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From the vexation of pupillage men commonly set themselves free about the middle of life, by shutting up the avenues of intelligence, and resolving to rest in their present state; and they, whose ardour of inquiry continues longer, find themselves insensibly forsaken by their instructors. As every man advances in life, the proportion between those that are younger, and that are older than himself, is continually changing, and he that has lived Iralf a century finds few that do not require from him that information which he once expected from those that went before him.
Then it is that the magazines of memory are opened, and the stores of accumulated knowledge are displayed by vanity or benevolence, or in honest commerce of mutual interest. Every man wants others, and is therefore glad when he is wanted by them. And as few men will endure the labour of intense meditation without necessity, he that has learned enough for his profit or his honour seldom endeavours after further acquisitions.
The pleasure of recollecting speculative notions would not be much less than that of gaining them, if they could be kept pure and unmingled with the passages of life; but such is the necessary concatenation of our thoughts, that good and evil are linked together, and no pleasure recurs but associated with pain. Every revived idea reminds us of a time when something was enjoyed that is now lost, when some hope was not yet blasted, when some purpose bad yet not languished into sluggishness or indifference.
Whether it be that life has more vexations than comforts, or, what is in the event just the same, that evil makes deeper impression than good; it is certain that few can review the time past without heaviness of heart. He remembers many calamities incurred by folly, many opportunities lost by negligence. The shades of the dead rise up before him; and he laments the companions of his youth, the partners of his amusements, the assistants of his labours, whom the hand of death has snatched away.
When an offer was made to Themistocles of teaching him the art of memory, he answered, that he would rather wish for the art of forgetfulness. He felt his imagination haunted by phantoms of misery which he was unable to suppress, and would gladly have calmed his thoughts with some oblivious antidote. In this we all resemble one another; the hero and the sage are, like vulgar mortals, overburthened by the weight of life; all shrink from recollection, and all wish for an art of forgetfulness.
No. 45. SATURDAY, February 29, 1759.
There is in many minds a kind of vanity exerted to the disadvantage of themselves; a desire to be praised for superior acuteness, discovered only in the degradation of their species, or censure of their country.
Defamation is sufficiently copious. The general lampooner of mankind may find long exercise for his zeal or wit in the defects of nature, the vexations of life, the follies of opinion, and the corruptions of practice. But fiction is easier than discernment; and most of these writers spare themselves the labour of inquiry, and exhaust their virulence upon imaginary crimes, which, as they never existed, can never be amended.
That the painters find no encouragement among the English for many other works than portraits, has been imputed to national selfishness. It is vain, says the satyrist, to set before any Englishman the scenes of landscape, or the heroes of history; nature and antiquity are nothing in his eye; he has no value but for himself, nor desires any copy but of his own form.
Whoever is delighted with his own picture must derive his pleasure from the pleasure of another. Every man is always present to himself, and has, therefore, little need of his own resemblance, nor can desire it, but for the sake of those whom he loves, and by whom he hopes to be remembered. This use of the art is a natural and reasonable consequence of affection; and though, like other human actions, it is often complicated with pride, yet even such pride is more laudable, than that by which palaces are covered with pictures, that, however excellent, neither imply the owner's virtue, nor excite it.
Genius is chiefly exerted in historical pictures, and the art of the painter of portraits is often lost in the obscurity of his subject. But it is in painting as in life ; what is greatest is not always best. I should grieve to see Reynolds transfer to heroes and to goddesses, to empty splendour and to airy fiction, that art which is now employed in diffusing friendship, in reviving tenderness, in quickening the affections of the absent, and continuing the presence of the dead.
Yet in a nation great and opulent there is room, and ought to be patronage, for an art like that of painting through all its diversities; and it is to be wished, that the reward noir
offered for an historical picture may excite an honest emulation, and give beginning to an English school.
It is not very easy to find an action or event that can be efficaciously represented by a painter.
He must have an action, not successive, but instantaneous; for the time of a picture is a single moment. For this reason, the death of Hercules cannot well be painted, though at the first view it flatters the imagination with very glittering ideas; the gloomy mountain, overhanging the sea, and covered with trees, some bending to the wind, and some torn from their roots by the raging hero'; the violence with which he rends from his shoulders the envenomed garment; the propriety with which his muscular nakedness may be displayed ; the death of Lycas whirled from the promontory; the gigantic presence of Philoctetes; the blaze of the fatal pile, which the deities behold with grief and terrour from the sky.
All these images fill the mind, but will not compose a picture, because they cannot be united in a single moment. Hercules must have rent his flesh at one time, and tossed Lycas into the air at another; he must first tear up the trees, and then lie down upon the pile.
The action must be circumstantial and distinct. There is a passage in the Iliad which cannot be read without strong emotions. A Trojan prince, seized by Achilles in the battle, falls at his feet, and in moving terms supplicates for life. “How can a wretch like thee," says the haughty Greek, “entreat to live, when thou knowest that the time must come when Achilles is to die?” This cannot be painted, because no peculiarity of attitude or disposition can so supply the place of language as to impress the sentiment.
The event painted must be such as excites passion, and different passions in the several actors, or a tumult of contending passions in the chief.
Perbaps the discovery of Ulysses by his nurse is of this kind. The surprise of the nurse mingled with joy; that of Ulysses checked by prudence, and clouded by solicitude; and the distinctness of the action by which the scar is found; all concur to complete the subject. But the picture, having only two figures, will want variety.
A much nobler assemblage may be furnished by the death of Epaminondas. The mixture of gladness and grief in the face of the messenger who brings his dying general an account of the victory; the various passions of the attendants; the sublimity of composure in the hero, wbile the dart is by his own command drawn from his side, and the faint gleam of satisfaction that diffuses itself over the languor of death;
are worthy of that pencil which yet I do not wish to see employed upon them.
If the design were not too multifarious and extensive, I should wish that our painters would attempt the dissolution of the parliament by Cromwell. The point of time may be chosen when Cromwell, looking round the pandæmonium with contempt, ordered the bauble to be taken away; and Harrison laid hands on the Speaker, to drag him from the chair.
The various appearances, which rage, and terrour, and astonishment, and guilt, might exhibit in the faces of that hateful assembly, of whom the principal persons may be faithfully drawn from portraits or prints; the irresolute repug. nance of some, the hypocritical submission of others, the ferocious insolence of Cromwell, the rugged brutality of Harrison, and the general trepidation of fear and wickedness; would, if some proper disposition could be contrived, make a picture of unexampled variety, and irresistible instruction.
No. 46. SATURDAY, March 3, 1759.
Mr. İDLER_I am encouraged, by the notice you have taken of Betty Broom, to represent the miseries which I suffer from a species of tyranny which, I believe, is not very uncommon. though perhaps it may have escaped the observation of those who converse little with fine ladies, or see them only in their public characters.
To this method of venting my vexation I am the more inclined, because if I do not complain to you, I must burst in silence; for my mistress has teazed me and teased me till I can hold no longer, and yet I must not tell her of her tricks. The girls that live in common services can quarrel, and give warning, and find other places; but we that live with great ladies, if we once offend them, have nothing left but to return into the country.
I am waiting-maid to a lady, who keeps the best company; and is seen at every place of fashionable resort. I am envied by all the maids in the square, for few countesses leave off so many clothes as my mistress, and nobody shares with me : so that I supply two families in the country with finery for the assizes and horse-races, besides what I wear myself. The steward and house-keeper bave joined against me to procure my removal, that they may advance a relation of their own;
but their designs are found out by my lady, who says I need not fear them, for she will never have dowdies about her.
You would think, Mr. Idler, like others, that I am very happy, and may well be contented with my lot. But I will tell you. My lady has an odd humour. She never orders any thing in direct words, for she loves a sharp girl that can take a hint.
I would not have you suspect that she has any thing to hint which she is ashamed to speak at length, for none can have greater purity of sentiment, or rectitude of intention. She has nothing to hide, yet nothing will she tell. She always gives her directions obliquely and allusively, by the mention of something relative or consequential, without any other purpose than to exercise my acuteness and her own.
It is impossible to give a notion of this style otherwise than by examples. One night, when she had set writing letters till it was time to be dressed, “Molly, said she, the ladies are all to be at court to-night in white aprons.” When she means that I should send to order the chair, she says, “I think the streets are clean, I may venture to walk.” When she would have something put into its place, she bids me “lay it on the floor.” If she would have me snuff the candles, she asks “ whether I think her eyes are like a cat's ?" If she thinks her chocolate delayed, she talks of the benefit of abstinence. If any needle-work is forgotten, she supposes " that I have heard of the lady who died by pricking her finger.”
She always imagines that I can recall every thing past from a single word. If she wants her head from the milliner, she only says, “Molly, you know Mrs. Tape.” If she would have the mantua-maker sent for, she remarks “ that Mr. Taffaty, the mercer, was here last week” She ordered, a fortnight ago, that the first time she was abroad all day Í should choose her a new sett of coffee-cups at the china shop: of this she reminded me yesterday, as she was going down stairs, by saying, “ You can't find your way now to Pallmall."
All this would never vex me, if, by increasing my trouble, she spared her own; but, dear Mr. Idler, is it not as easy to say coffee-cups, as Pall-mall, and to tell me in plain words what I am to do, and when it is to be done, as to torment her own head with the labour of finding hints, and mine with that of understanding them?
When first I came to this lady, I had nothing like the learning that I have now ; for she has many books, and I have much time to read ; so that of late I seldom have missed her meaning; but when she first took me, I was an ignorant girl ;