Page:Stories by Foreign Authors (French III).djvu/45

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35
THE HIDDEN MASTERPIECE.

short, everything about the strange old man seemed beyond the limits of human nature. The rich imagination of the youth fastened upon the one perceptible and clear clue to the mystery of this supernatural being,—the presence of the artistic nature, that wild, impassioned nature to which such mighty powers have been confided, which too often abuses those powers, and drags cold reason and common souls, and even lovers of art, over stony and arid places, where for such there is neither pleasure nor instruction; while to the artistic soul itself,—that white-winged angel of sportive fancy,—epics, works of art, and visions rise along the way. It is a nature, an essence, mocking yet kind, fruitful though destitute. Thus, for the enthusiastic Poussin, the old man became by sudden transfiguration Art itself,—art with all its secrets, its transports, and its dreams.

"Yes, my dear Porbus," said Frenhofer, speaking half in revery, "I have never yet beheld a perfect woman; a body whose outlines were faultless and whose flesh-tints— Ah! where lives she?" he cried, interrupting his own words; "where lives the lost Venus of the ancients, so long sought for, whose scattered beauty we snatch by glimpses? Oh! to see for a moment, a single moment, the divine completed nature,—the ideal, I would give my all of fortune. Yes; I would search thee out, celestial Beauty! in thy