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“ Produce those permanent and perfect forms,
Those characters of heroes and of gods,
But poetry had invested them with a diviner pomp than Fuseli could command, and it was on these occasions that he complained of his inability to work up to the conceptions of his fancy. He had splendid dreams, but like those of Eve they were sometimes disturbed by a demon, and passed away for ever before he could imbody them.
His main wish was to startle and astonish--it was his ambition to be called Fuseli the daring and the imaginative, the illustrater of Milton and Shakspeare, the rival of Michael Angelo. Out of the seventy exhibited paintings on which he reposed his hope of fame, not one can be called commonplace--they are all poetical in their nature, and as poetically treated. Some twenty of these alarm, startle, and displease; twenty more may come within the limits of common comprehension; the third twenty are such as few men could produce, and deserve a place in the noblest collections; while the remaining ten are equal in conception to any thing that genius has hitherto produced, and second only in their execution to the true and recognised masterpieces of art. It cannot be denied, however, that a certain air of extravagance and a desire to stretch and strain is visible in most of his works. A common mind, having no sympathy with his soaring, perceives his defects at once, and ranks him with the wild and unsobera poetic mind will not allow the want of serenity and composure to extinguish the splendour of the conception; but while it notes the blemish, will feel the grandeur of the work. The approbation of high minds fixes the degree of fame to which genius of all degrees is entitled, and the name of Fuseli is safe,
His colouring, is like his design, original; it has a kind of supernatural hue, which harmonizes with
many of his subjects—the spirits of the other state and the hags of hell are steeped in a kind of kindred colour, which becomes their characters. His notion of colour suited the wildest of his subjects; and the hue of Satan and the lustre of Hamlet's Ghost are part of the imagination of those supernatural shapes. Yet original as his colouring is, and suitable to the scenes which it often imbodies, it snems unnatural when applied to earthly flesh and blood, and communicates hues which belong to other worlds to the sons and daughters of Adam. It is to be praised rather than imitated, and would be out of harmony with subjects of common emotion and every-day life.
His sketches are very numerous, amounting to eight hundred, and show the varied knowledge and vigorous imagination of the man. He busied himself during his hours of leisure with making sketches and drawings from scenes which had occurred in his reading, or had arisen on his fancy; in this manner he illustrated the whole range of poetry ancient and modern. Those who are only acquainted with Fuseli through his paintings know little of the extent of his genius; they should see him in his designs and drawings, to feel his powers and know him rightly. The variety of those productions is truly wonderful, and their poetic feeling and historic grandeur more wonderful still. It is surprising, too, how little of that extravagance of posture and action which offends in his large paintings is present here; they are, for the most part, uncommonly simple and serene performances.
Scattered among those sketches, we are sometimes startled by the appearance of a lady floating gracefully along in fashionable attire-her patches, paint, and jewels on--and armed for doing mischief among the sons of modern men. There is no attempt at caricature-they are fac-similes, and favourable ones, of existing life and fashion. Their presence among the works we have described jars upon our feelings—they are out of keeping with the poetic simplicity of their companions, and look as strange as court ladies would do taking the air with the Apollo and the dying Gladiator. They do, however, what the painter meant. They tell us how contemptible every thing is save natural elegance and simple grandeur, and that much which gives splendour to a ball or levee will never mingle with what is lofty or lasting.
His love of the loose wit and free humour of the old writers of Italy and England was great; as he read them he chuckled with pleasure, and taking up his pencil lent form to such scenes as gladdened his fancy. Those works are entitled to the praise of poetic freedom and vivacity-the humour and the wit triumph over all other levities—and sense has generally the better of sensuality. Fire, however, fell among most of these when he died -nor do I blame the hand of his widow who kindled it.
We cannot contemplate the portfolios of his serious drawings, opened to us by their possessor, Sir Thomas Lawrence,* without being struck with the extraordinary genius of Fuseli, and lamenting the blindness and deficiency of taste of the age in which he lived. Had he received any thing like adequate encouragement, public feeling would have awed down his extravagance of imagination, and those compositions, now consigned to the cabinet of his eminent friend, would have been expanded into pictures and adorning the galleries of our country. Of all the painters whom this country has encouraged—they are not, indeed, many-no one had either the reach of thought or the poetic feeling of Fuseli --he had comprehension for all that is great, and imagination for all that is lofty.
* This kind and generous man has lately been lost to us (January 7th, 1830). His life, if the author be spared to complete another Falume of this work, will be included.
Of his literary compositions something more should be said-1 rank them high, and yet considerably below the efforts of his pencil. He affected to strike out remarkable sentences and express characters by a few weighty words—to utter instructions pointed and oracular; to season sound counsel with shrewd wit, and by the use of poetic diction give warmth and energy to the whole. To accomplish this, generally, required a better disciplined mind, and perhaps a better acquaintance with our language than he possessed; but in many passages his success is splendid. He always feels well, often deeply ; but the great fault is, that he seldom allows the stream of his mind to run smoothly along; he leads it astray into artificial falls, and bewilders it in links and serpentines. He had such a high opinion of his own acuteness and wisdom, that he wrote a whole volume of Aphorisms on Art, three hundred in number; some of these are said to be acute, some sensi. ble, some profound, and a great many visionary, He also began a regular history of his art, but stopped at Michael Angelo. The fragment has not as yet been published,