[Stephens, Frederic George]. "The Two Pre-Raphaelitisms. Second Article." Crayon 3.10 (Oct. 1856), 289-292.
Although we have several painters still to dilate upon, it will, perhaps, yet be well to see to what ground we have brought our laborers; it may be right to do this without considering the amount of work which has been done, still less the respective labors of each. Firstly,consider that the Byzantine School of Art, from which much of the practice of the Lombards came, was of the most inane order, in fact, little superior to that which recently flourished in New Zealand;many will think this a harsh and contemptuous thing to say, but the fact was so; whatever excellence they had was merely of the traditional sort, they brought nothing of their own to the aid and sustenance of art, therefore it was dying fast of inanition, larger and larger grew their gilded glories and nimbi, darker, blacker, and more atrocious the visages of the saints; more and more idiotic the simpers of their virgins;till Art was in a state hopeless for Greece: nothing but fire could purge the pharasaical blindness which shut its eyes to nature and truth. Not for the benefit of politics alone came the Ottoman:although the arts of spindling Greece fled from the twang of the Turkish bow, it was to the bracing air of North Italy, and amongst the sturdy, fantastic, dreaming race of the Lombards, the descendants of the vanquishers of their ancestors, the scanty art of the Byzantines found shelter and new life, bestowing the little that was left of the intellect of Greece upon the race of Belisarius, who took the gift like plastic clay into their hands, and wrought out therewith the most glorious consummation of the intellectual worship of God the earth had then seen. It was in the plains of Lombardy that the arts of peace found repose, that the language, the poetry, the civilization of Greece broke into new life, and new vigor sprang from the ancient plant.
We will conclude our remarks upon the Pre-Raphaelite painters by introducing the few named in the conclusion of our last article. But first, let us say something of Fra Fillipo Lippi:there seems to be not much known of this artist, but what remains of his work shows the same qualities with which the age was so largely endowed; many of his figures have a grace and dignity beyond the reach of even his contemporaries:there is one of his pictures, entitled "Miracle of the Apostles Peter and John," where the apostles have a grave dignity, a nobility of presence, and grandeur of attitude which we do not remark elsewhere; their draperies are learnedly cast round their noble figures, which are grand without attitudinizing, while their motions are most human in their magnificence.
To resume. The painters we named were Cosimo Rosselli, Ghirlandajo, Masaccio, and Fra Bartolomeo. Cosimo Rosselli greatly resembled Benozzo Gozzoli in the elegance of his designs; but exceeded him, we think, in graceful power and completeness of composition; he appears to have carried his studies to a farther extent than many of the others, and the result seems proportionate. His picture of the "Exposition of the Sacrament," contains some of the most admirable and varied groupings we ever remember to have seen, having withal a naturalness which does not surprise the observer until the work comes to be closely studied. In the centre of the picture, half way in, as it were, is a group of four women, engaged in conversation, which is so whole and complete in the mutual consent and relative action of each to the other, as to put to shame all the groupings of Raphael, which are so much boasted of, but which will very seldom bear so close an examination as this one in question by Rosselli.
Our readers may remember to have heard unbounded admiration expressed for the group of boys who are represented carrying doves in Raphaels Cartoon of Peter and John healing the Cripple at the Beautiful Gate: these are indeed elegant in design, and have much action in them; but let the reader compare them with the group of a girl leading two children, in the left-hand corner of the picture we have just mentioned, by Cosimo Rosselli, in which one of the children turns to a dog that is running after them; the girl herself leads both children by the hand, and while her robe is shaken by the wind, she looks out of the picture (but not for applause from the spectator, as is too common,) with the sweetest expression of innocence one can imagine; the other child is equally beautiful and natural. The reader should compare the execution of these with that of the boys with doves in Raphaels Cartoon:now Raphael was a professed master of the art of drawing, has received peans [sic] of praise for this appropriateness of his design and other elegant qualities, yet these boys are unquestionably heavy and clumsy to the last degree, the back of one of them is a very tolerable study of adult anatomy when well covered with fat; but no one will assert that he ever saw such muscles on the back of an infant eight years old, or thereabouts, which may be supposed to be the age of these children. Few men have praised Cosimo Rosselli, while thousands adore Raphael; we question if there is a better known or more frequently engraved work of art than this same cartoon of Healing the Cripple at the Beautiful Gate; still, for all this, set the groups side by side, and we will defy the observer to say otherwise than that Rosselli is the greater and more just designer, yet we are not aware of the existence of more than one or two engravings of the [sic] "The Exposition of the Sacrament," and those very indifferent indeed. Such is the justice of man. Indeed, the justice which must some day, sooner or later, be done to those artists we are treating of, will, of necessity, come from the engraver:are there not copies enough of the Cartoons of Raphael, some of them wonderful productions of the brain, some good, some barely tolerable, and many detestably bad? (Not unfrequently these last are the most expensive, men go on admiring nevertheless.) Why do not our engravers go into the Carmine, the Maddalena, the Campo Santo, and the Bassillicas, and Duomos of most of the cities of Lombardy, and rescue these fast crumbling remains of art for our admiration, by producing careful engravings of them?
"Whenever a fresco peels and drops,
Whenever an outline weakens and wanes
Till the latest life in the painting stops,
Stands one whom each fainter pulse-tick pains!
One, wishful each scrap should clutch its brick
Each tinge not wholly escape the plaster,
A lion who dies of an asss kick,
The wronged great soul of an ancient master."
The time will come, however, and soon we hope to see it. The Arundel and other societies are doing their best to rescue many of these great paintings for the admiration of our sons.
"If you knew their work you would deal your dole.
May I take it upon me to instruct you ?"
To instruct the reader the present writer is scarcely competent, his knowledge being mainly derived from the villainous engravings in Rosinis [sic] "Storia della Pittura," and those scarcely superior in dAgincourts "Histoire de lArt par les Monumens," even in these and similar works the irrepressible spirit breaks out, despite the frightful obtuseness of the wretched engraver.
Ghirlandajo, a master of the class we are descanting upon, is one of the most celebrated of them; his designs, at least, in many instances, appear to us stiffer and less harmonious than some of the others. His picture of the death of St. Francis in the Cappella dei Sassetei, however, is not open to this objection, and we may say of the "Exposition of the Sacrament," by Cosimo Rosselli, that it contains some of the most admirable and varied grouping we ever remember to have seen;its being a more open composition, the groups more dispersed, as it were, while the interest being more concentrated on one pointthe dead body of the saintundoubtedly renders the designing of the same a more difficult task;still, see how the groups balance one another, how each is independent of all, yet every one having the mutual relation which is necessary to carry out the subject. The body of the saint lies extended on a bier, three monks embrace its limbs with varied and natural individuality of action and expression, there are none of them alike, although engaged in the same act; we mean the difference is not merely of attitude and feature, but that each man evinces his emotions in a distinct and characteristic way: at the feet stands a party of priests, while at the head is shown a bishop, reading the service for the dead; on either side of him is an acolyte, one bearing a censer, the other the vessel of holy water; the bishop is in full pontificals and wears spectacles; this last incident would have been scrupulously avoided by a less earnest artist than Ghirlandajo; he has not, however, allowed it to derogate from the human dignity and the manliness of the action of his figure; not in the least does it make his pose look mean, as the reader might fear, but rather adds to the interest we feel from the individual character it endows; one sees it is a man doing a mans action in a human, unsophisticated way, with all reverence: one of the acolytes looks over the book as if to follow the reader more closely, and be prepared for the part which he, as censer-bearer, has to take in the ceremony; the office of the holy-water bearer is less independent of his own volition, he has therefore abandoned himself to the contemplation of the glory of the Brotherhood now lying dead before him on the bier. There is a little unaffected incident shown in the left-hand corner of the picture, which seems intended to introduce the spectator himself amongst the groups, making him more than he might otherwise be, a partaker of the feelings and the solemnity of the occasion;it is a boy, or rather a youth, richly dressed, and evidently not belonging to the monastery, who had by chance, probably, got mixed with the scene, and now stands awe-struck and impressed, looking half dismayed (so to speak) at what may be supposed his first sight of the majesty of death. Does the reader remember his first sight of that which had been the residence of a soul like his own?how the difficulty of realization brought a strange vagueness of conviction and sad terror of astonishment into his mind? Was it not one of the most impressive sights he ever could or shall witness; and, if occurring in his youth, how it was most probable the first really grave and serious thought which disturbed the bright mirror of the lake in which the young content of his mind lay bathed? Let him, if these thoughts have ever been with him, look at the face and action of this boy, and marvel at the deeper heart of the artist, who could place them so palpably before him.
In treating of Giotto, we referred to the practice of calling the immediate attention of the spectator to the action of a picture by making one of the figures appealing from out of the canvas, as it were, to him personally; a manuvre much adopted by Raphael and his successors, and being extremely obvious, much admired and delighted in by the critics and cognoscenti of the last century: Ghirlandajo effected the same object in a far better manner, by the introduction of this boy who expresses our emotions, without calling out to us to share his own. If the reader will reflect upon the difference of mind and judgment which the choice of either of these methods indicates, he will perceive what a world of deep thought and more subtle imagination Ghirlandajo evinced, when he placed this boy in the corner of his picture.
Will the reader think these men have not been wronged in the worlds judgment, their tenderly wise meanings neglected and passed over, in order to dwell on the more obvious but less delicate, more melo-dramatic, but less subtle (as is the wont) labors of their successors?
"Their ghosts now stand, as I said before,
Watching each fresco flaked and rasped,
Blocked up, knocked out, or white-washed oer;
No getting again what the church has grasped!
The works on the wall must take their chance,
Works never conceded to Englands thick clime!
(I hope they prefer their inheritance
Of a bucket-full of Italias quick-lime)."
This is what Browning says on this subject; but we hope to show "that Englands thick clime" has a chance of producing works which may stand side by side with theirs, and peradventure show that the name "Pre-Raphaelite," which but a few years ago, was taken up as a phrase of mocking scorn by the ignorant critics, may become a pass-word of honor to those who have endeavored to restore Art to its proper position. Of this in our third article.
Masaccio and Fra Bartolomeo must conclude our exercitations of these painters. The name of Masaccio is better known than many of those who have gone before, partly because his works appear to be in a somewhat better state of preservation, as well as more numerous. Of them all we must confine our remarks to two, taken quite at random. First, the "Martyrdom of St. Peter;" this saint, as is well known, was crucified head downwards. Masaccio has it thus: one executioner raises the inverted cross by a pulley to the height required, while the others secure the victim more firmly; there is a group of lookers-on, which is quite inimitable, placed at the left-hand of the picture; their attitudes are very noble, while they stand firmly placed, and well balanced on their feet. The power of properly putting a figure on its feet, so that it appears truly to stand, has been possessed by few, and yet how often have we heard that the early Italian masters could not only not do this, but that they could not even correctly draw the feet; in fact, that they made the toe pointing downwards always, as if each man tripped along. Yet what is the truth? we see with considerable surprise, on looking at most of the works of the painters we have enumerated, so far from tripping, we can conceive it scarcely possible to place a figure in better form or poise than theirs; their feet have adhesion to the earth, and the position of the centre of gravity is beautifully indicated, although their men sway in motion, and seem to move in the most natural manner; let the reader refer to the group of men witnessing the martyrdom of Saint Peter for verification of this, and see how the balance of their structure is preserved, and how graceful and steady they look. The truth, we fear, is that the critics in their ignorance of the subject have confounded the whole of the painters of Italy, who lived previous to Lionardo [sic] da Vinci, into one body, from the later Byzantines to Dellos, through Nicolo Pisano and Cimabue, to Ghiberti and Ghirlandajo, and eagerly seizing upon the faults or rather the imperfections of the former, have striven to hide their own ignorance of all by confounding them with the latter. This was curiously shown a year or two back when the English critics in one howling body set upon the modern Pre-Raphaelites;they only knew that they called themselves Pre-Raphaelites, and thinking that everything so named must be cross and ignorant as themselves, rashly declared that Millais could not draw, that Hunt was a laborious dauber, and that both were profoundly ignorant of perspective even: they averred that Rossetti was a Puseyite in disguise, for no other reason than that he had painted a picture of a scriptural subject in a manner which they did not comprehend. Even if he had been a Puseyite what matters? they never thought of abusing Herbert because he is a Roman Catholic. This went on merrily, until Ruskin, over-zealous for the honor of Art criticism, and thinking, doubtless, that the joke of exposing their own ignorance had gone far enough, roundly gave the lie direct to these remarks, with a challenge to proof; since then all this has subsided into comparative silence, with a feeble maunder occasionally, that the pictures are above their comprehension; even this is fast sinking into marvel at the prices Millais gets for his works, and gossip of what Hunt is doing now and then.
We will return to Masaccio. "The Miracle of the Restoration of the Youth," the subject of his picture in the Carmine at Florence, is one which it is extremely difficult to treat without sameness or over-violence of design, it is, nevertheless, one of the most famous pictures in the world, and most justly so. The great difficulty of arranging a crowd is got over in a most triumphant manner; the whole number of persons present, we should say about fifty, are gathered together in a body, massed yet admirably diversified; every action is different and expressive; there are minor incidents occurring in this crowd which, however, do not interfere with its wholeness, while they illustrate its main subject. How various are the actions and expressions, and attitudes of so many men all standing upright, engaged with the same object of attention! In this chapel is the figure of Paul addressing Peter in prison, from which Raphael took his celebrated figure of Paul in the Cartoon of the Preaching at Athens; it seems to us that for the mere action, Raphael has improved upon it for his subject, although Masaccios is unquestionably best adapted for his own less energetic design. In DAgincourts "Histoire de lArt par les Monumens" is engraved two heads of old men, apparently spectators of some absorbing scene; to judge from their expressions both of them are common heads, yet most startling from their fidelity.
Of Fra Bartolomeo we have little to say; the engravings from his works are tolerably numerous, and may be well studied with advantage. In Florence are two Cartoons by him, which appear to have been intended by him for architectonic decorations, the figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul; they are designed in a very grand style, and in a manner which would hardly admit of their being classed as Pre-Raphaelite works, if the admirable individuality, and characteristic expressions of the faces and attitudes were not of the most noble order.
We intended to conclude our remarks on the early Pre-Raphaelite School here, but the temptation to refer to an admirable work published in Florence, induces us, we hope with small risk of fatigue on the part of the reader, to dwell upon some of the engravings it contains. The work in question is entitled, "Galleria delle l. e. reale Accademia, delle belle Arti.["] Firenze, 1845. It is usually known in England by the name of "Outlines from the Florentine Galleries;" it is indeed a very noble work, and for the style of its beautifully-executed prints may well put to shame the puny efforts which are made in England to illustrate the works of the great Florentine masters; it is worthy of the best times of Art in Italy.
Amongst the artists, engravings from whose works we do not meet with elsewhere, is Pollajolo, "the twice a craftsman,"the volume contains an engraving from his picture of "The Three Archangels," in which the draperies are preeminently beautiful, and the action of the figures elegant to the highest degree. We meet here with a specimen from Andrea del Castagno, which shows a quality of fine drawing which our previous knowledge of his work would not lead us to expect,this points out how the observer may be misled by indifferent engravings. There is a noble design by Marriotti Albertinelli, of "Christ Crucified." The Crucifixion stands before a figure of God the Father, and seems to hang in the heavens like a constellation of remembrance to man; it is a grand study of noble and refined drawing, for which the figure of the Redeemer is especially remarkable, the draperies are very fine, though rather conventionalthe whole is most impressive and peculiar. By Geanacciwho, although a fellow pupil and great friend of Michael Angelo (both having studied under Ghirlandajo), adhered to the more ancient style in many of his works,are two groups of angels worshipping; two separate engravings, in each of which an angel kneels, while behind him are two others, each bearing tall lilies; two of these standing angels in particular are of the most lovely character, the beautiful naïveté of their countenances mark them as having been born in Heaven, unstained and pure as the lilies they bear: they have the sweetest faces we have ever seen engraved.
But the great jewel of this work is an engraving from a picture by Alessandro Botticelli, of the "Coronation of the Virgin," who, kneeling, receives the Crown of Glory from the hands of the Heavenly Father; her face is somewhat worn in expression, and at first looks rather unpleasing, till closer examination and better thought let us perceive the subtle meaning of the master: marks of pain, yet not of degradation, are upon that visage, which all painters have endeavored to render most lovely in its purity; you see the life of suffering, the mother mourning for her child in the countenance, and thereby entering into the deeper heart of the painter; at the foot of the picture stand four saints in the rapture of praise; but the great feature of the painting is a ring of angels dancing in ecstasy round the Throne of God, a chorus of angels in the most rapid motion, with tossing hair wheeling they go, hand in hand, their draperies flying. We only desire that it were in our power to show the reader by a drawing what is the wonderfully successful rendering of rapid motion, what fire, what eloquence, what spirit, what variety there is in this most astonishing work of art. The crystalline floor of Heaven is indicated by the stars and moon which are beneath the Throne. This picture alone should place Botticelli on the very highest pinnacle of art.
Fra Angelico is a name so renowned in various manners, either "Il Beato Angelico," "Il Frati Beato," etc., that we fear we shall get small credit for saying what is nevertheless the truth, that generally in looking at his works, as engraved, we are more inclined to smile than to abandon ourselves to the raptures of admiration which his critics generally give way to. It may be that the prints from his pictures are so bad, either by some stray chance which has brought more of that ill-fortune to his share than befalls the other painters; or probably there are none, so say his extreme admirers, the purity and angelic character of whose paintings it is so difficult to reproduce even a faint reflection as of his. For our own part we can but say that, with the exception of the "Coronation of the Virgin," and a picture we are about to mention, we have never seen any of his works but which are such as we turn gently aside from without interest. The only picture of his which we could ever bring ourselves to regard with feeling is the "Treachery of Judas," of which there is an engraving in the "Outlines from the Florentine Galleries;" it is very fine indeed, and full of dramatic power; the payer of the money, drawing back in full scorn, gathers up together the robe round his body, while placing the coins in the hands of Judas, whose besotted face is admirable; the draperies are excellent. We certainly should not give Fra Angelico much credit for power of design if it were not in this picture, we mean power of dramatic design, such as may show a knowledge of human life, and have a little human interest, quite a different thing from the seraphic manifestations for which he has so much glory.
Let not the reader think we mean to sneer at these elevated and spiritual subjects of art; quite the contrary; but we have rather chosen to treat of Art in these papers as viewed dramatically, not spiritually, because we believe that the best application of painting may be made to moral and not to spiritual ends, at present at least, being the tide of success, if such blessing fail not, to carry the moral lesson into the religious and more spiritual thought and actions, where its own function of purification is fulfilled. It is said that [in] this kind of painting, the ultra-spiritual is ever subtle and too much refined to be useful, at least, to the ordinary mind; therefore its end is concluded to be worthless;but this cannot be the case: admitting the premises we deny the conclusion. All things are glorious in their order and degree. Take an example, that things are not useless because they are but beautiful. Our Saviour chose the lily as the type of beauty, "Consider the lilies of the field how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." This is taken for a type of beauty, that is beauty alone, without other use or service; "they toil not, neither do they spin," so to speak their beauty is their function. Here we have an established image of beauty, which all men will admit to be one;yet take this flower, pluck it from its tall stem, hand it from man to man, and how long do you think it will bear this before it fades and lolls its head? So is it with spiritual thinkings, many men may not touch them, not that those who are forbidden are less worthy, but they are not fitted for it, it is not their function. The thought and the lily will not bear handling, yet if you had allowed the latter to remain in the still garden, it might have borne the fervor of many noons, and glimmered through many twilights, until the rising of the summer moon showed that the short and mystic hour twixt night and day, had left it pale and pure as in the morning of its first unfolding. (Oh, that this mortal life, this mystic hour "betwixt the two extremities of past and future," might pass and leave us so!) It is thus with many beautiful thoughts,they will not bear, they are not fitted for such coarse handling. Let each man take them into his own heart, but hand them not out before the world: these things are the most beautiful beauty for the delectation of the most refined perceptions; thus are all grades of beauty and all grades of perception: grades of beauty from the tiniest moss-flower to the tall imperial virgin, the chosen type of beauty, the lilyall grades of perception, from that of Robert Montgomery to the delicate grace of Tennyson, and the royal judgment and subtle wisdom of Browning.
Let this conclude what we have to say of the ancient Giants; we have not measured their bulk, or shown much of the glory of their ends; but rather contented ourselves by pointing out the places where they lie buried; so that the reader perhaps may think it worth while to seek them out and study for himself what are the inscriptions which they wrote on their own tombs; albeit, heedless posterity has neglected to repair the mischief time has done.
But are there no giants on the earth now living? Giants whom we do not notice, or heedlessly pass by? Yes! there are giants on the earth in these days; but it is their great bulk, and the nearness of our view, which prevents us from perceiving their grandeur. This is how it is that the glory of the present is lost upon the contemporaries of the greatest men; and, perhaps, this was Swifts meaning, when he said that Gulliver could not discover exactly what it was that strode among the corn ridges in the Brobdingnagian field: thus we lose the brightness of things of our own time in consequence of their proximity.
It is of the development of our individual perceptions, and the application thereof to a good use, that the author has been endeavoring to treat. We will for this purpose take an example, that which has been held to indicate the civilization of a period more than anything else, namely, the popular perceptions of the essentials of poetry (rather choosing this than Painting, as the latter may lead us into too much of technical and personal conclusions), and endeavor to show that, while the beauties of the old writers are acknowledged, (though not in proportion to the attention of each individual in his works to nature alone), the modern school is contemned and unconsidered; and also that much of the active poetry of modern life is neglected by the writers themselves. How much more is this the case with the Painters than the Poets even, when the former have so much greater an advantage in the pictorials!
This seems to be an opinion gaining ground fast, in spite of the shaking of conventional heads, that the Poets of the present day are at least equal to all others, except one. However this may be, it is certain we are not fair judges, because of the natural reason stated before; and this is decidedly one great fault in the moderns, that, generally speaking, not only do they study models with which they never can become intimately acquainted, but that they neglect, or rather reject as worthless, that which they alone can carry on with perfect success;we mean the knowledge of themselves, and the characteristics of their own actual living. Thus, if a modern Poet or Artist (the latter much more culpably errs), seeks a subject exemplifying Charity, we ramble into ancient Greece or Rome, awakening not one half the sympathy of the spectators, as do such incidents which may be seen in the streets every day. For instance;walking with a friend the other day, we met an old woman, exceedingly dirty, restlessly pattering along the curb of a crowded thoroughfare she was trying to cross; her eyes were wandering here and there, and her mouth was never still; her object to get over the road was evident; but, for our own part, we must needs be fastidious, and prefer that she should take the risk of being run over, to overcoming our disgust. Not so my friend; he marched up manfully, and putting his arm over the old womans shoulder, led her across as carefully as if she had been a princess. Of course we were ashamed. Ashamed! we were frightened;we expected to see the old woman change into a tall angel and take him off to heaven, leaving us her original shape to repent in. On recovering our thoughts, we were inclined to take our friend on our shoulders and carry him home in triumph, we felt so strong. Why should
not this be as poetical as anything in the Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, or anyone else? for, so we look at it with a pure thought, we shall see about it the same light the Areopagite saw at Jerusalem surrounding the Holy Virgin, and the same angels attending and guarding it.
And there is something else we miss; there is the poetry of the things about us; our railways, factories, mines, roaring cities, steam vessels, and the endless novelties and wonders produced every day; which, if they were found in the Thousand and One Nights, or in any poem, classical or romantic, would be gloried over without end; for as the majority of us know not a bit more about them, but merely their names, we keep up the same mystery, the main thing required for the surprise of the imagination.
Next to Poetry, Painting and Music have most power over the mind; and how do you apply this influence? Why, for the last, you sit in your drawing rooms, and listen to a quantity of the tinkling of brazen marches of the going to war; but you never see before your own eyes, the palpable victory of leading nature by her own power, to a conquest of blessings; and when the music is over, you turn to each other, and enthusiastically whisper, "How fine!" You point out to others (as if they had no eyes) the sentiment of a flowing river with the moonlight on it, as an emblem of the afterpiece, but you see not this in the long white cloud of steam which the locomotive pours forth under the same moon, rushing on, the perfect type of the same, with presentment of the struggle beforehand. The strong engine is never before you, sighing all night, with the white cloud above the chimney shaft, escaping like the spirits Solomon put his seal upon, in the Arabian tale; these mightier spirits bound in a faster vessel, and then let forth, as of little worth when their work was done.
The earth shakes under you, from the footfall of the genii man has made, and you groan about the noise. Vast roads draw together the earth, and you say how they spoil the prospect, which you never cared a farthing about before.
You revel in Geology; but in Chemistry the modern science, possessing thousands of powers as great as any used yet, you see no glorythe only thought is of so many acids and alkalies. You require a metaphor for treachery, and of course you think of our puny old friend the viper; but the alkaloid, more searching and more unknown, that may destroy you and your race, you have never heard of, and yet this possesses more of the very quality required, namely, mystery, than any other that is in your hands.
The only ancient character you have retained in its proper place is Love; but you seem never to see any light about the long labor of mind, the most intense love. Devotedness, magnanimity, generosity, you seem to think have left the earth since the Crusades. In fact, you never go out into life; living only in the past world, you go on repeating in new combinations the same elements for the same effect. You have taught an enlightened public, that the province of poetry is to reproduce the ancients; not as Keats did, with the living heart of our own life; but so as to cause the impression that you were not aware that they had wives and families like yourselves, and labored and rested like us all.
The greatest, perhaps, of modern poets, seeming to take refuge from this, has looked into the heart of man, and shown you its pulsations, fears, self-doubts, hates, goodness, devotedness and noble world-love, this not under the pretty flowers of metaphor in the lispings of a pet parson, still less in the dry operose quackery of professed doctors of psychology, mere draff, not studied from nature, and therefore worthless, never felt, and therefore useless; but with the firm knowing hand of the anatomist, demonstrating, and making clear to others, that the knowledge may be applied to purpose. All this difficult task is achieved so that you may read till your own soul is before you, and you know it; but the enervated public complain that the work is obscure forsooth; so that we are always looking for green grass, verdant meads, tall pines, vineyards, etc., as the essentials of poetry; these are very pretty and delicate, the dust blows not in your eyes, but Chaucer has done all this, (and far more) and while it was new, far better than any one else;why are we not to have something besides? Let us see a little of the poetry of mans own works,
"Visibly in his garden walketh God."
The great part of the public take a morbid delight in such works as Frankenstein, that "Poor, impassible monster abhorred," who would be disgusting if he had not been extremely ludicrous; and all this search after impossible trumpery, growing into the popular taste, is fed with garbage; doing more harm than all the preachings and poundings of optimistic reviews will be able to remedy in an hundred years.
The study of such matters as these does other harm than merely poisoning the mind in one direction; it renders us skeptical of virtue in others, and we lose the power of pure perception. So reading the glorious tale of Griselda, and looking about you, you say there never was such a woman; your wise men say she was a fool; are there no such fools round about you? pray look close: so the result of all this is you see no lesson in such things, or at least cannot apply it, and therefore the powers of the author are thrown away. Do you think God made Boccacio [sic] and Chaucer to amuse you in your idle hours, only that you might sit listening like crowned idiots, and then debate concerning their faithfulness to truth? You never can imagine but they knew more of nature than any of us, or that they had less reverence for her.
In reference to Painting, the public are taught to look with delight upon murky old masters, with dismally demoniac trees, and dull waters of lead, colorless, and like ice; upon rocks that make geologists wonder their angles are so impossible, their fractures are so new. Thousands are given for uncomfortable Dutch sunlights, but if you are shown a transcript of day itself, with the purple shadow across the mountains, and across the still lake, you know nothing of it because your fathers never bought such; so you look for nothing in it: nay, let me set you in the actual place, let the waters damp your feet, stand in the chill of the shadow itself, and you will never tell me the color on the hill, or where the last of those flying crows caught the sinking sunlight. Letting observation sleep, what can you know of nature? and you are a judge of landscape forsooth. So it is that the world is taught to think of nature, as seen through other mens eyes, without reference to their own original power of perception, and much natural beauty is lost.
In our third and concluding article, we propose giving an account of the origin, objects, and labors of the modern Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, in order to show how, in our opinion, it is possible to recover the lost glory of Art, when taken up devotedly, and with singleness of soul and purpose.
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