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there is nothing in art equal to some human faces which I myself have seen. But then there is, perhaps, nothing in nature equal to some works of art, as combinations of beauty : and this is all that can be, or at least that ought to be meant by ideal beauty. It is select beauty, and nothing more. It must have its various prototypes somewhere in nature, or it is not beauty at all.
I do not think the Greeks had any notion of ideal beauty, as distinguished from real or natural. They selected from nature, and then created from their selections. Witness the Helen of Zeuxis. But they did not attempt to engender an artificial beauty in their own minds ; because they knew that the imagination itself, with all its wondrous powers, cannot create any thing permanently affecting to the human mind, the rudiments of which did not previously exist somewhere in nature. The Venus is the most perfect statue in existence, not be cause it possesses a beauty superior to, or different from that of nature ; but because it combines the largest portion of select natural beauty. And this beauty can be considered as ideal, only so far as it is not a portrait—not a copy from, but an imitation of, nature. A portrait can perhaps never be perfect, except as a portrait. It may be said that nothing which is a copy, or is not an imitation of nature, can be perfect.. And admitting the first part of this axiom to be true, the works of nature are not therefore imperfect; for all the rudiments of perfection exist in her; and she has given to man the mechanical power to combine them, and the mental power to appreciate them when they are combined.
I have been led to make these remarks, by reading the opinions of the professional critics here, on the marbles from Athens.* They all seem to agree, that the fragments possess less of what they call ideal beauty, than the Apollo does. But some rank them exactly as much below that statue, as others do above it; and (what is very singular) precisely for the same reason,-namely, because they possess less ideas beauty. This incongruity arises from neither party having distinct notions of what they themselves mean by ideal beauty. One party bas right feelings on the subject; but both have wrong principles.
It is remarkable, too, that these critics seem to have forgotten that the Venus de' Medici exists at all. Not one of them, in making comparisons between these sculptures and other fine things of the kind, has mentioned that divine statue,-to which, of all others, these bear the nearest resemblance in style and character.
By the by, one of these persons, (and one whose works as an artist have acquired him a very just celebrity, on the Continent as well as here) has made the notable discovery, that the Apollo is only a copy! The arrangement of the hair, he says, and the folds of the mantle, are more adapted to bronzę than to marble! Indeed! And could this person really dare to stand in that awful presence, and instead of bowing down before the visible God, suffer his eyes to go peeping and prying about among the plaits of the hair and the folds of the mantle ? But this it is to be a professional critic-to look technically at things !
• The writer seems to refer to the Report of the Committee of the House of Coininoks, on the subject of purchasing the Elgin marbles for the National Museum.
He reminded me of two of his countrywomen whom I once saw standing before the Transfiguration. I found that the whole of their attention had been fixed by the plaiting of the hair of one of the female
so natural,” they said. You see the extremes of knowledge and of ignorance exactly meet. I dare say this gentleman is one of those who occasionally employ themselves in pulling a rose to pieces scientifically, in order to see how it is made.
I have no great affection for the “ triste métier de critique" at any time; but least of all when it is employed about the highest productions of the fine arts--such as the sculptures in question. They are, in fact, not subjects for criticism at all: they are above its sphere.— It is the general feeling of mankind—the light that is within us that must appreciate them. That which contains no beauty but what it requires the eye of a critic to find out, contains none at all. All the criticism in the world never made a single real lover of the fine arts. It has made hosts of amateurs and connoisseurs—worshippers of a namestringers of phrases—chatterers about gusto, chiaro-'scuro, the beau idéal, and so forth. But these have no real love for the fine arts. They can have none,–because real love, whatever may be the object of it, springs from the depths of the heart;—and these people kuve no hearts: they have talked their's away; or bartered them for a vocabulary of technical phrases.
When once the few fundamental principles of truth are known, then the taste that is got by reading books of criticism, is like the morality that is acquired by reading books of casuistry—that is, something worse than none at all :—for criticism is to beauty in art, just what metaphysics is to truth in morals—it makes “no light, but rather darkness visible.”
Criticism, like every thing else, is very well in its place; but like every thing else, it does not exactly know where that is.—The sublimities of M. Angelo are beyond its reach ;—the divine forms of Raphael were not made to be meddled with by its unhallowed fingers ; --the ineffable expressions of Corregio must not be sullied by its earthy breath.—They were given to the world for something better ; and they have done their bidding hitherto, and will do it to the end of time. They have opened a perpetual spring of lofty thoughts and pure meditations; they have blended themselves with the very existence, and become a living principle in the heart of mankind ;--and they are now no more fit to be touched and tampered with than the stars of heaven-for like them “ levan di terra al cielo nostr' intelletto."
When I recollect that all the choicest of these treasures were lately ours, and that now they are gone from us for ever, I cannot help, for a moment, turning my thoughts to where, of all other places, they are least at ease-among cabinets and statesmen. I cannot help asking, after all that we had suffered, was this necessary? was it just? But my melancholy feelings are doubled at these questions; for I dare not answer them in the negative. I must indulge myself
, for a moment, in following these holy relics (the only things which deserve that title) to what, after all, seems to be their destined home-in fancying the pure and solemn delight of some noble spirit,--for there are still a few who dignify that deservedly unhappy country,--on hearing of their return. He would at first, perhaps-like Petrarch when he thought he discovered a gleam of hope dawning on the liberties of his country-fancy he heard the united spirit of the mighty dead
“ Si faccia lieto, udendo la novella!
E dice, Roma mia sarà ancor bella.” But, if he appreciate these things justly, his joy will not be unmixed with melancholy; for he will feel that Italy is not now a worthy sanctuary for them: though he may still hope that by and through them she may become so. He will not dare to think upon the present; for if he did, it could only be to ask, with one of her own children,
che-suoi guai non par che senta; Vecchia, oziosa e lenta;
Dormirà sempre?” or to exclaim with another, still more indignantly,
“ Or va: repudia il valor prisco, e sposa
L'ozio, e fra il sangue, i gemiti, e le strida,
Dormi, adultera vil.” In short, in whatever way he may connect his thoughts with these deathless memorials of the glory of his country and of human nature, all his conscious elevation at the sight of them must spring from the past, --all his hopes and aspirations must rest upon the future.
LETTER VIII. My letter before the last exhibited Captain Augustus Thackeray, in all his embroidery, preparing to partake of Mr. Culpepper's repast, at the residence of the latter in Savage Gardens. “ Been to the Opera lately?" inquired the elegant'stranger of Mrs. Culpepper, in a tone of such decided recitative, that I would lay an even wager upon its having been modelled upon part of the dialogue of Il Turco in Italia. Luckily the tremulous lady of the mansion
was prevented from answering the question, by an exclamation of "Dinner, Jack, directly!" from the hungry lips of her impatient spouse, which gave the Captain time to forget that he had propounded it. The slayer of men now conducted himself according to the laws of Ton, in that case made and provided. He first planted himself with his back to the fire, with either leg sprawled out, like a pair of animated compasses : he next drew from his sabretash a snuff-box, which he deposed to having purchased in the Palais Royal. To drive away the particles of Prince's mixture, which had impertinently planted themselves upon his mustachios, producing a prolonged sneeze, he drew from the same receptacle a pocket-handkerchief of crimson silk : he then fixed his eyes upon a paper trap, which hung from the ceiling, to catch flies, and partly whistled and partly sung “ Sul Aria:" he, finally, strolled toward the window, the edge of his swordsheath, like the rattle of the American reptile, giving due notice of his locomotion: and, after surveying the White Tower of Julius Cæsar and the foliage of Trinity square in momentary apathy, “my pretty page looked out afar" no longer ; but, turning to Mr. Culpepper, said,
** Are these trees ?" wondering, as well he might, that the natives of these Hyper-Borean regions should have acquired the art of arborization, “ Trees! yes,” answered the vender of slops, " what should they be? Oh, but I suppose you
don't approve of railing in and planting that part of Tower-hill.” The elegant stranger gently inclined his head, which the interrogator mistook for acquiescence, and thus went on: “ You are quite right; I never liked it: I held up my two hands against it in the vestry, but I was out-voted. Ah, sir, in my time—when I was apprentiee to old Frank Fit-out, the slop-seller in the Tenterground, that was all Tower-hill; smack-smooth as the palm of your hand: then there was something like going on. I've seen Doctor Bossy, the quack, there, upon a stage with a blue and white check curtain ; and I 've seen a matter of ten boys at a time playing chuck-farthing; ay, and a matter of five sailors abreast singing ballads and playing fiddles. Ah! that was something like !" “ Something like what?" inquired he of the sabre-tash, with eye-lids dropping until their lashes almost met his mustachios. Old Culpepper found it difficult to establish a simile, that should accord with so many discordant articles, and held his peace. There was something in the above harangue, short as it was, that was rather nauseous than otherwise to every one present : Mrs. Culpepper, who boasted her second-cousinship to a Serjeant, (whether at law or in the guards I have never been able to ascertain,) disliked the mention of old Frank Fit-out and the Tenter-ground; Miss Clara thought the objection to turning the hill into an inclosed square was meant as a fling at her rotatory flirtations with young Dixon in that hallowed sanctuary; and George, whose determination to sink the shop probably originated in an honest aversion to shop-lifting, heard the word "slop-seller" from his father's lips with that heart-sinking sensation which came across Blifil, when his uncle Alworthy asked him what he had done with his mother's letter. Then it was that the boy Jack opened the drawing-room door; and then it was that old Cul. pepper, concluding that he appeared to announce happiness, bawled out * Dinner, dinner!" and hunting every body before him, even as a Hampshire driver urges pigs, drove the whole herd down a steep staircase into the dining-room. If Nature had ordained man to feed upon napkins and horn-handled knives, the motion would have been most reasonable ; for of aught else the table exhibited not the shadow. “What the devil's this?” cried the master of the house to the footboy, with a look in which authority and dismay were mingled. "I went upstairs, Sir," answered the latter, " to tell you that dinner would be ready presently." “ Presently!" cried Culpepper, "psha! what signifies presently? however, since we are here, let us take our places: it will save time. Captain Thackeray, sit up by Madam; Clara, sit you on this side of the Captain ; I don't ask you, Sir, whether you mind the fire it's your business, you know, to stand it: ha, ha, ha! I beg pardon, but hunger sharpens wit; George, take your seat opposite. Well, now we look not a little like fools. This reminds me of a most extraordinary circumstance which I would not miss telling for ah the world. When I was appren. tice to-But here comes dinner!" The “ hold, break we off” of Hamlet was never delivered in, so awful a tone. The aforesaid Jack, tottering under a tureen, now made his appearance, followed by the housemaid Jane, in a white cap and apron, and a spotted calico gown,
bearing the roast beef of the whole of Old England, if I might judge from its magnitude. To place these and other articles upon the table, over the shoulders of the sitters, required great delicacy of eye, united to great vigour of muscle. These opposite talents are seldom found united in one person. The consequence was, that in steering the beef over the shoulder of the shrinking dragoon, a slight driblet of gravy trickled down his right ear and cheek, and finally rested upon that portion of his shirt collar, which, like the blinker of a coach-horse, effectually prevented him from starting at the beauty who had seated herself beside him. Hot anger mantled in the offended cheek, and for some minutes kept the liquid from coagulation. He, however, said nothing, and was helped to vermicelli soup. If men with glass windows should not throw stones, by parity of reasoning, men with mustachios should not swallow vermicelli soup. The valiant Captain made the attempt, and only in part succeeded; the liquor indeed went down his throat, but the ropy ingredients refused so to do, and wound themselves around his mustachios, his nostrils, and his chin-tuft, to the no small glee of the master of the mansion. Captain," cried the latter, “ I don't dabble much in poetry, but I have read Monk Lewis's Alonzo and Imogine: I could swear I saw the spectre before me
“The worms they crept in, and the worms they crept out,
While the spectre addressed Imogine." “ Jack! do run to Seething Lane and bring back Bill Brim, the barber, with you. If the Captain is not shared, my dinner will be saved, ha, ha, ha! I beg pardon, Captain, but I have not swallowed a mouthful yet; and hunger sharpens wit."
FOR THE TOMB OF THOSE WHO FELL AT WATERLOO.
Who of old in triumph bore
O’er the plains of Azincour.
Flying swift from Crecy's field,
View the pile which now we rear
you, a countless host
They, like you, victorious died.
Never crouching low the knee,
Free, amidst che unconquer'd'free.