A Joy For Ever/Lecture II
THE ACCUMULATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF ART.
Continuation of the previous Lecture; delivered July 13, 1857.
61. The heads of our subject which remain for our consideration this evening are, you will remember, the accumulation and the distribution of works of art. Our complete inquiry fell into four divisions—first, how to get our genius; then, how to apply our genius; then, how to accumulate its results; and lastly, how to distribute them. We considered, last evening, how to discover and apply it;—we have to-night to examine the modes of its preservation and distribution.
62. III. ACCUMULATION.—And now, in the outset, it will be well to face that objection which we put aside a little while ago; namely, that perhaps it is not well to have a great deal of good art; and that it should not be made too cheap.
"Nay," I can imagine some of the more generous among you exclaiming, "we will not trouble you to disprove that objection; of course it is a selfish and base one: good art, as well as other good things, ought to be made as cheap as possible, and put as far as we can within the reach of everybody."
63. Pardon me, I am not prepared to admit that. I rather side with the selfish objectors, and believe that art ought not to be made cheap, beyond a certain point; for the amount of pleasure that you can receive from any great work, depends wholly on the quantity of attention and energy of mind you can bring to bear upon it. Now, that attention and energy depend much more on the freshness of the thing than you would at all suppose; unless you very carefully studied the movements of your own minds. If you see things of the same kind and of equal value very frequently, your reverence for them is infallibly diminished, your powers of attention get gradually wearied, and your interest and enthusiasm worn out; and you cannot in that state bring to any given work the energy necessary to enjoy it. If, indeed, the question were only between enjoying a great many pictures each a little, or one picture very much, the sum of enjoyment being in each case the same, you might rationally desire to possess rather the larger quantity than the small; both because one work of art always in some sort illustrates another, and because quantity diminishes the chances of destruction.
64. But the question is not a merely arithmetical one of this kind. Your fragments of broken admirations will not, when they are put together, make up one whole admiration; two and two, in this case, do not make four, nor anything like four. Your good picture, or book, or work of art of any kind, is always in some degree fenced and closed about with difficulty. You may think of it as of a kind of cocoanut, with very often rather an unseemly shell, but good milk and kernel inside. Now, if you possess twenty cocoanuts, and being thirsty, go impatiently from one to the other, giving only a single scratch with the point of your knife to the shell of each, you will get no milk from all the twenty. But if you leave nineteen of them alone, and give twenty cuts to the shell of one, you will get through it, and at the milk of it. And the tendency of the human mind is always to get tired before it has made its twenty cuts; and to try another nut: and moreover, even if it has perseverance enough to crack its nuts, it is sure to try to eat too many, and to choke itself. Hence, it is wisely appointed for us that few of the things we desire can be had without considerable labour, and at considerable intervals of time. We cannot generally get our dinner without working for it, and that gives us appetite for it, we cannot get our holiday without waiting for it, and that gives us zest for it; and we ought not to get our picture without paying for it, and that gives us a mind to look at it.
65. Nay, I will even go so far as to say that we ought not to get books too cheaply. No book, I believe, is ever worth half so much to its reader as one that has been coveted for a year at a bookstall, and bought out of saved halfpence; and perhaps a day or two's fasting. That's the way to get at the cream of a book. And I should say more on this matter, and protest as energetically as I could against the plague of cheap literature, with which we are just now afflicted, but that I fear your calling me to order, as being unpractical, because I don't quite see my way at present to making everybody fast for their books. But one may see that a thing is desirable and possible, even though one may not at once know the best way to it,—and in my island of Barataria, when I get it well into order, I assure you no book shall be sold for less than a pound sterling; if it can be published cheaper than that, the surplus shall all go into my treasury, and save my subjects taxation in other directions; only people really poor, who cannot pay the pound, shall be supplied with the books they want for nothing, in a certain limited quantity. I haven't made up my mind about the number yet, and there are several other points in the system yet unsettled; when they are all determined, if you will allow me, I will come and give you another lecture, on the political economy of literature.
66. Meantime, returning to our immediate subject, I say to my generous hearers, who want to shower Titians and Turners upon us, like falling leaves, "Pictures ought not to be too cheap;" but in much stronger tone I would say to those who want to keep up the prices of pictorial property, that pictures ought not to be too dear—that is to say, not as dear as they are. For, as matters at present stand, it is wholly impossible for any man in the ordinary circumstances of English life to possess himself of a piece of great art. A modern drawing of average merit, or a first-class engraving, may, perhaps, not without some self-reproach, be purchased out of his savings by a man of narrow income; but a satisfactory example of first-rate art—masterhands' work—is wholly out of his reach. And we are so accustomed to look upon this as the natural course and necessity of things, that we never set ourselves in any wise to diminish the evil; and yet it is an evil perfectly capable of diminution.
67. It is an evil precisely similar in kind to that which existed in the Middle Ages, respecting good books, and which everybody then, I suppose, thought as natural as we do now our small supply of good pictures. You could not then study the work of a great historian, or great poet, any more than you can now study that of a great painter, but at heavy cost. If you wanted a book, you had to get it written out for you, or to write it out for yourself. But printing came, and the poor man may read his Dante and his Homer; and Dante and Homer are none the worse for that. But it is only in literature that private persons of moderate fortune can possess and study greatness: they can study at home no greatness in art; and the object of that accumulation which we are at present aiming at, as our third object in political economy, is to bring great art in some degree within the reach of the multitude; and, both in larger and more numerous galleries than we now possess, and by distribution, according to his wealth and wish, in each man's home, to render the influence of art somewhat correspondent in extent to that of literature. Here, then, is the subtle balance which your economist has to strike: to accumulate so much art as to be able to give the whole nation a supply of it, according to its need, and yet to regulate its distribution so that there shall be no glut of it, nor contempt.
68. A difficult balance, indeed, for us to hold, if it were left merely to our skill to poise; but the just point between poverty and profusion has been fixed for us accurately by the wise laws of Providence. If you carefully watch for all the genius you can detect, apply it to good service, and then reverently preserve what it produces, you will never have too little art; and if, on the other hand, you never force an artist to work hurriedly, for daily bread, nor imperfectly, because you would rather have showy works than complete ones, you will never have too much. Do not force the multiplication of art, and you will not have it too cheap; do not wantonly destroy it, and you will not have it too dear.
69. "But who wantonly destroys it?" you will ask. Why, we all do. Perhaps you thought, when I came to this part of our subject, corresponding to that set forth in our housewife's economy by the "keeping her embroidery from the moth," that I was going to tell you only how to take better care of pictures, how to clean them, and varnish them, and where to put them away safely when you went out of town. Ah, not at all. The utmost I have to ask of you is, that you will not pull them to pieces, and trample them under your feet. "What!" you will say, "when do we do such things? Haven't we built a perfectly beautiful gallery for all the pictures we have to take care of?" Yes, you have, for the pictures which are definitely sent to Manchester to be taken care of. But there are quantities of pictures out of Manchester which it is your business, and mine too, to take care of no less than of these, and which we are at this moment employing ourselves in pulling to pieces by deputy. I will tell you what they are, and where they are, in a minute; only first let me state one more of those main principles of political economy on which the matter hinges.
70. I must begin a little apparently wide of the mark, and ask you to reflect if there is any way in which we waste money more in England than in building fine tombs? Our respect for the dead, when they are just dead, is something wonderful, and the way we show it more wonderful still. We show it with black feathers and black horses; we show it with black dresses and bright heraldries; we show it with costly obelisks and sculptures of sorrow, which spoil half of our most beautiful cathedrals. We show it with frightful gratings and vaults, and lids of dismal stone, in the midst of the quiet grass; and last, and not least, we show it by permitting ourselves to tell any number of lies we think amiable or credible, in the epitaph. This feeling is common to the poor as well as the rich; and we all know how many a poor family will nearly ruin themselves, to testify their respect for some member of it in his coffin, whom they never much cared for when he was out of it; and how often it happens that a poor old woman will starve herself to death, in order that she may be respectably buried.
71. Now, this being one of the most complete and special ways of wasting money,—no money being less productive of good, or of any percentage whatever, than that which we shake away from the ends of undertakers' plumes,—it is of course the duty of all good economists, and kind persons, to prove and proclaim continually, to the poor as well as the rich, that respect for the dead is not really shown by laying great stones on them to tell us where they are laid; but by remembering where they are laid, without a stone to help us; trusting them to the sacred grass and saddened flowers; and still more, that respect and love are shown to them, not by great monuments to them which we build with our hands, but by letting the monuments stand, which they built with their own. And this is the point now in question.
72. Observe, there are two great reciprocal duties concerning industry, constantly to be exchanged between the living and the dead. We, as we live and work, are to be always thinking of those who are to come after us; that what we do may be serviceable, as far as we can make it so, to them, as well as to us. Then, when we die, it is the duty of those who come after us to accept this work of ours with thanks and remembrance, not thrusting it aside or tearing it down the moment they think they have no use for it. And each generation will only be happy or powerful to the pitch that it ought to be, in fulfilling these two duties to the Past and the Future. Its own work will never be rightly done, even for itself—never good, or noble, or pleasurable to its own eyes—if it does not prepare it also for the eyes of generations yet to come. And its own possessions will never be enough for it, and its own wisdom never enough for it, unless it avails itself gratefully and tenderly of the treasures and the wisdom bequeathed to it by its ancestors.
73. For, be assured, that all the best things and treasures of this world are not to be produced by each generation for itself; but we are all intended, not to carve our work in snow that will melt, but each and all of us to be continually rolling a great white gathering snowball, higher and higher—larger and larger—along the Alps of human power. Thus the science of nations is to be accumulative from father to son: each learning a little more and a little more; each receiving all that was known, and adding its own gain: the history and poetry of nations are to be accumulative; each generation treasuring the history and the songs of its ancestors, adding its own history and its own songs: and the art of nations is to be accumulative, just as science and history are; the work of living men is not superseding, but building itself upon the work of the past. Nearly every great and intellectual race of the world has produced, at every period of its career, an art with some peculiar and precious character about it, wholly unattainable by any other race, and at any other time; and the intention of Providence concerning that art, is evidently that it should all grow together into one mighty temple; the rough stones and the smooth all finding their place, and rising, day by day, in richer and higher pinnacles to heaven.
74. Now, just fancy what a position the world, considered as one great workroom—one great factory in the form of a globe—would have been in by this time, if it had in the least understood this duty, or been capable of it. Fancy what we should have had around us now, if, instead of quarrelling and fighting over their work, the nations had aided each other in their work, or if even in their conquests, instead of effacing the memorials of those they succeeded and subdued, they had guarded the spoils of their victories. Fancy what Europe would be now, if the delicate statues and temples of the Greeks—if the broad roads and massy walls of the Romans—if the noble and pathetic architecture of the middle ages, had not been ground to dust by mere human rage. You talk of the scythe of Time, and the tooth of Time: I tell you, Time is scytheless and toothless; it is we who gnaw like the worm—we who smite like the scythe. It is ourselves who abolish—ourselves who consume: we are the mildew, and the flame; and the soul of man is to its own work as the moth that frets when it cannot fly, and as the hidden flame that blasts where it cannot illuminate. All these lost treasures of human intellect have been wholly destroyed by human industry of destruction; the marble would have stood its two thousand years as well in the polished statue as in the Parian cliff; but we men have ground it to powder, and mixed it with our own ashes. The walls and the ways would have stood—it is we who have left not one stone upon another, and restored its pathlessness to the desert; the great cathedrals of old religion would have stood—it is we who have dashed down the carved work with axes and hammers, and bid the mountain-grass bloom upon the pavement, and the sea-winds chant in the galleries.
75. You will perhaps think all this was somehow necessary for the development of the human race. I cannot stay now to dispute that, though I would willingly; but do you think it is still necessary for that development? Do you think that in this nineteenth century it is still necessary for the European nations to turn all the places where their principal art-treasures are into battle-fields? For that is what they are doing even while I speak; the great firm of the world is managing its business at this moment, just as it has done in past time. Imagine what would be the thriving circumstances of a manufacturer of some delicate produce—suppose glass, or china—in whose workshop and exhibition rooms all the workmen and clerks began fighting at least once a day, first blowing off the steam, and breaking all the machinery they could reach; and then making fortresses of all the cupboards, and attacking and defending the show-tables, the victorious party finally throwing everything they could get hold of out of the window, by way of showing their triumph, and the poor manufacturer picking up and putting away at last a cup here and a handle there. A fine prosperous business that would be, would it not? and yet that is precisely the way the great manufacturing firm of the world carries on its business.
76. It has so arranged its political squabbles for the last six or seven hundred years, that not one of them could be fought out but in the midst of its most precious art; and it so arranges them to this day. For example, if I were asked to lay my finger, in a map of the world, on the spot of the world's surface which contained at this moment the most singular concentration of art-teaching and art-treasure, I should lay it on the name of the town of Verona. Other cities, indeed, contain more works of carriageable art, but none contain so much of the glorious local art, and of the springs and sources of art, which can by no means be made subjects of package or porterage, nor, I grieve to say, of salvage. Verona possesses, in the first place, not the largest, but the most perfect and intelligible Roman amphitheatre that exists, still unbroken in circle of step, and strong in succession of vault and arch: it contains minor Roman monuments, gateways, theatres, baths, wrecks of temples, which give the streets of its suburbs a character of antiquity unexampled elsewhere, except in Rome itself. But it contains, in the next place, what Rome does not contain—perfect examples of the great twelfth-century Lombardic architecture, which was the root of all the mediæval art of Italy, without which no Giottos, no Angelicos, no Raphaels would have been possible: it contains that architecture, not in rude forms, but in the most perfect and loveliest types it ever attained—contains those, not in ruins, nor in altered and hardly decipherable fragments, but in churches perfect from porch to apse, with all their carving fresh, their pillars firm, their joints unloosened. Besides these, it includes examples of the great thirteenth and fourteenth-century Gothic of Italy, not merely perfect, but elsewhere unrivalled. At Rome, the Roman—at Pisa, the Lombard—architecture may be seen in greater or in equal nobleness; but not at Rome, nor Pisa, nor Florence, nor in any city of the world, is there a great mediæval Gothic like the Gothic of Verona. Elsewhere, it is either less pure in type or less lovely in completion: only at Verona may you see it in the simplicity of its youthful power, and the tenderness of its accomplished beauty. And Verona possesses, in the last place, the loveliest Renaissance architecture of Italy, not disturbed by pride, nor defiled by luxury, but rising in fair fulfilment of domestic service, serenity of effortless grace, and modesty of home seclusion; its richest work given to the windows that open on the narrowest streets and most silent gardens. All this she possesses, in the midst of natural scenery such as assuredly exists nowhere else in the habitable globe—a wild Alpine river foaming at her feet, from whose shore the rocks rise in a great crescent, dark with cypress, and misty with olive: illimitably, from before her southern gates, the tufted plains of Italy sweep and fade in golden light; around her, north and west, the Alps crowd in crested troops, and the winds of Benacus bear to her the coolness of their snows.
77. And this is the city—such, and possessing such things as these—at whose gates the decisive battles of Italy are fought continually: three days her towers trembled with the echo of the cannon of Arcola; heaped pebbles of the Mincio divide her fields to this hour with lines of broken rampart, whence the tide of war rolled back to Novara; and now on that crescent of her eastern cliffs, whence the full moon used to rise through the bars of the cypresses in her burning summer twilights, touching with soft increase of silver light the rosy marbles of her balconies,—along the ridge of that encompassing rock, other circles are increasing now, white and pale; walled towers of cruel strength, sable-spotted with cannon-courses. I tell you, I have seen, when the thunderclouds came down on those Italian hills, and all their crags were dipped in the dark, terrible purple, as if the winepress of the wrath of God had stained their mountain-raiment—I have seen the hail fall in Italy till the forest branches stood stripped and bare as if blasted by the locust; but the white hail never fell from those clouds of heaven as the black hail will fall from the clouds of hell, if ever one breath of Italian life stirs again in the streets of Verona.
78. Sad as you will feel this to be, I do not say that you can directly prevent it; you cannot drive the Austrians out of Italy, nor prevent them from building forts where they choose. But I do say, that you, and I, and all of us, ought to be both acting and feeling with a full knowledge and understanding of these things; and that, without trying to excite revolutions or weaken governments, we may give our own thoughts and help, so as in a measure to prevent needless destruction. We should do this, if we only realized the thing thoroughly. You drive out day by day through your own pretty suburbs, and you think only of making, with what money you have to spare, your gateways handsomer, and your carriage-drives wider—and your drawing-rooms more splendid, having a vague notion that you are all the while patronizing and advancing art; and you make no effort to conceive the fact that, within a few hours' journey of you, there are gateways and drawing-rooms which might just as well be yours as these, all built already; gateways built by the greatest masters of sculpture that ever struck marble; drawing-rooms, painted by Titian and Veronese; and you won't accept nor save these as they are, but you will rather fetch the house-painter from over the way, and let Titian and Veronese house the rats.
79. "Yes," of course, you answer; "we want nice houses here, not houses in Verona. What should we do with houses in Verona?" And I answer, do precisely what you do with the most expensive part of your possessions here: take pride in them—only a noble pride. You know well, when you examine your own hearts, that the greater part of the sums you spend on possessions is spent for pride. Why are your carriages nicely painted and finished outside? You don't see the outsides as you sit in them—the outsides are for other people to see. Why are your exteriors of houses so well finished, your furniture so polished and costly, but for other people to see? You are just as comfortable yourselves, writing on your old friend of a desk, with the white cloudings in his leather, and using the light of a window which is nothing but a hole in the brick wall. And all that is desirable to be done in this matter is merely to take pride in preserving great art, instead of in producing mean art; pride in the possession of precious and enduring things, a little way off, instead of slight and perishing things near at hand. You know, in old English times, our kings liked to have lordships and dukedoms abroad: and why should not your merchant princes like to have lordships and estates abroad? Believe me, rightly understood, it would be a prouder, and in the full sense of our English word, more "respectable" thing to be lord of a palace at Verona, or of a cloister full of frescoes at Florence, than to have a file of servants dressed in the finest liveries that ever tailor stitched, as long as would reach from here to Bolton:—yes, and a prouder thing to send people to travel in Italy, who would have to say every now and then, of some fair piece of art, "Ah! this was kept here for us by the good people of Manchester," than to bring them travelling all the way here, exclaiming of your various art treasures, "These were brought here for us, (not altogether without harm) by the good people of Manchester."
80. "Ah!" but you say, "the Art Treasures Exhibition will pay; but Veronese palaces won't." Pardon me. They would pay, less directly, but far more richly. Do you suppose it is in the long run good for Manchester, or good for England, that the Continent should be in the state it is? Do you think the perpetual fear of revolution, or the perpetual repression of thought and energy that clouds and encumbers the nations of Europe, is eventually profitable for us? Were we any the better of the course of affairs in '48? or has the stabling of the dragoon horses in the great houses of Italy any distinct effect in the promotion of the cotton-trade? Not so. But every stake that you could hold in the stability of the Continent, and every effort that you could make to give example of English habits and principles on the Continent, and every kind deed that you could do in relieving distress and preventing despair on the Continent, would have tenfold reaction on the prosperity of England, and open and urge, in a thousand unforeseen directions, the sluices of commerce and the springs of industry.
81. I could press, if I chose, both these motives upon you, of pride and self-interest, with more force, but these are not motives which ought to be urged upon you at all. The only motive that I ought to put before you is simply that it would be right to do this; that the holding of property abroad, and the personal efforts of Englishmen to redeem the condition of foreign nations, are among the most direct pieces of duty which our wealth renders incumbent upon us. I do not—and in all truth and deliberateness I say this—I do not know anything more ludicrous among the self-deceptions of well-meaning people than their notion of patriotism, as requiring them to limit their efforts to the good of their own country;—the notion that charity is a geographical virtue, and that what it is holy and righteous to do for people on one bank of a river, it is quite improper and unnatural to do for people on the other. It will be a wonderful thing, some day or other, for the Christian world to remember, that it went on thinking for two thousand years that neighbours were neighbours at Jerusalem, but not at Jericho; a wonderful thing for us English to reflect, in after-years, how long it was before we could shake hands with anybody across that shallow salt wash, which the very chalk-dust of its two shores whitens from Folkestone to Ambleteuse.
82. Nor ought the motive of gratitude, as well as that of mercy, to be without its influence on you, who have been the first to ask to see, and the first to show to us, the treasures which this poor lost Italy has given to England. Remember, all these things that delight you here were hers—hers either in fact or in teaching; hers, in fact, are all the most powerful and most touching paintings of old time that now glow upon your walls; hers in teaching are all the best and greatest of descendant souls—your Reynolds and your Gainsborough never could have painted but for Venice; and the energies which have given the only true life to your existing art were first stirred by voices of the dead that haunted the Sacred Field of Pisa.
Well, all these motives for some definite course of action on our part towards foreign countries rest upon very serious facts; too serious, perhaps you will think, to be interfered with; for we are all of us in the habit of leaving great things alone, as if Providence would mind them, and attending ourselves only to little things which we know, practically, Providence doesn't mind unless we do. We are ready enough to give care to the growing of pines and lettuces, knowing that they don't grow Providentially sweet or large unless we look after them; but we don't give any care to the good of Italy or Germany, because we think that they will grow Providentially happy without any of our meddling.
83. Let us leave the great things, then, and think of little things; not of the destruction of whole provinces in war, which it may not be any business of ours to prevent; but of the destruction of poor little pictures in peace, from which it surely would not be much out of our way to save them. You know I said, just now, we were all of us engaged in pulling pictures to pieces by deputy, and you did not believe me. Consider, then, this similitude of ourselves. Suppose you saw (as I doubt not you often do see) a prudent and kind young lady sitting at work, in the corner of a quiet room, knitting comforters for her cousins, and that just outside, in the hall, you saw a cat and her kittens at play among the family pictures; amusing themselves especially with the best Vandykes, by getting on the tops of the frames, and then scrambling down the canvases by their claws; and on some one's informing the young lady of these proceedings of the cat and kittens, suppose she answered that it wasn't her cat, but her sister's, and the pictures weren't hers, but her uncle's, and she couldn't leave her work, for she had to make so many pairs of comforters before dinner. Would you not say that the prudent and kind young lady was, on the whole, answerable for the additional touches of claw on the Vandykes?
84. Now, that is precisely what we prudent and kind English are doing, only on a larger scale. Here we sit in Manchester, hard at work, very properly, making comforters for our cousins all over the world. Just outside there in the hall—that beautiful marble hall of Italy—the cats and kittens and monkeys are at play among the pictures: I assure you, in the course of the fifteen years in which I have been working in those places in which the most precious remnants of European art exist, a sensation, whether I would or no, was gradually made distinct and deep in my mind, that I was living and working in the midst of a den of monkeys;—sometimes amiable and affectionate monkeys, with all manner of winning ways and kind intentions,—more frequently selfish and malicious monkeys; but, whatever their disposition, squabbling continually about nuts, and the best places on the barren sticks of trees; and that all this monkeys' den was filled, by mischance, with precious pictures, and the witty and wilful beasts were always wrapping themselves up and going to sleep in pictures, or tearing holes in them to grin through; or tasting them and spitting them out again, or twisting them up into ropes and making swings of them; and that sometimes only, by watching one's opportunity, and bearing a scratch or a bite, one could rescue the corner of a Tintoret, or Paul Veronese, and push it through the bars into a place of safety.
85. Literally, I assure you, this was, and this is, the fixed impression on my mind of the state of matters in Italy. And see how. The professors of art in Italy, having long followed a method of study peculiar to themselves, have at last arrived at a form of art peculiar to themselves; very different from that which was arrived at by Correggio and Titian. Naturally, the professors like their own form the best; and, as the old pictures are generally not so startling to the eye as the modern ones, the dukes and counts who possess them, and who like to see their galleries look new and fine (and are persuaded also that a celebrated chef-d'oeuvre ought always to catch the eye at a quarter of a mile off), believe the professors who tell them their sober pictures are quite faded, and good for nothing, and should all be brought bright again; and, accordingly, give the sober pictures to the professors, to be put right by rules of art. Then, the professors repaint the old pictures in all the principal places, leaving perhaps only a bit of background to set off their own work. And thus the professors come to be generally figured, in my mind, as the monkeys who tear holes in the pictures, to grin through. Then the picture-dealers, who live by the pictures, cannot sell them to the English in their old and pure state; all the good work must be covered with new paint, and varnished so as to look like one of the professorial pictures in the great gallery, before it is saleable. And thus the dealers come to be imaged, in my mind, as the monkeys who make ropes of the pictures, to swing by. Then, every now and then at some old stable, or wine-cellar, or timber-shed, behind some forgotten vats or faggots, somebody finds a fresco of Perugino's or Giotto's, but doesn't think much of it, and has no idea of having people coming into his cellar, or being obliged to move his faggots; and so he whitewashes the fresco, and puts the faggots back again; and these kind of persons, therefore, come generally to be imaged, in my mind, as the monkeys who taste the pictures, and spit them out, not finding them nice. While, finally, the squabbling for nuts and apples (called in Italy "bella libertà") goes on all day long.
86. Now, all this might soon be put an end to, if we English, who are so fond of travelling in the body, would also travel a little in soul! We think it a great triumph to get our packages and our persons carried at a fast pace, but we never take the slightest trouble to put any pace into our perceptions; we stay usually at home in thought, or if we ever mentally see the world, it is at the old stage-coach or waggon rate. Do but consider what an odd sight it would be, if it were only quite clear to you how things are really going on—how, here in England, we are making enormous and expensive efforts to produce new art of all kinds, knowing and confessing all the while that the greater part of it is bad, but struggling still to produce new patterns of wall-papers, and new shapes of teapots, and new pictures, and statues, and architecture; and pluming and cackling if ever a teapot or a picture has the least good in it;—all the while taking no thought whatever of the best possible pictures, and statues, and wall-patterns already in existence, which require nothing but to be taken common care of, and kept from damp and dust: but we let the walls fall that Giotto patterned, and the canvases rot that Tintoret painted, and the architecture be dashed to pieces that St. Louis built, while we are furnishing our drawing-rooms with prize upholstery, and writing accounts of our handsome warehouses to the country papers. Don't think I use my words vaguely or generally: I speak of literal facts. Giotto's frescoes at Assisi are perishing at this moment for want of decent care; Tintoret's pictures in San Sebastian, at Venice, are at this instant rotting piecemeal into grey rags; St. Louis's chapel, at Carcassonne, is at this moment lying in shattered fragments in the market-place. And here we are all cawing and crowing, poor little half-fledged daws as we are, about the pretty sticks and wool in our own nests. There's hardly a day passes, when I am at home, but I get a letter from some well-meaning country clergyman, deeply anxious about the state of his parish church, and breaking his heart to get money together that he may hold up some wretched remnant of Tudor tracery, with one niche in the corner and no statue—when all the while the mightiest piles of religious architecture and sculpture that ever the world saw are being blasted and withered away, without one glance of pity or regret. The country clergyman does not care for them—he has a sea-sick imagination that cannot cross channel. What is it to him, if the angels of Assisi fade from its vaults, or the queens and kings of Chartres fall from their pedestals? They are not in his parish.
87. "What!" you will say, "are we not to produce any new art, nor take care of our parish churches?" No, certainly not, until you have taken proper care of the art you have got already, and of the best churches out of the parish. Your first and proper standing is not as churchwardens and parish overseers, in an English county, but as members of the great Christian community of Europe. And as members of that community (in which alone, observe, pure and precious ancient art exists, for there is none in America, none in Asia, none in Africa), you conduct yourselves precisely as a manufacturer would, who attended to his looms, but left his warehouse without a roof. The rain floods your warehouse, the rats frolic in it, the spiders spin in it, the choughs build in it, the wall-plague frets and festers in it; and still you keep weave, weave, weaving at your wretched webs, and thinking you are growing rich, while more is gnawed out of your warehouse in an hour than you can weave in a twelvemonth.
88. Even this similitude is not absurd enough to set us rightly forth. The weaver would, or might, at least, hope that his new woof was as stout as the old ones, and that, therefore, in spite of rain and ravage, he would have something to wrap himself in when he needed it. But our webs rot as we spin. The very fact that we despise the great art of the past shows that we cannot produce great art now. If we could do it, we should love it when we saw it done—if we really cared for it, we should recognize it and keep it; but we don't care for it. It is not art that we want; it is amusement, gratification of pride, present gain—anything in the world but art: let it rot, we shall always have enough to talk about and hang over our sideboards.
89. You will (I hope) finally ask me what is the outcome of all this, practicable tomorrow morning by us who are sitting here? These are the main practical outcomes of it: In the first place, don't grumble when you hear of a new picture being bought by Government at a large price. There are many pictures in Europe now in danger of destruction which are, in the true sense of the word, priceless; the proper price is simply that which it is necessary to give to get and to save them. If you can get them for fifty pounds, do; if not for less than a hundred, do; if not for less than five thousand, do; if not for less than twenty thousand, do; never mind being imposed upon: there is nothing disgraceful in being imposed upon; the only disgrace is in imposing; and you can't in general get anything much worth having, in the way of Continental art, but it must be with the help or connivance of numbers of people who, indeed, ought to have nothing to do with the matter, but who practically have, and always will have, everything to do with it; and if you don't choose to submit to be cheated by them out of a ducat here and a zecchin there, you will be cheated by them out of your picture; and whether you are most imposed upon in losing that, or the zecchins, I think I may leave you to judge; though I know there are many political economists, who would rather leave a bag of gold on a garret-table, than give a porter sixpence extra to carry it downstairs.
That, then, is the first practical outcome of the matter. Never grumble, but be glad when you hear of a new picture being bought at a large price. In the long run, the dearest pictures are always the best bargains; and, I repeat, (for else you might think I said it in mere hurry of talk, and not deliberately,) there are some pictures which are without price. You should stand, nationally, at the edge of Dover cliffs—Shakespeare's—and wave blank cheques in the eyes of the nations on the other side of the sea, freely offered, for such and such canvases of theirs.
90. Then the next practical outcome of it is—Never buy a copy of a picture, under any circumstances whatever. All copies are bad; because no painter who is worth a straw ever will copy. He will make a study of a picture he likes, for his own use, in his own way; but he won't and can't copy. Whenever you buy a copy, you buy so much misunderstanding of the original, and encourage a dull person in following a business he is not fit for, besides increasing ultimately chances of mistake and imposture, and farthering, as directly as money can farther, the cause of ignorance in all directions. You may, in fact, consider yourself as having purchased a certain quantity of mistakes; and, according to your power, being engaged in disseminating them.
91. I do not mean, however, that copies should never be made. A certain number of dull persons should always be employed by a Government in making the most accurate copies possible of all good pictures; these copies, though artistically valueless, would be historically and documentarily valuable, in the event of the destruction of the original picture. The studies also made by great artists for their own use, should be sought after with the greatest eagerness; they are often to be bought cheap; and in connection with the mechanical copies, would become very precious: tracings from frescoes and other large works are also of great value; for though a tracing is liable to just as many mistakes as a copy, the mistakes in a tracing are of one kind only, which may be allowed for, but the mistakes of a common copyist are of all conceivable kinds: finally, engravings, in so far as they convey certain facts about the pictures, without pretending adequately to represent or give an idea of the pictures, are often serviceable and valuable. I can't, of course, enter into details in these matters just now; only this main piece of advice I can safely give you—never to buy copies of pictures (for your private possession) which pretend to give a facsimile that shall be in any wise representative of, or equal to, the original. Whenever you do so, you are only lowering your taste, and wasting your money. And if you are generous and wise, you will be ready rather to subscribe as much as you would have given for a copy of a great picture towards its purchase, or the purchase of some other like it, by the nation. There ought to be a great National Society instituted for the purchase of pictures; presenting them to the various galleries in our great cities, and watching there over their safety: but in the meantime, you can always act safely and beneficially by merely allowing your artist friends to buy pictures for you, when they see good ones. Never buy for yourselves, nor go to the foreign dealers; but let any painter whom you know be entrusted, when he finds a neglected old picture in an old house, to try if he cannot get it for you; then, if you like it, keep it; if not, send it to the hammer, and you will find that you do not lose money on pictures so purchased.
92. And the third and chief practical outcome of the matter is this general one: Wherever you go, whatever you do, act more for preservation and less for production. I assure you, the world is, generally speaking, in calamitous disorder, and just because you have managed to thrust some of the lumber aside, and get an available corner for yourselves, you think you should do nothing but sit spinning in it all day long—while, as householders and economists, your first thought and effort should be, to set things more square all about you. Try to set the ground floors in order, and get the rottenness out of your granaries. Then sit and spin, but not till then.
93. IV. DISTRIBUTION.—And now, lastly, we come to the fourth great head of our inquiry, the question of the wise distribution of the art we have gathered and preserved. It must be evident to us, at a moment's thought, that the way in which works of art are on the whole most useful to the nation to which they belong, must be by their collection in public galleries, supposing those galleries properly managed. But there is one disadvantage attached necessarily to gallery exhibition—namely, the extent of mischief which may be done by one foolish curator. As long as the pictures which form the national wealth are disposed in private collections, the chance is always that the people who buy them will be just the people who are fond of them; and that the sense of exchangeable value in the commodity they possess, will induce them, even if they do not esteem it themselves, to take such care of it as will preserve its value undiminished. At all events, so long as works of art are scattered through the nation, no universal destruction of them is possible; a certain average only are lost by accidents from time to time. But when they are once collected in a large public gallery, if the appointment of curator becomes in any way a matter of formality, or the post is so lucrative as to be disputed by place-hunters, let but one foolish or careless person get possession of it, and perhaps you may have all your fine pictures repainted, and the national property destroyed, in a month. That is actually the case at this moment, in several great foreign galleries. They are the places of execution of pictures: over their doors you only want the Dantesque inscription, "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi che entrate."
94. Supposing, however, this danger properly guarded against, as it would be always by a nation which either knew the value, or understood the meaning, of painting, arrangement in a public gallery is the safest, as well as the most serviceable, method of exhibiting pictures; and it is the only mode in which their historical value can be brought out, and their historical meaning made clear. But great good is also to be done by encouraging the private possession of pictures; partly as a means of study, (much more being always discovered in any work of art by a person who has it perpetually near him than by one who only sees it from time to time,) and also as a means of refining the habits and touching the hearts of the masses of the nation in their domestic life.
95. For these last purposes, the most serviceable art is the living art of the time; the particular tastes of the people will be best met, and their particular ignorances best corrected, by painters labouring in the midst of them, more or less guided to the knowledge of what is wanted by the degree of sympathy with which their work is received. So then, generally, it should be the object of government, and of all patrons of art, to collect, as far as may be, the works of dead masters in public galleries, arranging them so as to illustrate the history of nations, and the progress and influence of their arts; and to encourage the private possession of the works of living masters. And the first and best way in which to encourage such private possession is, of course, to keep down the prices of them as far as you can.
I hope there are not a great many painters in the room; if there are, I entreat their patience for the next quarter of an hour: if they will bear with me for so long, I hope they will not, finally, be offended by what I am going to say.
96. I repeat, trusting to their indulgence in the interim, that the first object of our national economy, as respects the distribution of modern art, should be steadily and rationally to limit its prices, since by doing so, you will produce two effects: you will make the painters produce more pictures, two or three instead of one, if they wish to make money; and you will, by bringing good pictures within the reach of people of moderate income, excite the general interest of the nation in them, increase a thousandfold the demand for the commodity, and therefore its wholesome and natural production.
97. I know how many objections must arise in your minds at this moment to what I say; but you must be aware that it is not possible for me in an hour to explain all the moral and commercial bearings of such a principle as this. Only, believe me, I do not speak lightly; I think I have considered all the objections which could be rationally brought forward, though I have time at present only to glance at the main one—namely, the idea that the high prices paid for modern pictures are either honourable, or serviceable, to the painter. So far from this being so, I believe one of the principal obstacles to the progress of modern art to be the high prices given for good modern pictures. For observe first the action of this high remuneration on the artist's mind. If he "gets on," as it is called, catches the eye of the public, and especially of the public of the upper classes, there is hardly any limit to the fortune he may acquire; so that, in his early years, his mind is naturally led to dwell on this worldly and wealthy eminence as the main thing to be reached by his art; if he finds that he is not gradually rising towards it, he thinks there is something wrong in his work; or, if he is too proud to think that, still the bribe of wealth and honour warps him from his honest labour into efforts to attract attention; and he gradually loses both his power of mind and his rectitude of purpose. This, according to the degree of avarice or ambition which exists in any painter's mind, is the necessary influence upon him of the hope of great wealth and reputation. But the harm is still greater, in so far as the possibility of attaining fortune of this kind tempts people continually to become painters who have no real gift for the work; and on whom these motives of mere worldly interest have exclusive influence;—men who torment and abuse the patient workers, eclipse or thrust aside all delicate and good pictures by their own gaudy and coarse ones, corrupt the taste of the public, and do the greatest amount of mischief to the schools of art in their day which it is possible for their capacities to effect; and it is quite wonderful how much mischief may be done even by small capacity. If you could by any means succeed in keeping the prices of pictures down, you would throw all these disturbers out of the way at once.
98. You may perhaps think that this severe treatment would do more harm than good, by withdrawing the wholesome element of emulation, and giving no stimulus to exertion; but I am sorry to say that artists will always be sufficiently jealous of one another, whether you pay them large or low prices; and as for stimulus to exertion, believe me, no good work in this world was ever done for money, nor while the slightest thought of money affected the painter's mind. Whatever idea of pecuniary value enters into his thoughts as he works, will, in proportion to the distinctness of its presence, shorten his power. A real painter will work for you exquisitely, if you give him, as I told you a little while ago, bread and water and salt; and a bad painter will work badly and hastily, though you give him a palace to live in, and a princedom to live upon. Turner got, in his earlier years, half a crown a day and his supper (not bad pay, neither); and he learned to paint upon that. And I believe that there is no chance of art's truly flourishing in any country, until you make it a simple and plain business, providing its masters with an easy competence, but rarely with anything more. And I say this, not because I despise the great painter, but because I honour him; and I should no more think of adding to his respectability or happiness by giving him riches, than, if Shakespeare or Milton were alive, I should think we added to their respectability, or were likely to get better work from them, by making them millionaires.
99. But, observe, it is not only the painter himself whom you injure, by giving him too high prices; you injure all the inferior painters of the day. If they are modest, they will be discouraged and depressed by the feeling that their doings are worth so little, comparatively, in your eyes;—if proud, all their worst passions will be aroused, and the insult or opprobrium which they will try to cast on their successful rival will not only afflict and wound him, but at last sour and harden him: he cannot pass through such a trial without grievous harm.
100. That, then, is the effect you produce on the painter of mark, and on the inferior ones of his own standing. But you do worse than this; you deprive yourselves, by what you give for the fashionable picture, of the power of helping the younger men who are coming forward. Be it admitted, for argument's sake, if you are not convinced by what I have said, that you do no harm to the great man by paying him well; yet certainly you do him no special good. His reputation is established, and his fortune made; he does not care whether you buy or not; he thinks he is rather doing you a favour than otherwise by letting you have one of his pictures at all. All the good you do him is to help him to buy a new pair of carriage horses; whereas, with that same sum which thus you cast away, you might have relieved the hearts and preserved the health of twenty young painters; and if, among those twenty, you but chanced on one in whom a true latent power had been hindered by his poverty, just consider what a far-branching, far-embracing good you have wrought with that lucky expenditure of yours. I say, "Consider it," in vain; you cannot consider it, for you cannot conceive the sickness of heart with which a young painter of deep feeling toils through his first obscurity;—his sense of the strong voice within him, which you will not hear;—his vain, fond, wondering witness to the things you will not see;—his far-away perception of things that he could accomplish if he had but peace, and time, all unapproachable and vanishing from him, because no one will leave him peace or grant him time: all his friends falling back from him; those whom he would most reverently obey rebuking and paralysing him; and, last and worst of all, those who believe in him the most faithfully suffering by him the most bitterly;—the wife's eyes, in their sweet ambition, shining brighter as the cheek wastes away; and the little lips at his side parched and pale, which one day, he knows, though he may never see it, will quiver so proudly when they call his name, calling him "our father." You deprive yourselves, by your large expenditure for pictures of mark, of the power of relieving and redeeming this distress; you injure the painter whom you pay so largely;—and what, after all, have you done for yourselves or got for yourselves? It does not in the least follow that the hurried work of a fashionable painter will contain more for your money than the quiet work of some unknown man. In all probability, you will find, if you rashly purchase what is popular at a high price, that you have got one picture you don't care for, for a sum which would have bought twenty you would have delighted in.
101. For remember always, that the price of a picture by a living artist never represents, never can represent, the quantity of labour or value in it. Its price represents, for the most part, the degree of desire which the rich people of the country have to possess it. Once get the wealthy classes to imagine that the possession of pictures by a given artist adds to their "gentility," and there is no price which his work may not immediately reach, and for years maintain; and in buying at that price, you are not getting value for your money, but merely disputing for victory in a contest of ostentation. And it is hardly possible to spend your money in a worse or more wasteful way; for though you may not be doing it for ostentation yourself, you are, by your pertinacity, nourishing the ostentation of others; you meet them in their game of wealth, and continue it for them; if they had not found an opposite player, the game would have been done; for a proud man can find no enjoyment in possessing himself of what nobody disputes with him. So that by every farthing you give for a picture beyond its fair price—that is to say, the price which will pay the painter for his time—you are not only cheating yourself and buying vanity, but you are stimulating the vanity of others; paying, literally, for the cultivation of pride. You may consider every pound that you spend above the just price of a work of art, as an investment in a cargo of mental quick-lime or guano, which, being laid on the fields of human nature, is to grow a harvest of pride. You are in fact ploughing and harrowing, in a most valuable part of your land, in order to reap the whirlwind; you are setting your hand stoutly to Job's agriculture—"Let thistles grow instead of wheat, and cockle instead of barley."
102. Well, but you will say, there is one advantage in high prices, which more than counter-balances all this mischief, namely, that by great reward we both urge and enable a painter to produce rather one perfect picture than many inferior ones: and one perfect picture (so you tell us, and we believe it) is worth a great number of inferior ones.
It is so; but you cannot get it by paying for it. A great work is only done when the painter gets into the humour for it, likes his subject, and determines to paint it as well as he can, whether he is paid for it or not; but bad work, and generally the worst sort of bad work, is done when he is trying to produce a showy picture, or one that shall appear to have as much labour in it as shall be worth a high price.
103. There is, however, another point, and a still more important one, bearing on this matter of purchase, than the keeping down of prices to a rational standard. And that is, that you pay your prices into the hands of living men, and do not pour them into coffins.
For observe that, as we arrange our payment of pictures at present, no artist's work is worth half its proper value while he is alive. The moment he dies, his pictures, if they are good, reach double their former value; but, that rise of price represents simply a profit made by the intelligent dealer or purchaser on his past purchases. So that the real facts of the matter are, that the British public, spending a certain sum annually in art, determines that, of every thousand it pays, only five hundred shall go to the painter, or shall be at all concerned in the production of art; and that the other five hundred shall be paid merely as a testimonial to the intelligent dealer, who knew what to buy. Now, testimonials are very pretty and proper things, within due limits; but testimonial to the amount of a hundred per cent. on the total expenditure is not good political economy. Do not, therefore, in general, unless you see it to be necessary for its preservation, buy the picture of a dead artist. If you fear that it may be exposed to contempt or neglect, buy it; its price will then, probably, not be high: if you want to put it into a public gallery, buy it; you are sure, then, that you do not spend your money selfishly: or, if you loved the man's work while he was alive, and bought it then, buy it also now, if you can see no living work equal to it. But if you did not buy it while the man was living, never buy it after he is dead: you are then doing no good to him, and you are doing some shame to yourself. Look around you for pictures that you really like, and in buying which you can help some genius yet unperished—that is the best atonement you can make to the one you have neglected—and give to the living and struggling painter at once wages, and testimonial.
104. So far then of the motives which should induce us to keep down the prices of modern art, and thus render it, as a private possession, attainable by greater numbers of people than at present. But we should strive to render it accessible to them in other ways also—chiefly by the permanent decoration of public buildings; and it is in this field that I think we may look for the profitable means of providing that constant employment for young painters of which we were speaking last evening.
The first and most important kind of public buildings which we are always sure to want, are schools: and I would ask you to consider very carefully, whether we may not wisely introduce some great changes in the way of school decoration. Hitherto, as far as I know, it has either been so difficult to give all the education we wanted to our lads, that we have been obliged to do it, if at all, with cheap furniture and bare walls; or else we have considered that cheap furniture and bare walls are a proper part of the means of education; and supposed that boys learned best when they sat on hard forms, and had nothing but blank plaster about and above them whereupon to employ their spare attention; also, that it was as well they should be accustomed to rough and ugly conditions of things, partly by way of preparing them for the hardships of life, and partly that there might be the least possible damage done to floors and forms, in the event of their becoming, during the master's absence, the fields or instruments of battle. All this is so far well and necessary, as it relates to the training of country lads, and the first training of boys in general. But there certainly comes a period in the life of a well-educated youth, in which one of the principal elements of his education is, or ought to be, to give him refinement of habits; and not only to teach him the strong exercises of which his frame is capable, but also to increase his bodily sensibility and refinement, and show him such small matters as the way of handling things properly, and treating them considerately.
105. Not only so; but I believe the notion of fixing the attention by keeping the room empty, is a wholly mistaken one: I think it is just in the emptiest room that the mind wanders most; for it gets restless, like a bird, for want of a perch, and casts about for any possible means of getting out and away. And even if it be fixed, by an effort, on the business in hand, that business becomes itself repulsive, more than it need be, by the vileness of its associations; and many a study appears dull or painful to a boy, when it is pursued on a blotted deal desk, under a wall with nothing on it but scratches and pegs, which would have been pursued pleasantly enough in a curtained corner of his father's library, or at the lattice window of his cottage. Now, my own belief is, that the best study of all is the most beautiful; and that a quiet glade of forest, or the nook of a lake shore, are worth all the schoolrooms in Christendom, when once you are past the multiplication table; but be that as it may, there is no question at all but that a time ought to come in the life of a well-trained youth, when he can sit at a writing-table without wanting to throw the inkstand at his neighbour; and when also he will feel more capable of certain efforts of mind with beautiful and refined forms about him than with ugly ones. When that time comes, he ought to be advanced into the decorated schools; and this advance ought to be one of the important and honourable epochs of his life.
106. I have not time, however, to insist on the mere serviceableness to our youth of refined architectural decoration, as such; for I want you to consider the probable influence of the particular kind of decoration which I wish you to get for them, namely, historical painting. You know we have hitherto been in the habit of conveying all our historical knowledge, such as it is, by the ear only, never by the eye; all our notion of things being ostensibly derived from verbal description, not from sight. Now, I have no doubt that, as we grow gradually wiser—and we are doing so every day—we shall discover at last that the eye is a nobler organ than the ear; and that through the eye we must, in reality, obtain, or put into form, nearly all the useful information we are to have about this world. Even as the matter stands, you will find that the knowledge which a boy is supposed to receive from verbal description is only available to him so far as in any underhand way he gets a sight of the thing you are talking about. I remember well that, for many years of my life, the only notion I had of the look of a Greek knight was complicated between recollection of a small engraving in my pocket Pope's Homer, and reverent study of the Horse Guards. And though I believe that most boys collect their ideas from more varied sources and arrange them more carefully than I did; still, whatever sources they seek must always be ocular: if they are clever boys, they will go and look at the Greek vases and sculptures in the British Museum, and at the weapons in our armouries—they will see what real armour is like in lustre, and what Greek armour was like in form, and so put a fairly true image together, but still not, in ordinary cases, a very living or interesting one.
107. Now, the use of your decorative painting would be, in myriads of ways, to animate their history for them, and to put the living aspect of past things before their eyes as faithfully as intelligent invention can; so that the master shall have nothing to do but once to point to the schoolroom walls, and for ever afterwards the meaning of any word would be fixed in a boy's mind in the best possible way. Is it a question of classical dress—what a tunic was like, or a chlamys, or a peplus? At this day, you have to point to some vile woodcut, in the middle of a dictionary page, representing the thing hung upon a stick; but then, you would point to a hundred figures, wearing the actual dress, in its fiery colours, in all actions of various stateliness or strength; you would understand at once how it fell round the people's limbs as they stood, how it drifted from their shoulders as they went, how it veiled their faces as they wept, how it covered their heads in the day of battle. Now, if you want to see what a weapon is like, you refer, in like manner, to a numbered page, in which there are spear-heads in rows, and sword-hilts in symmetrical groups; and gradually the boy gets a dim mathematical notion how one scimitar is hooked to the right and another to the left, and one javelin has a knob to it and another none: while one glance at your good picture would show him,—and the first rainy afternoon in the schoolroom would for ever fix in his mind,—the look of the sword and spear as they fell or flew; and how they pierced, or bent, or shattered—how men wielded them, and how men died by them.
108. But far more than all this, is it a question not of clothes or weapons, but of men? how can we sufficiently estimate the effect on the mind of a noble youth, at the time when the world opens to him, of having faithful and touching representations put before him of the acts and presences of great men—how many a resolution, which would alter and exalt the whole course of his after-life, might be formed, when in some dreamy twilight he met, through his own tears, the fixed eyes of those shadows of the great dead, unescapable and calm, piercing to his soul; or fancied that their lips moved in dread reproof or soundless exhortation? And if but for one out of many this were true—if yet, in a few, you could be sure that such influence had indeed changed their thoughts and destinies, and turned the eager and reckless youth, who would have cast away his energies on the race-horse or the gambling-table, to that noble life-race, that holy life-hazard, which should win all glory to himself and all good to his country,—would not that, to some purpose, be "political economy of art"?
109. And observe, there could be no monotony, no exhaustibleness, in the scenes required to be thus portrayed. Even if there were, and you wanted for every school in the kingdom, one death of Leonidas; one battle of Marathon; one death of Cleobis and Bito; there need not therefore be more monotony in your art than there was in the repetition of a given cycle of subjects by the religious painters of Italy. But we ought not to admit a cycle at all. For though we had as many great schools as we have great cities (one day I hope we shall have), centuries of painting would not exhaust, in all the number of them, the noble and pathetic subjects which might be chosen from the history of even one noble nation. But, beside this, you will not, in a little while, limit your youths' studies to so narrow fields as you do now. There will come a time—I am sure of it—when it will be found that the same practical results, both in mental discipline and in political philosophy, are to be attained by the accurate study of mediæval and modern as of ancient history; and that the facts of mediæval and modern history are, on the whole, the most important to us. And among these noble groups of constellated schools which I foresee arising in our England, I foresee also that there will be divided fields of thought; and that while each will give its scholars a great general idea of the world's history, such as all men should possess—each will also take upon itself, as its own special duty, the closer study of the course of events in some given place or time. It will review the rest of history, but it will exhaust its own special field of it; and found its moral and political teaching on the most perfect possible analysis of the results of human conduct in one place, and at one epoch. And then, the galleries of that school will be painted with the historical scenes belonging to the age which it has chosen for its special study.
110. So far, then, of art as you may apply it to that great series of public buildings which you devote to the education of youth. The next large class of public buildings in which we should introduce it, is one which I think a few years more of national progress will render more serviceable to us than they have been lately. I mean, buildings for the meetings of guilds of trades.
And here, for the last time, I must again interrupt the course of our chief inquiry, in order to state one other principle of political economy, which is perfectly simple and indisputable; but which, nevertheless, we continually get into commercial embarrassments for want of understanding; and not only so, but suffer much hindrance in our commercial discoveries, because many of our business men do not practically admit it.
Supposing half a dozen or a dozen men were cast ashore from a wreck on an uninhabited island, and left to their own resources, one of course, according to his capacity, would be set to one business and one to another; the strongest to dig and cut wood, and to build huts for the rest: the most dexterous to make shoes out of bark and coats out of skins; the best educated to look for iron or lead in the rocks, and to plan the channels for the irrigation of the fields. But though their labours were thus naturally severed, that small group of shipwrecked men would understand well enough that the speediest progress was to be made by helping each other,—not by opposing each other: and they would know that this help could only be properly given so long as they were frank and open in their relations, and the difficulties which each lay under properly explained to the rest. So that any appearance of secrecy or separateness in the actions of any of them would instantly, and justly, be looked upon with suspicion by the rest, as the sign of some selfish or foolish proceeding on the part of the individual. If, for instance, the scientific man were found to have gone out at night, unknown to the rest, to alter the sluices, the others would think, and in all probability rightly think, that he wanted to get the best supply of water to his own field; and if the shoemaker refused to show them where the bark grew which he made the sandals of, they would naturally think, and in all probability rightly think, that he didn't want them to see how much there was of it, and that he meant to ask from them more corn and potatoes in exchange for his sandals than the trouble of making them deserved. And thus, although each man would have a portion of time to himself in which he was allowed to do what he chose without let or inquiry,—so long as he was working in that particular business which he had undertaken for the common benefit, any secrecy on his part would be immediately supposed to mean mischief; and would require to be accounted for, or put an end to: and this all the more because whatever the work might be, certainly there would be difficulties about it which, when once they were well explained, might be more or less done away with by the help of the rest; so that assuredly every one of them would advance with his labour not only more happily, but more profitably and quickly, by having no secrets, and by frankly bestowing, and frankly receiving, such help as lay in his way to get or to give.
111. And, just as the best and richest result of wealth and happiness to the whole of them would follow on their perseverance in such a system of frank communication and of helpful labour;—so precisely the worst and poorest result would be obtained by a system of secrecy and of enmity; and each man's happiness and wealth would assuredly be diminished in proportion to the degree in which jealousy and concealment became their social and economical principles. It would not, in the long run, bring good, but only evil, to the man of science, if, instead of telling openly where he had found good iron, he carefully concealed every new bed of it, that he might ask, in exchange for the rare ploughshare, more corn from the farmer, or, in exchange for the rude needle, more labour from the sempstress: and it would not ultimately bring good, but only evil, to the farmers, if they sought to burn each other's cornstacks, that they might raise the value of their grain, or if the sempstresses tried to break each other's needles, that each might get all the stitching to herself.
112. Now, these laws of human action are precisely as authoritative in their application to the conduct of a million of men, as to that of six or twelve. All enmity, jealousy, opposition, and secrecy are wholly, and in all circumstances, destructive in their nature—not productive; and all kindness, fellowship, and communicativeness are invariably productive in their operation,—not destructive; and the evil principles of opposition and exclusiveness are not rendered less fatal, but more fatal, by their acceptance among large masses of men; more fatal, I say, exactly in proportion as their influence is more secret. For though the opposition does always its own simple, necessary, direct quantity of harm, and withdraws always its own simple, necessary, measurable quantity of wealth from the sum possessed by the community, yet, in proportion to the size of the community, it does another and more refined mischief than this, by concealing its own fatality under aspects of mercantile complication and expediency, and giving rise to multitudes of false theories based on a mean belief in narrow and immediate appearances of good done here and there by things which have the universal and everlasting nature of evil. So that the time and powers of the nation are wasted, not only in wretched struggling against each other, but in vain complaints, and groundless discouragements, and empty investigations, and useless experiments in laws, and elections, and inventions; with hope always to pull wisdom through some new-shaped slit in a ballot-box, and to drag prosperity down out of the clouds along some new knot of electric wire; while all the while Wisdom stands calling at the corners of the streets, and the blessing of Heaven waits ready to rain down upon us, deeper than the rivers and broader than the dew, if only we will obey the first plain principles of humanity, and the first plain precepts of the skies: "Execute true judgment, and show mercy and compassion, every man to his brother; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart."
113. Therefore, I believe most firmly, that as the laws of national prosperity get familiar to us, we shall more and more cast our toil into social and communicative systems; and that one of the first means of our doing so, will be the re-establishing guilds of every important trade in a vital, not formal, condition;—that there will be a great council or government house for the members of every trade, built in whatever town of the kingdom occupies itself principally in such trade, with minor council-halls in other cities; and to each council-hall, officers attached, whose first business may be to examine into the circumstances of every operative, in that trade, who chooses to report himself to them when out of work, and to set him to work, if he is indeed able and willing, at a fixed rate of wages, determined at regular periods in the council-meetings; and whose next duty may be to bring reports before the council of all improvements made in the business, and means of its extension: not allowing private patents of any kind, but making all improvements available to every member of the guild, only allotting, after successful trial of them, a certain reward to the inventors.
114. For these, and many other such purposes, such halls will be again, I trust, fully established, and then, in the paintings and decorations of them, especial effort ought to be made to express the worthiness and honourableness of the trade for whose members they are founded. For I believe one of the worst symptoms of modern society to be, its notion of great inferiority, and ungentlemanliness, as necessarily belonging to the character of a tradesman. I believe tradesmen may be, ought to be—often are, more gentlemen than idle and useless people: and I believe that art may do noble work by recording in the hall of each trade, the services which men belonging to that trade have done for their country, both preserving the portraits, and recording the important incidents in the lives, of those who have made great advances in commerce and civilization. I cannot follow out this subject—it branches too far, and in too many directions; besides, I have no doubt you will at once see and accept the truth of the main principle, and be able to think it out for yourselves. I would fain also have said something of what might be done, in the same manner, for almshouses and hospitals, and for what, as I shall try to explain in notes to this lecture, we may hope to see, some day, established with a different meaning in their name than that they now bear—work-houses; but I have detained you too long already, and cannot permit myself to trespass further on your patience except only to recapitulate, in closing, the simple principles respecting wealth which we have gathered during the course of our inquiry; principles which are nothing more than the literal and practical acceptance of the saying which is in all good men's mouths—namely, that they are stewards or ministers of whatever talents are entrusted to them.
115. Only, is it not a strange thing, that while we more or less accept the meaning of that saying, so long as it is considered metaphorical, we never accept its meaning in its own terms? You know the lesson is given us under the form of a story about money. Money was given to the servants to make use of: the unprofitable servant dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money. Well, we, in our political and spiritual application of this, say, that of course money doesn't mean money: it means wit, it means intellect, it means influence in high quarters, it means everything in the world except itself. And do not you see what a pretty and pleasant come-off there is for most of us, in this spiritual application? Of course, if we had wit, we would use it for the good of our fellow-creatures. But we haven't wit. Of course, if we had influence with the bishops, we would use it for the good of the Church; but we haven't any influence with the bishops. Of course, if we had political power, we would use it for the good of the nation; but we have no political power; we have no talents entrusted to us of any sort or kind. It is true we have a little money, but the parable can't possibly mean anything so vulgar as money; our money's our own.
116. I believe, if you think seriously of this matter, you will feel that the first and most literal application is just as necessary a one as any other—that the story does very specially mean what it says—plain money; and that the reason we don't at once believe it does so, is a sort of tacit idea that while thought, wit, and intellect, and all power of birth and position, are indeed given to us, and, therefore, to be laid out for the Giver—our wealth has not been given to us; but we have worked for it, and have a right to spend it as we choose. I think you will find that is the real substance of our understanding in this matter. Beauty, we say, is given by God—it is a talent; strength is given by God—it is a talent; position is given by God—it is a talent; but money is proper wages for our day's work—it is not a talent, it is a due. We may justly spend it on ourselves, if we have worked for it.
117. And there would be some shadow of excuse for this, were it not that the very power of making the money is itself only one of the applications of that intellect or strength which we confess to be talents. Why is one man richer than another? Because he is more industrious, more persevering, and more sagacious. Well, who made him more persevering or more sagacious than others? That power of endurance, that quickness of apprehension, that calmness of judgment, which enable him to seize the opportunities that others lose, and persist in the lines of conduct in which others fail—are these not talents?—are they not, in the present state of the world, among the most distinguished and influential of mental gifts? And is it not wonderful, that while we should be utterly ashamed to use a superiority of body, in order to thrust our weaker companions aside from some place of advantage, we unhesitatingly use our superiorities of mind to thrust them back from whatever good that strength of mind can attain? You would be indignant if you saw a strong man walk into a theatre or a lecture-room, and, calmly choosing the best place, take his feeble neighbour by the shoulder, and turn him out of it into the back seats, or the street. You would be equally indignant if you saw a stout fellow thrust himself up to a table where some hungry children were being fed, and reach his arm over their heads and take their bread from them. But you are not the least indignant if, when a man has stoutness of thought and swiftness of capacity, and, instead of being long-armed only, has the much greater gift of being long-headed—you think it perfectly just that he should use his intellect to take the bread out of the mouths of all the other men in the town who are of the same trade with him; or use his breadth and sweep of sight to gather some branch of the commerce of the country into one great cobweb, of which he is himself to be the central spider, making every thread vibrate with the points of his claws, and commanding every avenue with the facets of his eyes. You see no injustice in this.
118. But there is injustice; and, let us trust, one of which honourable men will at no very distant period disdain to be guilty. In some degree, however, it is indeed not unjust; in some degree, it is necessary and intended. It is assuredly just that idleness should be surpassed by energy; that the widest influence should be possessed by those who are best able to wield it; and that a wise man, at the end of his career, should be better off than a fool. But for that reason, is the fool to be wretched, utterly crushed down, and left in all the suffering which his conduct and capacity naturally inflict?—Not so. What do you suppose fools were made for? That you might tread upon them, and starve them, and get the better of them in every possible way? By no means. They were made that wise people might take care of them. That is the true and plain fact concerning the relations of every strong and wise man to the world about him. He has his strength given him, not that he may crush the weak, but that he may support and guide them. In his own household he is to be the guide and the support of his children; out of his household he is still to be the father—that is, the guide and support—of the weak and the poor; not merely of the meritoriously weak and the innocently poor, but of the guiltily and punishably poor; of the men who ought to have known better—of the poor who ought to be ashamed of themselves. It is nothing to give pension and cottage to the widow who has lost her son; it is nothing to give food and medicine to the workman who has broken his arm, or the decrepit woman wasting in sickness. But it is something to use your time and strength to war with the waywardness and thoughtlessness of mankind; to keep the erring workman in your service till you have made him an unerring one; and to direct your fellow-merchant to the opportunity which his dulness would have lost. This is much; but it is yet more, when you have fully achieved the superiority which is due to you, and acquired the wealth which is the fitting reward of your sagacity, if you solemnly accept the responsibility of it, as it is the helm and guide of labour far and near.
119. For you who have it in your hands are in reality the pilots of the power and effort of the State. It is entrusted to you as an authority to be used for good or evil, just as completely as kingly authority was ever given to a prince, or military command to a captain. And, according to the quantity of it that you have in your hands, you are the arbiters of the will and work of England; and the whole issue, whether the work of the State shall suffice for the State or not, depends upon you. You may stretch out your sceptre over the heads of the English labourers, and say to them, as they stoop to its waving, "Subdue this obstacle that has baffled our fathers, put away this plague that consumes our children; water these dry places, plough these desert ones, carry this food to those who are in hunger; carry this light to those who are in darkness; carry this life to those who are in death;" or on the other side you may say to her labourers: "Here am I; this power is in my hand; come, build a mound here for me to be throned upon, high and wide; come, make crowns for my head, that men may see them shine from far away; come, weave tapestries for my feet, that I may tread softly on the silk and purple; come, dance before me, that I may be gay; and sing sweetly to me, that I may slumber; so shall I live in joy, and die in honour." And better than such an honourable death it were that the day had perished wherein we were born, and the night in which it was said there is a child conceived.
120. I trust that in a little while there will be few of our rich men who, through carelessness or covetousness, thus forfeit the glorious office which is intended for their hands. I said, just now, that wealth ill-used was as the net of the spider, entangling and destroying: but wealth well used is as the net of the sacred fisher who gathers souls of men out of the deep. A time will come—I do not think even now it is far from us—when this golden net of the world's wealth will be spread abroad as the flaming meshes of morning cloud are over the sky; bearing with them the joy of light and the dew of the morning, as well as the summons to honourable and peaceful toil. What less can we hope from your wealth than this, rich men of England, when once you feel fully how, by the strength of your possessions—not, observe, by the exhaustion, but by the administration of them and the power,—you can direct the acts—command the energies—inform the ignorance—prolong the existence, of the whole human race; and how, even of worldly wisdom, which man employs faithfully, it is true, not only that her ways are pleasantness, but that her paths are peace; and that, for all the children of men, as well as for those to whom she is given, Length of days is in her right hand, as in her left hand Riches and Honour?
- See note 6th, in Addenda.
- The reader can hardly but remember Mrs. Browning's
beautiful appeal for Italy, made on the occasion of the first great
Exhibition of Art in England:—
Magi of the east and of the west,
Your incense, gold, and myrrh are excellent!—
What gifts for Christ, then, bring ye with the rest?
Your hands have worked well. Is your courage spent
In handwork only? Have you nothing best,
Which generous souls may perfect and present,
And He shall thank the givers for? no light
Of teaching, liberal nations, for the poor,
Who sit in darkness when it is not night?
No cure for wicked children? Christ,—no cure,
No help for women, sobbing out of sight
Because men made the laws? no brothel-lure
Burnt out by popular lightnings? Hast thou found
No remedy, my England, for such woes?
No outlet, Austria, for the scourged and bound,
No call back for the exiled? no repose,
Russia for knouted Poles worked underground,
And gentle ladies bleached among the snows?
No mercy for the slave, America?
No hope for Rome, free France, chivalric France?
Alas, great nations have great shames, I say.
No pity, O world, no tender utterance
Of benediction, and prayers stretched this way
For poor Italia, baffled by mischance?
O gracious nations, give some ear to me!
You all go to your Fair, and I am one
Who at the roadside of humanity
Beseech your alms,—God's justice to be done.
- It would be a great point gained towards the preservation of pictures if it were made a rule that at every operation they underwent, the exact spots in which they have been repainted should be recorded in writing.
- When this lecture was delivered, I gave here some data for approximate estimates of the average value of good modern pictures of different classes; but the subject is too complicated to be adequately treated in writing, without introducing more detail than the reader will have patience for. But I may state, roughly, that prices above a hundred guineas are in general extravagant for water-colours, and above five hundred for oils. An artist almost always does wrong who puts more work than these prices will remunerate him for into any single canvas—his talent would be better employed in painting two pictures than one so elaborate. The water-colour painters also are getting into the habit of making their drawings too large, and in a measure attaching their price rather to breadth and extent of touch than to thoughtful labour. Of course marked exceptions occur here and there, as in the case of John Lewis, whose drawings are wrought with unfailing precision throughout, whatever their scale. Hardly any price can be remunerative for such work.
- It would be well if, instead of preaching continually about the doctrine of faith and good works, our clergymen would simply explain to their people a little what good works mean. There is not a chapter in all the book we profess to believe, more specially and directly written for England than the second of Habakkuk, and I never in all my life heard one of its practical texts preached from. I suppose the clergymen are all afraid, and know their flocks, while they will sit quite politely to hear syllogisms out of the epistle to the Romans, would get restive directly if they ever pressed a practical text home to them. But we should have no mercantile catastrophes, and no distressful pauperism, if we only read often, and took to heart, those plain words:—"Yea, also, because he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and cannot be satisfied,—Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, 'Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his: and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay'?" (What a glorious history in one metaphor, of the life of a man greedy of fortune!) "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness that he may set his nest on high. Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity. Behold, is it not of the Lord of Hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?" The Americans, who have been sending out ships with sham bolt-heads on their timbers, and only half their bolts, may meditate on that "buildeth a town with blood."