I, So FAR as this countrys hundred years of existence may be divided into historical periods-and the attempt so to divide it is less fanciful than it would be if we had not had so excellent a start, and if we had not lived so fastthe period through which we OL.
In matters aesthetic, cert2inly there seems to he evidence of this. But the public has not thought very well of art.
Many gentlemen of means have made for themselves excellent collections of paint- ings; some books have been written; some admirable work has been done-by Copley, and Stuart, and Aliston, to take no more recent example; but popular feeling has stood aside and looked askance.
And now if any one were to mention the one thing which popular feeling is deeply stirred about, it would be art. Very likely, in mentioning it, one would need to use some sonority of utterance, and to pro- nounce the word with a kind of ecstatic unctuousness and circumflex accent, in order to indicate the reverent ardor with which it has come popularly to be worshiped.
Elsewhere than in America, affectation would be about the very worst thing that could happen to art. But here we have so long had no art at all in a national sense, that anythingaffectation eventhat will keep alive the general subject with which it is concerned, is of benefit and should be grate- ful.
It is not edifying, of course, to witness persons making up their minds at a moments notice upon matters in regard to which Mr. Tame, let us say, are at opposite poles, and delivering themselves in conversational circles of suddenly ac- quired views upon the comparative excel- lence of different schools of painting; to listen to expositions of the principles of art subtle and elusive as those whom they elude and escape in so airy and sprite-like a man- ner know them to bemade by young men who spell badly and young maidens who cook worse; to behold the furniture of Elizabeth or of the Queen Anne age and the china of Nankin, the relative values of the imi- tation of nature and the idealization of it, truth, beauty, ethics evento behold all these things discussed with ease and emptiness, not as if they were Vital and real, as they must be acknowledged to be, but as if they were properly the shuttle-cocks of fashion and the subjects of a craze.
It gives one the feeling toward art that Voltaire expressed concern- ing Jesus when he said, I pray you, never let me hear that mans name again. This, to be sure, is not edifying. And it may be assumed that this will be a good thing; for, despite the admira- tion that we all feel for Puritanism for its moral seriousness, and for what it has done to strengthen the sense of conduct, we are in America swinging clear of its claims to include all of life, and showing appreciation for the importance of other things, recogniz- ing that to complete development go, besides morals, art, for example, and letters and science.
We have not, as yet, made much progress in culture, at least in true culture, such as Mr. Matthew Arnold exemplifies, but we are altogether ready to admit the value of such culture as he preaches. In New England there is certainly a vehement readiness to admit this, Puritanism having there lost the completeness of its hold.
Those exhibitions surprised many people extremely in their indications of the nesthetic wealth possessed by the people of New Yorkpossessions which in amount and in merit also, were indeed justly surprising to persons unacquainted with private galleries here. Every one must have noted the similar, though of course less important, disclosures made by the numerous and extra- ordinarily successful sales of private collec- tions of paintings here a year ago last winter.
And some such evidence has been furnished in other places, Philadelphia, and Boston, and Chicago,even in Davenport, Iowa, there was a loan collection in full blast, not many months ago.
So it seems quite unnecessary to insist upon the reason why art is a good thing. In no other way can affectation, which is the bit- terest foe except utter neglect of art, be avoided.
Academic influence is the very last thing that we need in this countrythat is to say, so far as our art is to be individ- ual, and to be the expression of whatsoever national aisthetic feeling now exists, or may be developed.
Rules are not made, of course. They are the formulations of princi- ples, of natural laws. And, however abso- lutely an individuals instinct must be his guide in the search for, and apprehension of, natural laws, it is the sum of these individual apprehensions, which may be called experi- ence, that must be the guide of a society, whether in manners, in government, or in art.
And, that it may be serviceable, expe- rience must have two conditions: Even then it must be taken as a guide only never as a leader. Genius makes ducks and drakes of it every now and then; shows that its canons are incomplete, that its appre- hensions of natural laws are mistaken.
But in this country aisthetic experience has had neither the condition of variety nor the con- dition of duration, comparatively speaking.
And to attempt to formulate aisthetic rules just now would he absurd. Academic influ- ence of any sort of material strictness, such as the Academic influence that prevails in France, we cannot seriously expect for some time yet.
Expecting the contrary is the cardinal error that the National Academy of Design has committed, in whatever effort it has made for iesthetic progress. We ought to have, at present, nothing of the kind. It has furnished for France what Sainte-Beuve called a sovereign organ of opinion, and M.
Renan calls a recog- nized authority in matters of tone and taste, and is, in large measure, the cause of what Mr. But it is to be remembered that France under Richelieu ineven, was a very different country, so far as regards intellectual life, from what we may hope to be in even; so far as regards intellectual life,it was riper.
And yet, even in France, Aca- demic influence has had its disadvantages, its depressing effect and its distorting effect upon genius. Arnold himself notes that it has been hostile to the production of great poetry, despite its prodigious accom- plishment for prose. It has unduly fixed the attention of Frenchmen upon Shaksperes lack of biens3a;ice, for example.
While it has been making it impossible for any Frenchman to write like Mr. Hepworth Dixon, or talk like Mr. Joseph Cook, it has made it possible for a Frenchman to at- tempt the remodeling of Ham- let.The Times 4 August код для вставки ).
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