صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

Again, we hear it said that the difference of understanding or character is not very apparent at first :- though this is not uniformly true--but neither is the difference between an oak and a briar very great in the seed or in the shoot :--yet will any one deny that the germ is there, or that the soil, culture, the sun and heat alone produce the difference? So circumstances are necessary to the mind: but the mind is necessary to circumstances. The ultimate success depends on the joint action of both. They were fools who believed in innate ideas, or talked of heaven-born genius' without any means of developing it. They are greater, because more learned fools, who assert that circumstances alone can create or develop genius, where none exists. We may distinguish a stature of the mind as well as of the body,-a mould, a form, to which it is predetermined irrevocably. It is true that exercise gives strength to the faculties both of mind and body; but it is not true that it is the only source of strength in either casc, Exercise will make a weak man strong, but it will make a strong man stronger. A dwarf will never be a match for a giant, train him ever so. And are there not dwarfs as well as giants in intellect? Appearances are for it, and reason is not against il.

There are, beyond all dispute, persons who have a talent for particular things, which according to Dr Johnson's definition of genius, proceeds from a greater general capacity accidentally determined to a particular direction.' But this, instead of solving, doubles the miracle of genius; for it leaves entire all the former objections to inherent talent, and supposes that one man of large general capacity' is all sorts of genius at once. This is like admitting that one man may be naturally stronger than another-but denying that he can be naturally stronger in the legs or the arms only; and, deserting the ground of original equality, would drive the theorist to maintain that the incquality which exists must always be universal, and not particular, although all the instances we actually meet with are particular only. Now surely we have no right to give any man credit for genius in more things than he has shown a particular genius in. In looking round us in the world, it is most certain that we find men of large general capacity and no particular talent, and others with the most exquisite turn for some particular thing, and no general talent. Would Dr Johnson have made Reynolds or Goldsmith, Burke, by beginning early and continuing late? We should make strange havoc by this arbitrary transposition of genius and industry. Some persons cannot for their lives understand the first proposition in Euclid. Would they ever make great mathema. ticians? Or does this incapacity preclude them from ever excelling in any other art or mystery? Swift was admitted by special grace to a Bachelor's Degree at Dublin College, which, however, did not prevent him from writing Gulliver's Travels : and Claude Lorraine was turned away by his master from the trade of a pastry-cook to which he was apprenticed, for sheer stupidity. People often fail most in what they set themselves most diligently about, and discover an unaccountable knack atsomething else, without any effort or even consciousness that: they possess it. One great proof and beauty of works of true genius, is the ease, simplicity, and freedom from conscious effort which pervades them. Not only in different things is there this difference of skill and aptness displayed; but in the same thing, to which a man's attention is continually directed, how narrow is the sphere of human excellence, how distinct the line of pursuit which nature has marked out even for those whom she has most favoured! Thus in painting, Raphael excelled in drawing, Titian in colouring, Rembrandt in chiaro scuro. A small part of nature was revealed to each by a peculiar felicity of conformation; and they would have made sad work of it, if each had neglected his own advantages to go in search of those of others, on the principle that genius is a large general capacity, transferred, by will or accident, to some particular channel.

It may be said, that in all these cases it is habit, not nature, that produces the disqualification for different pursuits. But if the bias given to the mind, by a particular study, totally unfits it for others, is it not probable that there is something in the nature of those studies which requires a particular bias and structure of the faculties to excel in them, from the very first? If genius were, as some pretend, the mere exercise of general power on a particular subject, without any difference of organs or subordinate faculties, a man would improve equally in every thing, and grow wise at all points. But if, besides mere general power, there is a constant exercise and sharpening of different organs and faculties required for any particular pursuit, then a natural susceptibility of those organs and faculties must greatly assist him in his progress. To argue otherwise, is to shut one's eyes to the whole mass of inductive evidence; and to run headlong into a dogmatical theory, depending wholly on presumption and conjecture. We would sooner go the whole length of the absurdities of craniology, than get into this flatting-machine of the original sameness and indiscriminate tendency of men's faculties and dispositions. A painter, of all men, should not give into any such notion. Does he pretend to see differences in faces, and will he allow none in minds? Or, does he make the outline of the head the criterion of a corresponding difference of character, and yet reject all distinction in the original conformation of the soul ? Has he never been struck with family likenesses ? And is there not an inherent, indestructible, and inalienable character to be found in the individuals of such families answering to this physiognomical identity, even in remote branches, where there has been no communication when young, and where the situation, pursuits, education, and character of the individuals have been totally opposite? Again, do we not find persons with every external advantage, without any intellectual superiority; and the greatest prodigies emerge from the greatest obscurity? What made Shakespeare? Not his education as a link-boy or a deer-stealer! Have there not been thousands of mathematicians, educated like Sir Isaac Newton, who have risen to the rank of Senior Wranglers, and never been heard of afterwards? Did not Hogarth live in the same age with Hayman? Who will believe that Highmore could, by any exaggeration of circumstances, have been transformed into Michael Angelo ? That Hudson was another Vandyke incognito; or that Reynolds would, as our author dreads, have learned to paint like his master, if he had staid to serve out his apprenticeship with him ? The thing was impossible.-Hudson had every advantage, as far as Mr Farington's mechanical theory goes (for he was brought up under Richardson), to enable him to break through the trammels of custom, and to raise the degenerate style of art in his day. Why did he not? He had not original force of mind either to inspire him with the conception, or to impel him to execute it. Why did Reynolds burst through the cloud that overhung the region of art, and shine out, like the glorious sun, upon his native land ? Because he had the genius to do it. It was nature working in him, and forcing its way through all impediments of ignorance and fashion, till it found its native element in undoubted excellence and wide-spread fame. His eye was formed to drink in light, and to absorb the splendid effects of shadowy obscurity; and it gave out what it took in. He had a strong intrinsic perception of grace and expression; and he could not be satisfied with the stiff, formal, inanimate models he saw before him. There are indeed certain minds that seem formed as conductors to truth and beauty, as the hardest metals carry off the electric fluid, and round which all examples of excellence, whether in art or nature, play harmless and ineffectual. Reynolds was not one of these: but the instant he saw gorgeous truth in natural objects, or artificial models, his mind darted contagious fire.' It is said that he surpassed his servile predecessors by a more diligent study, and more careful imitation of nature. But how was he attracted to nature, but by the sympathy of real taste and genius? He also copied the portraits of Gandy, an obz scure but excellent artist of his native county. A blockhead would have copied his master, and despised Gandy: but Gandy's style of painting satisfied and stimulated his ambition, because he saw nature there. Hudson's made no impression on him, because it presented nothing of the kind. Why then did Reynolds perform what he did ? From the force and bias of his genius. Why did he not do more? Because his natural bias did not urge him farther. As it is the property of genius to find its true level, so it cannot rise above it. He seized upon and naturalized the beauties of Rembrandt and Rubens, beČause they were connate to his own turn of mind. He did not at first instinctively admire, nor did he ever, with all his professions, make any approach to the high qualities of Raphael or Michael Angelo, because there was an obvious incompatibility between them. Sir Joshua did not, after all, found a school of his own in general art, because he had not strength of mind for it. But he introduced a better taste for art in this country, because he had great taste himself, and sufficient genius to transplant many of the excellences of others.

Mr Farington takes the trouble to vindicate Sir. Joshua's title to be the author of his own Discourses--though this is a subject on which we have never entertained a doubt; and conceive indeed that a doubt never could have arisen, but from estimating the talents required for painting too low in the scale of intellect, as something mechanical and fortuitous ; and from making literature something exclusive and paramount to all other pursuits. Johnson and Burke were equally unlikely to have had a principal or considerable hand in the Discourses. They have none of the pomp, the vigour, or mannerism of the one, nor the boldness, originality, or extravagance of the other. They have all the internal evidence of being Sir Joshua's. They are subdued, mild, unaffected, thoughtful,-containing sensible observations on which he laid too little stress, and vague theories which he was not able to master. There is the same character of mind in what he wrote, as of eye in what he painted. His style is gentle, flowing, and bland: there is an ineflicient outline, with a mellow, felicitous, and delightful fillingup. In both, the taste predominates over the genius: the manner over the mațier ! The real groundwork of Sir Joshua's Discourses is to be found in Richardson's Essays.

We proceed to Mr Fi's account of the state of art in this., country, a little more than half a century ago, which is no less

accurate than it is deplorable. It may lead us to form a better estimate of the merits of Sir Joshua in rescuing it from this lowest point of degradation, and perhaps assist our conjectures as to its future progress and its present state.

. It was the lot of Sir Joshua Reynolds to be destined to pursue the art of painting at a period when the extraordinary effort he made came with all the force and effect of novelty. He appeared at a time when the art was at its lowest ebb. What might be called an English school had never been formed. All that Englishmen had done was to copy, and endeavour to imitate, the works of eminent men, who were drawn to England from other countries by encouragement, which there was no inducement to bestow upon the infe. rior efforts of the natives of this island. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Frederigo Zucchero, an Italian, was much employed in Eng. land, as had been Hans Holbein, a native of Basle, in a former reign. Charles the first gave great employment to Rubens and Vandyke. They were succeeded by Sir Peter Lely, a native of Soest in Westphalia ; and Sir Godfrey Kneller came from Lubec to be, for a while, Lely's competitor : and after his death, he may be said to have had the whole command of the art in England. He was succeeded by Richardson, the first English painter that stood at the head of portrait painting in this country. Richardson had merit in his profession, but not of a high order : and it was remarkable, that a man who thought so well on the subject of art, and more especially who practised so long, should not have been able to do more than is manifested in his works. He died in 1745, aged 80. Jervais, the friend of Pope, was his competitor, but very inferior to him. Sir James Thornhill, also, was contemporary with Richardson, and painted portraits ; but his reputation was founded upon his historical and allegorical compositions. In St Paul's cathedral, in the Hospital at Greenwich, and at Hampton Court, his principal works are to be seen. As Richardson in portraits, so Thornhill in history painting was the first native of this island, who stood preeminent in the line of art he pursued at the period of his practice. He died in 1732, aged 56.

• Horace Walpole, in his Anecdotes of Painting, observes, that " at the accession of George the First, the arts were sunk to the lowest state in Britain.” This was not strictly true. Mr Walpole, who published at a later time, should have dated the period of their utmost degradation to have been in the middle of the last century, when the names of Hudson and Hayman were predominant. It is true, Hogarth was then well known to the public; but he was less so as a painter than an engraver, though many of his pictures repre. senting subjects of humour and character are excellent; and Hayman, as a history painter, could not be compared with Sir James Thorn

[ocr errors]

"Thomas Hudson was a native of Devonshire. His name will be prescrved from his having been the artist to whom Sir Joshua

« السابقةمتابعة »