Life Determined By Pictures
( Originally Published 1896 )
A life is often determined by a picture. Aye, the mere touch of a brush can throw sunshine or shadow upon one's pathway, can dim the sky with a cloud or brighten the horizon with the fairest prospect. Ferdinand H. expressed a special admiration for the picture of a weeping child that Peter of Cortono was engaged in painting for the Royal Palace. "Has your majesty a mind to see how easy it is to make this very child laugh ?" said the artist. And hardly were the words spoken before he had, as if by magic touch, depressed the corner of .the lips and the inner extremity of the eyebrows merely, when the little urchin seemed in danger of bursting his sides with laughter, who a moment before seemed breaking his heart with weeping."
The tender and pathetic as well as the stern and dignified, yea, it would seem that almost every attribute of the human soul, may be expressed and taught in sculpture as well as in painting. Here a world of illustrations from different pieces of sculpture, bronze, and mosaic opens up to view.
During one of the unhappy wars in English history, a daughter of the king was taken prisoner, and languished in the castle, alone, and separated from all the companions of her youth, until death set her free. One day she was found dead with her head leaning on her Bible which was open at the words, "Come unto me all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." If we visit Newport Church, where she lies buried, we will find, erected to her memory by Queen Victoria, a touching monument which "consists of a female figure reclining her head on a marble book, with the text already quoted engraven on the book. Think what a sermon in stone that monument preaches ! think what a standing memorial it affords of the utter inability of rank and high birth to confer certain happiness," and that there is no true rest for any one except in Christ !
One early device for noting the passing of time was a little human form carved in statuary with tears flowing from the eyes. What a lesson it taught to the idler and sluggard ! How many at the sight of it have wept tears over wasted time and neglected opportunities and felt keenly that,-
" Of all the sad words of tongue or pen,
Pictures and sculptured forms teach us industry, charity, love, temperance, patriotism, and religion, reaching through the eye, the mind in all its frames, the heart in all its tones, and imparting lessons that make the world better and happier. Every species of pure art ennobles the human mind, whether it be painting, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, or story.
Hazlitt says: " Pictures are a set of chosen images, a stream of pleasant thoughts passing through the mind. It is a luxury to have the walls of our rooms-hung round with them, and no less so to have such a gallery in the mind." All cannot travel abroad, but those who are obliged to stay at home can share in much of the delight of the traveler by pictures as well as by reading and hearing.
Few realize the power of pictures in making life happy or miserable. Every home ought to be furnished with its instructive, pleasing and inspiring pictures in books and on the walls. The walls of the. sick room should be hung with cheery and exhilerating faces and scenes to catch the eye of the sufferer and draw away his thoughts from himself and his malady.
Let us walk through our great modern galleries of painting and statuary, and deny if we can that noble art may not be usefully employed in renewing friend-ship and tenderness, in strengthening the affections f or the absent, and continuing the presence of the. dead.
The photographer is a benefactor. As you sit down on Sabbath afternoon with the album in your lap and turn to father's face now dead, or to mother's form so lately laid in the tomb, or little 'Willie's or Carrie's sweet countenance that you will see no more on earth,. is it not a hallowed benediction to your soul that you can- cherish and commune with them still as you look upon their familiar features so delicately and accurately portrayed with the pencil and colors of reflected sunbeams.
Into the vicious whirlpool and abandonment of Lon-don life the only daughter of a poor woman was drawn and lost. With a breaking heart, the mother went to city missionary and asked if he could help to find the lost one. "Yes," said he, " I can. Have your photograph taken, frame a good many copies, write under the picture, 'Come home,' and send them to me." The city missionary sent the photographs to the various places which the depraved and wretched outcasts are accustomed to frequent,- ale-houses, gin-palaces, music-halls, and had them hung in conspicuous places. It happened that one of these dens of vice was entered one night by the girl along with some companions in sin, and what was her astonishment to see on the wall her own mother's picture! She approached it and read the words underneath, " Come home." To whom was that invitation given? To her? Yes. She knew by that mother's face and those two sweet words that she was -forgiven. And now her hard heart was broken and melted, too, for she wept bitterly at the memory of her mother and childhood home, and that night she re-turned to her mother's arms.
" How many times, as through the room I hasten,
Almost it seems her pleasant voice is calling,
No answer comes; I hush my breath to listen,
It was only a picture, but we can faintly describe the thrilling effect it had in sobering a noisy crowd assembled one night in a certain large city of this. country. The company that was trying the difficult task of entertaining the mixed mass of humanity present, was not meeting the expectations of the audience. As the programme proceeded, more and more disorder arose, till pandemonium reigned supreme. The few hisses which were first heard in the galleries, seemed to express the popular sentiment of the orchestra and dress circles whose disaffection overcame their dignity and did not restrain them from becoming so demonstrative that they began to stamp and exchange expressions of dissatisfaction in tones that all the house could understand.
It happened that a part of the programme was to consist of stereopticon views, but even when well-known faces of distinguished persons were thrown upon the screen, they were greeted with only derisive howls and disrespectful side-remarks. When the venerable form of George Washington appeared on the canvas, some one in the gallery yelled, That's Capt. Splann in disguise," whereupon shouts of laughter resounded throughout the house. Next came a beautiful Scottish scene by moonlight, and " Cabbage Hill," was the ridiculous designation given it by a voice that echoed from every corner of the vast room. Each picture that. followed was greeted with similar howls of derision, till from pit to gallery the whole house was soon in a deafening uproar of uncontrollable, whistling, screeching, stamping, and turbulent commotion. The audience was relieving itself of its feelings and having its fill of fun at the company's expense.
Picture after picture was presented to the audience with uninterrupted regularity, but with no subduing effect upon the mad scene which was now at its height.
What next? " Suddenly," said a leading daily of the city, "in the midst of the tumult the calm and benign features of Jesus Christ appeared on the canvas. Instantly there was throughout the house the stillness of death, and daring the remainder of the entertainment there was the best of order. Once a howl from the gallery was heard, but was received with the most decided marks of disapproval from the audience, and ceased as suddenly as it was let loose. The picture upon the canvas, noble in its features and peaceful in its mute supplication, was respected by even the most heartless street arab in the gallery. The instantaneous transition from turbulent chaos to subdued order was wonderful, and its effect was lasting."