صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

narrative that the vindication of the Academy might slip in only as a parenthesis or an episode. So we have a full account of Sir Joshua's birth and parentage, god-fathers and god-mothers, with as many repetitions beside as were necessary to give a colouring to Mr Farington's ultimate object. The manner in which the plot of the publication is insinuated, is curious and characteristic: But our business at present is with certain more general matters, on which we have some observations to offer.

• In the present instance,' says Mr F., 'we see how a character, formed by early habits of consideration, self-government, and persevering industry, acquired the highest fame; and made his path through life a course of unruffled moral enjoyment. Sir Joshua Reynolds, when young, wrote rules of conduct for himself. One of his maxims was, “ that the great principle of being happy in this world, “ is, not to mind or be affected with small things.” To this rule he strictly adhered ; and the constant habit of controlling his mind contributed greatly to that evenness of temper which enabled him to live pleasantly with persons of all descriptions. Placability of temper may be said to have been his characteristic. The happiness of possessing such a disposition was acknowledged by his friend Dr Johnson, who said, “ Reynolds was the most invulnerable man he had e. “ ver known."

· The life of this distinguished artist exhibits a useful lesson to all those who may devote themselves to the same pursuit. He was not of the class of such as have been held up, or who have esteemed themselves, to be heaven-born geniuses. He appeared to think little of such claims. It will be seen, in the account of his progress to the high situation he attained in his profession, that at no period was there in him any such fancied inspiration ; on the contrary, every youthful reader of the Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds may feel assured, that his ultimate success will be in proportion to the resolution with which he follows his example.'

This, we believe, is the current morality and philosophy of the present day; and therefore it is of more consequence to observe, that it appears to us to be a mere tissue of sophistry and folly. And first, as to happiness depending on not being affected with small things,' it seems plain enough, that a continued flow of pleasurable sensations cannot depend every moment on great objects. Children are supposed to have a fair share of enjoyment; and yet this arises chiefly from their being delighted with trifles— pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw.' The reason why we so seldom carry on the happy vivacity of early youth into maturer age is, that we form to ourselves a higher standard of enjoyment than we can realize; and that our passions gradually fasten on certain favourite objects, which, in proportion to their magnitude, are of rare occurrence, and, for the most part, out of our reach. The example, too,

which suggested these general remarks, actually exposes their fallacy. Sir Joshua did not owe his happiness to his contempt of little things, but to his success in great ones—and it was by that actual success, far more than by the meritorious industry and exertion which contributed to it, that he was enabled to disregard little vexations. Was Richardson, for example, who, it is observed afterwards, ' had merit in his profession, but not of a high order, though he thought so well on the subject of art, and had practised it so long,' to feel an equal moral enjoyment in the want of equal success? Was the idea of that excellence, which he had so long laboured in vain to realize, to console him for the loss of that highest fame,' which is here represented as the invariable concomitant of persevering industry? Or was he to disregard his failure as a trifle ? Was the consciousness that he had done his best, to stand him in stead of that unruffled moral enjoyment' which Sir Joshua owcd in no small degree to the coronet-coaches that besieged his doors, to the great names that sat at his table, to the beauty that crowded his painting-room, and reflected its loveliness back from the lucid mirror of his canvas? These things do indeed put a man above minding little inconveniences, and greatly contribute to that evenness of temper which en

ables him to live pleasantly with persons of all descriptions.' But was Hudson, Sir Joshua's master, who had grown old and rich in the cultivation of his art, and who found himself suddenly outdone and eclipsed by his pupil, to derive much unruffted enjoyment from this petty circumstance, or to comfort himself with one of those maxims which young Reynolds had written out for his conduct in life ? When Sir Joshua himself lost the use of one of his eyes, in the decline of his life, he became peevish, and did not long survive the practice of his favourite art. Suppose the same loss to have happened to him in the meridian of his fame, we fear that all his consciousness of merit, and all his efforts of industry, would have been insufficient to have supplied that unruffled felicity which we are here taught to refer exclusively to these high sources,

The truth is, that those specious maxims, though they may seem at first sight to minister to content, and to encourage to meritorious exertion, lead in fact to a wrong estimate of human life, to unreasonable anticipations of success, and to bitter repinings and regrets at what in any reverse of fortune we think the injustice of society and the caprice of nature. We have a very remarkable instance of this process of mental sophistication, or the setting up a theory against experience, and then wondering that human nature does not answer to our theory, in what our author says on

VOL. XXXIV. NO. 67.

been extraoined, peelings of his pamcen a youth lenedios as

this very subject of Hudson, and his more fortunate scholar afterwards. P. 46. “It might be thought that the talents of Reynolds, to which no degree of ignorance or imbecility in the art could be insensible, added to his extraordinary reputa

tion, would have extinguished every feeling of Jealousy or • Rivalship in the mind of his master Hudson; but the malady 6 was so deeply seated as to defy the usual remedies applied by 6 time and reflection. Hudson, when at the head of his art, ad

mired and praised by all, had seen a youth rise up and annihilate both his Income and his Fame; and he never could divest ( his mind of the feelings of mortification caused by the loss he had

thus sustained.' This Mr F. actually considers as something quite extraordinary and unreasonable; and which might have been easily prevented by a diligent study of Sir Joshua's admirable aphorisms, against being affected by small things. Such is our Academician's ethical simplicity, and enviable ignorance of the ways of the world!

One would think that the name of Hudson, which occurs frequently in these pages, might have taught our learned author some little distrust of that other favourite maxim, that Genius is the effect of education, encouragement, and practice. It is the basis, however, of his whole moral and intellectual system ; and is thus distinctly announced and enforced in a very elaborate passage.

"With respect to his (Sir Joshua's) early indications of talent for the art he afterwards professed, it would be idle to dwell upon them as manifesting any thing more than is common among boys of his age. As an amusement he probably preferred drawing to any other to which he was tempted. In the specimens which have been preserved, there is no sign of premature ingenuity ; his history is, in this respect, like what might be written of very many other artists, perhaps of artists in general. His attempts were applauded by kind and sanguine friends, and this encouraged him to persevere till it became a fixed desire in him to make further proficiency, and continually to request that it might be his profession. It is said, that his purpose was determined by reading Richardson's Treatise on Painting. Possibly it might have been so ; his thoughts having been previously occupied with the subject. Dr Johnson, in his Life of Cow. per, writes as follows—“ In the windows of his mother's apartment lay Spenser's Faery Queen, in which he very early took delight to read, till by feeling the charms of verse, he became, as he relates, irrecoverably a poet. Such are the accidents which, sometimes ren membered, and perhaps sometimes forgotten, produce that peculiar designation of mind, and propensity for some certain science or employment, which is commonly called Genius. The true genius is a man of large general powers accidentally determined to some particular direction. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great painter of the present age, had the first fondness for his art excited by the perusal of Richardson's Treatise.” In this definition of genius, Reynolds fully concurred with Dr Johnson; and he was himself an instance in proof of its truth. He had a sound natural capacity, and, by observation and long.continued labour, always discriminating with judgment, he obtained universal applause, and established his claim to be ranked amongst those to whom the highest praise is due ; for his productions exhibited perfect originality. No artist ever consulted the works of eminent predecessors more than Sir Joshua Reynolds. He drew from every possible source something which might improve his practice; and he resolved the whole of what he saw in nature, and found in art, into a union, which made his pictures a singular display of grace, truth, beauty and richness.'

From the time that Mr Locke exploded innate ideas in the commencement of the last century, there began to be a confused apprehension in some speculative heads, that there could be no innate faculties either; and our half metaphysicians have been floundering about in this notion ever since: as if, because there are no innate ideas, that is, no actual impresa. sions existing in the mind without objects, there could be no peculiar capacity to receive them from objects; or as if there might not be as great a difference in the capacity itself as in the outward objects to be impressed upon it. We might as well deny, at once, that there are organs or faculties to receive impressions, because there are no innate ideas, as deny that there is an inherent difference in the organs or faculties to receive impressions of any particular kind. If the capacity exists (which it must do), there may, nay we should say there must, be a difference in it, in different persons, and with respect to different things. To allege that there is such a difference, no more implies the doctrine of innate ideas, than to say that the brain of a man is more fitted to discern external objects than a block of marble, imports that there are innate ideas in the brain, or in the block of marble. The impression, it is true, does not exist in the sealing-wax till the seal has been applied to it: but there was the previous capacity to receive the impression; and there may be, and most probably is, a greater degree of fitness in one piece of sealing-wax than in another. That the original capacity, the aptitude for certain impressions or pursuits, should be necessarily the same in different instances, with the diversity that we see in men's organs, faculties, and acquirements of various kinds, is a supposition not only gratuitous, but absurd. There is the capacity of animals, the capacity of idiots, and of half idiots and half madmen of various descriptions; there is capacity, in short, of all sorts and

ust be differente impli man ble imp marblefax til capacity abls

degrees, from an oyster to a Newton : Yet we are gravely told, that wherever there is a power of sensation, the genius must be the same, and would, with proper cultivation, produce the same effects. “No, say the French materialists; but in minds commonly well organized (communement bien organisés), the results will, in the same given circumstances, be the same.' That is, in the same circumstances, and with the same average capacity, there will be the same average degree of genius or imbecilitywhich is just an identical proposition.

To make any sense at all of the doctrine, that circumstances are everything and natural genius nothing, the result ought at least to correspond to the aggregate of impressions, determining the mind this way or that, like so many weights in a scale. But the advocates of this doctrine allow that the result is not by any means according to the known aggregate of impressions, but, on the contrary, that one of the most insignificants or one not at all perceiveil, will turn the scale against the bias and experience of a man's whole life. The reasoning is here lame again. These persons wish to get rid of occult causes, to refer every thing to distinct principles and a visible origin; and yet they say that they know not how it is, that, in spite of all visible circumstances, such a one should be an incorrigible blockhead and such an other an extraordinary genius; but that, no doubt, there was a secret influence exerted, a by-play in it, in which nature had no hand, but accident gave a nod, and in a lucky or unlucky minute fixed the destiny of both for life, by some slight and transient impulse! Now, this is like the reasoning of the astrologers, who pretend that your whole history is to be traced to the constellation under which you were born: and when you object that two men born at the same time have the most different character and fortune, they answer, that there was an imperceptible intoval between the moment of their births, that made the whole difference. But if this short interval, of which no one could be aware, made the whole difference, it also makes their whole science vain. Besides, the notion of an accidental impulse, a slight turn of the screws giving a total revulsion to the whole frame of the mind, is only intelligible on the supposition of an original or previous bias which falls in with that impression, and catches at the long-wished for opportunity of disclosing itself:--like combustible matter meeting with the spark that kindles it into a flame. But it is little less than sheer nonsense to maintain, while outward impressions are said to be every thing, and the mind alike indifferent to all, that one single unconscious impression shall decide upon a man's whole character, genius, and pursuits in life,-and all the rest thenceforward go for nothing.

« السابقةمتابعة »