Abbildungen der Seite

Mr. Gleig has added to his Memoir an Appendix, which contains a great number of papers, written by Sir Thomas Munro at various periods. Some are connected with statistics, others with the official functions which be discharged, and with political economy. Several of these papers are well drawn up, and may be perused with great advantage by persons who are engaged in the discussion of the East India question, now before a Committee of the House of Commons.

Art. X.Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and

Architects. By Allan Cunningham, Esq. 2 vols. 12mo. London:

J. Murray. 1830. How little is known of the perils that environ the fame of that author who adventures-ill-starred proprietor of the quill-upon a worthy commemoration of the Most Eminent Painters, &c., of our country. It is an enterprise that breathes of mortality to the healthiest reputation. A man that undertakes it should let blood, should be familiar with the materia medica, should get him a mail of asbestos, or other impenetrable vestiture, for the ordeal which awaits him. Whence is this danger, and wherefore should it be peculiar to the task of which we speak? We proceed to explain. A vast deal, not seldom more than is prudent to be told on one side, or agreeable to be learned on the other, is always known of artists in general, as well during their lives as after-we may saytheir apotheosis. A player, for instance, is a great and boasted delight to a speculative biographer. The treader in the buskin will have the hairs of his head numbered for future generatious; the size of a tumour on his great toe will be handed down to posterity; and how he whispered in Scrub, or snarled in Sir Peter Teazle, will be pictured to distant ages in all the elaborate minute. ness of the green-room. Circumscribed, alas! is our knowledge of the personal history of Shakspeare; then, with respect to Milton, he is nearly in the same state of unenviable perdition, as to his private life, as that glorious paradise of which he has sung. Again, how little have we ascertained about Otway or Butler, or many others of those intellectual heroes, in whose triumphs we still participate! But as for a Knight of the Brush, let him but appear upon the prominent scene of life, and be his deserts what they may, a diary of interminable details will be forthcoming, shewing the critical minute of his uprising and of his downsetting on each day, and how the good fellow fostered his corporal man, until he doubled the cape of sixty, and perished, unfortunate octogenarian, in the midst of several scores of years! Over and over again have we had almost every artist of them all brought to table, in most obliging varieties. Culinary ingenuity, that can serve up the same animal in one hundred different ways, each a

complete stranger to the other, is a faint type of the innumerable shapes which a biography, in judicious hands, has been made to assume.

Under such circumstances, the · Lives of Eminent Painters' becomes a serious trust for any ordinary gentleman to undertake. He will have, by possibility, little or nothing at all to add to his fund of materials ; nay, it will be the superfluity of those materials that will constitute the distress of his position; he will be harrassed by an access of the malady, entitled by the French, the embarras, de richesse; he will have to select, to modify, and to give to a stale and familiar aspect entirely new and original lineaments. Thus. are the usual and natural sources of attraction withdrawn from our biographer, and he is left to himself to contrive the means of giving that interest to his work, which is essential to its success. And then, what a group for a biographer's pen!-Hogarth, and Reynolds, and Wilson, the turbulent Barry, the meek West, Morland, varying his professional pursuits with the delights of gin, and Fuseli, devoting his leisure to the classics. What rare talents are required to do justice to such a miniature world of manifold passion, such an union of whim and judgment; of divine intelligence and brutal folly ; such a monstrous junction of power and imbecility!

Whether or not Mr. Cunningham recognised and overcame the difficulties which pressed on his path will be developed in the sequel. There are, however, in the Introduction which commences the work, tokens of general carelessness, which are calculated to awaken apprehensions for the future performance. After an attentive perusal of this Introduction, we find ourselves at a loss to know to what cause exactly we are to attribute the long privation which this country experienced, not only of native talent for the arts, but even of any very striking or diffused taste for them. We are ourselves perfectly well satisfied, that were it not for the great national change which was worked by the Reformation in the dispositions, as well as the religion, of the people, we might have been as early and as successful cultivators of painting as most other countries. But the Reformation was a war against the principle of imitative art; the Commonwealth carried that war still further, and it was not until the beginning of the last century almost that any general encouragement began to be bestowed on the arts. Mr. Cunningham undoubtedly refers to this cause as having had a considerable influence, but then he blend's with it other reasons, to which he ascribes a share in the blame of debarring these kingdoms from the benefits which they would have derived from the cultivation of painting and sculpture.

• The English at this period were rich and proud, and sensible of the fame which successful art brings to a nation. But there was a strong feeling entertained against them by foreign princes ard foreign artists. They were denounced by the ancient church as incurable hereticks; they were dreaded by sea and land ; and it was reckoned dangerous to the soul, and

not very safe to the body, to have interchange of civilities with men whom the saints had ubindoned and the Pope consigned to perdition. We were unable, therefore, either to allure over artists of talent, or to become the purchasers of many works of eminence.'- vol. 1. p. 30.

Now this is a mere gratuitous sally of bigotry, and it has the merit of being made in the teeth of notorious facts. All history shews that the obstacles to an interchange between this and foreign countries did not proceed altogether from abroad; the alienation and repugnance by which intercourse was retarded, existed as fully and as forcibly amongst us as they could have been found in any part of the Continent. If the Italians looked upon us as being consigned for our heresies to perdition, we certainly balanced the account with them in that respect, for we damned their superstition. The first overtures at reconciliation came from foreigners; Charles I. found no difficulty in accumulating the most precious treasures of art, which constituted the magnificent gallery of Whitehall, and all of which were drawn from Continental countries; he procured without difficulty the Cartoons of Raphael, the masters which formed the celebrated cabinet of the Duke of Mantua, and other pictures of great value, the property of private individuals. But what throws vast light on this part of the subject, is the circumstance of the illustrious Rubenis being sent to England in the disguise of an ambassador from the Court of Spain. Here he stayed one year, and produced works which ought to have given a better impulse to the national taste than it appears to have received. Rubens painted the ceiling of the chapel at Whitehall, and left many pictures, which are to be still found in this country amongst private collections. Why was such an artist sent into England not in his proper character, but in the disguise, as we have already said, of an ambassador-for he certainly paid but little attention to his diplomatic functions, whilst he devoted the greater part of his time to the pencil ? Are we not justified in assuming that such was the general opinion amongst the Catholic states abroad respecting England, that no artist would venture to come into the country and take the chance of relying on his own merits for the patronage of the nation? The Court of Spain may have thought that foreign skill in the arts, however excellent, would be treated by us as a contraband material, and therefore they resolved to smuggle Rubens in amongst us under the denomination of an ambassador. What gives colour to this supposition is, that from the time of Henry the 8th, almost to the reign of the first king of the House of Hanover, we being all along that interval indebted entirely to foreign countries for eminent artists, those artists came to us principally from Holland, a part of the Continent which enjoyed a sympathy of religion with this country.

We agree with Mr. Cunningham, that Hogarth was the first British artist, in point of time, who can be considered as entitled

to great distinction. But, as being the first to attempt a rivalship with foreigners in the highest walks of art; as being the first to vindicate, in his own person, the power of home-grown talent,-Sir James Thornbill, we confess, appears to us to have merited a more specific and extended notice than that which he has received.

More than one passage in the writings of Hogarth, justify us in concluding that the works of Thornbill had no inconsiderable share in stimulating the ambition of his more eminent successors; the example of an Englishman being permitted to adorn the public institutions of the country, was, in those days, of no small advantage, since, up to Thornhill's time, the secret of excellence in art was popularly deemed to be inalienably the privilege of foreign masters. Not to dwell, however, upon this point, we gladly follow our author to the history of Hogarth’s life, with which the Biographical series commences,

It is the uniform characteristic of every great painter, whose history we are acquainted with, that the very first development of his mind discloses a tendency to the pursuit to which his life is afterwards devoted. Hogarth's early years in a particular manner showed the tendency of his genius. Conceiving, in his childhood, a strong prejudice against the avocations of an author, to which he saw his father become almost a victim, young Hogarth was, by his own desire, removed prematurely from school, and bound to a silversmith. But nature had previously indentured him to herself, and instead of cultivating the mysteries of trade, Hogarth, during his apprenticeship, became an expert drawer, and, in consequence of adopting a method peculiarly his own, a very striking and original artist. Connected with the first indication of his turn for satire, we have the following anecdotes.

• One summer Sunday during his apprenticeship, he went with three companions to Highgate, and the weather being warm and the way dusty, they went into a public liouse and called for ale. There happened to be other customers in the house, who to free drinking added fierce talking, and a quarrel ensued. One of them on receiving a blow with the bottom of a quart pot, looked so ludicrously rueful, that Hogarth snatched out a pencil and sketched him as he stooci. It was very like and very laughable, and contributed to the restoration of order and good humour. On another occasion he strolled, with Hayman the painter, into a cellar, where two women of loose life were quarrelling in their cups. One of them filled her mouth with brandy and spirted it dexterously in the eyes of her antagonist. “ See! see !" said Hogarth, taking out his tablets and sketching her “ look at the brimstone's mouth.” This virago figures in Modern Midnight Conversation.'—vol. i. p. 63.

Our author, with unnecessary warmth, strives to shield Hogarth from the charges, we suppose we must call them, of want of education as well as poverty, in his early days. The dispute, after all, is one of words. It is Hogarth's glory that he was self-taught in art, and that he was the architect of his own fortunes. He mar

opelled to "He was kle in his he soo

ried the daughter of Sir James Thornhill, and commenced a life of sedulous application, which was ultimately crowned by opulence and fame. The details of Hogarth's history are minutely contributed by Ireland, Nichols, and that liveliest writer of his day, Walpole. The popularity of those works would make it almost impertinent in us to follow the story step by step. Hogarth was driven into the portrait department by those circumstances peculiar to our country, to which every son of genius, from Reynolds to Lawrence, has been compelled to yield. But in this walk of art our hero found a stumbling-block. He was scrupulously faithful in his representations, and retained a wrinkle in his portraits as conscientiously as he painted a charming dimple. But he soon discovered the inconveniences of his fidelity. Disgusted, he happily directed his genius to a new and undiscovered branch of his art. Before Ho. garth's day no one had supposed that there existed, between the sublime and the grotesque, in the historical style,“ an intermediate species of subjects," as he calls them, subjects of a modern kind and moral nature, in effect the characters of a genteel comedy transferred to the canvas. “ I have endeavoured,” says Hogarth, “ to treat my subjects as a dramatic writer; my picture is my stage, my men and women my players, who, by means of certain actions and gestures, are to exhibit a dumb show.” We have no doubt, however, that Hogarth's ambition was to succeed in what was called the grand style, and to have contended with the severity and dignity of the Italian masters. We are persuaded, likewise, that Hogarth's genius would have fully seconded his ambition, Walpole declares that the burlesque turn of the painter's mind would have inevitably prevented him from succeeding in the bistorical style. But this remark is far from being just. Humour and pathos are faculties of the same family. The inclination of Hogarth to pursue the grotesque instead of the pathetic, arose from necessity perhaps more than choice. He shut himself out from portraiture by his own inflexibility, and from the dignified style of historical painting he was equally excluded by the apathy of bis countrymen. We therefore Jook upon Hogarth's peculiar style as the nearest approach it was possible for him to make, under the circumstances, to the noble character of the Italian school. The “Pool of Bethesda,” the “Good Samaritan,” “Moses presented to Pharoah's Daughter,” and “ St. Paul before Festus and Agrippa,” with which last painting Mr. Cunningham seems to be unacquainted, although it is suspended in one of the most frequented rooms of this metropolis-Lincolo's Inn Hall-sufficiently attest the will and the ability of Hogarth to succeed in the grand style. But do not his other pictures bear witness as strongly to his great powers in the serious and pathetic style? It is much the habit, even of his biographers, to praise Hogarth for his satire alone, as if in, even his most ludicrous pictures, there was not to be found some figure or incident calculated deeply to affect the

« ZurückWeiter »