Page images

I have just found the beginning of a letter, which somebody had dropped: I should rather call it first-thoughts for the beginning of a letter, for there are many scratches and corrections. As I cannot use it myself (having got a beginning already of my own), I send it for your use on some great occasion. 6 Dear Sir,

“After so long silence, the hopes of pardon, and prospect of forgiveness, might seem entirely extinct, or at least very remote, was I not truly sensible of your goodness and candor, which is the only asylum that my negligence can fly to, since every apology would prove insufficient to counterbalance it, or alleviate my fault: how then shall my deficiency presume to make so bold an attempt, or be able to suffer the hardships of so rough a campaign ?" &c. &c. &c.*

* See note *, p. 125.

Aduantages of Cultivating a Taste far Pictures.


JONATHAN RICHARDSON was a portrait-painter and critic in the time of Pope, whom he knew. He was esteemed in his art, and still more for his knowledge and admiration of art in others. He wrote treatises on Painting, notes on Milton, a poem in Nichols's Collection, evincing his inquiring and amiable turn of mind, called an Address to the Morning Star; and he was famous for his industry, early-rising, and the affection existing between him and his son. His writings have perhaps created more enthusiasm for pictures than those of any other man in England. He is not an accomplished writer, like Sir Joshua ; nor has he the depth of Hazlitt; much less any of the transcendental insights of the promising critical genius who has lately made his appearance among us under the title of the “Oxford Graduate.” His style is colloquial, to a degree of slovenliness : and, with the tendencies natural perhaps to his art in a professional point of view, he is too much inclined to confound prosperity with success. But he would interest us less if he did not pour forth all he thought. Candor, honesty, goodness, vivacity, and a considerable amount of taste and knowledge, constitute the charms of his writing. Sir Joshua respected him; Pope, who dabbled in painting himself, was attached to him; Hazlitt quoted him with delight.

The following remarks are on a subject which is yet far too little appreciated, but which is destined, we suspect, to play a great and delightful part in the universal world of civilization. “Knowledge is power;" but it is not only power to command (which is the sense in which the axiom is generally taken), it is also power to enjoy. Everybody who knows anything of anything, knows how much that knowledge adds to the sum of his ordinary satisfaction; what strength it gives him, what ennui and vacuity it saves him. The smallest botanist or geologist knows it, by the way-side; the least meteorologist, as he gazes at a rack of clouds. Pictures make themselves known at once, more or less; yet nobody, who has not in some measure thought on the subject as Richardson here teaches to think, has any conception how much is to be got out of a good picture, the more he knows of the art, and of nature. He learns to know everything which the painter intends; everything which he intimates; and thus to discover volumes of meaning and entertainment where others see little but a colored page. And the more we know of pictures, the more we come to value engravings, and to know what companions they can be made; what little treasures of art we may possess, even in those faint representations, compared with the nothing to be got out of the finest paintings by the eyes of ignorance.

And then there is the reflex of Painting itself on Nature; the grateful light which she throws in her turn on the source of her inspiration; so that the more we know of objects on canvas, the more we learn to know of the objects themselves, and thus become qualified to discern pictures in everything, and to be critics of our instructor. But Richardson has touched on this point also, and the reader must not be detained from him. We would only beg leave to add, by way of individual experience in such matters, without pretending to any remarkable insight into them, either natural or acquired, that Mr. Hazlitt, whom we had the pleasure of knowing, converted us from a wrong admiration of white cottages in landscapes to the right one of the honest old red; that Mr. Haydon (whom we will not call " unfortunate,” even for his end, knowing what pleasure he got out of his art in life) was the first, in our youth, to give us an eye to the attitudes and groups of people in company; and that we have reason to regard the having been conversant with a house full of paintings during childhood as one of the blessings of our existence. We have never since entered a room of that sort without a tendency to hush and move softly, as if in the presence of things above the ordinary course of nature, of spirits left behind them by great men, looking at us with divine eyes, or informing the most beautiful visions of nature with art as wonderful. And we are so.

HAT is beautiful and excellent, is naturally adapted to WHA

please: but all beauties and excellencies are not, naturally, seen. Most gentlemen see pictures and drawings as the generality of people see the heavens in a clear, starry night; they perceive a sort of beauty there, but such a one as produces no great pleasure in the mind; but when one considers the heavenly bodies as other worlds, and that there are an infinite number of these in the empire of God (Immensity), and worlds which our eyes, assisted by the best glasses, can never reach, and so far remote from the most distant of what we see, that these visible ones are as it were our neighbors, as the continent of France is to Great Britain ; when one considers farther, that as there are inhabitants on this continent, though we see them not when we see that, it is altogether unreasonable to imagine that those innumerable worlds are uninhabited and desert; there must be beings there, some perhaps more, others less noble and excellent than man. When one thus views this vast prospect, the mind is otherwise affected than before, and feels a delight which common notions never can administer. So those who at present cannot comprehend there can be such pleasure in a good picture or drawing as connoisseurs pretend to find, may learn to see the same thing themselves; their eyes being once opened, they may be said to obtain a new sense; and new pleasures flow in as often as the objects of that superinduced sight present themselves, which (to people of condition especially) very frequently happens, or may be procured, whether here at home, or in their travels abroad. When a gentleman has learned to see the beauties and excellencies that are really in good pictures and drawings and which may be learnt by conversing with such, and applying himself to the consideration of them, he will look upon that with joy which he now passes over with very little pleasure, if not with indifference; bay, a sketch, a scrabble of the hand of a great master, will be capable of administerine ure than those who know it not by experience can have any conception of. Besides the graceful and noble attitudes, the beauty of colors and forms, and the fine effects of light and shadow, which none sees as a connoisseur does, such a one enters farther than any other can do into the beauties of the invention, expression, and other parts of the work he is considering. He sees strokes of art, contrivances, expedients, a delicacy and spirit, that others see not, or very imperfectly.

He sees what force of mind the great masters had to conceive ideas; what judgment to see things beautifully, or to imagine beauty from what they saw; and what a power their hands were endued withal, in a few strokes and with ease, to show to another what themselves conceived.

What is it that gives us pleasure in reading a history or poem, but that the mind is thereby furnished with a variety of images? And what distinguishes some authors, and sets them above the common level, but their knowing how to raise their subject? The Trojan or Peleponnesian wars would never have been thought of by us, if a Homer or Thucydides had not told the stories of them, who knew how to do it so as to fill the minds of their readers with great and delightful ideas. He who converses with the works of the best masters is always reading such admirable authors; and his mind consequently, in proportion, entertained and delighted with the histories, fables, characters, the ideas of magnificent buildings, fine prospects, &c.

And he sees these things in those different lights which the various manners of thinking of the several masters sets them; he sees them as they are represented by the capricious but vast genius of Leonardo da Vinci ; the fierce and gigantic one of Michael Angelo; the divine and polite one

« PreviousContinue »