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MEMBERS OF THE SOCIETY OF ARTS.
It is to me a source of unfeigned regret that I should be compelled to differ thus widely from gentlemen, with all of whom I have lived on friendly terms for several years, from none of whom, however much or frequently I might oppose their views, have I received aught but courtesy (with, perhaps, one exception), and for most of whom I shall continue to feel sentiments of respect. But I must deal with their collective acts as those of the Council of the Society of Arts.
ALL societies and institutions that are intended by their founders to contribute for lengthened periods of time to the well-being of the nation, should exhibit in their plans and operations a high degree of flexibility, so as to meet the ever-varying conditions of social progress. The sentiment of the poet—“The old order changeth, yielding place to new "--holds good in all departments of human
action, and unless corresponding changes are made in the plans of institutions of any standing in point of time, they run the risk of becoming antiquated and obsolete, and of turning out as useless after the lapse of one or two generations, as they were beneficial in their original working. On the other hand, their present vitality is proved, their future utility is provided for, by adopting every improvement in organisation, and prudently embracing and actively working out every well-conceived system for the purpose of attaining those ends at which a previous age aimed, by plans formed in accordance with its light and intelligence, and adapted to the circumstances of its times.
Now, any one who compares the relation that existed during the latter half of the last century between the “ Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce” of the United Kingdom, on the one hand, and the Legislature on the other, with the present state of matters, cannot fail to be struck with one great difference between the two periods. At the former date the principles of a restrictive commercial system predominated in the Legislature, and were enforced by its enactments. When Adam Smith published his “ Wealth of Nations”-twenty-two years after the foundation of the Society of Arts--the exportation of machines and engines used in the chief manufactures of the country was prohibited under heavy penalties; even the master of the vessel that carried away the machinery was liable to a fine of £200.. At the same time, all persons convicted of enticing any artificer in
any of the manufactures of Great Britain to go into foreign parts to practise or teach his trade, were
punished by fine and imprisonment; and skilled artizans, who continued to exercise their calling abroad after due warning from the British Government, became aliens and outlaws, forfeiting all their property to the Crown. Such a policy, it was generally imagined at that time, although some few protested against it, was best calculated to promote the interests of the nation. But we now live under the regime of Free Trade; the old restrictive policy has been thrown overboard, and the increasing and rapid intercourse between distant lands soon renders the newest inventions and discoveries the common property. of all nations. It is, therefore, to the intellectual and moral character of the great mass of the people that we must look for the maintenance of the high position wo have attained in the industrial world, and of the political pre-eminence which accompanies superior material wealth, and not to any direct encouragement or protection that we can confer on arts, manufactures, and commerce. It is this latter only that I have ever qnestioned.
Again, many of those functions which were peculiar to the Society of Arts at its first establishment, have ceased to belong to it. The Royal Academy has taken painting out of its hands. The Royal Agricultural Society encourages agriculture, so long one of the chief fields of action of the Society of Arts. The same may be said of horticulture; this need is supplied by the Horticultural Society. In the same way the Institution of Civil Engineers inquires into the merits of mechanical inventions. One of the earliest and most cherished departments of the Society, and one on which it always has bestowed a peculiar attention, is the art of drawing. Throughout
the transactions of the Society we shall, almost in every page, find proof of the great attention which was given to the cultivation of the art of drawing-prizes, medals, and rewards everywhere meet the eye. The labours of the Society in this direction are for the future saved by the Department of Science and Art, which has made ample provision, supplied by the funds of the State, for the encouragement of skilful manipulation in the various divisions of practical Art, as it has been called.
One of the earliest duties which the Society of Arts laboured to discharge, and which very recently it has again taken up, is the improvement of education as a means of cultivating the intelligence that is brought to bear on the transactions of commerce.*
It was the neglect of the above law of progress that some twelve or fourteen years ago had nearly terminated the existence of the Society of Arts. Having performed the work for which it had been established, the Society of Arts was gradually dying out in its sombre old house in the Adelphi, in a state of insolvent imbecility and babbling decrepitude. In fact a
*“In the year 1783, the society, considering the education of youth a matter of the utmost importance, and reflecting on the great length of time usually employed in the study of languages, offered the following premiums:
To the Masters of Academies or Schools teaching Languages. “Whereas it has been observed that the living languages, or languages spoken in schools, are much sooner acquired than the dead languages, which are only taught grammatically:
“The society, desirous to improve the present mode of education, hereby, offers the gold medal to the master of any academy or school for boys, situated within or not more than thirty miles distant from
meeting was called, or was about to be called, to consider the propriety of putting an end to the society, when Mr. T. Webster, I believe, hit upon the happy idea to found a new society under the old name, and to establish it in the old familiar locality. From that day the society has grown in strength and usefulness. The Great Exhibition may be taken as one of the first-fruits of this altered state of things. But it was soon taken out of the hands of the society, and when an ascertained surplus of nearly £200,000 proved its triumphant success, although large sums were bestowed on private persons (no doubt well earned), yet not a shilling was appropriated to the Society of Arts, which was then, and is now more than ever, in need of a Building fund.
The came the Indian Exhibition, which proved a failure.
Next in order is the Educational Exhibition, displayed in St. Martin's Hall, in the autumn of 1854, due to Mr.:
London, who shall, within three years from the date of this advertise ment, teach the greatest number of scholars, not less than four, to write and to speak Latin in common conversation correctly and fluently.
“ Also, the gold medal for teaching in like manner each of the following languages ; namely, the German, the Spanish, and the Italian, being commercial languages not usually taught at schools in England.
“The masters who propose being candidates for the above premiums are to send notice of their intention to claim them, at the Society's house in the Adelphi, on or before the second Tuesday November, 1786; soon after which the society will appoint a day for examining the young gentlemen, and for adjudging the said: claims.” - Transactions of the Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, vol. v. p. 111.