that he should be regarded with disfavor by many, even the most temperate, of the
judges trained in the system he was breaking through, and with utter contempt and reprobation by the envious and the dull. Consider, farther, that the particular system to be over. thrown was, in the present case, one of which the main cha
racteristic was the pursuit of beanty at the expense of man• liness and truth; and it will seem likely, d priori, that the men intended successfully to resist the influence of such a system should be endowed with little natural sense of beauty, and thus rendered dead to the temptation it presented. Sum. ming up these conditions, there is surely little cause for surprise that pictures painted, in a temper of resistance, by exceedingly young men, of stubborn instincts and positive self-trast,
and with little natural perception of beauty, should not be \calculated, at the first glance, to win us from works enriched
by plagiarism, polished by convention, invested with all the attractiveness of artificial grace, and recommended to our respect by established authority.