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talents. He might, like others, mistake sometimes weeds for flowers, and bring them home, and carefully preserve them as such; but the weeds were gathered by his own hands, and he had, at least, by his labour deserved that they should be valuable acquisitions."
His heart was with his art-other artists, as Northcote said, painted to live, but Opie lived to paint; and though he was dilatory about praising the works which his brethren produced with the brush, he was forward enough in admiring their attempts with the pen. “Whatever,” said Mrs. Opie, “had a tendency to exalt painting and its professors in the eyes of the world, was a source of gratification to him. He used often to expatiate on the great classical attainments of Mr. Fuseli, whose wit he admired, and whose conversation he delighted in: but I have often thought that one cause of the pleasure which he derived from mentioning that gentleman's attainments, was his conviction, that the learning of Mr. Fuseli was an honour to his profession, and tended to exalt it in the opinion of society.” Nor was his pleasure less in reading the Poem on Art, by Mr. Shee—a work which will be valued while knowledge, feeling, and elegance are in estimation.
An imaginary sum was floating incessantly before Opie's eyes, which his pencil was to accumulate. That golden speculation at length achieved, he intended to retire from art-establish a gallery of good paintings, and a well-stocked library; and with his wife by his side, and all cares for a wellfilled easel given to the winds, enjoy life like one who knew it was short. As he was frugal and temperate, his expenses were small; and as he was a quick workman, his gains were large. He was too proud to incur debts, and not so vain as to give expensive entertainments to those who would probably have paid them with sarcasms. He was one
likely, therefore, to achieve his wishes in gaining.' that desired sum, which was to come with healing on its wings to the spirit of the painter. But he did not, perhaps, reflect, that in retiring from his profession, an artist retires also from his station in society. An artist is like an instrument of music, which gives joy and gladness when skilfully touched, but is only looked upon as an idle encumbrance and a piece of wood when silent and out of tune.
Opie, having written a Memoir of Reynolds for Wolcot's edition of Pilkington's Dictionary of Painters, and delivered lectures on art at the British Institution, aspired to the Professorship of Painting in the Royal Academy, when Barry was ejected. In the Memoir of Sir Joshua, he had exhibited knowledge of his subject, a just perception of character, and no small infirmity of taste; in his lectures at the Institution he had been considered confused, abrupt, and unmethodical ; but now, with confirmed taste and an increase of knowledge, he offered himself a candidate for the professorship. He was unexpectedly opposed by Fuseli. When that eminent scholar was named, he relinquished his pretensions—but it is no small proof of the vanity of Opie, that he declared as he withdrew from the contest, he would have yielded to no one save Henry Fuseli. When the Professor was made Keeper he renewed his claim, and was instantly elected.
Of his Four Lectures, on Design, Invention, Chiaro-Scuro, and Colouring, some account must be given, and a short one will suffice. Few who read them will concur in the praise bestowed on his discourses, at the Institution, by the late excellent Bishop of Durham, “ You were known before as a great painter, Mr. Opie, you will now be known as a great writer also." They are clear and sensible enough, but deficient in original grasp of mind
there are few vigorous sallies, or poetical flights, or passages of deep discernment and delicate discrimination. He wants imagination to raise him to the height of his “great argument,” and his powers of illustration are neither vivid nor various. ' Yet it cannot be denied that many valuable reflections are scattered over these four lectures. “Let all those youths who desire to become artists read the following admirable passage thrice over before they wet the brush.
.“ Impressed as I am at the present moment with a full conviction of the difficulties attendant on the practice of painting, I cannot but feel it also my duty to caution every one who hears me, against entering into it from improper motives, and with inadequate views of the subject; as they will thereby only run'a risk of entailing misery and disgrace on themselves and their connexions during the rest of their lives. . Should any student therefore happen to be present who has taken up the art on the supposition of finding it an easy and amusing employment any one who has been sent into the Academy by his friends, in the idea that he may cheaply acquire an honourable and profitable professionany one who has mistaken a petty kind of imitative monkey talent for genius—any one who hopes by it to get rid of what he thinks a more vulgar or disagreeable situation, to escape confinement at the counter, or the desk-any one urged merely by vanity or interest-or, in short, impelled by any consideration but a real and unconquerable passion for excellence; let him drop it at once, and avoid these walls and every thing connected with them, as he would the pestilence; for if he have not this unquenchable liking, in addition to all the requisites above enumerated, he may pine in indigence, or skulk through life as a hackney likenesstaker, a copier, a drawing-master, or pattern drawer to young ladies, or he may turn picture cleaner and help Time to destroy excellences which he cannot rival-but he must never hope to be, in the proper sense of the word, a painter. Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to excellence, and few there be that find it.”
His notion of the ideal or the beautiful is natural and just. “I will not undertake,” he says, “the perilous task of defining the word beauty: but I have no hesitation in asserting, that when beauty is said to be the proper end of art, it must not be understood as confining the choice to one set of objects, or as breaking down the boundaries and destroying the natural classes, orders, and divisions of things, but as meaning the perfection of each subject in its kind, in regard to form, colour, and all its other associated and consistent attributes. In this qualified and, I will venture to say, proper acceptation of the word in regard to art, it may be applied to nearly all things most excellent in their different ways. Thus we have various modes of beauty in the statues of the Venus, the Juno, the Niobe, the Antinous, and the Apollo; and thus we may speak, without exciting a confusion of ideas, of a beautiful peasant as well as of a beautiful princess, of a beautiful child, or of a beautiful old man; of a beautiful cottage, a beautiful church, a beautiful palace, or even of a beautiful ruin. The discovery or conception of this great and perfect idea of things, of nature in its purest and most essential form, unimpaired by disease, unmutilated by accident, and unsophisticated by local habits and temporary fashions, and the exemplification of it in practice by getting above, individual imitation, rising from the species to the genus, and uniting in every subject all the perfection of which it is capable in its kind, is the highest and ultimate exertion of human genius."
In his Lecture upon Invention, also, there is much to commend. “Unfortunately," he says, “ this most inestimable quality, in which genius is thought more particularly to consist, is of all human faculties the least subject to reason or rule, being derived from heaven alone, according to some; attributed by others to organization; by a third class, to industry; by a fourth, to circumstances; by a fifth, to the influence of the stars ; and in the general opinion, the gift of nature only. But though few teach us how to improve it, and still fewer how to obtain it, all agree that nothing can be done without it. Destitute of invention, a poet is but a plagiary, and a painter but a copier of others. But however true it may be, that invention cannot be reduced to rule and taught by regular process, it must necessarily, like every other effect, have an adequate cause. It cannot be by chance that excellence is produced with certainty and constancy; and however remote and obscure its origin, thus much is certain, that observation must precede invention, and a mass of materials must be collected before we can combine them. He, therefore, who wishes to be a painter must overlook no kind of knowledge. He must range deserts and mountains for images, picture upon his mind every tree of the forest and flower of the valley, observe the crags of the rock and the pinnacles of the palace, follow the windings of the rivulet, and watch the changes of the clouds : in short, all nature, savage or civilized, animate or inanimate, the plants of the garden, the animals of the wood, the minerals of the earth, and the motions of the sky, must undergo is examination. Whatever is great, whatever is eautiful, whatever is interesting, and whatever is dreadful must be familiar to his imagination, and concur to store his mind with an inexhaustible variety of ideas ready for association on every possible occasion, to embellish sentiment and give effect to truth. It is moreover absolutely necessary that then the epitome of all--his principal subject and his judgeshould become a particular object of his investigation: he must be acquainted with all that is characteristic