Men I Have Painted/Dr. John Madison Taylor
AS a youth John was an athlete. Between him and George Fox, of Andalusia, there existed that friendly rivalry in feats of strength and agility that urged them to take advantage of every opportunity for training their bodies in athletic exercise. Thus they reached a degree of perfection rarely attained by professional athletes, for the simple reason that the latter usually specialize and over-develop certain muscles at the expense of others. Nature had endowed these young men with unusual beauty of form which is rare among well-developed and strong men. Muscular development on a frame that is not built upon the graceful and conventional lines of the Greek model may express force without creating in the mind an emotion of beauty. Correctness of proportion in length of torso and limb is not even sufficient. The muscles must be formed and attached in the way they are found in the best specimens of Grecian sculpture, for the Greeks aimed at perfecting their bodies in beauty as much as or perhaps more than in strength.
The Greek sculptors, taking advantage of their opportunities of studying the figures of the best athletes, who were constantly exposed to their view undisfigured by the indecencies of dress, arrived at a rendering of the human figure, sometimes realistic, sometimes typical, which marks the place and the period of man's highest development. And it is worthy of note that the Greeks had arrived at a knowledge of the value of repose, for action is rare in their Art. Nearly all their statues are presented in repose. The expression on the faces of their gods is placid. Passion was not permitted to distort the features. No matter how their literature may represent the gods to have been moved to anger, to hate, to love, or to jealousy, no faint trace of this must be allowed to distort their classic features, or produce an ungraceful curve in mouth or brow. A godlike serenity of countenance displays the calm which ought to reign within. In the Greek plays grief and despair are veiled from public view by drawing the robe across the face. Our modern actors seek the approbation of the audience by their skill in displaying fright and anger, and the Japanese are past-masters in working themselves by slow degrees into a white passion that ends by the most extravagant divergence of the eyes in their sockets, in writhings of the mouth, and other unpleasant symptoms of human degradation.
My recollections of John Taylor at the age of twenty years recall more vividly now than they impressed me at the time the peculiar similarity that he showed, not to any particular Greek character perhaps, but to the general Greek type, although the similarity was made more conspicuous by a quite unique resemblance to the Antinous in the regular character of the features, the shape of the head, and the growth of the hair. Resemblances between men have always interested me more than differences and contrasts: but one must confess that men, even of the same race, vary to a degree almost unbelievable, until specimens of the varieties are placed side by side. The misfortune is that men resemble each other more frequently in ugliness than in beauty, and in passing I may say that the ugliness is increasing, if not in degree, certainly in number. The cult of the beautiful and the noble belongs to the religious age, the age of worship, of veneration, of respect, of loyalty, of fidelity—all the qualities that are now often mocked at and despised. Beauty can be cultivated as flowers are: and it was cultivated in the times gone by when women were content to be women, and not freakish men. That old supercherie of Jacob's when he played the trick on Laban, his father-in-law, by placing parti-coloured withes before the ewes, is a well-known pathological, rather than psychological, manifestation of the effect, through the eyes, either for good or for ill upon the unborn. There is nothing more elevating to the human mind than the aspect of things that appeal to the emotion of beauty, either in the music of running water, the fragrance of flowers, or the blue of the sky. He who has known how a feeling of the most profound depression gives place to elation when a day dawns that vibrates with a musical twang in wind and sky, in rustling trees and rippling river, although the cause for depression still exists, can understand the mystical relation between cause and effect in the transmission of beautiful forms into beautiful thoughts. No one knows better than Dr. Taylor the disastrous effect upon mankind of neglecting those aids to health and beauty which are to be found in the right stimulation of the senses and the well-ordered indulgence in the emotions. There is a pathological side to all manifestations of life—to this side Dr. Taylor gives unremitting observation and attention. He is the convinced advocate of what some people would call a theory, but which nevertheless is a fact, that the mental constitution and equipment of one-fifth of the inhabitants of a nation render them unfit for the ordinary performance of civic duties, that, in consequence, any extension of liberty in the direction of communism is impossible. The whole basis of the communistic theory resting as it does upon a false notion of equality in mental and physical powers, that basis does not exist and will not exist so long as disease and insanity afflict mankind. States, like ships, are built for storms and wars, and not for calm seas or peaceful peoples. And furthermore no one has, as yet, seemed to realize that the variable climates of this planet are unsuited to the Utopian notions of our so numerous visionaries and vagabonds.
One of the most interesting fields of research entered by Dr. Taylor led him to many important discoveries concerning the effects of poisoning by snake-bites. He associated himself with Dr. Weir Mitchell, who in collaboration with him investigated the character and intensity of various poisons in the different species of venomous reptiles, and the antidotes to each. The picturesque Mount Desert Island was chosen by both scientists for the pursuit of their studies, an island which, in some respects, resembles in character some of the beauty spots of the old world.
When the portrait was painted, Dr. Taylor had changed from the appearance of the Greek athlete to the more usual type of the man of science. There are still traces of the classical lineaments, which we all admired in the youth, to be seen in the fine profile; and although the hair is gone, and already the effects of reading and study begin to appear, the old love of sport and of athletic exercise still lingers in a frame that retains all the vigour of youth. The Maine woods and the silent lakes of Canada are the happy hunting-grounds of the idle moments of a man who lives in the open and breathes deeply of the health-laden air of mountain and forest.