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The last essays of Elia online

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tom of " witty paragraphs " first in the
^' World." Boaden was a reigning para-
gnrphist in his day, and succeeded poor
Allen in the " Oracle." But, as we said, the
fashion of jokes passes away ; and it would
be difficult to discover in the biographer of
-Mrs. Siddons any traces of that vivacity and

150 ©he ptjit (^$^^\p 0f mill,

fancy which charmed the whole town at the
commencement of the present century. Even.
the prehisive dehcacies of the present writer,
— the curt " Astrsean allusion" — would be
thought pedantic and out of date in these

From the office of The INIorning Post (for
we may as well exliaust our Newspaper llem-
iniscences at once), hy change of property
in the paper, we were transferred, mortifying
exchange ! to the office of The Albion News-
paper, late Rackstraw's Museum, in Fleet
Street. What a transition, — from a hand-
some apartment, from rosewood desks, and
silver inkstanks, to an office, — no office, but
a den rather, but just redeemed from the
occupation of dead monsters, of which it
seemed redolent, — from the center of loyalty
and fashion, to a focus of vulgarity and.
sedition ! Here, in murky closet, inadequate
from its square contents to the receipt of
the two bodies of Editor and humble para-
graph-maker, together at one time, sat, in
the discharge of his new editorial functions.
(the " Bigod " of Elia), the redoubted John

F., without a guinea in his pocket, and
having left not many in the pockets of his
friends whom he might connnand, had pur-
chased (on tick doubtless) the whole and
sole Editorship, Proprietorship, with all the
rights and titles (such as they were worth)
of The Albion from one Lovell; of whom.

^\K mix^i (S,$'.ay^ of €Un, 151

we know nothing, save that he had stood in
the pillory for a libel on the Prince of Wales..
With this hopeless concern — for it had been
sinking ever since its commencement, and
could now reckon upon not more than a
hundred subscribers — F. resolutely deter-
mined upon pulling down the Government in
the first instance, and making both our for-
tunes Ijy way of corollary. For seven weeks
and more did this infatuated democrat go
about borrowing seven-shilling pieces, and
lesser coin, to meet the daily demands of
the Stamp-Office, Avhich allowed no credit to
publications of that side in politics. An out-
cast from politer bread, we attached our
small talents to the forlorn fortunes of our
friend. Our occupation now was to write

Recollections of feelings, — which were all
that now remained from our first boyish
heats kindled by the French Revolution,
when, if we were misled, we erred in the com-
pany of some who are accounted very good
men now,— rather than any tendency at this
time to Republican doctrines, — assisted us
in assuming a style of writing, while the
paper lasted, consonant in no very under-
tone, — to the right earnest fanaticism of F.
Our cue was now to insinuate, rather than
recommend, possible al)dications. Blocks,
axes, AVhitehall tril)unals, were covered with
flowers of so cunning a periphrasis — as Mr,
Bays says, never naming the t/ti//f/ directly^

152 ^]\t |:a,$t (£^$mp of (t'Ua.

that the keen eye of an Attorney-General
was insufficient to detect tlie hirking snal^e
among" tlieni. Tliere were times, indeed,
wlien we sighed for our more gentlemanlike
occupation under Stuart. But witli change
of masters it is ever change of service.
Ah-eady one paragraph, and another, as we
learned afterwards from a gentleman at the
Treasury, had begun to be marked at that
ofQce, with a view of its being submitted at
least to the attention of the proper Law
Officers, — when an unlucky, or ratlier lucky

epigram from our pen, aimed at Sir J s

M h, who was on the eve of departing

for India to reap the fruits of his apostasy,
as F. pronounced it (it is hardly worth
particularizing), happening to offend the nice
sense of Lord, or, as he then delighted to be
called. Citizen Stanhope, deprived F. at once
of the last hopes of a guinea from the last
patron that had stuck by us ; and breaking
up our establishment, left us to the safe, but
somewhat mortifying, neglect of the Crown
Lawyers. It was about this time, or a little
earlier, that Dan Stuart made that curious
confession to us, that he had " never deliber-
ately walked into an Exhibitiouat Somerset
House in his life."

^U fast (t^^^^xs^ at mm, 153

Barrenness of the Imaginative
Faculty in the Productions of
Modern Art.

Hogarth excepted, can we produce any
one painter within tlie last fifty years, or
since the humor of exliibiting began, that has
treated a story iinafjinativehj ? By this we
mean, upon whom his subject has so acted,
that it lias seemed to direct Jiim — not to be
arranged by him? Any upon whom its
leading' or collateral i:)oints have impressed
themselves so tyrannically, that he dared
not treat it otherwise, lest he should falsify
a revelation? Any that has imparted to
his compositions, not merely so much truth
as is enough to convey a story with clear-
ness, but that individualizing property,
which should keep the subject so treated
distinct in feature from every other subject,
however similar, and to common apprehen-
sions almost identical ; so as that we might
say, this and this part could have found an
appropriate place in no other jjicture in the
Avorld but this? Is there anything in mod-
ern art — we will not demand that it should
be equal — but in any way analogous to what

154 ®hc (^^m3^ ot mm,

Titian has effected, in that -wonderful bring-
ing together of two times in tlie "Ariadne,"
in the National Gallery ? Precipitous, with
his reeling satyr rout about him, re-peopling
and re-illumining suddenly the waste
places, drunk with a new fury beyond the
grape, Bacchus, born in fire, firelike flings
himself at the Cretan. This is the time
present. With this telling of the story — an
artist, and no ordinary one, might remain
richly proud. Guido, in his harmonious
version of it, saw no further. But from the
depths of the imaginative spirit Titian has
recalled past time, and laid it contributory
with the present to one simultaneous effect.
With the desert all ringing with the mad
cymbals of his followers, made lucid with
the presence and new offers of a god, — as if
unconscious of Bacchus, or but idly cast-
ing her eyes as upon some unconceriiing
pageant, — her soul undistracted from The-
seus, — Ariadne is still pacing the solitary
shore in as much heart-silence, and in
almost the same local solitude, with which
she awoke at daybreak to catch the forlorn
last glances of the sail that bore away the

Here are two points miraculously co-
uniting ; fierce society, with the feeling of
solitude still absolute ; noonday revelations^
with the accidents of the dull gray dawn
nnquenched and lingering; the j^'^'^sent Bac-
chus, with the jsas^ Ariadiae ; two stories^

5rhc I^ (i!'5',$ait,^ of (^li«. 155

with double Time ; separate, and liarmon-
izing. Had tlie artist made the woman one
shade less indifi'erent to the god; still more,
had she expressed a rapture at his advent,
where would have been the story of the-
mighty desolation of the heart previous?
merged in the insipid accident of a flattering
offer met with a welcome acceptance. The
broken heart for Theseus was not lightly to
be pieced up by a god.

"We have before us a fine rough print,
from a picture by Raphael in the Vatican.
It is the Presentation of the new-born Eve
to Adam by the Almiglity. A fairer mother
of mankind we might imagine, and a good-
lier sire, perhaps, of men since born. But
these are matters subordinate to th&
conception of the situation, displayed in
this extraordinary production. A tolerably
modern artist would have been satisfied
with tempering certain raptures of con-
nubial anticipation, M'ith a suitable acknowl-
edgment to the Giver of the blessing, in
the countenance of the first bridegroom ;
something like the divided attention of the
child (Adam was here a child-man) between
the given toy, and the mother who had just
blessed it with the bauble. This is the
obvious, the first-sight view, the superficial.
An artist of a higher grade, considering the
awful presence they were in, would have
taken care to subtract something fi-om the
expression of the naore human passion, and

156 ^h( (^^$np of (gHa.

to heighten the more spiritual one. This
would be as much as an exliibition-goer, from
the opening of Somerset House to last year's
show, has been encouraged to look for. It
is obvious to hint at a lower expression yet,
in a picture that, for respects of drawing
and coloring, might be deemed not wholly
inadmissible witliin these art-fostering
walls, in which the raptures should be as
ninety-nine, the gratitude as one, or per-
haps zero ! By neither the one passion nor
the other has llaphael expounded the situa-
tion of Adam. Singly upon his brow sits
the absorbing sense of wonder at the created
miracle. The moment is seized by the
intuitive artist, perhaps not self-conscious
of his art, in which neitlier of the conflicting
emotions — a moment how abstracted ! — has
had time to spring up, or to battle for inde-
corous mastery. "We have seen a landscape
of a justly admired neoteric, in which he
aimed at delineating a fiction, one of the
most severely beautiful in antiquity — the

gardens of the Hesperides. To do iMr.

justice, he had painted a laudable orchard,
with fitting seclusion, and a veritable dragon
(of which a Polypheme, by Poussin, is some-
how a fac-simile for tlie situation), looking
over into the world shut out backwards, so
that none but a " still-climbing Hercules "
could hope to catch a peep at the admired
Ternary of Recluses. Xo conventual jDorter
could keep his eyes better than this custos

®ftc p?it €^m^ of min, 157

with the"liclless eyes." He not only sees
that none do intrude into that privacy, but,
as clear as daylight, that none but Hercules
aut Diabolus by any manner of means ccm.
So far all is well. We have absolute soli-
tude here or nowhere, Ab extra the dam-
sels are snug enough. But here the artist's
courage seems to have failed him. ' lie began
to pity his pretty charge, and, to comfort
the irksomeness, has peopled their solitude
with a bevy of fair attendants, maids of
honor, or ladies of the bedchamber, accord-
ing to the approved etiquette at a coui't of
the nineteenth century ; giving to the whole
scene the air of i\.fete champetre^ if we will
but excuse the absence of the gentlemen.
This is well, and Watteauish. But what,
has become of the solitary mystery, — the

" Dauglitei's three,
That sing around the golden tree ?"

This is not the way in which Poussin would
have treated this subject.

The paintings, or rather the stupendous
architectural designs, of a modern artist,
have been urged as objections to the theory
of our motto. They are of a character, Ave
confess, to stagger it. His towered struc-
tures are of the highest order of the material
sublime. Whether they were dreams, or
transcripts of some, elder Avorkmanship, —
Assyrian ruins old, — restored by this mighty

158 ^ixt p.^t (^$m^ of mxn.

artist, they satisfy our most stretched and
craving conceptions of the glories of the
antique world. It is a pity that they were
ever peopled. On that side, the imagina-
tion of the artist halts, and appears defect-
ive. Let us examine the point of the story
in the " Belshazzar's Feast." We will intro-
duce it by an apposite anecdote.

The court historians of the day record,
that at the first dinner given by the late
King (then Prince Tiegent) at the Pavilion,
the following characteristic frolic was played
off. The guests were select and admiring ;
the banquet profuse and admirable ; the
liglits lustrous and oriental ; the eye was
perfectly dazzled with the display of plate,
among which the great gold salt-cellar,
brought from the regalia in the Tower for
this especial purpose, itself a tower ! stood
conspicuous for its magnitude. And now

the Rev. , the then admired court

chaplain, was proceeding with the grace,
when, at a signal given, the lights were
suddenly overcast, and a huge transparency
was discovered, in which glittered in gold
letters —

"Bkightox — Earthquake — Swallow-up-

Imagine the confusion of the guests ; the
Georges and garters, jewels, bracelets,
moulted upon the occasion ! The fans
dropped, and picked up the next morning by

iThc p.^t (t m^, 163

be seen, — bouses, columns, architectural pro-
portions, differences of public and private
buildino's, men and women at their standing
occupations, the diversified thousand pos-
tures, attitudes, dresses, in some confusion
truly, but physically they were visible. But
what eye saw them at that eclipsing moment,
which reduces confusion to a kind of unity,
and when the senses are upturned from their
i:»roprieties, when sight and hearing are a
feeling only ? A thousand years have passed,
and we are at leisure to contemplate the
weaver fixed standing at his shuttle, the
baker at his oven, and to turn over with
antiquarian coolness the pots and pans of

" Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and
thou. Moon, in the valley of Ajalon." AVho,
in reading this magnificent Hebraism, in his
conception, sees aught but the heroic son of
Nun, with the outstretched arm, and the
greater and lesser light obsequious ? Doubt-
less there were to be seen hill and dale, and
chariots and horsemen, on open plain, or
winding by secret defiles, and all the circum-
stances and stratagems of war. But whoso
eyes would have been conscious of this array
at the interposition of tlie synclu-onic mira-
cle ? Yet in the picture of this subject by
the artist of the " Belshazzar's Feast " — no
ignoble work either — the marshaling and
landscape of tlie war is everything, the
miracle ainks into an anecdote of the day ,•

1G4 ehc ^a,$t €^^nx\^ of (gtia.

and the eye may " dart through rank and
tile traverse " for some minutes, before it
shall discover, among- his armed followers,
w/iich is Joshua/ Not modern art alone,
but ancient, where only it is to be found if
anywhere, can be detected erring-, from
defect of this imaginative faculty. The
world has nothing to show of the preter-
natural in painting, transcending the figure
of Lazarus bursting his grave-clothes, in the
great picture at Angerstein's. It seems a
thing between two beings. .\ ghastly horror
at itself struggles with newly apprehending
gratitude at second life bestowed. It cannot
forget that it w^as a ghost. It has hardly
felt that it is a body. It has to tell of tlie
world of spirits. Was it from a feeling, that
the crowd of half-impassioned bystanders,
and the still more irrelevant herd of passers-
by at a distance, who have not heard, or but
faintly have been told of the passing miracle,
admirable as they are in design and hue —
for it is a glorified work — do not respond
adequately to the action — that the single
figure of the Lazarus has been attributed to
Michele Angelo, and the mighty Sebastian
unfairly robbed of the fame of the greater
half of the interest? Now that there were
not indifferent passers-by within actual
scope of the eyes of those present at the
miracle, to wdiom the sound of it had but
faintly, or not at all, reached, it would be
hardihood to deny ; but would they see

She p,$t (g,^,^ity.^ of (glia. 1G5

them? or can the mind in the conception of
it admit of such unconcerning- objects ; can
it tliink of them at ah ? or what associating
league to the imagination can tliere be
between the seers, and the seers not, of a
l^resential miracle ?

Were an artist to paint upon demand a pic-
ture of a Dryad, we will ask whether, in the
present lov/ state of expectation, the joatron
would not, or ought not to be fully satisfied
with a beautiful naked figure recumbent
tinder wide-stretched oaks ? Disseat those
woods, and place the same figure among
fountains, and fall of pellucid water, and you
have a — Naiad ! iSTot so in a rough print
we have seen after Julio Ilomano, we
think — for it is long since — there^ by no pro-
cess, with mere change of scene, could the
figure have reciprocated characters. Long,
grotesque, fantastic, yet with a grace of
her own, beautiful in convolution and dis-
tortion, linked to her connatural tree, co-
twisting with its limbs her own, till both
seemed either — these, animated branches;
those, disanimated members — yet the ani-
mal and vegetal)le lives sufficiently kept
distinct, — his Dryad lay — an approxima-
tion of two natures, which to conceive, it
must be seen ; analogous to, not the same
with, the delicacies of Ovidian transfor-

To the lowest subjects, and to a superficial
comprehension, the most barren, the Great

166 5^hc ^w^i ^^^'Ams of (^lia.

Masters gave loftiness and fruitfulness. The
large eye of genius saw in the meanness of
present objects their capabilities of treat-
ment from their relations to some grand
Past or Future. How has liaphael — -we
must still linger about the Vatican — treated
the humble craft of the ship-builder, in his
"■ Building of the Ark " ? It is in that scrip-
tural sei'ies, to -which we have referred, and
which, judging from some fine rough old
graphic sketches of them which we possess,
seem to be of a higher and more poetic grade
than even the Cartoons. The dim of siglit
are the timid and the shrinking. There is
a cowardice in modern art. As the French-
man, of whom Coleridge's friend made the
l^rophetic guess at Rome, from the beard and
horns of the Moses of 3Iicliele Angelo cd-
lected no inferences beyond thiit of a lie
Goat and a Cornuto ; so from this subject,
of mere mechanic i3romise, it would instinct-
ively turn away, as from one incapable of
investiture with any grandeur. The dock-
yards at Woolwich would oljject derogatory
associations. The depot at Chatham would
be the mote and the beam in its intellectual
eye. But not to the nautical preparations
in the ship-yards of Civita Vecchia did Jla-
l^haellook for instructions, when he imagined
the Building of the Vessel that was to be
conservatory of the wrecks of the species of
drowned mankind. In the intensity of the
action, he keeps ever out of sight the mean-

m\c Xuiit (^^:i:.^'S cf eUu. 167

ness of the operation. There is the Patri-
arch, ill calm forethought, and "U'ith holy
prescience, giving directions. And tliere
are his agents — tlie. solitary but suificienfc
Three — hewing, sawing, every one with the
might and earnestness of a Demiurgus ;
under some instinctive rather than technical
guidance ! giant-muscled ; every one a Her-

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Online LibraryCharles LambThe last essays of Elia → online text (page 9 of 15)