Life of William Blake (1880), Volume 2/Prose writings/Descriptive Catalogue
CATALOGUE OF PICTURES,
POETICAL AND HISTORICAL INVENTIONS,
PAINTED BY WILLIAM BLAKE IN WATER-COLOURS.
Being the ancient method of Fresco Painting revived:
and Drawings for Public Inspection, and for Sale by Private Contract.
London : Printed by D. N. Shury, 7, Berwick Street, Soho, for J. Blake, 28, Broad Street, Golden Square. 1809.
CONDITIONS OF SALE.
I. One-third of the Price to be paid at the time of Purchase, and the remainder on Delivery.
II. The Pictures and Drawings to remain in the Exhibition till its close, which will be the 25th of September, 1809: and the Picture of The Canterbury Pilgrims, which is to be engraved, will be sold only on condition of its remaining in the Artist's hands twelve months, when it will be delivered to the Buyer.
The Spiritual Form of Nelson guiding Leviathan, in whose wreathings are infolded the Nations of the Earth.
Clearness and precision have been the chief objects in painting these Pictures. Clear colours unmudded by oil, and firm and determinate lineaments unbroken by shadows, which ought to display and not to hide form, as is the practice of the latter Schools of Italy and Flanders.
NUMBER II:—ITS COMPANION.
The Spiritual Form of Pitt guiding Behemoth; he is that Angel who, pleased to perform the Almighty's orders, rides on the whirlwind, directing the storms of war; He is ordering the Reaper to reap the Vine of the Earth, and the Ploughman to plough tip the Cities and Towers.
This Picture also is a proof of the power of colours unsullied with oil or with any cloggy vehicle. Oil has falsely been supposed to give strength to colours: but a little consideration must show the fallacy of this opinion. Oil will not drink or absorb colour enough to stand the test of very little time and of the air. It deadens every colour it is mixed with, at its first mixture, and in a little time becomes a yellow mask over all that it touches. Let the works of modern Artists since Rubens' time witness the villany of some one at that time, who first brought Oil Painting into general opinion and practice: since which we have never had a Picture painted that could show itself by the side of an earlier production. Whether Rubens or Vandyke, or both, were guilty of this villany, is to be inquired in another work on Painting, and who first forged the silly story and known falsehood about John of Bruges inventing oil-colours: in the meantime let it be observed, that before Vandyke's time and in his time all the genuine Pictures are on Plaster or Whiting grounds, and none since.
The two Pictures of Nelson and Pitt are compositions of a mythological cast, similar to those Apotheoses of Persian, Hindoo, and Egyptian Antiquity, which are still preserved on rude monuments, being copies from some stupendous originals now lost, or perhaps buried till some happier age. The Artist having been taken in vision into the ancient republics, monarchies, and patriarchates of Asia, has seen those wonderful originals, called in the Sacred Scriptures the Cherubim, which were sculptured and painted on walls of Temples, Towers, Cities, Palaces, and erected in the highly cultivated States of Egypt, Moab, Edom, Aram, among the Rivers of Paradise—being originals from which the Greeks and Hetrurians copied Hercules Farnese, Venus of Medicis, Apollo Belvedere, and all the grand works of ancient art. They were executed in a very superior style to those justly admired copies, being with their accompaniments terrific and grand in the highest degree. The Artist has endeavoured to emulate the grandeur of those seen in his vision, and to apply it to modern Heroes, on a smaller scale.
No man can believe that either Homer's Mythology, or Ovid's, was the production of Greece, or of Latium; neither will any one believe that the Greek statues, as they are called, were the invention of Greek Artists; perhaps the Torso is the only original work remaining; all the rest are evidently copies, though fine ones, from greater works of the Asiatic Patriarchs. The Greek Muses are daughters of Mnemosyne or Memory, and not of Inspiration or Imagination, therefore not authors of such sublime conceptions. Those wonderful originals seen in my visions were some of them one hundred feet in height; some were painted as pictures, and some carved as basso-relievos, and some as groups of statues, all containing mythological and recondite meaning, where more is meant than meets the eye. The Artist wishes it was now the fashion to make such monuments, and then he should not doubt of having a national commission to execute these two Pictures on a scale that is suitable to the grandeur of the nation, who is the parent of his heroes, in high-finished fresco, where the colours would be as pure and as permanent as precious stones though the figures were one hundred feet in height.
All Frescoes are as high-finished as miniatures or enamels, and they are known to be unchangeable; but oil, being a body itself, will drink or absorb very little colour, and, changing yellow, and at length brown, destroys every colour it is mixed with, especially every delicate colour. It turns every permanent white to a yellow and brown putty, and has compelled the use of that destroyer of colour, white-lead, which, when its protecting oil is evaporated, will become lead again. This is an awful thing to say to Oil Painters; they may call it madness, but it is true. All the genuine old little Pictures, called Cabinet Pictures, are in fresco and not in oil. Oil was not used, except by blundering ignorance, till after Vandyke's time; but the art of fresco-painting being lost, oil became a fetter to genius and a dungeon to art. But one convincing proof among many others that these assertions are true is, that real gold and silver cannot be used with oil, as they are in all the old pictures and in Mr. B.'s frescoes.
Sir Jeffery Chaucer and the Nine-and-twenty Pilgrims on their journey to Canterbury.
The time chosen is early morning, before sunrise, when the jolly company are just quitting the Tabarde Inn. The Knight and Squire with the Squire's Yeoman lead the Procession; next follow the youthful Abbess, her nun, and three priests; her greyhounds attend her:
'Of small hounds had she that she fed
Next follow the Friar and Monk; then the Tapiser, the Pardoner, and the Sompnour and Manciple. After these 'Our Host,' who occupies the centre of the cavalcade, directs them to the Knight as the person who would be likely to commence their task of each telling a tale in their order. After the Host follow the Shipman, the Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Franklin, the Physician, the Ploughman, the Lawyer, the Poor Parson, the Merchant, the Wife of Bath, the Miller, the Cook, the Oxford Scholar, Chaucer himself; and the Reeve comes as Chaucer has described,—
'And ever he rode hinderest of the rout.'</poem>
These last are issuing from the gateway of the Inn; the Cook and the Wife of Bath are both taking their morning's draught of comfort. Spectators stand at the gateway of the Inn, and are composed of an old Man, a Woman, and Children.
The Landscape is an eastward view of the country, from the Tabarde Inn in Southwark, as it may be supposed to have appeared in Chaucer's time; interspersed with cottages and villages. The first beams of the Sun are seen above the horizon: some buildings and spires indicate the situation of the Great City. The Inn is a Gothic building, which Thynne in his Glossary says was the lodging of the Abbot of Hyde, by Winchester. On the Inn is inscribed its title, and a proper advantage is taken of this circumstance to describe the subject of the Picture. The words written over the gateway of the Inn are as follow: 'The Tabarde Inn, by Henry Baillie, the lodgynge-house for Pilgrims who journey to St. Thomas's Shrine at Canterbury.'
The characters of Chaucer's Pilgrims are the characters which compose all ages and nations. As one age falls, another rises, different to mortal sight, but to immortals only the same; for we see the same characters repeated again and again, in animals, vegetables, minerals, and in men. Nothing new occurs in identical existence; Accident ever varies, Substance can never suffer change nor decay.
Of Chaucer's characters, as described in his Canterbury Tales, some of the names or titles are altered by time, but the characters themselves for ever remain unaltered; and consequently they are the physiognomies or lineaments of universal human life, beyond which Nature never steps. Names alter, things never alter. I have known multitudes of those who would have been monks in the age of monkery, who in this deistical age are deists. As Newton numbered the stars, and as Linnæus numbered the plants, so Chaucer numbered the classes of men.
The Painter has consequently varied the heads and forms of his personages into all Nature's varieties; the Horses he has also varied to accord to their Riders: the Costume is correct according to authentic monuments.
The Knight and Squire with the Squire's Yeoman lead the procession, as Chaucer has also placed them first in his prologue. The Knight is a true Hero, a good, great, and wise man; his whole-length portrait on horseback, as written by Chaucer, cannot be surpassed. He has spent his life in the field, has ever been a conqueror, and is that species of character which in every age stands as the guardian of man against the oppressor. His son is like him, with the germ of perhaps greater perfection still, as he blends literature and the arts with his warlike studies. Their dress and their horses are of the first rate, without ostentation, and with all the true grandeur that unaffected simplicity, when in high rank, always displays. The Squire's Yeoman is also a great character, a man perfectly knowing in his profession:
'And in his hand he bare a mighty bow.'
Chaucer describes here a mighty man, one who in war is the worthy attendant on noble heroes.
The Prioress follows these with her female chaplain:
'Another Nonne also with her had she,
This Lady is described also as of the first rank, rich and honoured. She has certain peculiarities and little delicate affectations, not unbecoming in her, being accompanied with what is truly grand and really polite; her person and face Chaucer has described with minuteness; it is very elegant, and was the beauty of our ancestors till after Elizabeth's time, when voluptuousness and folly began to be accounted beautiful.
Her companion and her three priests were no doubt all perfectly delineated in those parts of Chaucer's work which are now lost; we ought to suppose them suitable attendants on rank and fashion.
The Monk follows these with the Friar. The Painter has also grouped with these the Pardoner and the Sompnour and the Manciple, and has here also introduced one of the rich citizens of London;—characters likely to ride in company, all being above the common rank in life, or attendants on those who were so.
For the Monk is described, by Chaucer, as a man of the first rank in society, noble, rich, and expensively attended: he is a leader of the age, with certain humorous accompaniments in his character, that do not degrade, but render him an object of dignified mirth, but also with other accompaniments not so respectable.
The Friar is a character also of a mixed kind:
'A friar there was, a wanton and a merry;'
but in his office he is said to be a 'full solemn man:' eloquent, amorous, witty, and satirical; young, handsome, and rich; he is a complete rogue; with constitutional gaiety enough to make him a master of all the pleasures of the world:
'His neck was white as the fleur de lis,
It is necessary here to speak of Chaucer's own character, that I may set certain mistaken critics right in their conception of the humour and fun that occur on the journey. Chaucer is himself the great poetical observer of men, who in every age is born to record and eternize its acts. This he does as a master, as a father and superior, who looks down on their little follies from the Emperor to the Miller: sometimes with severity, oftener with joke and sport.
Accordingly Chaucer has made his Monk a great tragedian, one who studied poetical art. So much so that the generous Knight is, in the compassionate dictates of his soul, compelled to cry out:
'Ho,' quoth the Knyght, 'good Sir, no more of this;
The Monk's definition of tragedy in the proem to his tale is worth repeating:
'Tragedy is to tell a certain story,
Though a man of luxury, pride, and pleasure, he is a master of art and learning, though affecting to despise it. Those who can think that the proud Huntsman and noble Housekeeper, Chaucer's Monk, is intended for a buffoon or burlesque character, know little of Chaucer.
For the Host who follows this group, and holds the centre of the cavalcade, is a first-rate character, and his jokes are no trifles; they are always, though uttered with audacity, equally free with the Lord and the Peasant; they are always substantially and weightily expressive of knowledge and experience; Henry Baillie, the keeper of the greatest Inn of the greatest City; for such was the Tabarde Inn in Southwark, near London: our Host was also a leader of the age.
By way of illustration, I instance Shakspeare's Witches in Macbeth. Those who dress them for the stage, consider them as wretched old women, and not, as Shakspeare intended, the Goddesses of Destiny; this shows how Chaucer has been misunderstood in his sublime work. Shakspeare's Fairies also are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer's; let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood, and not else.
But I have omitted to speak of a very prominent character, the Pardoner, the Age's Knave, who always commands and domineers over the high and low vulgar. This man is sent in every age for a rod and scourge and for a blight, for a trial of men, to divide the classes of men; he is in the most holy sanctuary, and he is suffered by Providence for wise ends, and has also his great use, and his grand leading destiny.
His companion the Sompnour is also a Devil of the first magnitude, grand, terrific, rich, and honoured in the rank of which he holds the destiny. The uses to society are perhaps equal of the Devil and of the Angel; their sublimity, who can dispute?
'In daunger had he at his owne guise,
The principal figure in the next group is the Good Parson: an Apostle, a real Messenger of Heaven, sent in every age for its light and its warmth. This man is beloved and venerated by all, and neglected by all: he serves all, and is served by none. He is, according to Christ's definition, the greatest of his age: yet he is a Poor Parson of a town. Read Chaucer's description of the Good Parson, and bow the head and the knee to Him, Who, in every age, sends us such a burning and a shining light. Search, O ye rich and powerful, for these men and obey their counsel; then shall the golden age return. But alas! you will not easily distinguish him from the Friar or the Pardoner; they also are 'full solemn men,' and their counsel you will continue to follow.
I have placed by his side the Sergeant-at-Lawe, who appears delighted to ride in his company, and between him and his brother the Ploughman; as I wish men of Law would always ride with them, and take their counsel, especially in all difficult points. Chaucer's Lawyer is a character of great venerableness, a Judge, and a real master of the jurisprudence of his age.
The Doctor of Physic is in this group, and the Franklin, the voluptuous country gentleman; contrasted with the Physician, and, on his other hand, with two Citizens of London. Chaucer's characters live age after age. Every age is a Canterbury Pilgrimage; we all pass on, each sustaining one or other of these characters; nor can a child be born who is not one of these characters of Chaucer. The Doctor of Physic is described as the first of his profession: perfect, learned, completely Master and Doctor in his art. Thus the reader will observe that Chaucer makes every one of his characters perfect in his kind; every one is an Antique Statue, the image of a class, and not of an imperfect individual.
This group also would furnish substantial matter, on which volumes might be written. The Franklin is one who keeps open table, who is the genius of eating and drinking, the Bacchus; as the Doctor of Physic is the Æsculapius, the Host is the Silenus, the Squire is the Apollo, the Miller is the Hercules, &c. Chaucer's characters are a description of the eternal Principles that exist in all ages. The Franklin is voluptuousness itself most nobly portrayed:
'It snewèd in his house of meat and drink.'
The Ploughman is simplicity itself, with wisdom and strength for its stamina. Chaucer has divided the ancient character of Hercules between his Miller and his Ploughman. Benevolence is the Ploughman's great characteristic; he is thin with excessive labour, and not with old age, as some have supposed:
'He woulde thresh, and thereto dike and delve,
Visions of these eternal principles or characters of human life appear to poets in all ages; the Grecian gods were the ancient Cherubim of Phœnicia; but the Greeks, and since them the Moderns, have neglected to subdue the gods of Priam. These Gods are visions of the eternal attributes, or divine names, which, when erected into gods, become destructive to humanity. They ought to be the servants, and not the masters, of man or of society. They ought to be made to sacrifice to Man, and not man compelled to sacrifice to them; for, when separated from man or humanity, who is Jesus the Saviour, the vine of eternity? They are thieves and rebels, they are destroyers.
The Ploughman of Chaucer is Hercules in his supreme eternal state, divested of his spectrous shadow; which is the Miller, a terrible fellow, such as exists in all times and places, for the trial of men, to astonish every neighbourhood with brutal strength and courage, to get rich and powerful, to curb the pride of Man.
The Reeve and the Manciple are two characters of the most consummate worldly wisdom. The Shipman, or Sailor, is a similar genius of Ulyssean art, but with the highest courage superadded.
The Citizens and their Cook are each leaders of a class. Chaucer has been somehow made to number four citizens, which would make his whole company, himself included, thirty-one. But he says there were but nine-and-twenty in his company:
'Full nine-and-twenty in a company.'
The Webbe, or Weaver, and the Tapiser, or Tapestry Weaver, appear to me to be the same person; but this is only an opinion, for full nine-and-twenty may signify one more or less. But I daresay that Chaucer wrote 'A Webbe Dyer,' that is a Cloth Dyer:
'A Webbe Dyer and a Tapiser.'</poem>
The Merchant cannot be one of the Three Citizens, as his dress is different, and his character is more marked, whereas Chaucer says of his rich citizens:
'All were yclothèd in one liverie.'
The characters of Women Chaucer has divided into two classes, the Lady Prioress and the Wife of Bath. Are not these leaders of the ages of men? The Lady Prioress in some ages predominates, and in some the Wife of Bath, in whose character Chaucer has been equally minute and exact; because she is also a scourge and a blight I shall say no more of her, nor expose what Chaucer has left hidden; let the young reader study what he has said of her: it is useful as a scarecrow. There are of such characters born too many for the peace of the world.
I come at length to the Clerk of Oxenford. This character varies from that of Chaucer, as the contemplative philosopher varies from the poetical genius. There are always these two classes of learned sages, the poetical and the philosophical. The Painter has put them side by side, as if the youthful clerk had put himself under the tuition of the mature poet. Let the Philosopher always be the servant and scholar of Inspiration, and all will be happy.
Such are the characters that compose this Picture, which was painted in self-defence against the insolent and envious imputation of unfitness for finished and scientific art, and this imputation most artfully and industriously endeavoured to be propagated among the public by ignorant hirelings. The Painter courts comparison with his competitors, who, having received fourteen hundred guineas and more from the profits of his designs in that well-known work, Designs for Blair's Grave, have left him to shift for himself; while others, more obedient to an employer's opinions and directions, are employed, at a great expense, to produce works in succession to his by which they acquired public patronage. This has hitherto been his lot—to get patronage for others and then to be left and neglected, and his work, which gained that patronage, cried down as eccentricity and madness—as unfinished and neglected by the artist's violent temper: he is sure the works now exhibited will give the lie to such aspersions.
Those who say that men are led by interest are knaves. A knavish character will often say, Of what interest is it to me to do so and so? I answer, of none at all, but the contrary, as you well know. It is of malice and envy that you have done this; hence I am aware of you, because I know that you act not from interest but from malice, even to your own destruction. It is therefore become a duty which Mr. B. owes to the Public, who have always recognised him and patronised him, however hidden by artifices, that he should not suffer such things to be done, or be hindered from the public Exhibition of his finished productions by any calumnies in future.
The character and expression in this Picture could never have been produced with Rubens' light and shadow, or with Rembrandt's, or anything Venetian or Flemish. The Venetian and Flemish practice is broken lines, broken masses, and broken colours: Mr. B.'s practice is unbroken lines, unbroken masses, and unbroken colours. Their art is to lose form; his art is to find form, and to keep it. His arts are opposite to theirs in all things.
As there is a class of men whose whole delight is in the destruction of men, so there is a class of artists whose whole art and science is fabricated for the purpose of destroying Art. Who these are is soon known: 'by their works ye shall know them.' All who endeavour to raise up a style against Raphael, Michael Angelo, and the Antique; those who separate Painting from Drawing; who look if a picture is well Drawn, and, if it is, immediately cry out that it cannot be well Coloured—those are the men.
But to show the stupidity of this class of men, nothing need be done but to examine my rival's prospectus.
The two first characters in Chaucer, the Knight and the Squire, he has put among his rabble; and indeed his prospectus calls the Squire 'the fop of Chaucer's age.' Now hear Chaucer:
'Of his Stature, he was of even length,
Was this a fop?
'Well could he sit a horse, and faire ride,
Was this a fop?
'Curteis he was, and meek, and serviceable;
Was this a fop?
It is the same with all his characters; he has done all by chance, or perhaps his fortune, money, money. According to his prospectus he has Three Monks; these he cannot find in Chaucer, who has only One Monk, and that no vulgar character, as he has endeavoured to make him. When men cannot read, they should not pretend to paint. To be sure Chaucer is a little difficult to him who has only blundered over novels and catch-penny trifles of booksellers; yet a little pains ought to be taken, even by the ignorant and weak. He has put the Reeve, a vulgar fellow, between his Knight and Squire, as if he was resolved to go contrary in everything to Chaucer, who says of the Reeve—
'And ever he rode hinderest of the rout.'
In this manner he has jumbled his dumb dollies together, and is praised by his equals for it; for both himself and his friend are equally masters of Chaucer's language. They both think that the Wife of Bath is a young beautiful blooming damsel; and H—— says, that she is the 'Fair Wife of Bath,' and that 'the Spring appears in her cheeks.' Now hear what Chaucer has made her say of herself, who is no modest one:
'But Lord! when it remembereth me
She has had four husbands, a fit subject for this painter; yet the painter ought to be very much offended with his friend H——, who has called his 'a common scene,' and 'very ordinary forms;' which is the truest part of all, for it is so, and very wretchedly so indeed. What merit can there be in a picture of which such words are spoken with truth?
But the prospectus says that the Painter has represented Chaucer himself as a knave who thrusts himself among honest people to make game of and laugh at them; though I must do justice to the Painter, and say that he has made him look more like a fool than a knave. But it appears in all the writings of Chaucer, and particularly in his Canterbury Tales, that he was very devout, and paid respect to true enthusiastic superstition. He has laughed at his knaves and fools as I do now. But he has respected his True Pilgrims, who are a majority of his company, and are not thrown together in the random manner that Mr. S—— has done. Chaucer has nowhere called the Ploughman old, worn out with 'age and labour,' as the prospectus has represented him, and says that the picture has done so too. He is worn down with labour, but not with age. How spots of brown and yellow, smeared about at random, can be either young or old, I cannot see. It may be an old man; it may be a young one; it may be anything that a prospectus pleases. But I know that where there are no lineaments there can be no character. And what connoisseurs call touch, I know by experience, must be the destruction of all character and expression, as it is of every lineament.
The scene of Mr. S——'s Picture is by Dulwich Hills, which was not the way to Canterbury; but perhaps the Painter thought he would give them a ride round about, because they were a burlesque set of scarecrows, not worth any man's respect or care.
But the Painter's thoughts being always upon gold, he has introduced a character that Chaucer has not—namely, a Goldsmith, for so the prospectus tells us. Why he has introduced a Goldsmith, and what is the wit of it, the prospectus does not explain. But it takes care to mention the reserve and modesty of the Painter; this makes a good epigram enough:
'The fox, the mole, the beetle, and the bat,
But the prospectus tells us that the Painter has introduced a 'Sea Captain;' Chaucer has a Shipman, a Sailor, a Trading Master of a Vessel, called by courtesy Captain, as every master of a boat is; but this does not make him a Sea Captain. Chaucer has purposely omitted such a personage, as it only exists in certain periods: it is the soldier by sea. He who would be a soldier in inland nations is a sea-captain in commercial nations.
All is misconceived, and its mis-execution is equal to its misconception. I have no objection to Rubens and Rembrandt being employed, or even to their living in a palace; but it shall not be at the expense of Raphael and Michael Angelo living in a cottage, and in contempt and derision. I have been scorned long enough by these fellows, who owe to me all that they have; it shall be so no longer:
I found them blind, I taught them how to see;
The Bard, from Gray.
On a rock, whose haughty brow
Weaving the winding-sheet of Edward's race by means of sounds of spiritual music, and its accompanying expressions of articulate speech, is a bold, and daring, and most masterly conception, that the public have embraced and approved with avidity. Poetry consists in these conceptions; and shall Painting be confined to the sordid drudgery of fac-simile representations of merely mortal and perishing substances, and not be, as poetry and music are, elevated into its own proper sphere of invention and visionary conception? No, it shall not be so! Painting, as well as poetry and music, exists and exults in immortal thoughts. If Mr. B.'s Canterbury Pilgrims had been done by any other power than that of the poetic visionary, it would have been as dull as his adversary's.
The Spirits of the murdered bards assist in weaving the deadly woof:
With me in dreadful harmony they join,
The connoisseurs and artists who have made objections to Mr. B.'s mode of representing spirits with real bodies would do well to consider that the Venus, the Minerva, the Jupiter, the Apollo, which they admire in Greek statues, are all of them representations of spiritual existences, of Gods immortal, to the mortal perishing organ of sight; and yet they are embodied and organised in solid marble. Mr. B. requires the same latitude, and all is well. The Prophets describe what they saw in Vision as real and existing men whom they saw with their imaginative and immortal organs; the Apostles the same; the clearer the organ the more distinct the object. A Spirit and a Vision are not, as the modern philosophy supposes, a cloudy vapour or a nothing: they are organised and minutely articulated beyond all that the mortal and perishing nature can produce. He who does not imagine in stronger and better lineaments, and in stronger and better light, than his perishing and mortal eye can see, does not imagine at all. The painter of this work asserts that all his imaginations appear to him infinitely more perfect and more minutely organised than anything seen by his mortal eye. Spirits are organised men: Moderns wish to draw figures without lines, and with great and heavy shadows; are not shadows more unmeaning than lines, and more heavy? Oh, who can doubt this?
King Edward and his Queen Eleanor are prostrated, with their horses, at the foot of a rock on which the Bard stands; prostrated by the terrors of his harp, on the margin of the River Conway, whose waves bear up a corse of a slaughtered bard at the foot of the rock. The armies of Edward are seen winding among the mountains:
'He wound with toilsome march his long array.'
Mortimer and Gloucester lie spell-bound behind their king.
The execution of this Picture is also in Water-colours, or Fresco.
The Ancient Britons.
In the last Battle of King Arthur only Three Britons escaped; these were the Strongest Man, the Beautifullest Man, and the Ugliest Man: these three marched through the field unsubdued, as Gods, and the Sun of Britain set, but shall arise again with tenfold splendour when Arthur shall awake from sleep, and resume his dominion over earth and ocean.
The three general classes of men who are represented by the most Beautiful, the most Strong, and the most Ugly, could not be represented by any historical facts but those of our own country, the Ancient Britons, without violating costume. The Britons (say historians) were naked civilized men, learned, studious, abstruse in thought and contemplation; naked, simple, plain, in their acts and manners; wiser than after-ages. They were overwhelmed by brutal arms, all but a small remnant; Strength, Beauty, and Ugliness escaped the wreck, and remain for ever unsubdued, age after age.
The British Antiquities are now in the Artist's hands; all his visionary contemplations relating to his own country and its ancient glory, when it was, as it again shall be, the source of learning and inspiration—(Arthur was a name for the constellation Arcturus, or Boötes, the Keeper of the North Pole); and all the fables of Arthur and his Round Table; of the warlike naked Britons; of Merlin; of Arthur's conquest of the whole world; of his death, or sleep, and promise to return again; of the Druid monuments, or temples; of the pavement of Watling-street; of London stone; of the Caverns in Cornwall, Wales, Derbyshire, and Scotland; of the Giants of Ireland and Britain; of the elemental beings, called by us by the general name of Fairies; and of these three who escaped, namely. Beauty, Strength, and Ugliness. Mr. B. has in his hands poems of the highest antiquity. Adam was a Druid, and Noah; also Abraham was called to succeed the Druidical age, which began to turn allegoric and mental signification into corporeal command, whereby human sacrifice would have depopulated the earth. All these things are written in Eden. The Artist is an inhabitant of that happy country: and if everything goes on as it has begun, the world of vegetation and generation may expect to be opened again to Heaven, through Eden, as it was in the beginning.
The Strong Man represents the human sublime; the Beautiful Man represents the human pathetic, which was in the wars of Eden divided into male and female; the Ugly Man represents the human reason. They were originally one man, who was fourfold; he was self-divided, and his real humanity slain on the stems of generation, and the form of the fourth was like the Son of God. How he became divided is a subject of great sublimity and pathos. The Artist has written it under inspiration, and will, if God please, publish it; it is voluminous, and contains the ancient history of Britain, and the world of Satan and of Adam.
In the meantime he has painted this Picture, which supposes that in the reign of that British Prince, who lived in the fifth century, there were remains of those naked Heroes in the Welch Mountains; they are there now—Gray saw them in the person of his Bard on Snowdon; there they dwell in naked simplicity; happy is he who can see and converse with them above the shadows of generation and death. The Giant Albion was Patriarch of the Atlantic; he is the Atlas of the Greeks, one of those the Greeks called Titans. The stories of Arthur are the acts of Albion, applied to a Prince of the fifth century, who conquered Europe, and held the empire of the world in the dark age, which the Romans never again recovered. In this Picture, believing with Milton the ancient British History, Mr. B. has done as all the ancients did, and as all the moderns who are worthy of fame—given the historical fact in its poetical vigour, so as it always happens, and not in that dull way that some Historians pretend, who, being weakly organised themselves, cannot see either miracle or prodigy: all is to them a dull round of probabilities and possibilities; but the history of all times and places is nothing else but improbabilities and impossibilities—what we should say was impossible if we did not see it always before our eyes.
The antiquities of every Nation under Heaven are no less sacred than those of the Jews. They are the same thing; as Jacob Bryant and all antiquaries have proved. How other antiquities came to be neglected and disbelieved, while those of the Jews are collected and arranged, is an inquiry worthy of both the Antiquarian and the Divine. All had originally one language, and one religion; this was the religion of Jesus, the everlasting Gospel. Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus. The reasoning historian, turner and twister of causes and consequences—such as Hume, Gibbon, and Voltaire—cannot, with all his artifice, turn or twist one fact or disarrange self-evident action and reality. Reasons and opinions concerning acts are not history; acts themselves alone are history, and these are not the exclusive property of either Hume, Gibbon, or Voltaire, Echard, Rapin, Plutarch, or Herodotus. Tell me the Acts, O historian, and leave me to reason upon them as I please; away with your reasoning and your rubbish! All that is not action is not worth reading. Tell me the What; I do not want you to tell me the Why and the How; I can find that out myself, as well as you can, and I will not be fooled by you into opinions, that you please to impose, to disbelieve what you think improbable or impossible. His opinion who does not see spiritual agency is not worth any man's reading; he who rejects a fact because it is improbable must reject all History, and retain doubts only.
It has been said to the Artist, Take the Apollo for the model of your Beautiful Man, and the Hercules for your Strong Man, and the Dancing Faun for your Ugly Man. Now he comes to his trial. He knows that what he does is not inferior to the grandest Antiques. Superior it cannot be, for human power cannot go beyond either what he does, or what they have done; it is the gift of God, it is inspiration and vision. He had resolved to emulate those precious remains of antiquity; he has done so, and the result you behold; his ideas of strength and beauty have not been greatly different. Poetry as it exists now on earth, in the various remains of ancient authors, Music as it exists in old tunes or melodies. Painting and Sculpture as they exist in the remains of Antiquity and in the works of more modern genius—each is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed; it is perfect and eternal. Milton, Shakspeare, Michael Angelo, Raphael, the finest specimens of Ancient Sculpture and Painting and Architecture, Gothic, Grecian, Hindoo, and Egyptian, are the extent of the human mind. The human mind cannot go beyond the gift of God, the Holy Ghost. To suppose that Art can go beyond the finest specimens of Art that are now in the world is not knowing what Art is; it is being blind to the gifts of the Spirit.
It will be necessary for the Painter to say something concerning his ideas of Beauty, Strength, and Ugliness.
The Beauty that is annexed and appended to folly, is a lamentable accident and error of the mortal and perishing life; it does but seldom happen; but with this unnatural mixture the sublime Artist can have nothing to do; it is fit for the burlesque. The Beauty proper for sublime art is lineaments, or forms and features, that are capable of being the receptacles of intellect; accordingly the Painter has given, in his Beautiful Man, his own idea of intellectual Beauty. The face and limbs that deviate or alter least, from infancy to old age, are the face and limbs of greatest Beauty and perfection.
The Ugly likewise, when accompanied and annexed to imbecility and disease, is a subject for burlesque and not for historical grandeur; the Artist has imagined his Ugly Man;—one approaching to the beast in features and form, his forehead small without frontals, his jaws large, his nose high on the ridge, and narrow, his chest and the stamina of his make comparatively little, and his joints and his extremities large; his eyes with scarce any whites, narrow and cunning, and everything tending toward what is truly Ugly—the incapability of intellect.
The Artist has considered his Strong Man as a receptacle of Wisdom, a sublime energiser; his features and limbs do not spindle out into length without strength, nor are they too large and unwieldy or his brain or bosom. Strength consists in accumulation of power to the principal seat, and from thence a regular gradation and subordination; strength is compactness, not extent nor bulk.
The Strong Man acts from conscious superiority, and marches on in fearless dependence on the divine decrees, raging with the inspirations of a prophetic mind. The Beautiful Man acts from duty, and anxious solicitude for the fates of those for whom he combats. The Ugly Man acts from love of carnage, and delight in the savage barbarities of war, rushing with sportive precipitation into the very teeth of the affrighted enemy.
The Roman Soldiers, rolled together in a heap before them, 'like the rolling thing before the whirlwind,' show each a different character, and a different expression of fear, or revenge, or envy, or blank horror or amazement, or devout wonder and unresisting awe.
The dead and the dying, Britons naked, mingled with armed Romans, strew the field beneath. Among these, the last of the Bards who was capable of attending warlike deeds is seen falling, outstretched among the dead and the dying, singing to his harp in the pains of death.
Distant among the mountains are Druid Temples, similar to Stonehenge. The Sun sets behind the mountains, bloody with the day of battle.
The flush of health in flesh, exposed to the open air, nourished by the spirits of forests and floods, in that ancient happy period which history has recorded, cannot be like the sickly daubs of Titian or Rubens. Where will the copier of nature, as it now is, find a civilized man who has been accustomed to go naked? Imagination only can furnish us with colouring appropriate, such as is found in the Frescoes of Raphael and Michael Angelo: the disposition of forms always directs colouring in works of true art. As to a modern Man stripped from his load of clothing, he is like a dead corpse. Hence Rubens, Titian, Correggio, and all of that class, are like leather and chalk; their men are like leather and their women like chalk, for the disposition of their forms will not admit of grand colouring; in Mr. B.'s Britons, the blood is seen to circulate in their limbs; he defies competition in colouring.
'A Spirit vaulting from a Cloud to turn and wind a fiery Pegasus'—Shakspeare. The Horse of Intellect is leaping from the Cliffs of Memory and Reasoning; it is a barren Rock: it is also called the Barren Waste of Locke and Newton.
This Picture was done many years ago, and was one of the first Mr. B. ever did in Fresco; fortunately, or rather providentially, he left it unblotted and unblurred, although molested continually by blotting and blurring demons; but he was also compelled to leave it unfinished for reasons that will be shown in the following.
The Goats, an experiment Picture.
The subject is taken from the Missionary Voyage, and varied from the literal fact for the sake of picturesque scenery. The savage girls had dressed themselves with vine-leaves, and some goats on board the missionary ship stripped them off presently. This Picture was painted at intervals, for experiment with the colours, and is laboured to a superabundant blackness; it has however that about it which may be worthy the attention of the Artist and Connoisseur for reasons that follow.
The spiritual Preceptor, an experiment Picture.
This subject is taken from the Visions of Emanuel Swedenborg (Universal Theology, No. 623). The Learned, who strive to ascend into Heaven by means of learning, appear to Children like dead horses, when repelled by the celestial spheres. The works of this visionary are well worthy the attention of Painters and Poets; they are foundations for grand things; the reason they have not been more attended to is, because corporeal demons have gained a predominance; who the leaders of these are, will be shown below. Unworthy Men, who gain fame among Men, continue to govern mankind after death, and, in their spiritual bodies, oppose the spirits of those who worthily are famous; and, as Swedenborg observes, by entering into disease and excrement, drunkenness and concupiscence, they possess themselves of the bodies of mortal men, and shut the doors of mind and of thought, by placing Learning above Inspiration. O Artist! you may disbelieve all this, but it shall be at your own peril.
Satan calling up his Legions, from Milton's Paradise Lost; a composition for a more perfect Picture afterward executed for a Lady of high rank. An experiment Picture.
This Picture was likewise painted at intervals, for experiment on colours, without any oily vehicle; it may be worthy of attention, not only on account of its composition, but of the great labour which has been bestowed on it; that is, three or four times as much as would have finished a more perfect Picture. The labour has destroyed the lineaments: it was with difficulty brought back again to a certain effect, which it had at first, when all the lineaments were perfect.
These Pictures, among numerous others painted for experiment, were the result of temptations and perturbations, labouring to destroy Imaginative power, by means of that infernal machine, called Chiaro Oscuro, in the hands of Venetian and Flemish Demons; whose enmity to the Painter himself, and to all Artists who study in the Florentine and Roman Schools, may be removed by an exhibition and exposure of their vile tricks. They cause that everything in art shall become a Machine. They cause that the execution shall be all blocked up with brown shadows. They put the original Artist in fear and doubt of his own original conception. The spirit of Titian was particularly active in raising doubts concerning the possibility of executing without a model; and, when once he had raised the doubt, it became easy for him to snatch away the vision time after time; for when the Artist took his pencil, to execute his ideas, his power of imagination weakened so much, and darkened, that memory of nature and of Pictures of the various Schools possessed his mind, instead of appropriate execution, resulting from the inventions; like walking in another man's style, or speaking or looking in another man's style and manner, unappropriate and repugnant to your own individual character; tormenting the true Artist, till he leaves the Florentine, and adopts the Venetian practice, or does as Mr. B. has done—has the courage to suffer poverty and disgrace, till he ultimately conquers.
Rubens is a most outrageous demon, and by infusing the remembrances of his Pictures, and style of execution, hinders all power of individual thought: so that the man who is possessed by this demon loses all admiration of any other Artist but Rubens, and those who were his imitators and journeymen. He causes to the Florentine and Roman Artist fear to execute; and, though the original conception was all fire and animation, he loads it with hellish brownness, and blocks up all its gates of light, except one, and that one he closes with iron bars, till the victim is obliged to give up the Florentine and Roman practice, and adopt the Venetian and Flemish.
Correggio is a soft and effeminate and consequently a most cruel demon, whose whole delight is to cause endless labour to whoever suffers him to enter his mind. The story that is told in all Lives of the Painters, about Correggio being poor and but badly paid for his Pictures, is altogether false; he was a petty Prince, in Italy, and employed numerous Journeymen in manufacturing (as Rubens and Titian did) the Pictures that go under his name. The manual labour in these Pictures of Correggio is immense, and was paid for originally at the immense prices that those who keep manufactories of art always charge to their employers, while they themselves pay their journeymen little enough. But, though Correggio was not poor, he will make any true artist so, who permits him to enter his mind and take possession of his affections; he infuses a love of soft and even tints without boundaries, and of endless reflected lights, that confuse one another, and hinder all correct drawing from appearing to be correct; for if one of Raphael's or Michael Angelo's figures was to be traced, and Correggio's reflections and refractions to be added to it, there would soon be an end of proportion and strength, and it would be weak, and pappy, and lumbering, and thick-headed, like his own works; but then it would have softness and evenness, by a twelvemonth's labour, where a month would with judgment have finished it better and higher; and the poor wretch who executed it would be the Correggio that the Life-writers have written of—a drudge and a miserable man, compelled to softness by poverty. I say again, O Artist! you may disbelieve all this, but it shall be at your own peril.
Note.—These experiment Pictures have been bruised and knocked about, without mercy, to try all experiments.
The Bramins.—A Drawing.
The subject is, Mr. Wilkin translating the Geeta; an ideal design, suggested by the first publication of that part of the Hindoo Scriptures translated by Mr. Wilkin. I understand that my Costume is incorrect; but in this I plead the authority of the ancients, who often deviated from the Habits, to preserve the Manners, as in the instance of Laocoon, who, though a priest, is represented naked.
The Body of Abel found by Adam and Eve; Cain, who was about to bury it, fleeing from the face of his Parents.—A Drawing.
The Soldiers casting Lots for Christ's Garment.— A Drawing.
Jacob's Ladder.—A Drawing.
The Angels hovering over the Body of Jesus in the Sepulchre.—A Drawing.
The above four drawings the Artist wishes were in Fresco, on an enlarged scale, to ornament the altars of churches, and to make England, like Italy, respected by respectable men of other countries on account of Art. It is not the want of genius that can hereafter be laid to our charge; the Artist who has done these Pictures and Drawings will take care of that; let those who govern the Nation take care of the other. The times require that every one should speak out boldly; England expects that every man should do his duty, in Arts, as well as in Arms or in the Senate.
This Design is taken from that most pathetic passage in the Book of Ruth where Naomi, having taken leave of her daughters-in-law, with intent to return to her own country, Ruth cannot leave her, but says, 'Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: God do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'
The distinction that is made in modern times between a Painting and a Drawing proceeds from ignorance of art. The merit of a Picture is the same as the merit of a Drawing. The dauber daubs his Drawings; he who draws his Drawings draws his Pictures. There is no difference between Raphael's Cartoons and his Frescoes, or Pictures, except that the Frescoes, or Pictures, are more finished. When Mr. B. formerly painted in oil colours, his Pictures were shown to certain painters and connoisseurs, who said that they were very admirable Drawings on canvas, but not Pictures; but they said the same of Raphael's Pictures. Mr. B. thought this the greatest of compliments, though it was meant otherwise. If losing and obliterating the outline constitutes a Picture, Mr. B. will never be so foolish as to do one. Such art of losing the outlines is the art of Venice and Flanders; it loses all character, and leaves what some people call expression: but this is a false notion of expression; expression cannot exist without character as its stamina; and neither character nor expression can exist without firm and determinate outline. Fresco Painting is susceptible of higher finishing than Drawing on Paper, or than any other method of Painting, But he must have a strange organisation of sight who does not prefer a Drawing on Paper to a Daubing in Oil by the same master, supposing both to be done with equal care.
The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp, and wiry the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art; and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism, and bungling. Great inventors, in all ages, knew this: Protogenes and Apelles knew each other by this line. Raphael and Michael Angelo, and Albert Dürer, are known by this and this alone. The want of this determinate and bounding form evidences the idea of want in the artist's mind, and the pretence of the plagiary in all its branches. How do we distinguish the oak from the beech, the horse from the ox, but by the bounding outline? How do we distinguish one face or countenance from another, but by the bounding line and its infinite inflexions and movements? What is it that builds a house and plants a garden, but the definite and determinate? What is it that distinguishes honesty from knavery, but the hard and wiry line of rectitude and certainty in the actions and intentions? Leave out this line and you leave out life itself; all is chaos again, and the line of the Almighty must be drawn out upon it before man or beast can exist. Talk no more then of Correggio or Rembrandt, or any other of those plagiaries of Venice or Flanders. They were but the lame imitators of lies drawn by their predecessors, and their works prove themselves contemptible disarranged imitations, and blundering misapplied copies.
The Penance of Jane Shore in St. Pauls Church.—A Drawing.
This Drawing was done above Thirty Years ago, and proves to the Author, and he thinks will prove to any discerning eye, that the productions of our youth and of our maturer age are equal in all essential points. If a man is master of his profession, he cannot be ignorant that he is so; and, if he is not employed by those who pretend to encourage art, he will employ himself, and laugh in secret at the pretences of the ignorant, while he has every night dropped into his shoe—as soon as he puts it off, and puts out the candle, and gets into bed—a reward for the labours of the day, such as the world cannot give; and patience and time await to give him all that the world can give.