Abbildungen der Seite

ourselves in smoke of steam-engines, and be content that our only progress should be upon our own canals and rail-roads. But notwithstanding all these untoward appearances, we venture to profess our ardent and devoted attachment to the fine arts, and to cherish the fond and confident persuasion, that our country, long before the days of its senility and decline, will boast its Leonardos and Guidos, its Canovas and Chantrys: and while nature shall bestow on us talents that may rival those great names, that our painters and sculptors will not be compelled to become the nurselings and protegés of foreign wealth and patronage, and to seek abroad those distinctions and rewards, which ought to await them at home. Paths of honour and renown will be found for them here to walk in. The history of our land, and the varied scenery with which nature has enriched it, will, we trust, give as profitable as ample employment to the painter, the statuary, and the engraver.

In shewing the reasonableness of this hope, we must endeavour to make it appear how we are to be exempted from those laws and influences which have shaped and determined the fate of other nations. Without entering very far into the particulars of the comparison, it will at once occur to every one that nothing is more different than the character of ancient and modern society, and, indeed, all the institutions connected with their welfare. The light of revelation-the general diffusion of knowledge—the clearly defined principles of self-government and of political power-greater regularity and consistency in the administration of the law3—the spread of truth and the control of public opinion by means of the press, are peculiar to later times, and eminently distinguish the age in which we live. In this age, national taste and refinement are not the growth of foreign conquest, nor are their seeds introduced amidst the spoils of vanquished nations. Indeed, such is the moral sense of nations upon this subject, that they would not permit the fine arts to owe their existence to so unholy a cause. The prompt and generous restitution of all the plundered monuments of Italian art, is a lesson on this subject never to be forgotten. It may now be safely pronounced, that in no country can the arts be indebted for their support to the munificence of a successful usurper. If they flourish, it must be upon the broad and solid basis of liberty, intelligence and refinement. They constitute a part of a system of permanent, deep-seated, social improvement, and are developed commensurately with every other feature of national prosperity.

What a happy illustration of this does Great-Britain afford? Her glory in arms, in science, and in arts is the happy fruit of VOL. IV.NO. 7.


freedom and religion ; the one imparting vigour, the other restraining abuse—the one enlarging the sphere of her prosperity, the other directing it to the happiness of society. Her splendid and munificent patronage of the arts continued through several successive reigns, and resulting from a long course of wealth and prosperity, has not, as yet, been checked by any symptom of decay. In spite of her debt and her sinecures, of her tithes and her establishment, of her aristocracy and her poor laws, of Almack's and Crockford's, there is a principle of vitality in her political and civil institutions, which shews, very clearly, that the era of the fine arts is not necessarily an era of decline. Amidst all her wasteful expenditure and riotous excesses, her wars of ambition and her schemes of commercial monopoly, her almost undisputed dominion of the seas and her empire upon which the sun never sets-amidst such a display of magnificence, such an accumulation of capital, and such various and unbounded luxury as is scarcely parallelled in the history of any nation, her spirit is still as buoyant and elastic, her energies as masculine, her industry as active, her enterprise as bold and aspiring, and all the virtues, public and private, of her people as pure and exemplary at least, as they have been at any time since the Revolution of 1688. The truth is, that the schoolboy theme about luxury, and its effects in enervating and corrupting nations is as inapplicable to the condition of modern society as it is trite and backneyed. Where the whole commonwealth was concentered in a single city, and the defence of it in a state of almost perpetual war, depended upon the courage and vigour of its own citizens, and where those citizens were considered as degraded by mercantile, or indeed by any other sober, industrious, civil pursuits, the case was very different. There could be scarcely any medium, in such a state of society, between the martial habits of ruder times, and the sloth and imbecility of an age of luxury and opulence. The state of nature, with all the republics of antiquity, was a state of war. As long as they were under arms they submitted to disciplineas long as they were engaged in martial exercises, they enjoyed a robust and vigorous health. The true home of a citizen was the forum or the camp. If he was not plotting a war in council or waging it in the field, he had nothing to do, (we speak of the mass) or did nothing but mischief. From one extreme they passed to the other. Post Punica bella quietus, the Roman began to study the Greek models, but he entered, at the same time, upon a precipitate, downward course of vice, misrule, and civil war. It was even so with the commonwealths of Greece. They were literally condemned either to conquer or die. The slightest relaxation of discipline

corrupted them, an intervalofrepose and socialimprovement was generally followed by fatal disasters; and at their highest pitch of refinement in arts and manners they were passed under the yoke by a more rigid disciplinarian at the head of a semi-barbarous horde from Macedon and Thrace. The ancient democracies-in consequence of the vast multitude of their slaves and other causes, were mere aristocracies, and the humblest of their citizens were degraded by prosperity, as Burke expresses it, “into the vices and follies of kings." The fact that "city" and "state" were synonimous, was alone enough to account for the most sudden and terrible revolutions. The influence of Paris was fatal to France in the same way. A handful of cowardly and ignorant jacobins, clothed in the municipal authority of that city, soon controlled its rabble, and through that rabble, the whole kingdom. The people of France had nothing to do with the perpetration of those horrors-further, at least, than their patient acquiescence in them, made them accessories by implication. Our republic, we fear, would stand but a poor chance of duration or happiness, if its concerns were all regulated and its destinies absolutely determined by the people of one of its great cities. A disorder which would be fatal to an ancient commonwealth is scarcely felt here. The equilibrium of the atmosphere is no sooner disturbed than it is restored. The infectious air which contaminates and lays waste a small part of our territory is corrected by the pure gales that visit it with healing under their wings, from every quarter of the heavens. The advantage of England is the same. Her country-gentlemen her yeomaury-her peasantry, are her hope, her stay, and her glory. The soul of that empire, as Koutusoff said of Russia, and as may be more truly said of our own country, is not confined to any single member-it is diffused with its vital warmth and vigour over the whole gigantic frame. These reflections would, perhaps, be satisfactory, even if we admitted the effects of luxury on the ancient commonwealths. But we may well call them in question. The victors of Marathon might have been vanquished at Cheronéa, for the same reason that a successor of this very Philip was beaten by Flamininus. Those who banished Themistocles and Aristides were very much the same sort of people as the murderers of Socrates and Phocion. It is difficult, at this distance of time, to say how far the events, commonly ascribed to the decay of discipline and the corruption of the people, were produced by those causes, or by accident or superior power merely.

It is upon precisely such principles as we have just adverted to, that we rest our hope of seeing the fine arts flourish in this

country, without any evil consequences or concomitants. Speaking negatively, to avoid the too common practice of eulogizing ourselves and our institutions, we may be permitted to say, there is nothing in either to forbid it. A spirit of industry and enterprize is characteristic of the American people. With the wide spread resources, in the midst of which they live, wealth must inevitably be their inheritance. Already has it enabled them to make several laudable demonstrations towards the encouragement of the fine arts. But wealth, however important, is not the only aliment of genius. It is a creature of light and immortality, which, like that “secular bird,”

non fruge, neque herbis,

Sed Thuris lachrymis-et succo vivit amomi." Taste, sensibility, refinement, intelligence, must all contribute to its support. But although these are not always foremost in the train of wealth, they are seldom separated from it. Their influence and operation “ will tell themselves when they be felt.” They will grow imperceptibly “occulto velut arbor ævo," and their maturity will be developed in all the glory and the splendor of the arts.

Mr. West, in a letter written not long before his death, thus expresses himself in reference to the treasures of ancient art at his first visit to them:

“When I was in Italy in the year 1760, ihe stupendous productions in the fine arts which are in that country, rushed on my feelings with their impetuous novelty and grandeur; and their progress through the world, from the earliest period, arrested my attention. When I discovered they had accompanied empire, as shade does the body when it is most illuminated, and that they had declined both in Greece and Italy, as the ancient splendour of those countries passed away. Reflecting thus on their stations when in prosperity, and their movements in decline, it led me to reflect on the civil and religious rights which the several charters had given to the then existing people of North-America ; and from those circumstances, it appeared to me that country was most likely to possess empire and the fine arts. What I then anticipated has since been realized in one respect, and is about to be accomplished in the other.'

The prophetic opinion of this great philosophical observer, formed seventy years ago, and expressed in reference to the establishment of the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, derives considerable force, not only from the increasing respectability of that institution, but of similar ones subsequently formed in almost all the large cities of the Union. Without pretending to know what have been the real causes of the superiority of art

in any particular age or country, or in the happy coincidence of causes, what has been their relative influence, or which of them has predominated—we acknowledge certain prominent and admitted sources of excellence-one or more of which have always characterized the existence and success of the arts. Such for instance as climate and scenery-freedom—the native beauty, and symmetry of a people—their peculiar habits and exercises-and, above all, an aptitude in the mind for seizing upon and improving these advantages-wbich aptitude, if not produced, is at least fostered and matured by them.

Ifthe perfection of the arts in Greece was attributed to these may we not venture to hope that this country will also become one of their favourite abodes; and, that under similar auspices, they will one day display themselves with equal lustre in the United States. Our skies are as serene, our zephyrs as balmy and genial, our mountains as lofty, our vallies and plains as verdant as nature in her prodigality has lavished upon any region of the earth. In the freedom of our institutions there is a moral impulse directing the mind to manly and vigorous exertion. Of this single cause this vital principle of all true greatness, moral and political, we hold it impossible to overrate the influence. And we surely can produce as perfect models of beauty as ever warmed the imagination, or moulded the taste of Grecian sculptor. This opinion is neither hastily nor incautiously hazarded, if we may be allowed to judge by the standards handed down to us from antiquity. Many an upsculptured Venus adorns our villagesand many an Apollo ranges our forests in pursuit of less poetic, though more marketable game than the Python. We cannot boast, it is true, the advantages of games and gymnasia, but the exercises of our hardy foresters and mountaineers are as healthful, and as well calculated to develope the symmetry and perfections of the form, and to impart to it a graceful and manly to have distinguished this country by a talent for the imitative /arts. The frequent exhibition of it has been hitherto as much a source of mortification as of pride. We have seen many an aspiring youth born for other days and other destinies obliged to "repress his noble rage" and mingle, undistinguished, with the crowd. Others again, after contending in vain against nature, and yielding to her irresistible impulse, have, for want of proper opportunity, been compelled to occupy the humblest walks of the art, when, under better auspices, they might have become worthy of the age, when

"A Raphael painted and a Vida sang."

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »