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“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” (also in the “The Sayings of Dr. Bushwhacker and Other Wise Men”) by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 55-58.




“M Y learned friend,” said the Doctor, glaring at us through his critical specs, “I have seen both exhibitions, the British and the French. I was delighted sir, delighted with the French exhibition. The people of France, sir, are essentially an æsthetic people; they strive to please you sir, and they succeed in pleasing you; they rarely widen their callipers beyond the limits of decorum; they kill their tragedy heroes in abattoirs behind the scenes, and never venture to intrude upon us those coarser emotions which are independent of taste and politeness; so, sir, I visited the French exhibition with pleasure, and came away gratified. I do not remember any single pictures except those of Rosa Bonheur, and they struck me, perhaps, because they reminded me of something I had seen in nature that was familiar; but otherwise, I have only a general impression, sir, of pleasure, of great pleasure. It was far different, sir, with the British exhibition. I was not pleased with it, sir, not pleased with it. I came away, sir, with my emotions excited, and in a state of disagreement. You know my love of Shakspeare, sir! Well, sir, I never felt such divine pity 56 for King Lear, such exquisite sympathy for Juliet (out of the book), as I felt when I saw those pictures of F. Madox Brown, and Frederick Leighton. As for the bulk of the rest, the modern school of British Art, it is expressed forcibly in a line, so contemptuous, sir, that from my love of the æsthetic and the agreeable, I am almost afraid to quote it. But, sir, as an arbiter of matters of taste, I cannot refrain from saying of the modern school of British Art: that —

‘Extreme exactness is the sublime of fools,’

and, sir, you may try the measure by the spots on the sailor boy’s breeches, or the twigs on any one of the pre-Raphaelite trees, and if you are not convinced of the truth of the above maxim, then try it on Ruskin’s own picture, ‘Study of a block of Gneiss, Valley of Chamouni, Switzerland, No. 155.’ Ruskin, sir, is a great writer, a great rhetorician; his persuasive powers are wonderful, dazzling, but not reliable, sir. Put a pen in his hand and Ruskin can make his mark. Put a pallet on his thumb, and Ruskin sinks into the lowest depths of Ruskinism.”

“My dear Doctor!”

“Yes, sir, into the lowest depths of Ruskinism. His tre-foil, cinque-foil windows are very nice things in print, and we admire them; as well as his lichens, mosses, striæ, and the oxide stains of his wonderful gneiss boulders; but, sir, what is the use of having Ruskin’s meagre representation of a lichen covered, metallic stained boulder 57 from an obscure corner of the globe, in our parlor, when we can have the real article from the richest mineral kingdom of earth, just by rolling it in?”

“But there is the sentiment, Doctor.”

“The sentiment? My learned friend, if there is no sentiment in the original, what can you look for in the mere copy?”

“But, Doctor, what do you think of Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World?’ ”

“An exquisite bit of art, a happy adaptation of the school to a single figure; lucky was it for him that he had no other figures in the background.”

“Why, Doctor?”

“Because the school has no idea of atmosphere, sir — atmosphere, distance, perspective! Look at the background figures in his picture of St. Agnes’ Eve; the features, the expression of every face, painted as elaborately as if they were in the foreground. Is that the way nature exhibits her panorama? Sir, so far from features, or the expression of features, being recognizable at that distance, I can tell you that it would be difficult to say whether there were men or women, yes, bipeds or quadrupeds in that perspective.”

“Nevertheless, Doctor, you must admit that they are very beautiful works of art. Just think of the man who can paint such pictures. Is he not very much elevated by genius above his fellows?”

“Unquestionably he is, and when all that is now 58 claimed for him has passed through the ordeal of detraction, the pre-Raphaelite, or post-Raphaelite painter, will find a proper niche, when all the symbols of his art are, to quote Shakspeare:

‘In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.’

And, by the way, why not have a pre-Shakespearean school! Why not!”

“Doctor, that is a capital idea.”

“My learned and dear friend, I was only in jest. A school! My dear friend, you have never yet, and never will see a school of great men. Intellect of the first class is great — independent — single — alone! It has no scholastic limits, no pedantry, no peers. The moment art ceases to appeal to sympathies and emotions, and contents itself with the bare representation of forms, it comes in competition with the photograph, and at once is beaten by the more elaborate delineation of the camera.”

“But, Doctor, you forget the symbols of the pre-Raphaelite school!”

“Symbols, symbols! and of a school? What! has this age of intelligence to be instructed by symbols of a school of painters? If they are able to convey ideas by symbols, why do they write the names of their pictures in Saxon characters on the frames? Why not let the symbols explain the symbols? They teach us what art is, by symbols! Faugh! If that is high art, let me begin with the rudiments, and study it out — from the alphabet of a Chinese teacup.”


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