Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

example, but it is not Franklin's.

David says-"By the rivers of

Babylon, there we sat down; yea, we wept when we remembered Zion." The modern version improves upon this passage as follows:

When we, our wearied limbs to rest,

Sat down by proud Euphrates stream,
We wept, with doleful thoughts opprest,
And Zion was our mournful theme.

Could you have geist and un-geist in closer juxtaposition.

But perhaps I am more likely to attain my end, that of trying to show what is geist in art, by citing two pictures which you have all seen, two pictures in the present exhibition in Mosley-street. They are not conspicuous instances of the presence of geist on the one hand, and the utter want of it on the other; but they will serve the purpose. The one is Stanhope's Eve Tempted, the other is Keeley Halswelle's Non Angli, sed Angeli. I should say that there is not a picture in the whole exhibition which an unsympathetic critic could abuse better than the Eve Tempted. The garden of Eden is enclosed by a solid brick wall; the grounds are laid out in trim Florentine terraces; in short, the story is told as if it were historical, instead of legendary. I turn to the critics to learn what they have to say about a picture which, in spite of many faults, appears to me to be not without geist, and in a Manchester newspaper, I read: "The conception of Satan is crude and Gothic, and inconsistent with the intelligence of the nineteenth century!" Here, by the way, is a lovely, a perfect specimen of un-geist in criticism. What, pray, in these sceptical days wOULD be a conception of Satan consistent with the intelligence of the nineteenth century? In spite, then, of its extreme openness to criticism, Mr. Stanhope's picture has in a sufficient measure the beauties of form and of colour to completely satisfy us, and the very brick wall which is intellectually absurd, is artistically indispensable to complete the scheme of colour. The other picture, Non Angli, sed Angeli, which, you may remember, was also the subject of Mr. Gandish's masterpiece, and in which all the little Gandish's figured as the Saxon children, is utterly destitute of geist; it is simply a piece of upholstery. The drawing is correct; the colour is not brilliant, and it is not inharmonious; the children. are pretty, and if they are portraits, as portraits they would be

good. Yet the picture is the very genius of commonplace; you look at it, and it excites no curiosity; having seen it once you have seen all that is in it; it awakens no feeling in us and no interest, and therefore, fulfilling none of the purposes of art, it is

not art.

Before leaving the subject of painting, I wish to take this opportunity of saying a few words about the "schools" in art, of which we hear so much in Manchester. All great and original thinkers naturally exercise an influence upon other and less vigorous minds, and none exercises more than a great artist. The legitimate influence of a great artist is a direct gain, a direct addition to the world of art; but the slavish imitation of a great artist, not by one man but by a dozen, is an evil and a positive nuisance. The great evil of it lies in this, that artists get into the habit of going too much to art for art, instead of going to nature for art. When young Joshua Reynolds returned from Rome he was reproached, not with painting not like nature, but with painting not like Godfrey Kneller. It is the tendency to look at nature with another man's eye that is the great danger of your schools. To study pictures as much as possible is obviously a chief part of the technical education of the artist, but it should remain a part of his technical education; and, having learned at the feet of Corot, he should go and paint at the feet of Nature. I may be.told that we have our schools in literature; but this is only true to a very small extent. It is true that great writers like Dickens and Tennyson, and even Carlyle, have their servile imitators; but the man who imitates the affectations of Dickens, or the palling prettiness of Tennyson, or the blaze without the fire of Carlyle, is not respected by us. You never hear of a man imitating Shakspere; and if a man's style of writing is pure, simple, and bright, you do not say of him that he writes like Matthew Arnold or Savage Landor, you simply say that he writes good English. We have our fashions in literature, but not our schools.

I come at last to geist in literature. Seeing, as we have done, that literature is the part of a nation which survives the longest; that to-day, while a clever book is written to prove that the battle of Marathon was never fought, we are still treasuring the fragments left by Sappho, who was born a hundred years before Marathon, it is very important that we should know what is the

secret of longevity in man's work. Now the vitality of a book has very little to do with the knowledge it contains, but rather it is a question of the keenness of insight, united to the love of man and of the universe, which it manifests. The Old Testament and Shakspere are the two books which unite, in the highest degree, the insight and the tenderness which make them suit all mankind, which see things as man sees them, only with more wonder than he does; and so in reading them he is lifted out of his ordinary self into a higher and a truer mood, and the insight and the tenderness which inspire him, constitute the geist in literature. Now, knowing as we do that in a thousand years hence we of to-day will be judged through our books, and supposing that we were most anxious that the judgment should be fair and not unfavourable, supposing also that only twelve different volumes could survive that thousand years, and that we had the selection of the twelve volumes, which should we choose? I am not speaking merely of English literature, but of all the literature which we in England read most and honour most. Let any thoughtful man complete the list which I have headed with the Bible and Shakspere, and he would find that every one of the authors whom he elected would be found to be pre-eminent in geist, keenness of insight, and love of man and God. · ́

THE

PROVINCIAL MIND.

A

BY GEORGE JACOB HOLYOAKE.

[Read November 19, 1877.]

VALUED and conspicuous member of this Club-if I may say so without disparagement of those who are also eminent but not so obvious-seduced me into speaking upon the subject of the "Provincial Mind." It is not my presumption, it is my susceptibility to the blandishments of friendship which has betrayed me into this indiscretion. When I was thus beguiled I was under the impression that papers read to this Club were light and brief, and free from that troublesome quality-useful information. It filled me with dismay when I read Mr. Axon's paper on the method of making an intelligible catalogue of the library of the British Museum. To know how it might be done has hither been beyond the range of human capacity. To know a man who does know it, has been the utmost reach of my ambition. To follow him before the same audience requires a degree of temerity which only the most absolute ignorance of everything can qualify anyone to attempt. The provincial mind seems to be far more imposing than a library, because it has the power of retaliation.

There are many Chesters in England, but Man-chester is the most virile. For myself, my heart is in London. There are no places elsewhere like the Barbican (which does not exist), like the Abbey and the Tower, and Temple Bar (which they are going to pull down). Though the town is in my heart, the woodland is in my blood. I come of the Druids, as my name, Holy-oak, implies. My pedigree being drawn up before writing was invented, it is lost.

When the Normans came we were asked to take on

another religion, and, being of an obliging turn, we did it; and the final e was added to our name to denote the instinct of conformity I represent, and-the civility of the family faith.

Provincial is not a good term. The counties are not conquered districts. I use the word "provincial" because there is none other which designates the compeers of the capital-the dwellers in the open land of plain and mountain. There is, as you know, a common impression that the provincial mind is of a lower type than the metropolitan. This arises from our overlooking that the London mind has brightness where the provincial mind has strength. Londoners are the lapidaries of the nation. They polish the diamond ideas found in the counties; and sometimes, if no one challenges them, they take credit for producing the jewel. If you could take out of the entire metropolitan mind all knowledge, thought, conjecture, imagination, and poetry which it has acquired from provincial books, many minds would be light as the shell when the egg is out. London abounds in egg-shell minds. Were we to abstract from the totality of metropolitan thought all the ideas which the provinces have contributed to it, the result would impart a sense of modesty not too often conspicuous, and create a permanent sense of respect for the wealth of outlying ideas. The provincial thinker is in no danger from his metropolitan brother. My impression is that the metropolitan is more in danger of being subdued by the bulk of the provincial bearing. The people there, as a rule, are of large mould, and there is no resisting this form of impressiveness. If on leaving your hotel a small, mean-looking "boots" comes to your cab door, with two gray pea eyes dabbed into the upper part of his pigskin face, we are apt to hand him sixpence. But if a bulky, high-shouldered, moon-faced porter transfers forward your heavy trunk with airy ease as though it was a bonnet-box, and nods his podgy head at you, you feel at once that less than a shilling would be an outrage on so much lumpiness of service. There seems a logical connection between largeness and the largess. The public have seen the truth of this in many conspicuous instances. If Arthur Orton had been thin he could never have been famous. This bulk made him distinguishable; his mere fatness procured him followers. His admirers were all lean people, and their wonder was simply fatuous. Obesity implies immobility, and immobility is dignity.

« AnteriorContinuar »