Popular Science Monthly/Volume 16/December 1879/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
GOLDWIN SMITH ON MORALS.

PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH is a student of history, and in the November "Atlantic Monthly" he has given us the fruits of his historical studies in relation to morality. He contributes an article on "The Prospect of a Moral Interregnum," which, being interpreted, means a moral break-down. He says that morality is based upon religion, and that in the past the collapse of religious systems has always been followed by periods of moral debasement. He then shows that in the present age there is an extensive decline of religious belief, which promises, and has already brought forth, another period of moral debasement. Goldwin Smith is an eloquent writer, and always sure of a large number of readers; whatever he says, therefore, is entitled to attention, and this article is entitled to especial attention. We dissent from some of his views, and propose to give the reasons for it.

His first historic illustration is from the Greeks. Hellenic life, public and private, is stated to have been full of religion, while the fear of the gods was a mainstay of morality. "Hellenic religion, however, was entangled with a gross mythology, immoral legends, a worship of sacrifices, a thaumaturgic priesthood, an infantine cosmogony, a polytheistic division of the physical universe into the domains of a number of separate deities." We are told that it fell before awakened intellect, while its fall was conducive to progress; but morality felt the withdrawal of its basis, as is variously shown, especially in the pages of Thucydides.

Rome is next taken up, and we are informed that here also public and private virtue was sustained by reverence for the gods. Polybius is quoted as attesting the strength of the religious sentiment among the Roman people, and the necessity of maintaining superstitions "as a concession to the requirements of the multitude." But the Roman religion, like the Greek, broke up, though "practical good sense probably played a more important part in the over-throw of superstition at Rome than in Hellas." This was followed by wide-spread immorality, but it is admitted that the case is complex: "At the same time a tremendous strain was laid on public morality by the circumstances of the empire. There ensued a cataclysm of selfish ambition, profligate corruption, and murderous faction, which left to society only the choice between chaos and a military corruption."

Professor Smith next points out the marked religious character of life and society in the middle ages under Catholic predominance, and enumerates many moral conquests of that period. Besides the triumphs of religious art there grew up the conception of the brother-hood of mankind, the sanctity of life, the value of virtues other than military, and the happy transition of society from slavery through serfage to free labor. "Catholicism fell through the superstitions and impostures which had gathered around it, and which intellect, awakened by the Renaissance, spurned away; through Papal tyranny and clerical corruption, through the general ossification, so to speak, of a system which had once in all its organs ministered to spiritual life. With it fell the morality that it had sustained, and once more we find ourselves in a moral interregnum."

Now, if we assume that these are correct historical representations, what is the obvious inference? Why, that religion has hitherto proved an insecure foundation for morals. Be there or be there not an indestructible core of truth in all religions, morality, according to Professor Smith, has been planted upon their perishable parts, their mutable elements, and has lost its hold upon men as these have passed away. A foundation that crumbles and permits its superstructure to fall is a bad foundation; and the real question forced upon us by Professor Smith's historical lessons is. Shall Ave continue to build the edifice of morals upon this unstable basis, or shall we seek a better and more enduring basis? Are the rules of conduct to be derived from what men know concerning this world, or what they conjecture concerning another? Or will it be maintained that morals can have no other possible foundation than that 'which history and experience have proved to be incapable of supporting it?

Professor Smith assumes that history will repeat itself. He draws a vivid picture of the extent and depth of the prevailing unbelief, and insists that it must be followed by the same perilous decline of morals as in former times.

But he here overlooks the altered condition of the question. He seems to have forgotten that the circumstances in this age are profoundly different from what they were in the former great periods of religious decadence. In those times, when a set of superstitions was worn out and discarded, the state of knowledge was not such as to prevent their reëntrance in new forms. But it is not so in this scientific age, when the doubt of traditions is due to an increasing knowledge of nature. The profound and widespread questioning that characterizes our time is charged upon science, which is a new factor in human affairs of modern growth, and in so far as it is connected with science it springs from allegiance to truth. The skepticism engendered by science is not a blind passion for sweeping things away, but everything is examined, that it may be proved what will stand. The active mind of the period is vigorously engaged in getting opinions off of their illusive traditional foundations, that they may rest upon their intrinsic merits and go for what they are honestly worth. Doubt does not lead to negation, but to construction. The search for principles, and trust in them when established, are becoming, through the influence of science, intellectual characteristics of the time. Morality has its principles; and right and wrong are grounded in the nature of things. Goldwin Smith goes for the sandy foundation of mythology and theology, which may lead to further moral collapses; while science is unweariedly laboring to avoid them by planting morality upon a basis that will be permanent.

It is significant that Professor Smith never refers to any element of truth in his religious foundation of morals. These foundations, however, consist of fear of fabulous gods, superstitious legends, and perishable dogmas, and he declares that now for the fourth time on a great scale they have rotted away. Morality has, therefore, not rested on any divine, immutable basis, but upon crude and transitory belief, mere human devices. But is it not a vicious system which plants morals upon a basis that can be carried away by the necessary progress of knowledge? And what more effectual way could be devised to subvert morality than to make it depend upon that which is not valued for its truth, and is liable to be discredited at every step of advancing intelligence? In short, what immorality can work such profound and far-reaching evil as to place the motives and rules of human conduct upon a false, factitious, and transitory basis?

From this point of view there is a fallacy in representing morality as based upon religion, as a statue stands upon its pedestal. Morality and religion have grown up together, supernatural beliefs being mixed with ethical ideas as with everything else. Astronomy was mixed up with religion in the astrological periods. Chemistry was mixed up with religion in early times when the alchemist always began his experiments with prayer. But who would say that astronomy and chemistry were based upon religion? In the progressive differentiations of knowledge they have become freed from superstitions, and are now independent branches of science. Morals is later in its separation, but it must follow the same law, and become also an independent branch of science. But in these past interactions Professor Smith does not tell us to what extent religious superstitions have corrupted morality and hindered its development; nor does he intimate to what extent the life of such superstitions may have been prolonged by the conservative influence of their accompanying codes of morals.

But the Professor comes to closer quarters with his subject when he asserts that the moral debasement resulting from change of religious belief is a matter of fact, and already upon us. Religion has succumbed, and its place is taken by materialism, agnosticism, and evolution. A frightful catalogue of public crimes is made out and charged upon evolution. His curious logic here is, that evolution involves the conception of force, and therefore represents the execrable doctrines of brute force, outrage, and violence in human affairs. He says: "The worship of success signally exemplified in the adoration of a character such as that of Napoleon seems to be the morality of evolution supplanting that of Christianity." The "seeming" is here quite illusive. Evolutionists as a class are neither worshipers of success nor adorers of Napoleon. The parties addicted to these practices will be found in the opposite camp. The most signal and representative example of this adoration that we know was that of a Christian clergyman, the Rev. John S. C. Abbott, who wrote the life of Bonaparte in a strain of extravagant eulogy, and found hundreds of thousands of Christian readers who shared the admiration of the reverend author for his hero. It was not in the school of evolution that Abbott and his multitudinous readers were trained to the worship of brutal military success.

Mr. Smith cites the barbaric policy of England in the treatment of inferior races, the Zulu and Afghan wars, and the English sympathy with the slave power during the American civil war, as further illustrations of that ascendancy of brutality which he considers due to the present prevalence of evolutionary doctrine. The proposition is preposterous. The worship of success and the practice of national atrocities upon inferior races are not things of yesterday. They belong to the historic policy of Christian peoples. Afghan and Zulu wars are not novelties in English experience. Many in England may have sympathized with the slaveholders in our war, but what of the history of the slave system itself in relation to religion and morality? Were the negroes stolen and enslaved by evolutionists or Christians? Did religion abolish or nourish that stupendous immorality during the two centuries of its growth? Did not religion through its organizations lend itself to the perpetuation of this "sum of all villainies," which was only at last brought to an end solely by the indiscretion of its partisans, who went a little too for, and thus brought on the horrors of a fratricidal war?

And as to war itself, the subversion of all morality and the very revel of brute force, has it not ever been the pastime of religious nations? And do regiments ever want for chaplains to bless their brutal and bloody vocation?

Professor Smith further illustrates the ascendancy of brute-force ideas in England by citing the case of Governor Eyre. He says: "Moral phenomena of the same kind marked the controversy arising out of the Jamaica massacre; the enthusiastic supporters of Governor Eyre perfectly recognized in him an organ of the sanguinary vengeance of the dominant race, even if they did not believe that he had committed a foul judicial murder."

But still the question is, Upon whom is this savagery chargeable? Professor Smith says it is a result of the present predominance of evolution supplanting Christian morality. He utters "the thing that is not." Who was it that held up Governor Eyre to reprobation, prosecuted him, and demanded his punishment? And who was it that excused his conduct and organized to defend him? It was Carlyle, the great apostle of the brute-force philosophy, who was very properly chairman of the committee of defense; and he was backed up solidly by the Christian lord-bishops. But no one, except under the desperate necessity of making out a case, will charge that either Carlyle or the bishops were animated by evolutionary sentiments. On the other hand, John Stuart Mill, the agnostic, was chairman of the committee that prosecuted Governor Eyre, and on that committee, and among the most earnest and vigorous in its work of resisting the control of brute force, were the eminent evolutionists, Charles Darwin, Professor Huxley, and Herbert Spencer. Professor Smith ought to have more respect for the facts of his case.

 

 
MORALITY AMONG THE CHINESE.

Early in his article in the "Atlantic," Professor Goldwin Smith says: "Be the significance of the fact what it may, a fact it seems to be, that only men with a religious belief and a sanction for morality which they believe to be divine, have been able to live under a government of law." Yet a few pages further on he remarks: "China is without any real religion; she is thoroughly positive."

Professor Smith will reconcile these propositions as best he can with the fact that China is the oldest government and the largest nation in the world. She has a recorded history of more than four thousand years, and gives law to one third of the human race. It will be instructive to glance briefly at the state of morality among these "positivists," that we may see how it compares with that of confessedly religious countries.

It will be remembered that our information concerning the Chinese is largely from prejudiced sources—from missionaries who went there to get them out of their heathenism, and the official representatives of foreign governments bound to open this dark region to the light of civilization. These witnesses will, at any rate, not be biased in favor of the Chinese.

In the last edition of the "Encyclopædia Britannica" it is said, "Education is probably more widely spread among the male population in China than in any other country." The British Governor, Sir John Davis, in his able work on this country,[1] says: "It is deserving of remark that the general prosperity and peace of China have been very much promoted by the diffusion of intelligence and education through the lower classes. Among the countless millions that constitute the empire, almost every man can read and write sufficiently for the ordinary purposes of life, and a respectable show of these acquirements goes low down in the scale of society." S. Wells Williams, missionary, interpreter, and secretary to the British Legation in China, in his "Middle Kingdom" says, "Education has always been highly esteemed and exerted a dominant influence on the manners and tastes of the people."

Now, this universal Chinese education differs widely from ours. It is not a smattering of acquisitions of all kinds; it is an able, well-tried system of training, narrow but thorough, and directed to the practical end of fitting men for the discharge of their moral duties in domestic and social life. Williams remarks: "The great end of education, therefore, among the ancient Chinese, was not so much to fill the head with knowledge as to discipline the heart and purify the affections. One of their writers says: 'Those who respect the virtuous, and put away unlawful pleasures, serve their parents and prince to the utmost of their ability, and are faithful to their word—these, though they should be considered unlearned, we must pronounce to be educated men.'"

Five hundred years before the Christian era China produced one of the most eminent moral teachers that the world has seen—the philosopher Confucius. The simple, pure, and sublime morality of that old master forms the staple of Chinese education. His ethical inculcations constitute the chief element of the old Chinese classics, which are drilled with such tedious minuteness into the minds of Chinese youth. They are trained in his maxims with an assiduity that is unparalleled. Rational or scientific morality is taught nowhere. It is everywhere a matter of dogmatic, empirical lesson-learning, and from this point of view the moral education of the Chinese is superior to that of any other country. And here has been the stumbling-block of the missionaries. They have not been successful with this people, and acknowledge that they have nothing to encourage them to keep on save "Scripture promises." What else could be expected? When they tell those persons that "their righteousness is all as filthy rags," and that they want a theological system as a basis of morals, it is not surprising that they make but very little impression.

The authorities we have quoted attest that this extensive moral teaching has not been without practical influence upon the national character. The variety and minuteness of the instructions of Confucius for the nurture and education of children, and the stress he lays upon filial duty, tell powerfully upon Chinese social life. The "Encyclopædia Britannica" says (article "China"): "There is a vast deal of quiet, happy domestic life in China. . . . In the ordering of a Chinese household there is much that might he imitated with advantage by European families. The duty of filial piety, which is the first object of Chinese religious teaching, represents much more than the ceremonial observances which outwardly mark its performance. The reverence with which children are taught to regard their parents fosters the affection of which that reverence is the outward and visible sign; and the peace of each household is assured by the presence of a supreme authority against whose dicta there is no appeal." Such principles pervading the household can not be restricted in their influence, and accordingly we are told that in China "the whole theory of government is the embodiment of parental and filial piety."

In regard to the common virtues, the same authority says: "In daily life the Chinese are frugal, sober, and industrious. Their wants are few, and they are easily satisfied. . . . Spirits—they have no wine—appear to have no great attraction for Chinamen. They drink them occasionally, and sometimes to excess, but a reeling Chinaman is rarely to be seen upon the streets."

The "American Cyclopædia" (article "China") says: "As to the moral and intellectual characteristics of the Chinese, great injustice has been done to them. . . . The Chinese, so far as they have come in contact with Europeans and Americans, are industrious, skillful, polite, and provident. . . . In the use of food and drink they are remarkably temperate. . . . Cookery is almost esteemed as a science in China. Mr. Wingrove Cook assigns to the Chinese in cookery a middle position—below the French and above the English. The Chinaman considers the Englishman's mode of feeding the nearest approach to that of the savages of Formosa; 'for,' says he, 'the Englishman does the chief work of the slaughterhouse upon his dinner-table, and he remits the principal work of the kitchen to his stomach.'. . . The social life of the Chinese is generally described as a mass of ceremonials and cold formalities, devoid of all real kindness of heart; but this opinion is based upon incomplete observations. In their common intercourse the Chinese are not more formal than is elsewhere considered to be well bred. Whether in the crowded and narrow thoroughfares, the village green, the bustling market, the jostling ferry, or the thronged procession, wherever the people are assembled promiscuously, good humor and courtesy are observable."

The Chinese are eminently a peaceable people. In this respect they conform more perfectly to the theoretical standard of Christian morals than any Christian nations. Duels are unknown among them; and they consider a resort to force as proof of an inferior kind of civilization. They are conservative, and dread all violent disturbance. Governor Davis says, "They have lived so much in peace that they have acquired by habit and education a more than common terror of political disorders"; and again, "Their common maxim is, 'Better be a dog in peace than a man in anarchy.'"

The ancient and permanent policy of the Chinese Government has accorded with the spirit of its population, and has been peaceful. "Happy the people whose history is wearisome," remarks Montesquieu; and Governor Davis observes, "If this be the character of Chinese history—if we find the even current of its annals for a long time past (before the late rebellion) less troubled by disorders and anarchy than that of most other countries—we must look to the causes in the fundamental principles of the government, and in the maxims by which it is administered."[2] Such habits of life are of course not favorable to the virtues of the prize-ring and the battle-field. Christians have hence reproached the Chinese for practicing the pacific morality of Christ, and, because they have not been given to internal discord and external war, have accused them of cowardice—the leading characteristic, by the way, of the American militia. If the reader will look over the first article in the November "Atlantic Monthly," on "Our Military, Past and Future," he will find it proved that, in the various wars that make our annals such lively reading, American citizens have always proved the most arrant cowards, who will never stand up to fight unless they have been so long subject to military discipline that all manliness is drilled out of them, and they become mere puppets, good for nothing but to obey orders. And it further turns out that the "courage" of even the old disciplined soldier, in nine cases out of ten, is a differential result of his opposing fears, and that he fights the enemy because he is more afraid of his friends.

We used to hear many years ago about a quality called moral courage, and the stand for principles in defiance of brute force; but since our great war less has been heard of that very unmilitary virtue. It will therefore be refreshing to recall a conspicuous Chinese instance of it. On the 28th of December, 1857, a mile of gunboats, English and French, were drawn up in line before the city of Canton. They summoned the Viceroy to surrender, but ho did not comply. The allies then opened fire, and kept up for many hours a hot bombardment. Nothing entitled to be called resistance was offered; there was no enemy. Having battered down a sufficient number of dwellings, and got tired of their "glorious" sport, the allies stopped the cannonading. A squad was then sent to demand of the Viceroy Yeh the formal surrender of the town. "We shall surrender nothing," was the reply, "because we are right, and you are wrong." "Then we will take you prisoner." "You have the power." "Come with us, then." But the Viceroy did not move. Thereupon they lifted up the chair in which he sat, and carried him on board Lord Elgin's ship. As to who were the real victors in this case may be safely left to the future verdict of civilization; unless, indeed. General Grant anticipates it in the great work on "The Philosophy of the Chinese Policy," which it is to be hoped he will soon publish.

Mr. Wells Williams remarks,[3] "It was about a. d. 600 that Taitsung, of the Tang dynasty, instituted the present plan of preparing and selecting civilians by means of study and degrees." That is, more than twelve hundred years ago China adopted its present thoroughgoing policy of competitive civil-service examinations to secure honesty and efficiency in the discharge of political duties and trusts. Whatever may have been its results, England, within a generation, has adopted a similar system, confessedly in imitation of the Chinese. We, too, have feebly tried to secure something of the kind; but such is the degraded condition of American political morality that the effort has been little else than a ridiculous farce. Perhaps Goldwin Smith will show us that the beastly condition of our politics is due to "evolution supplanting Christian morality."

It is said that the Chinese are untruthful; but Mrs. Opie, in her classical book on lying, did not have to go to China for her illustrations either of the nice gradations or the great popularity of this practice. She dealt with it entirely as the phenomenon of a religious country. Moreover, as we are just fresh from a political campaign, perhaps the less we say about veracity the better, even in comparison with the pagans. An intelligent gentleman, many years a resident of China, and accustomed to large business transactions with their merchants, informs us that among these merchants in the great centers of commerce the standard of mercantile honor is higher than anywhere else in the world. The tea and silk sent us from China are no doubt often adulterated, which is, of course, very immoral; but the highest English authority, Dr. Hassall, declared, in his big book upon the subject, that in his country every article under heaven that can be adulterated is adulterated.

"But they are such dreadful opium smokers!" ejaculates the complacent tobacco-chewing deacon, as he seeks the spittoon. Very true; and we are not bringing forward these godless heathen as models of all the virtues. But speaking of opium recalls another passage in Chinese history, which throws light on this comparison of Christian and pagan morality. The Chinese Government undertook to suppress the opium-traffic, so as to cut off the foreign supply and arrest the demoralizing influence of its use among the people. Profoundly impressed by the dreadful evils of this increasing habit, the authorities did their utmost to stop the smuggling of the article; but, when its vigorous measures began to be effective, the great Christian nation which was embarked in the villainous trade, made war upon the country, and forced the accursed drug upon it at the cannon's mouth. The conduct of England in this "opium war" will be infamous through all time; but its policy was as deliberate as its motives were execrable. In the preliminary discussion of the subject in the British Parliament, before war was declared, no considerations of morality or humanity were recognized, and Wells Williams informs us that Lord Melbourne but echoed the common sentiment when he said, "We possess immense territories peculiarly fitted for raising opium, and, though he would wish that the Government were not so directly concerned in the traffic, he was not prepared to pledge himself to relinquish it." And when the war was over "members of Parliament expressed their gratification at being at last out of a bad business; while now the light of the gospel and the blessings of Christian civilization might be introduced among the benighted millions of China."

The war was over for the English, and they had gained their disgraceful object; but the end had not come for the Chinese. The spell of their pacific history and the prestige of the imperial Government were broken together. In a previous quotation Governor Davis speaks of the peaceful current of Chinese history till the disturbance of the "late rebellion." He refers here to the great Taiping rebellion, which threatened the subversion of the established Government, and which Governor Davis says "can be clearly traced to changes produced by our war"—the opium war.

The Taiping rebellion broke out in southern China in 1850. There had been repeated failure of crops in the district where it originated, followed by suffering and disaffection. A man of humble origin, named Hung Siutsuen, seized the occasion to incite an outbreak. lie had failed in the civil service examinations, and had no prospect of office under the Government. He had read some of the tracts issued by the missionaries, got a notion of Christian supernaturalism, gave out that he was a recipient of divine messages, assumed the title of "Heavenly Prince," and conceived the idea of founding a new religion and at the same time of expelling the existing dynasty. His schemes were favored by the foreigners, who professed to believe that the cause of Christianity would be promoted by their success. The insurrection was pushed with great vigor and effect. Battles were won, towns captured, districts ravaged, and multitudes of people butchered, while the Government was able to check the disastrous movement but partially. For centuries "the empire had been peace"; the Christians had suddenly brought war and instituted the reign of brute force, and with this the nation, by its habits and circumstances, was but poorly prepared to cope. The rebellion, accordingly, smoldered along for sixteen years before it was finally suppressed. The foreign officials, seeing at length that there was little chance of succeeding with Christianity as they had with opium, and that the rebellion meant simply anarchy, the destruction of law and order, with danger to trade, threw their influence at last in favor of the existing Government, and helped to end the insurrection.

Surely the morality of these pagan positivists, said to be without any real religion, does not suffer in comparison with that of a nation which boasts of a "great religion" at the foundation of its moral system.

 

 
ROOD'S CHROMATICS—A MISLEADING CRITICISM.

We early expressed a high opinion of Professor Rood's work on Chromatics, both as an admirable popular exposition of the science of colors and also as to its bearing on their artistic management. This estimate has been ratified by discriminating criticism both in leading American journals and the best English periodicals—all of which have been emphatic in their commendation of its judicious and instructive treatment of the artistic relations of the subject. It was not without some surprise, therefore, that we read in the "Nation," of October 16th, a review of this work, which, though in some respects cordially appreciative, was in important respects at variance with the common verdict. The writer speaks of the scientific character of the book in a very pronounced way as "a work so laden with untiring and skillful observation and so clear and easy to read, that it is plainly destined to remain the classical account of the color-sense for many years to come." But before he gets through he talks in so different a strain as to occasion some perplexity with reference to his real state of mind upon the subject.

The critic in the "Nation" raises the question whether scientific investigation can be of use to artists, and he assumes that Professor Rood believes it may be. That question, however, we do not here propose to consider, but merely to show that the writer in the "Nation" has been both unfair and unfortunate in the examples he cites as proof of the bad consequences flowing from the assumption he attributes to Professor Rood. He says: "As to the question whether scientific investigation is an aid to artistic production or to artistic judgment, the author seems to assume that it may be. In the preface it is asserted that while knowledge of the laws of color 'will not enable people to become artists,' it may help in artistic work. Now, whether this is so or not, there is no chance to discuss in these columns, but a chapter of Professor Rood's book might well have been devoted to the examination of that question, and we regret to find instead of such examination the whole argument of the last two or three chapters resting upon the assumption of what we think ought to have been proved." Again he says: "The last chapter is devoted to the use of color in painting and decoration; and in this the evident knowledge and right feeling of the author are made useless by the false system adopted—the system of arguing from assumed principles to results instead of comparing results together with the view of establishing principles." As an example of this "false system," the fact is then pointed out that four pages are devoted to statements respecting the good, bad, and indifferent combinations of colors in pairs.

The fact is, however, that Professor Rood has taken especial pains, in the very instances selected, to explain that the method complained of is precisely the one he has not followed; and that the information contained in the tables is not derived from scientific experiments, but by observation of the results of artistic experience. Professor Rood has carefully guarded himself here in the very opening paragraph of the chapter "On the Combination of Colors in Pairs and Triads." He there says: "In the previous portion of this work we have dealt with facts that are capable of more or less rigorous demonstration; but we now encounter a great series of problems that can not be solved by the methods of the laboratory or by the aid of a strictly logical process. Why a certain combination of colors pleases us or why we are left cold or even somewhat shocked by another arrangement, are questions for which we can not always frame answers that are satisfactory even to ourselves. There is no doubt that helpful and harmful contrasts have a very great influence on our decision, as will hereafter be pointed out; but, besides this, we are sometimes influenced by obscure and even unknown considerations. Among these may perhaps be found inherited tendencies to like or dislike combinations or even colors; influence of the general color-atmosphere by which we are surrounded: training; and also a more or less delicate susceptibility. The author gives below, in the form of tables, some of the results furnished by experience, and takes pleasure in acknowledging his indebtedness to Brücke and to Chevreul for much of the information contained in them."

These tables, then, are given as embodying the results of artistic experience solely, and contain a comparison of artistic results collected "with a view of establishing principles." The different triads of colors that are mentioned further on in the chapter belong in the same category: we read on page 299 that "the triads that have been most extensively used are spectral, red, yellow, and blue," etc. These are followed by a triad which, it is stated, was much used in the middle ages, and again by one which, it is claimed, was a favorite in the Italian schools. Throughout the whole list of pairs and triads, good and bad, we fail to find a single case which it is not claimed embodies the results of artistic experience. It seems to us, then, that in this chapter the first and main aim has been the collection of "results with the view of establishing principles." Our author, then, having accepted without question these fruits of artistic labor, proceeds to analyze them for the purpose of ascertaining the principles that have been at work in their production. Among these, he finds helpful and harmful contrast, the desire to employ warm rather than cold color, etc. A less cautious writer than Professor Rood would probably have endeavored to construct a theory for practice based on the principles thus more or less established, but he attempts nothing of the kind. The facts and their suggested explanations are simply handed over to the student for his consideration. Thus the method pursued in this chapter by our author is precisely that which the writer in the "Nation" blames him for not following.

A word may here be added respecting the greater or less success with which this correct method has been executed. The critic in the "Nation" is apparently not aware that by far the larger part of the statements contained in the tables is taken not from Chevreul but from Brücke, and now for the first time appears in an English dress. This distinguished scientist states in the preface to his work ("Physiologie der Farben," Leipsic, 1866), that he is the son of a painter, has always been in constant intercourse with painters, and that from his youth he has studied optics in connection with its artistic applications. His statements with reference to the combination of the colors in pairs and triads he asserts embody the results furnished by artistic experience, and he adds that he has been unable to find any general rule which presides over the facts he has collected. These observations of Brücke are alluded to by Yon Bezold, in the preface to his "Chromatics" ("Die Farbenlehre," 1874), as a great mass of delicate observations; and, from the fact that they are quoted by Professor Rood, we may also safely conclude that he has taken every pains to verify them as far as possible. As to what value they may ultimately be found to have for the artist and decorator, time alone can show, but for the present it will hardly answer to dismiss them contemptuously without study, particularly when we remember that they are not the fruits of scientific investigation, but of observation on artistic results.

We pass now to the second point made by this critic: Should the artist regard Chevreul's "laws of contrast"? The writer in the "Nation" thinks that our author would say "Ay," but he declares that most artists would say "No." Now, the laws of contrast simply express in a condensed form the effects that colored surfaces experience owing to the presence of other colored surfaces; it seems to us that to this question there can be only one reply, viz., that, consciously or unconsciously, artists always have and always will respect them; a delicate obedience to these laws in their most subtile applications constituting, indeed, one of the great merits of an accomplished colorist. Concerning this matter of contrast Euskin well remarks: "Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch that you add in other places; so that what was warm a minute ago becomes cold when you have put a hotter color in another place."[4] The so-called laws of contrast simply point out the nature of these subtile changes. The merit of a colorist is not that he formally follows these laws, but that consciously or unconsciously he is so completely permeated with them in all their varied applications, that they have become a part of himself, enabling him to apply them to complicated cases with a delicate certainty which often appears magical. We are surprised that the critic who assumes to know so much about artists should ask the question, "Ought the artist to regard the laws of contrast?" Established laws can never be disregarded with impunity by any class of men; they are self-executing.

 

  1. Davis's "China," addressed to Lord Palmerston, vol. i., p. 257.
  2. Davis's "China," vol. i., p. 249.
  3. "Middle Kingdom," vol. i., p. 422.
  4. "Elements of Drawing," p. 190.