Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

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Crackles the ice on the ratlines stout.
As the leaders on the yards lay out.

And the foot ropes sway ana swing.

On the weather end of the lumping yard.
One hand on die lift, and one beneath.
Grasping die cringle, and tugging hard.
Black Dan, our third mate, grim and scarred,
Outches the ear-ring for life or death.

"Light up to windward." cries the mate.

As he rides the surging yard-arm end.
And into the work we throw our weight.
Every man bound to emulate.

The rush of the gale, and the sea's wild send

** Haul out to leeward," comes at last.

With a cheery ring from the foic and main:
" Knot your reef-points, and knot them fast.
Weather and lee are the ear-rings passed.
And over the yard we bend and strain.

"Lay down men, all, and now, with a will.

Swing on your topsail halyards, and sway:
Ease your braces, and let her fiU,
— - — hour oeh

There s an hour below of the mid-watch still,

Haul taut your bowlines— ^ell all — belay!


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Until a very recent period Kioto, the
ecclesiastical capital of Japan, was the liter-
ary and artistic center of the Empire. The
place of residence of the Mikado or Spiritual
Emperor, it was long the Rome of Japan.
Thither went the poets, who found there the
recognition denied them in the provinces,
or the commercial and military capital of
Yeddo. There, too, were found the paint-
ers and draughtsmen whose works not only
set the fashion in art throughout Japan, but
who, themselves, took from the Court of the
Mikado those suggestions which have left
an indelible impression upon the national

In the Court of the Empress at Kioto
were found the rarest brocades, ear-rings,
lacquer-work, and paintings. In her recep-

VOL. XI.— 12.

tion-room, where she sat in proud isolation
on a dais, before which the court ladies
squatted in semicircles, were grouped rich
tables or cabinets incrusted with mother-
of-pearl, and filled with illuminated books
of poetry, biography, and fairy lore. Mar-
velous paintings hung upon the screens,
and rare effects of color covered the bam-
boo blinds that intercepted the light of day.
Gilded leaves, upon which were printed
rare conceits in prose or verse, circulated
from hand to hand,— or delicate drawings
in India ink or sepia, the work of favorite
artists and noble women, were decorously
admired by this critical assemblage.

When the courtly throng, so much resem-
bling a brilliant flower-bed, dispersed, it was
only to prepare fine things in art or litera-

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ture, always under the careful direction of
masters, for the next festal reception. At
the dose of the Winter, "the awakening
of Nature," the wits, artists, and court ladies


assembled in the gardens of the palace and
generously emulated each other in selecting
the most appropriate verses in honor of the
return of Spring. The white cedar fan, whose
shape was prescribed by antique canons of
art, was ornamented with leaves of ivy and
blossoms of the convolvulus, and inscribed
with verses chosen by the company. Sou-
venirs of painted satin or paper made ftova
the delicate fiber of the mulberry-tree were
given and received; and, we doubt not,
much tender sentiment took shape in verse
or prose, or in the artistic emblems that
exchanged ownership.

This picture of courtly pastime in Japan
in the time of the Mikado's isolation, re-
minds us of the calm seclusion of the women
of European courts in the medieval age.
The artificial manners and customs of that
epoch have left their impression upon Japan-
ese art. Painting in miniature was greatly
affected at Kioto, as it was in Western
Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries. Conventional forms and modes

of expression had their origin in the courtly
models of an ancient Japanese civilization.
The same rigorous taste that insisted upon
a perpetually repeated cadence in poetical
lines, prescribed and established rules of art
which are now esteemed classic To this
day, therefore, the division between the
severe style of high art in Japan, and the
flowing fiieedom of the popular manner, is
as distinctly marked as that which sepa-
rates the work of Gustave Dor6 fix)m diat
of the royal artist who wrought the Bayeux
tapestry. But it would not be fair to the
so-called popular style of Japanese art to
intimate that the classic types have the sole
claim to antiquity. As has just been said,
Kioto, with its highly cultivated court
circle, is supposed to have given the prin-
ciples of high art to the nation ; and Kioto
art-work has its unmistakable stamp of
design wherever found. But, so far as we


know, popular art, with all its marked char-
acteristics, is as ancient as any other.
Japanese art may be said to preserve a
perennial fireshness and youth ; but no de-
partment of it has made the slightest ad-
vance in centuries.
The two figures which I have given very

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clearly illustrate the radic^ difference be-
tween the classic and popular methods of
handling kindred subjects. Both of these
are mythological figures; and, the severe,
almost poverty-stricken treatment of one is
sharply contrasted by the flowing curves
and riotous freedom of the other. Some-
body has compared Japan and China in
art with Greece and Rome, respectively.
There is certainly a Greek simplicity in the
so called "noble"
style of Old Japan,
which is never found
in the coarser outlines
of any Chinese work
whatever. The influ-
ence of fashion upon
art in Japan is more
perceptible in delin-
eations of the human
foce and figure than
elsewhere. Official
rules hindered the
development of the
highest conceptions
in art; and the hu-
man face in all sub-
jects for the pencil
had only one type

and few variations. It b a singular fact
that, while Japanese artists have solved all
mysteries of colors, and have caught the
grace and life of animal and vegetable
nature, they seem to have missed the true
idea of the human form, its characteristics,
and its infinite variety of expression. To
some extent it is true that a conventional type,
fixed ages ago, is adopted by the Japanese art-
ists of to-day. Every American by this time
has learned to recognize the long, oval face,
bud-like litde mouth, almond eyes, painted
eyebrows, and inexpressive nose, with which
the Japanese artist endows the female face
divine. These insipid beauties simper at
us from the multitudinous fans that agitate
the air of the American Republic from
Maine to California.

It has been said that the Japanese artist is
as unsuccessful in his attempts to delineate
domestic animals as he is in human portrait-
ure. Though this may not be stricdy true, it
must be confessed diat the native artist,
whether hampered by ancient traditions or
not, does not catch the spirit and movement
of animals that make theu- home with man, as
well as he does that of the beasts of the thicket
field, and forest. A single page of one of
the Japanese picture-books is covered with
drawings of domestic cats in every imagin-

able attitude, and each one is as admirably
given as if caught instantaneously on a pho-
tographic plate. Yet the same artist fur-
nishes us a picture of a gentieraan on horse-
back, reproduced in these pages, in which
the horse is simply a copy of the yema or
pictorial effigy of a steed, furnished the dead
for their celestial journey. The artist calls
this "Riding to Far Countries," and the
intention of the clumsy rider, as well as the


headlong haste of the hetto^ or running
groom, are certainly very well represented.
But it should be borne in mind that the
artist is slyly laughing at horse, rider, and
footman. The truly popular artist constandy
" drops into " caricature.

In the works of Hoksai, the favorite artist
of Japan, we have some charming glimpses
of common life, animal fun, and floral grace.
The fancy of this artist is nimble, and his
imagination is most fertile. Hoksai belongs
to a class of draughtsmen whose worl^,
printed on doukle sheets of mulberry-bark
paper, and neatly stitched in stiff paper
covers, afford infinite diversion to the com-
mon people of Japan. One of these books,
consisting of fifty or sixty pages, and com-
pletely filled with spirited pictures in tint
and mk, may be bought at native book-
stalls for a few small copper coin^-equivalent
to less than three cents of our currency. One
of these now before me is entitled "Sketches
by Hoksai. Tenth Volume. Complete." The
preface sets forth the fact that ** By reading
books, one can understand very well, but
not so quickly as by looking at sketches of
men, animals, birds, flowers, and things
imagined," etc. This tenth volume of the
prolific Hoksai is filled with pictures of jug-
glers, gnomes or banshees, allegorical beings,

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common people at their work or play, ani-
mals, legendary and real; and heroes of
Japanese fairy lore. Hoksai, more than
any other Japanese artist known to foreign-
ers, has succeeded in giving variety of
expression to the human face. It must be
confessed that the artistic type of the female
face is more conventional and imreal than
the male countenance. The group of people
looking at a juggler's performance, drawn
by Hoksai, will give the reader a fair idea i
of the artist's power of conveying an expres-
sion by a few simple lines. This cluster of
five heads certainly shows considerable indi-
viduality, and it/should be remembered that
it is an accessory in a larger picture; the
artist has only cared to make us feel that the
people who compose this side group are
mterested, if not. absorbed, in the feats of
the juggler. So have I seen in the face of
a figure, not so large as these, and printed
on a common fan, an admirable expression
of senile pleasure. An old man is standing
with a child on a high platform overlooking
a scene on the Inland Sea. The feeling of
height is produced by soft tints below the
bold color of the platform. A high horizon
gives a bird's-eye view of the bay or gulf,
and in the group of figures gazing on this
charming panorama, is noticeable the chubby
face of the child, whose eager curiosity is
expressed by a few slight lines. The old
man, with both hands resting on his stafif, is
wrinkled and brown ; but there is no mis-
taking the air of grandfatherly fondness
and delight with which he regards the
urchin beside him. And all this is a slight
work done on a cheap fan. Moreover, it is
one of a series of panoramic views on the
Inland Sea, and curious labels on, or over.

villages, headlands, and mountain peaks, fix
the names of the localities with topogra|^cal

Thoughtless people, scrutinizing a bit of
Japanese ware, are diverted with what they


are pleased to call "the comical lack of
perspective " in the ornament The Japan-
ese artist does not undertake to produce
aerial eflfects or linear perspective on plates,
bowls, and vases. We must look to Euro-
pean art for such absiudities as landscapes
and architectiu'al drawings on spherical sur-
faces. In a Japanese workshop, the deco-
rator feels just where a bright mass of color
or a flowing line is wanted. He knows
exactly where a single spot of gold or crim-
son will be most effective. He seems to
have an intuitive appreciation of the relation
which color and line have to the general
mass before him. Therefore he makes no


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mistakes. The bunch of brilliant azaleas,
the flight of storks, or the floating butterflies,
are each placed where they belong on the
object ; with unerring accuracy, each orna-
ment finds its true position in decorative art.
The space left undecorated is only an intel-
lectual balance to the weight of color or
mass on the other side. Precisely what
geometrical rules determine the value of
these lines, or govern the disposition of
masses, we may not be able to say. But
we may be sure that such agreeable, har-
monious, and complete designs as those
furnished by Japanese artists, are the result
of serious study of certain fixed principles.

The apparent disregard of the commonest
rules of perspective, for mere decorative effect,
may mislead super^cial critics. The Japan-

of the village street, to the dim vacuity of
the distance, and the vague uncerUinty with
which the sail-boats melt into the mists of
the bay, everything is drawn with a nice
firmness of touch which reveals the hand of
the true artist.

In these misty effects, the work of a most
refined taste and skill, the Japanese artists
greatly excel. In one of Hoksai's books of
birds and animals is a group of water-fowl
sporting in a sequestered pool bordered by
reeds. The drawings are printed in black
ink with a single half-tint, but so delicately
is this done that one discerns under the
flowing lines of the water the shadowy
forms of those parts of the birds that are
below the surface. The head of a duck
feeding on the plants on the bottom is not


ese painter does not aim to fix a landscape
on a plate ; if it happen that the familiar
lines of the cone-like peak of Fusiyama, or
the feathery sprays of a willow grove, best
suit his design, he seizes these with absolute
freedom, but with equal truth of outline.
How tenderly and feelingly he can manage
aerial and isometrical perspective is shown
in the accompanying view of the village
of Omori, drawn by a native artist of
renown. The hard surface of our paper
cannot give the reader a correct idea of the
delicacy and lightness of touch with which
the Japanese draughtsman has printed this
pretty little landscape on the soft mulberry-
fiber paper of the Japanese picture-book.
But, from the mechanically exact drawing

cut off". It re-appears beneath in a half-tint
that defines the shape with sufficient dis-
tinctness; and this is merely a common
print stamped from a wooden block. I
have seen in a cheap colored picture, printed
on joined sheets of mulberry fiber, a moon-
light view thrown carelessly into the dis-
tance and framed by an open window. The
full moon is partly vailed by a floating cloud,
which is faithftilly repeated in the lake below.
Vague masses of trees loom large against
the sky, and their forms are weird and
shadowy where they melt into the darkened
horizon. The feeling of distance, somber-
ness, and gloom in such a scene is perfect.
Yet this simple bit of color, with the vivid
group of lamp-lighted figures in the fore-

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^ound, was only a single leaf from the mUl-
lons scattered through Yeddo toy shops for
the amusement of the multitude. Some
such tenderness of touch is evinced in the
" Going and Coming by Night," which we
have tried to reproduce from the Japanese

form of a gigantic one-eyed head, with a
wonderfully distorted mouth. Kasana finds
the surviving partner of her greedy specula-
tions resting himself on a road-side fence.
Him she reproaches in awfiil tones. The
crafty old man, affecting not to see the hor-



print bearing that name. The original
drawing gives the air of mistiness and uncer-
tainty of night. The belated passengers
seem to hurry. The lantern-bearer is not
needed to show that this is " at night," but
hi§ single spark of light has its true value in
the picture.

This ghostiy effect in drawing is repeated
over and over again in Hoksai's works.
He delights in hobgoblins, specters, and
spooks. Indeed, Japanese literature is full
of themes that must engage the pencils of
artists who have the least inclination to the
grotesque and weird. The ghost of Sakura,
a murdered retainer, fastened to the fatal
cross, rises and confronts his tyrannical lord.
The wife of the murdered man, accompanied
by their infant, both uttering piteous cries i
and presenting a cup filled with Sakura's
blood, appears in the air, is seen on the
floor of the guilty man's chamber, and
crawls to the feet of the fear-stricken noble-
man. Or, the unsatisfied spirit of Kasana,
an avaricious old woman, appears in the

rible head and shadowy claws above him,
turns about and argues with the goblin
damned, while he fingers his rosary by way
of exorcism. Or the ghost of some poor
woman who died in childbed rises with her
infant in her arms, crying to the belated
traveler, " Take my child, that I may rest."
In "A Lantern Feast Interrupted," the
artist has seized on one of these uncanny
incidents as a subject for his pencil. In
some parts of Japan, once a year, the people
assemble m the cemeteries with lanterns
painted with roses. These are placed over
the graves of the dead, and, with much
innocent diversion, eating and drinking,
the " Feast of the Rose Lanterns," as it is
called, goes on for the night Next night
the lanterns are again lighted, and a glitter-
ing procession descenck from the hill of
burial to the shore of the bay, where firail
barks, like toy ships, are prepared with
flowers, incense, and small com, to bear
away again the spirits of the dead. Each
bark carries a lantern and a soul. The fleet

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of tiny craft is lost in the night or melted
in the sea. By daylight no trace of the
ghostiy argosy remains. Once upon a time,
a hypocriticsd fellow of the Samourai or
two-sworded class, offering his rose lantern
at the grave of his deceased wife, was unex-
pectedly confronted by the spirit of that
lady, who, according to all accounts, had
led a hard life with him when on earth.
The husband, somev^hat alarmed, attempted
to draw his sword, when the reproachful
ghost reminded him that even the best steel
of Kioto was of no avail against spirits of the
air. So saying, she sunk into the sea, leav-
ing her faithless spouse in " a state of mind"
The gentle humor which pervades almost
every popular historical work in Japan
modifies the tragedy of this scene. The
servant who takes to his heels, dropping his
master's votive lantern, is an element of the
grotesque. This, the artist thinks, will pre-
vent his sketch from being too horrible to
look upon.

The Japanese artist is most completely at
home with the animal creation in its seclu-
sion from the haunts of men. There is soli-
tude itself expressed in his charming sketches
of lonely streams, flowery thickets, and quiet
fields. Here are all the field-mice in coun-
cil, or the birds marshaled by twos and
threes, or hares and foxes holding a mock
council of war under a temporary armistice.
A few simple touches give a sense of animal
abandon that is most delightful. We know
by the attitude of the romping badger that
he is fearless of human interruption. The
quails and pheasants walk deliberately about
their leafy alleys, secure fix)m man's intru-
sion and perfectly at home. Somehow, and
at some time, the artist has seen these
pretty creatures in their native haunts ; he
has studied their manners, motions, and
employments, and we feel that he has given
us as accurate and honest a picture of home
life as if he had gone into a foreign land
with camera and photographic apparatus.

Not only so, but even the time of day
is told us accurately by means of a few tints
or lines. A moon floating in the midst of a
pale sky, washed with India ink, looks down
upon a night-prowler, which, seated on its
haunches, beats its white breast and emits a
prolonged howl, which we can almost see
coming out of the open jaws. A few grace-
fiil reeds and water-plants show us that
this Ls a desolate swamp, and a drifting
cloud approaching the moon adds to the
lugubriousness of the scene. It is hardly
^ to call that people, to whom so much

delicate and subtile sentiment is addressed,
" semi-barbaric"

In the decorative art of Japan we see
a constant repetition of lines, figures, and
patterns suggested by natural and animated
objects. A casual examination will show in
a single design for mosaic work the waves
on the beach, the leaves of trees, petals of
flowers, and flying birds. Ages ago, the
Japanese adopted (or invented) die so-,
called Greek fret, " the honeysuckle pattern "
of Western art, and used the lotus leaf and
flower in art. One of the princely families


•a fught of storks.

of Japan has borne the familiar Gothic
trefoil on its badge for untold centuries.
How the clover leaf was adopted into this
design, and how it was borrowed by the
Saracens, or from them by the Japanese,
we can only surmise. We certainly may

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1 84


credit the latter with a wonderful faculty for
discovering fine artistic forms in the com-
monest natural objects. A flight of migra-
tory birds, high in air, instantly suggests a
combination of lines. The outline of
a bit of paper flying in the wind recalls
to the imaginative observer a bird. So
he gives us a skillful juggler, whose
air>' sheets of paper turn into flying
storks as he blows them upward. The
gradual transformation of the floating
sheets into birds is precisely the transi-
tion which the unreal makes from the
real in the human imagination. It is
a practical illustration of that puzzle
of the fancy which sees the drifHng
cloud " backed like a weasel."

This fertility of imagination of the
Japanese has peopled earth, air, and
sky with a multitude of beings. Even
their story of creation and the origin of
the human species is a fantastic
myth. Ancientiy, they say, the heavens
and the earth were not separated. The
germ of all things, in the form of an egg,
was tossed on the troubled sea of chaos.
From this egg arose vaporized matter;
the pure and transparent formed the
heavens, while the opaque and heavy fell
downward and coagulated into the form
of earth. A divine being, bom in the midst,
was the first of creation. An island of soft
earth swam like a fish on the terrestrial
waters. At the same time, betwixt heaven
and earth was bom something resembling
the tender shoots of a plant. It was meta-
morphosed into a god, and became the first
of the Seven Celestial Spirits. He and his
successors each reigned a fabulous number
of years, reproducing their kind, male and
female, by mutual contemplation. Finally,

a male and female spirit descended and
dwelt upon the soft island which swam in the
waters below. The story of their meeting,
courtship, and union, is unique and highly



interesting. From this primal pair came the
rivers, mountains, forests, and, in fact, all
earth. The sun and moon were at first
created to govem the world ; but the first
was too mighty, and he was sent above to
govem the day of the sky ; the second was
too beautiful, and she was sent to rule the
night of the sky. The stars are the o&pring
of other deities. The first ruler of Japan
was, therefore, of divine origin ; and in Japan
was the pillar of heaven by which the
Celestials descended to earth.

The divine essence, Japanese philosophers
believe, is everywhere and in everything.
The pantheism of the Greeks was not more
imiversal — nor, we may add, was it more
poetic. Does it thunder? Raiden, the
Thunder God, is drifting through the upper
«:- .•!_. 1. - ^ — i^jg immense drums

iiim. When a gale
le Winds, has opened
bears upon his back,
r his hands. And
phoon bursts upon
sea and shore, Lats-
makiy the Dragon
of the Typhoon,
descends miles be-
neath the waves,
upheaving great
^ masses of water ;
he shrieks in the
^ upper air, or smites
with tail and claw
forests, villages,
cities, and fleets of

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ships. The trees are alive with good and
evil spirits. Animals are endowed with
human speech on occasion, and for special
purposes they become the friends or ene-
mies of man, pressing into their service the
fruits, flowers, and grain. These in their
turn, acquire a language of their own, are
metamorphosed into dwarfe, gnomes, or
goodly human shapes, and so play their
several parts in the great drama of life.

It is easy to see how, with such a my-
thology, and such a store of legendary lore

in the moon." The badger expressed a
desire to accompany his ancient enemy on

Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 33 of 163)