Page images

The Spectre of Procrastination.


keeps the question in the balance whether Italy shall rally round his dynasty as a protector or confront it as a powerful enemy. If death were to snatch the French Emperor from his throne tomorrow, France would be in a state of civil confusion. The action of her army would be paralyzed; and while her army would be paralyzed, Austria could easily restore the fallen governments in the peninsula, and unite with them to aid the reactionary parties in France to wrest the regency from the throne. On the other hand, if Victor Emmanuel held Italy firmly in his grasp, Austria would be powerless, and both the impulses of gratitude, of kinship, and self-interest, would urge him to employ the resources of his kingdom in favour of a race which kept the sword of so powerful a neighbour as France out of the hand of his enemies. Now, we readily grant, if we confine the risk to Napoleon's death, that the hypothesis is very faint during the next few months. But it is by no means faint during the next few years. And if Napoleon does not outlive the next ten years, a regency is certain. New provinces which have been disunited for ages are not consolidated in a day. The work involved in this task is not a question of months or days, but of years. If Victor Emmanuel got Rome and Venetia in his hand to-morrow, a large lapse of time would be required to consummate the work of Italian union. But if a regency occur while this work is in its infancy, the Bonapartists may look down with the same awkward sensation from the top of Mont Cenis, as their great ancestor experienced when he beheld, from the top of La Belle Alliance, the forest of allied bayonets advancing to entomb his power in the same grave to which they had already consigned the flower of French chivalry.

But if any eventuality of this sort occur, or any other accident bring about the former state of Italy, what will posterity say of Magenta and Solferino? The laurels won on these battle-fields, instead of encircling the victor's brows with a wreath of glory, will be turned into scorpions to spit their foul venom on his temples and to hiss at his name. He, too, will be pointed at like his uncle, as a sort of Nemesis, who came to scourge one generation by slaughtering hecatombs of human victims in order to raise a delusive hope in the survivors of a golden future never to be realized, of a liberty removed further from their grasp than ever. For if the scheme of Italian unity, on the eve of being accomplished, once more prove the baseless fabric of a vision, posterity will regard it as the great disturber of the peace of nations, and shun its recurrence as they would an epidemic. Whoever should attempt to revive it will be seized and placed under hatches by his contemporaries, as some fiend

in human shape endeavouring to fling another nightmare on the world. Now, such is not the light in which Napoleon would either wish himself, or the question to which he has given so prominent an importance, to be regarded by succeeding ages. His adulators, on account of his great zeal in beautifying Paris and inaugurating gigantic public works, have compared him to Henri Quatre. We do not grudge him the merit of the comparison. But palaces of stone, mere brick and mortar creations, crumble beneath the touch of time. He should remember, though they contribute to the splendour that they cannot create the happiness of a people. If he would transmit to posterity an enduring greatness, let him sculpture his name in the elements of the civilization of his epoch, by giving liberty to a nation which is the centre of all the glory and one-half of the romance of the world.

Though pressing these views with earnestness, we cannot help but feel we are urging a solution which would be against the present interests of England. Since the annexation of Savoy and Nice, France must derive immense strength from having Italy as a consolidated and compact instrument in her grasp. And that strength no army that Italy can ever support will enable her single-handed to countervail. We see, however, in the complete absorption of the boundaries of the new kingdom by France, only a temporary difficulty which future treaties will rectify as soon as French ambition shall make its inconvenience manifest. We are not, therefore, inclined, on account of that temporary difficulty, to abandon the ulterior interests of humanity, or to urge with less importunity the realization of such a gain as the accomplishment of Italian unity must confer on European civilization,

ART. VI.-The English School of Painting. Catalogues of the Pictures in the International Exhibition, 1862.

NOT a hundred and fifty years ago, although England could boast her noblest prose works, her unrivalled dramatists, her sweetest poetry; although standing high among the nations, proud of her past history, proud of her recent victories, pointing to a long beadroll of names illustrious in science and literature, strange was it that in art she was utterly unknown. France, Italy, Flanders, even Spain, could each boast a school of native art; while England, even up to the reign of George I., could lay

Modern English Art late in its Development.


claim to only two architects, but not one painter deserving the name. Strange, indeed, does this seem, when we look at the noble collection of English paintings in the galleries of the International Exhibition, and remember that these many hundreds are but the representatives of hundreds more in private collections and picture galleries, or on the walls of our public buildings. Strange, indeed-little more than a hundred years ago and not a single picture, while to-day we may count our thousands! It is worth while, now that crowds are pressing each day to these galleries, to look back upon the rise of our English School, to trace its progress, and to see 'what manner of 'men' its founders and their successors were.

Strange is it that modern English art was so late in its development; and strange, too, to remember that many centuries ago England stood high in art. Few are aware that, along with the Saxon missionary, the Saxon painter went forth to paint the church walls and decorate the shrine; that, in later days, the English sculptor filled the land with beauty-beauty which classical Flaxman admired, and which Chantrey often copiedand that even the gorgeous service-books laid before the Sovereign Pontiff on high festivals were the work not of Italian hands but of the English illuminator. Many centuries have passed since then, and long ago all memory of English art had faded from the minds of Englishmen.

The causes which led to this forgetfulness were many and complicated. As we indicated them at some length in a former article (No. XLVIII.), we shall now merely refer to them. First were the wars of the Roses, followed by the exclusive patronage of Flemish art; then, more injurious still, the suppression of the convent schools, where drawing was taught, and the substitution of grammar schools, in which it was wholly neglected. Incidentally, printed books and engravings, which superseded the illuminated manuscripts, and tapestry hangings, which in noblemen's houses supplied the place of wall painting, contributed to the same result. And then, during the whole of the sixteenth century, royal patronage was exclusively bestowed upon the Flemish painters; while so great was the impulse given to trade and commerce, especially during the reign of Elizabeth, that the Englishman soon became well content to win the gold and purchase his art.

Throughout the seventeenth century the patronage of the Flemish painters continued, and Vandyke painted for the Court of Charles I., just as Holbein, a hundred years before, had painted for the Court of Henry VIII. The two beautiful miniature painters, Hilliard and Oliver, can scarcely be ranked as artists,

[ocr errors]

for they were only set to copy-for the brooch or the comfitbox-portraits which the more highly-honoured Flemish painters had been commissioned to paint. Thus even the slightest independent attempts of the English artist were crushed; and when England became one great battle-field of conflicting principles, men's minds were occupied with subjects of far greater importance than the progress of art. During the Protectorate we perceive indications of a desire, on the part of that great crownless monarch,' to encourage English art, even as he encouraged whatever could add to the fame and dignity of our land; and, under his patronage, two excellent portrait painters, Dobson and Cooper, have preserved to us his own likeness and those of the great leaders of the Commonwealth. But the Restoration brought a triple invasion of foreign painters: the French and Italians, with their bombastic heroic pictures,' where gods and goddesses, and virtues and vices, jostled each other, in strange confusion, on staircases and ceilings; while Flemish portrait painters have preserved to us the wanton, sleepy-eyed 'beauties of King Charles's Court,' just as Kneller has the stout, well-fed, but certainly more respectable, beauties who succeeded to the title at the court of William and Mary.

And then came 'the glorious Revolution;' and, in her pardonable enthusiasm, England, already low enough in artistic taste, sunk lower still, and was fain to admire everything Dutch. Huge red houses, with ponderous doorways ready to crush the passers-by, reared their ugly heads on every side, tons' weight of marble indicated the extent of monumental sorrow, and peacocks in clipped box, and dragons in quickset, took place of the wild beauty of the old English garden. Even the Dutch taste for tulips and Chinese monsters administered to the growing taste for ugliness. Never, perhaps, was beauty at so great a discount as at the close of the seventeenth century.

At this most unlikely time our first genuine artist was born. Of obscure though respectable parentage, brought up in the very heart of London, apprenticed to a gold and silversmith in Cranbourne-street, and there set to engrave initials, crests, coats of arms-all the tasteless monsters of the Herald's College-not very promising conditions do these seem for the rising painter, who was to assert England's claim at length to a school of art, and to stand second to none in invention and expression. But genius will break through every obstacle, will force obstacles, indeed, into means of advancement. Had William Hogarth been a young gentleman born with a taste for painting, he would have been early taught all that cant of 'high art' which he so heartily despised; he would have been kept to the close

The self-taught Artist-Political Scenes of his Boyhood. 127

contemplation and admiration of that tame and formal drawing which the unsophisticated feeling of the untaught boy so early perceived to be worthless. But left to himself as to art, William Hogarth became 'a law unto himself,' and, at a period when artinstruction was so low, he could scarcely find a better master. He gives us many suggestive notices of this self-education, when compelled in after years to vindicate himself from the abuse of his critics; tells us how, from childhood, drawing any and everything occupied his spare time, and how he soon came to feel that 'copying other men's works was but pouring wine out of one ' vessel into another, with no increase of quantity;' and therefore, instead of burthening the memory with musty rules, or 'tiring the eye with dry or damaged pictures, I have ever found 'nature the shortest and safest way of obtaining knowledge in 'my art.'

And thus the boy, while Ellis Gamble's apprentice, walked forth in every welcome interval of leisure into the crowded streets, the pleasant fields up by Hampstead, the Mall of St. James, or visited the rough humours of Bartholomew and Southwark fair, marking every interesting or striking countenance, and treasuring up those stores of pictorial expression which in after years he was to employ so powerfully.

Mr. Sala, in his pleasant, but most discursive gossip about William Hogarth, gives a picture of many scenes which the keen eye of 'little boy Hogarth' might have dwelt upon, but the more important events of that time seem never to have occurred to him. The reign of Queen Anne, and the earlier years of George I., were times of strong political excitement; and we cannot but think that the earnest, hearty English spirit which Hogarth displays on every occasion, was fostered by the scenes of his youth. He had seen the Sacheverel mob making bonfires of Bibles in honour of Church and State;' had seen the white rose garlands, hung, no one knew how, on the tall maypole in the Strand, on the morning of the Pretender's birthday; had witnessed the bitter election strifes, when the Queen was sinking in lethargy, and when a casting vote in the Commons might go far to decide whether we should maintain our cherished liberties, or again, under the sway of a Stuart, become tributaries to France. And then the outbreak of the fifteen ;' there was something more serious in this than in the forty'five.' There was a new and untried dynasty; a ministry at war among themselves; an ancient nobility who had given but a faltering adhesion to the new monarch. And how all these political incidents laid hold on the mind of the young apprentice, may be seen even in his latest pictures.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »