Museums Of Art And Teachers Of English
( Originally Published 1913 )
I BEGIN my remarks this afternoon with a confession and a hope: the hope is that you will be so touched by my confiding spirit that you will want to do all you can to help me keep the secret I am about to tell you. I have slipped away from home to come here to-day, and I don't want the people down there to hear about it. I have all the combined thrill and fright that I used to have when I stole away to go in swimming while the family thought I was at school that surreptitious sense of adventure which left me in doubt as to whether I was a hero or a criminal. The point is, I have a sister who is an artist, and I should rather go to jail than have her know that I am here. She would laugh herself to death, or laugh me to shame—maybe both.
You see, as she is an artist and my sister, she has a comprehensive and topographical plan of my exhaustive and detailed unfitness for the job I am about to attempt. So, if you will kindly say nothing about this little adventure of mine, I will run back to Princeton and take up my normal work as if nothing had occurred.
I am not to tell you anything this afternoon about art or teaching literature—nothing about art, for reasons that my sister could tell you; and nothing about teaching, because I have been teaching too long to talk about it. You teachers know what I mean by that last remark, do you not? If any of you are so new in the profession that you do not understand that, I will let Ruskin inform you. He said: "The moment a man can really do his work, he becomes speechless about it. All words become idle to him, all theories."
When I began to teach I had elaborate theories and would have imparted them to Socrates and Abelard themselves, if I had met them. But I do not think I have any theories about it now; I am too busy teaching to know much about the "methods." We teachers tend to approximate the skill and silence of those wonderful negro cooks of the Old South, who could make any dish in the world, but could not under penalty of hanging tell any-body else how they did it. It was a "dab" of this ingredient, and "right smart" of that, and "some" of another; and that was as near as they could arrive at a recipe. Of course, the real secret of it was that, like the painter, they mixed their ingredients "with brains." So with such brains as were born in us and such heart and patience as we have acquired we go on, adding a little here and relinquishing a little there and arriving at such results as we may.
All I know is, that if I lived next door to the museum I could make much use of it. In the first place, I should visit it very often myself. I do visit it as often as possible in a busy life which is centred fifty miles away. I should try to let my students have some indirect benefits from these frequent visits, as I now try to let them have such indirect benefits from my infrequent visits: some light radiating from this source of light and extending to them through the medium of my personality—a very imperfect and at times distracting medium, but with some translucent faculty as a result of such visits; some enlargement of my nature; some increase of personal happiness, for I like to think that the happiness of an employee is an asset to the corporation he serves.
I seem to be in a confidential mood with you teachers this afternoon, bred of a feeling that we all belong to one family, a family not too intimately acquainted with me—the mellow glow and expansive ease which come to a man when he thinks his hearers under-stand him, and he hopes they do not understand him too well; that complacency which a man has on a particularly genial night at the club, that middle ground of social inter-change which relieves a man of his natural shyness before strangers and spares him the other shyness of the family circle, when he does not dare venture on a "bluff" or two, knowing how promptly the "bluff" would be "called."
So being in this ingenuous frame of mind, I am going to tell you that I did not always realize the simple fact that the mood of productivity and good influence is the mood of happiness. In my consciousness I used to echo the words of the Duchess of Malfi and her steward, "Naught made me e'er go right but Heaven's scourge-stick;" and again, "Man, like to cassia, is proved best being bruised."
Carlyle did much to insinuate that error into the minds of the distant generation of my college days; Carlyle, who fretted him-self into a lather and disturbed our equilibrium with the notion that man was not intended to be happy—the "whim of happiness" he called it: "I tell thee, Blockhead, it all comes of thy vanity; of what thou fanciest those same deserts of thine to be. Fancy that thou deservest to be hanged (as is most likely), thou wilt feel it happiness to be only shot; fancy that thou deservest to be hanged in a hair-halter, it will be a luxury to die in hemp."
It was all so wrong, and so perversely wrong. It was bad enough for this great man to diminish his own usefulness by deriding as "whim" that which is as fundamental as life—is the instinct for life; but it was still worse for him to throw over the two or three generations which he influenced this pall, clouding the sun, the very source of our productive energy.
So, if I lived in New York I should try to get more abundantly than is now possible that happiness which so quickly tells in one's work—try to get it from these art chaps who started with the proposition that we were intended to be happy, and arrived at the conclusion that the sources of happiness are in-numerable and many of them right at the front door.
Henry Ranger, for instance, has shown us that High Bridge, right here in New York, is not merely a convenience for getting from one side of the river to another, but also a source of perpetual joy when a painter with imagination and technique puts it on a can-vas with a glory of light and color. And, in-deed, that west wall of Gallery No. 20 should be a joy to all Americans, to think that there could be painted in our own day, by our own countrymen—two of them still living—three such pictures as Ranger's "High Bridge," Childe Hassam's "Golden Afternoon in Oregon," and Homer Martin's "View on the Seine."
We sometimes feel a little dubious about the accomplishments in American literature; but there is no question about American painting. We can hold our own in that. On that wall is part of the evidence, and much else is in other parts of the museum—the Whistlers, Sargents, Innesses, and many others. If we will journey just a little way out of New York, we shall find other things that set these painters singing in paint. There is George Inness's great painting (great in every way, in size, conception, and execution), "Peace and Plenty," in Gallery No. 14. He found that idea in New England. It might just as well have been in New Jersey, where he painted his Turneresque "Sunset Across the Passaic." But that picture is not in the museum now. So, here is New England "Peace and Plenty," harvest and content-ment; and in the same room, over on another wall, is "Evening at Medfield, Mass.," by the same generous hand, and in the same soft browns and mellow gold.
And there is Henry Ranger's " Spring" with all its tender glad tidings of the season that is coming; and its stone hedges tell us also that it is near-by New England.
Almost by the side of it in this Gallery —it is Gallery No. 13-is a companion piece by Bruce Crane, "Autumn Uplands," in the golden glory of the dying year—and it is any-where near by.
And if we should journey a little farther north, we should come to the Maine coast, which Winslow Homer almost made his own princedom by his power to paint its bold rocks and rough waves and water that is so wet. If you will go into Gallery No. 15, you will see how he did it in "Northeaster," and in the painting which he simply called "Maine Coast."
This, then, is one of the things that I should get more copiously than is now possible, if I lived within an electric-car ride of the museum —the great happiness which comes from the revealing power of art touching the things near at hand, touching the beauty and interest of life and the world. I do not know just why it is that the joy which comes from seeing pictures is a purer joy than almost any other, except that which comes from right affection and human service; but so I find it. Nothing but the laughter of children seems quite so innocently joyous as the delights of painting, sometimes even when the subject is sad or pensive.
Artists themselves, at least as I have known them, seem to have more freshness of delight and buoyant childlikeness than most other people of the same age. I am sorry to say that I do not always find this among the literary people. They seem more harassed in the process of getting their visions and inspirations committed to paper.
It is Du Maurier, is it not, who remarks on the fact that the young painter is often found whistling at his work, but never the young poet. I never saw an old painter, though some were gray-haired and some were bald.
And when a poet does carry about with him this air of zest and gusto, he is likely to be a poet who is less frequently pondering on the insoluble mysteries of the future life than he is innocently rioting in the obvious opportunities for happiness right in this world—like old Walt Whitman or young John Keats.
It was Walt Whitman who said:
"And I say to Mankind, Be not curious about God,
It was John Keats who said:
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
And I should hope that the happiness I got from these museum pictures would pass in-sensibly into my work; not merely by invigorating it, but by imparting some small measure of art even to the business of teaching. Are we whose trade it is to interpret literature to younger people never to lend the touch of art to that work? Are we to handle these literary treasures with hands like the carters who haul crated pictures and statuary from the steamship docks to the museum? May we not have at least the craftsman's skill of the restorer—at least the cleverness of a clerk who displays gems to a customer and holds them to the light for the best advantage of lustre and sparkle?
I walked with a woman in a shop where metal objects of art are sold, and she was an artist literally "to the tips of her sensitive fingers." As she pointed a slender finger here and here and here, indicating, it seemed to me that the repoussé rose, like filings to a magnet, to answer her summons. Many details of workmanship, unseen by my untutored eye, emerged in beauty under the spell of her words and eloquent index finger, until, to my imagination, it appeared that there was magic in that finger, as in the wizard's wand which evokes flowers where before was barrenness. And of course there was magic—the magic of the art instinct in that. woman's nature.
And shall we who make a business of ex-pounding literature never employ the magic touch of art to lift shy beauties into the vision and understanding of young people whose own eyes are only half-open? It is a profane touch unless we do. Surely we must be in some sort artists, or else misinterpret the art of the authors whom we handle. Do we not owe it to those dead masters of literature who wrought in terms of art, to teach them in the spirit of art? Do we not owe it to them as well as to our classes?
As language is never so aptly learned as among those who speak it well, so there is no such place to learn art as in association with the work of artists. And here it is, in this Museum!
And I am sure that I should, in these galleries, where art is spontaneous, learn sympathetically one way not to use a museum—I should not use it as a fact book. In Gallery No. 30 there is a Botticelli, a ravishing thing in blues and reds, "and all a wonder and a wild desire." I think I should not say to my pupils: "Three miracles of Saint Zenobius, by Botticelli; Florentine, fifteenth century; find out who Saint Zenobius was, Botticelli's real name, form of government in Florence in the fifteenth century; bound Italy; state its fauna and flora; chief exports; and discuss the question of Italian immigration."
That was Mr. Thomas Gradgrind's method. He said : "Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. Girl No. 20, give me your definition of a horse. Girl No. 20 unable to define a horse. Bitzer, your definition of a horse? " "Quadruped, graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely, twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisors. Sheds coat in the spring: in marshy countries sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in the mouth." Thus and much more by Bitzer. "Now, Girl No. 20," said Mr. Gradgrind, "you know what a horse is!"
That was Mr. Gradgrind's method. Only Mr. Gradgrind's?
Possibly I should get them to find out some-thing about Zenobius and Botticelli, but I should try to make all facts centre about the great fact of the picture itself—its purity of color and clarity of outline. And I should try to have them feel the leap of joy that I myself felt when I first came suddenly upon this picture, not knowing it was in the museum. If I found that something of this had sunk in, I should lead them to Gallery No. 33 and the new loan Fra Angelico panel, "Madonna and Child," and get them to see how with equal simplicity (though less brightness) of color, just the purest blue, and red, and gold, Fra Angelico had combined grace of figure, ease of posture, flow and fold of drapery, beauty of figure outline, especially perhaps in the blue-robed angel in the left-hand corner. Then I should call their attention to something less obvious—the mysterious way in which a workman's character passes into his work—the sweet gravity, modesty, humility, and the vital faith Fra Angelico had in the truth of the thing he was painting.
And with the same purpose in mind I should take them to Holbein's "Archbishop Cran-mer," Gallery No. 34, and let them see what bold strength and a straightforward habit of looking out sincerely on the world has done in that picture. Or I should turn them to the small "Erasmus," the Morgan loan, in the same room, and let them see how thoughtful Holbein could be, as well as strong and sincere.
Then I should try the more comprehending of them, at any rate, with a subtler shading of the same idea, by leading them to the work of the greatest of all portrait-painters. Perhaps I ought to say Velasquez, but it is Rembrandt I mean. I would show them Rembrandt's portraits of himself, and tell them about those other self-portraitures which were in the Metropolitan during the great Dutch Loan Exhibition in 1909. I would make, or try to make, them feel the majesty of the man—the power, the poise, the bold self-confidence, the sure hand, the noble scorn of petty men and base infidelities.
And with that simmering in their minds I should guide them to Gallery No. 11 and halt them before the picture of "A Young Painter"—that tense, earnest, delicate poetsoul—eager as Keats, sensitive as Shelley, burning up his frail life with his visions and his inward fires.
And then I should call their attention to the artistic power of sympathy, the ability of a man like Rembrandt, with enough strength to conquer Europe and enough poise to govern it, to sympathize with and recreate this fair, frail young Adonais of a painter. And I should remind them how great Shakespeare created Henry the Fifth, the typical man of gallant action; and four years later created Hamlet, who could not act at all but only think himself into dissolution—Shakespeare, who created Falstaff and Ophelia, Brutus and Caliban.
Facts like these and moralizings like these are better and fitter than Gradgrind facts and the kind of moralizing Rossetti jeered at in "The Burden of Nineveh":
"In our museum galleries
"A human face the creature wore
"Now, thou poor god, within this hall
Which London takes the day to be:
And with Rossetti in mind, and Botticelli and Fra Angelico in mind only a few minutes ago, one naturally falls to thinking of pre-Raphaelitism; and pre-Raphaelitism may suggest the oddity that two such different men as Rossetti and Ruskin should have had so many similar views on art. And one begins to wonder if such phrases as "art for art's sake," and "moral values in art," mean any such very different things or mean anything at all. There is the pure art side of it presented humorously and convincingly in Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi" (Filippo Lippi was Botticelli's master, by the way); and there is the soul-motive side of it presented sadly and convincingly in Browning's "Andrea Del Sarto"; and one half believes they mean the same thing if men could only understand each other's language. And we begin to approach the conclusion that the truest thing Ruskin ever said about art was that "art must not be talked about"—he who talked about it all the time and in a score or two of volumes.
Not so much to talk about it as to feel the bigness of it is our business. And it would be a wonderfully salutary thing for our young Americans to be made to feel that. There is nothing they understand so well as bigness, but unfortunately they have the eccentric idea that it is big to have money enough to buy pictures, but small to have genius enough to make them. It would be for the good of America's future if these youngsters could be brought to see that nothing merely human has come into the world bigger than Rembrandt's pictures and Shakespeare's plays.
What a lesson in history as well as the arts it would be to get them to see how special gifts are bequeathed to special countries in special ages; that one age and country is greatly noble in scientific discovery and invention, like our own; another in poetry, like Shakespeare's England; another in painting, like Rembrandt's Holland; and that, though Shakespeare and Rembrandt never pressed an electric button, or talked through a telephone, or rode in an automobile, or saw an air-ship, they were just as great, manly, and useful in their ways as our great inventors are in theirs.
In a less toploftical mood the pupils and I would look at some pictures which bear directly on literature, maybe at lovely "Peg Woffington," by Hogarth, in Gallery No. 15. A look at that portrait explains why Charles Reade got so infatuated with his "darling Peggy" when he was writing his novel about her that he seemed to forget that the real Peggy had been in her grave a century when he sat down to write. Peggy was the sort of girl who seems never really dead—with that warm Irish nature of hers, for she was so vital and so charming at all times and in all media—in the novel, in the portrait, and in her eighteenth-century flesh; and there she is before us just as Hogarth saw her, with that beautiful mouth—larger than the Greeks liked, but so expressive, so sensitive, and almost bowed in a smile. And in the eyes too there are smiles, but the tears are just behind. Dear, beautiful, lovable, frail Peggy!
And, of course, Peggy makes us think of Garrick, and Garrick makes us think of Drury Lane Theatre and all of its triumphs, and of Sheridan and Goldsmith; and they make us think of Doctor Johnson, and all of them make us think of that comfort-able eighteenth century when nobody rushed, when so many could do such great things with ease, when nobody tried to do more than he could, but did it with charm and finished art.
And the greatest artist of them all was Sir Joshua Reynolds, painting his dukes and duchesses and many honorable women with power and charm, including splendid Mrs. Barnard, whom you may see in this same Gallery No. 15. And again in this Gallery No. 15—this place of "infinite riches in a little room "you may see a favorite by George Romney, on whose worthy shoulders the garment of Reynolds fell. He painted Lady Hamilton again and again—and no wonder, say we, when we look at this portrait. She is in the guise of Daphne, but that does not in the least disguise her adorable self. It seems almost wrong that he who adored her most of all should be so far away in Gallery No. 24. Lord Nelson is thinking very hard as he sits there in the cabin of the Victory. He may be thinking of Cape Saint Vincent, or of Copenhagen, or pending Trafalgar, for this is the very day of the battle, as the date of the letter on his desk shows—the last letter he ever wrote—or maybe he is thinking of Lady Hamilton, so far away in Gallery No. 15.
Lord Nelson naturally suggests Southey, who wrote his biography, and Southey's friend Wordsworth, who was inspired by Nelson's genius and his own brother's character to write the great ode on the "Character of the Happy Warrior." And that noble word picture of the ideal hero makes us think of our own heroes by sea and land—from Paul Jones and Washington to Grant and Lee and Dewey.
We turn to less exalted but more poignant tragedies than Nelson's—to the Master of Ravenswood, Lucy Ashton, and Sir John Millais's illustration painting for "The Bride of Lammermoor"—No. 21 in the Vanderbilt Collection. The young people who have been reading Scott's novel will have no difficulty in finding the moment the artist chose for his illustration. It will be a nice exercise to have them explain from the book the attitude of Lucy, explain it in terms of character as well as incident, and also explain the look in Ravenswood's eyes. If they are reading Bulwer's "Last Days of Pompeii," which we all once read with joy but would not care to read again, they should see George Fuller's "Nydia" in Gallery No. 12. If any of them are old enough to read "Don Juan" they will be after seeing Chaplain's "Haidee" in Gallery No. 18; but as few of them are likely to be reading that piece of ironical disillusionment, little will be lost, for I do not think this is the Haidee Byron wrote about. By the same token they might be set to find some of the things in Shakespeare's Portia which are not in Sir John Millais's "Portia" (Gallery No. 20), fine as is that picture of a typical English girl in a gorgeous scarlet robe.
The museum is bursting with great pictures less directly illustrative of particular books, but splendidly adapted to send spectators, young and old, back to books with freshened appetites. For instance, there is the "Pyramus and Thisbe," by Rubens, in Gallery 27—the tale that has been woven into so much English literature, not forgetting Bottom's version of "The most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe."
In Byron's "Childe Harold" they will read that Venice
"Looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
And Turner's "Grand Canal, Venice" (Gallery No. 24), will tell them what Byron meant better than most of us can—the blue of the Italian sky, the light clouds, the reflections in the water, the brilliant sunshine, the proud towers, all airy, majestic, and with motion. It is Venice herself, sitting in state, "throned on her hundred isles."
In Gallery No. 30 there is a picture of Columbus, by Piombo; and as I stood before it my mind automatically selected from the infinity of literature about Columbus, Arthur Hugh Clough's poem, which expresses best the thought that I, and doubtless thousands of others, have had about Columbus when standing on the prow of a ship, looking out over the boundless untracked waste of water:
"How in God's name did Columbus get over
"What if wise men had, as far back as Ptolemy, Judged that the Earth, like an orange, was round,
None of them ever said, `Come along! Follow me!
Sail to the West and the East will be found.
'Many a day before
When we look at Piombo's picture we see how it was done. That was just the man to do such a daring, foolish, splendid thing—this strong, bold, resolute, practical dreamer! Like everything else that has kept the world moving, there was the personality of a man behind it.
As I looked at Zurbaran's "Saint Michael, the Archangel," in Gallery 28, there slipped into my mind the old pope's words in Browning's "Ring and the Book," as he, "heart-sick at having all his world to blame," looked wearily up at the picture of Saint Michael over his head and wondered if saints are not all the greater for having human weakness to contend with and human virtue to gratify them: "Would Michael yonder be, nor armed nor crowned, the less pre-eminent angel?"
These were subjective impressions, but sometimes our discarded subjectivities are just the things that would have sunk deeper in on others than our learning and our cleverness. That is Emerson's thought, is it not? "A man dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty."
In a more objective way one might call the attention of pupils, especially boys, to Borglum's "Mares of Diomedes," at the foot of the Grand Stairway, as illustrating Mazeppa's wild ride—the strength and fury of motion; or Frederic Remington's smaller bronzes in Gallery No. 22 might serve the same purpose with more realism and less beauty. And while looking at these small bronzes I should direct attention to the two "Motherhoods," one by Mrs. Vonnoh and the other by Jules Dalou. And if I were a woman teacher, I think I should not suppress a little sex triumph at this point. Dalou's piece is very noble, very graceful, and has more of power in it than Mrs. Vonnoh's; but Mrs. Vonnoh's is motherhood in all its utter tenderness—the inclined head, the slight droop of the right shoulder, from which reaches the protective, nestling arm to shelter the child. We hear it stated fairly frequently nowadays that women can do anything that men can do, and I suppose they can. But I know there is one thing women can do that men cannot, and it is in the bend of that head and the curve of that arm.
It would be a natural transition from the sanctity of human motherhood to the sanctity of divine motherhood as the elder masters conceived it. We should go back to Fra Angelico for another and a deeper purpose now; to Lorenzo Monaco's crude but reverently adoring panel in Gallery No. 31; to the beautiful Bellini in Gallery No. II; to Baroccio's splendid picture in Gallery No. 29, where art has become adequate to the painter's purpose, where the joy in the young mother's face and the earnestness in old Elizabeth's face are no more skilfully done than are the details of that richly colored and altogether wonderful interior. We should visit the "Madonna" of the school of Van Eyck in Gallery No. 34, and perhaps conclude the Ma-donnas with Dagnan-Bouveret's sweet, mod-ern mother saint in Gallery No. 17.
These are only side-lights on literature from the fine arts. But for older and more thoughtful pupils there is something deeper that the museum can do, and do it wonderfully, namely, show how the same conception is treated in the different media of art and letters. It is always stimulating to watch two superior minds working toward the same idea under diverse conditions of labor. The contemporaries Darwin and Tennyson feeling after the principle of evolution, one in sure-footed science, the other in winged poetry; Greek Plato and English Shelley exploring the dizzy and rarefied heights of the absolute idea, one in philosophy, the other in poetry. It is interesting to see a poet and a painter expressing the same great human truth in different media, and that we can see in Wordsworth's "Michael" and the French Millet's "Water-Carrier," No. 77 of the Vanderbilt Collection. So many young readers, and older ones too, miss the point of Words-worth's "Michael," because it is so simple; for it is in simplicity that we lose our way even oftener than in complexity. An obvious poet would have followed the boy Luke to London and traced him through the degrees of his temptation, capitulation, ruin, disgrace, and banishment; but the unsensational Words-worth remains back in the mountain home with the peasant father. A sentimental poet would have shown in Michael the agony of a broken heart; but the serene Wordsworth shows the heart kept sadly, gravely whole by the very love which the son has insulted.
"There is a comfort in the strength of love; 'Twill make a thing endurable, which else Would overset the brain or break the heart."
The peasant woman in Millet's picture has had nothing to break her heart, but every-thing to wear it out in toil and privation and stagnating routine of life with no diversion. You see it in the dull and heavy face, the coarse flesh, the work-roughened hands, the drag on her shoulders of the heavy water-pails, the eyes half-closed. But, says Millet himself—and you may read his words in the catalogue—"she has an air of rustic goodness. She is not a servant, but a wife who has just drawn water, with which she makes her husband's soup. She is accomplishing with simplicity and willingness an act which is, with the other household duties, an everyday part of her life." In Wordsworth's "Michael" and in Millet's "Water-Carrier" the love of ignorant peasants supports everything—toil and monotony, and even the ruin of the loved object. Millet says of his picture: "I have avoided, as I always do, with a sort of horror anything that turned toward the sentimental." And how completely was that Words-worth's purpose, in all his poetry, to reveal the primal sympathies and to reveal them in tranquillity.
Two men utterly different from these stead-fast souls were Turner and Shelley—different enough from each other in many ways, but similar in the daring impatience of their genius, and similar in the way they handled sky and sunlight in their pictures and poems. In the luminosity of Turner's "Fountain of Indolence" (Gallery No. 24), in its gold, crimson, blue, deep red, and all its merging colors, in its hills, misty in excess of light, there is exactly the quality that you find in Shelley's sun pictures—in "Prometheus Unbound," "Julian and Maddalo," and "Lines Written in the Euganean Hills," the same audacity, brilliancy, scorn of defining out-lines, passion for light and color, blinding radiance, and dazzling chromatics. In the "Julian and Maddalo" he described the sky and the hills at just that moment of sunset when the two fuse together in liquid gold, and the hills are as unsubstantial as the clouds, all merged in a mist of light and dissolved in red and yellow flames. Only Shelley and Turner could look undazzled on those glories and then tell the world what they had seen —one in poetry, the other in paint.
In moods quite different, but equally true, Tennyson and those English landscape-painters of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries interpreted nature, not venturing into the seventh heaven of light and color rapture where earth and sky are no longer divisible, but all burned up in blaze—not doing that, but staying at home quietly in England and revealing the charm of England—its own atmosphere, the peace, the security of England.
"An English home,—gray twilight poured
So Tennyson wrote, and so Constable and Gainsborough and John Crome painted. In Crome's large landscape, in Gallery No. 15, there are heavy thunder-clouds and laborers are driving the wain home for shelter from the rain. But if they do not reach cover before the storm breaks, the worst they will get is a wetting. No such storm here as breaks in the Rockies, but just some normal thunder and lightning, a downpour of rain, then clearing, sunshine, and the peace of tight little England. It is the same note in Tennyson's poetry:
"And one, a full-fed river winding slow
In the broken foreground of Gainsborough's picture, called simply "English Landscape," in this same Gallery No. 15, there is the same quality of England—it is properly called "English" landscape — it couldn't be any-where else. The background of this picture, with its high hills, is not Tennyson, for he loved wide horizons. When he left the snuggeries of quiet English lanes, and the soft bends and pools of little English rivers, he loved to get out on the English moorland, the "endless plains," or by the gray sea. It is the influence of his native Lincolnshire, and his pensive, not painful, melancholy.
In Constable's "On the River Stour," in this same fascinating Gallery No. 15—and this is my last look at it—there is the nooked and sheltered England which Tennyson loved, the rustic rural England — the bridge, the awkward boat, the fishers, the thick foliage —the charm that Tennyson put into so much of his English landscape—"The Miller's Daughter," for example.
It is all very beautiful, this work of Tennyson, and the early English landscapists; it is very peaceful and snug; but, above all, it is English. It has "atmosphere." I don't know what "atmosphere" is, but I know these men had it. One thing I do know that it is: it is magic, and it comes in part from really loving what you paint.
While pointing out these resemblances, I should perhaps try to do a little practical work in composition-teaching, by suggesting to the pupils the limitations in each medium —the pictorial and the literary. I would show them that some things can be done in one medium, and some other things can be done in the other medium; and that it is a mistake to try to do with words what should be left to paint, or to try to do with paint what should be left to words.
I should, for instance, call their attention to the fact that Turner uses actual color, and Shelley uses only symbols of color—words; and that Turner makes his impression on the eye all at once, while Shelley makes his impression on the ear in a sequence of lines. These are Turner's advantages over Shelley; but I should call their attention to an advantage which Shelley has over Turner, namely, that Shelley can show the succession of changes in a sunrise or a sunset—crimson turning into gold, or gold into crimson, right before our eyes, as in the actual sun-rise or sunset, the whole brightening or darkening every second, while Turner can show only one particular and momentary phase of the phenomenon on a single canvas.
And then I should emphasize the fact that Shelley is one of the few literary artists who ever mastered color effects in words, and that Tennyson is one of the few who ever mastered effect of line as well as color in words, and that he does this largely by selection and condensation, as in those compact word-pictures which I read just now from "The Palace of Art," and as in these two other pictures which I take from the same fine-wrought poem—both marines. The first with just a suggestion of the "wideness" of an Elihu Vedder, the second with the strength of a Paul Dougherty:
"One seemed all dark and red,—a tract of sand,
"One showed an iron coast and angry waves,
And the moral of it all would be that as there are few Shelleys and Tennysons, the more prudent course is to refrain from attempts at elaborate word-painting.
I should remind the pupils of their own habit of skipping good Sir Walter Scott's long descriptions of nature in discouragingly close-printed paragraphs unrelieved by dialogue; and would suggest that if Sir Walter could not do this entertainingly, the probabilities are unfavorable to themselves. I should try to get them to see that as a general rule, with only brilliant exceptions, the true medium for nature delineation in detail is paint, not words, and the true medium of human narrative is words, not paint.
I take it that the real objection of fastidious people to those mid-Victorian pictures which "tell a story" of sentiment is not an objection to story or sentiment, but a cavil at an attempt to do with a brush what is better done with a pen. And by the same token a painter's brush can better describe in detail a Scottish moorland than can Sir Walter's pen, for the simple reason that, as the written details must be got in sequence, the first are forgotten before the last are learned; for the human mind can hold only a limited number of impressions, and where a considerable number of impressions are given in word sequence the mind never gets the impression of the whole—in short, never gets a picture.
The whole matter, like all human things, reduces itself in the end to psychology. Moreover, the tendency nowadays in nature portrayal, whether in paint or words, is away from the narrative and dramatic to the purely lyrical.
I fancy that the old Dutch painters would be mystified by some of the full-noon pictures of to-day, which have no human association beyond the human joy in sunlight and green leaves and the wind in the trees. Correspondingly, the mood of nature in much contemporary verse is just the "lyric cry," and therefore brief. And when a twentieth-century poet does keep to the narrative method of description, he does it with brevity and swiftness. As Kipling, for in-stance, in that fine stanza of "The Explorer,". where in four lines he takes his reader out of the snowlands, down into the fertile valley, through the valley, and out into the barren, cursed, and horror-haunted desert; not exactly a formed picture like those Tennyson made for his "Palace of Art," but the utmost brevity of virile narrative:
"Till the snow ran out in flowers, and the flowers turned to aloes,
Not being a teacher of these things, but just an average person who loves pictures very much but without any technical intelligence, and who loves literature very much and, I trust, with a little technical intelligence, I have known no way to address you this afternoon except personally—to tell you , some of the things that I myself might do with the museum if I were teaching in a New York school.
One last thing I should do—but I should do it first and do it last and do it all the time—try to get these young moralists to leave their "obstinate questionings" at home, and to understand that the primary purpose of art is to give pleasure and not to settle questions of conscience and social arrangement. Questions of conscience are the most important of all questions, but they must be settled in grave counsel, in self-examination, in secret, and in prayer. A visit to an art gallery is for another purpose.
Theoretically, at least, our young Americans are excessive moralists, and will, in Charles Lamb's phrase, "indict our very dreams," shrink from "imagining a state of things for which there is neither reward nor punishment," "cling to the painful necessities of shame and blame," raise questions of moral propriety because Romeo kisses Juliet at their first meeting (a problem which I en-countered on more than one recent examination paper), and put in question the civic utility of Sir John Falstaff. I should try to ease them a little of all that, and get them to understand that a great artist looks out on the world with open eyes, and is in sympathy with the pageantry of nature and human nature because it is true and because it is alive; and that he recreates what he sees and feels in the impersonal and universal terms of art, and leaves to those who preach and to us who teach the tremendous responsibility of being personal and particular; of assisting them to apply to their own cases the universal and inexorable laws; of being counsellors of conscience and advisers of conduct.
I would urge upon them, at least upon the older ones who could understand and not be confused in values, that the artist loves the world, not because it is moral or immoral, not because it is always even beautiful, but because it is his world, our world, a world sometimes good and sometimes bad, some-times happy and sometimes sad, sometimes sane and sometimes mad, but the world of the facts that God made and allowed, the world of the facts which art can transmute into a mystic source of happiness to all people with seeing eyes and responsive hearts.