The tribe started in the middle of December, crossing the frozen waters of the Saguenay at Chicontimi, and then journeyed through the forest towards the inland valleys of Labrador. For the first two days, their route lay along the bank of a considerable river, which, on account of its rapid current, in many parts was not frozen over; and they rested at night at places where they had supplies of fish and water. Their encampments were but rudely made, as the stay only lasted for a night, and the severest cold of the winter was not yet come, to demand a more elaborate and perfect shelter. Nearly eighty huge watch-fires threw their glare over the dark woods at night; round each was a family of the Montaignais, the hunters, their wives and children. Meynell, Ta-ou-renche, and Atawa, formed one of these groups. The Englishman was sadly fatigued and foot-sore after the first day's journey, although it had been but a short one. The heavy and unaccustomed snow-shoe hurt his feet, though Atawa's careful hands had tied them on; and the weight of the tobogan wearied him, though both of his companions had given him great aid. They watched him with the tenderest care, and long after he slept soundly on his snowy couch, Atawa sat with her eyes fixed upon his still beautiful face, lighted up by the red flame of the watch-fire. The next day he got on better, and in a week he was able to take his share in the labour, and walk as stoutly as any of them.
After they left the river's bank, they crossed a dreary table-land of great extent, nearly a hundred and fifty miles across, where there was no brook or lake, and but little wood, and that of a stunted and blasted growth; under the thick covering of the snow was nothing but rock and sand and sterile soil, for all that weary way. In a few places they found masses of ice, which they melted down for water, but there was neither fish nor game. Here they were obliged to consume nearly all their store of provisions, but for this they were prepared, and cared but little. Beyond this barren land lay the land of plenty, where they and their forefathers, from time immemorial, had feasted on the abundant forest-deer. About the thirteenth evening of their journey, they encamped within sight of this deeply wooded undulating country that they sought, and celebrated their arrival with rude rejoicings.
The next morning they started equipped for the chase, the women following the hunters slowly with their burdens. Ta-ou-renche pushed on among the foremost, Meynell nearly by his side, while their dogs, half-starved and ravenous, dashed on in front. They had advanced for an hour or two without meeting a quarry, to their great surprise, when they heard the dogs giving tongue far ahead in a deep woody valley. Ta-ou-renche and Meynell pushed on rapidly, full of hope, and excited at the prospect of the chase; they reached the brow of the hill, and descended at a run into the valley, where they found the dogs all collected round the skeleton of a moose-deer, tugging furiously at its huge bones. The snow around was much beaten down, and there was the mark of a recent fire against the root of a tree close by. The Indian stopped short, and remained motionless, as if frozen at the sight; after a little while, other hunters came up, and all seemed equally paralysed with terror. When they found voice, they cried, "The Great Spirit is angry with his children; other hunters have slain the moose and carribboo, and are many suns before us; for us there will be none left, and we must die."
They pushed on further till the evening, and passed other skeletons of moose and carribboo deer, picked clean by the carrion-birds. They saw the marks of many fires, and the remains of a large encampment, deserted perhaps three weeks before. Some of the older hunters said that, from the prints of the snow-shoes, they knew the Mic-Mac Indians of New Brunswick were those who had swept the hunting grounds before them, and that they were many in number. That night they held counsel together as to what they should do; some were for returning at once, to throw themselves on the charity of the fur-traders; but there arose the appalling thought of the barren land they had passed through. Others were for pushing on after the Mic-Macs to pray for a share of their spoil—but how could they reach them? Some had consumed all their provisions, the others had but enough left for one, or at most two days. To remain where they were was death, and, on every side, starvation stared them in the face. At last, they agreed to separate, and that each family should take its chance alone. Ta-ou-renche determined at once to push for Chicontimi, and Atawa and Meynell followed his fortunes.
The next morning they started on their return, and made a long day's march back into the barren land. Poor Atawa was very weary, and could give but little assistance in making the fire, and their rude shelter for the night, and her uncle seemed oppressed and dejected; but Meynell's vigorous health and bold spirit stood him in good stead. He divided the scanty store of provisions that was left into three parts, the travellers being each to carry their own share; he ate very sparingly. Ta-ou-renche was not so discreet, but consumed nearly all his portion at once, and the next morning finished what was left! The weary journey continued—the cold became intense,—the north wind swept over that awful solitude with a terrible severity; but still the wanderers, in pain and weariness, pushed bravely on to the south-west. Could they but reach the river's bank, they might find fish and fresh water and still live.
On the seventh night they halted in a small grove of stunted trees, after a long day's travel, worn out with fatigue and hunger. The Indian had not, for the last five days, had a morsel of food, and was terribly emaciated; the others had fasted three days, and were almost as much reduced and enfeebled. They had scarcely sufficient strength among them to cut down wood for their fire, and collect and melt the ice to slake their thirst; when they had heaped up a small bank of snow, as shelter against the wind, they lay down almost helpless. A few carrion moose-birds which had followed them for the last day, but always out of reach of the guns, chattered among the trees. These ill-omened visitors came closer and closer, as they saw the group lying motionless, and chattered and hopped from branch to branch over head, impatient for their prey. Meynell, making the exertion with difficulty, cautiously seized his gun; but as he moved, the carrion birds flew up into the air, and circled screaming above him; when he became still, then again they approached. At last, by skilfully watching his opportunity, he brought one of them down with a lucky shot, and pounced on it greedily. The carrion and scanty spoil was soon divided into three portions, and their share ravenously devoured by the two men. After a little time they became deadly sick, the fire spun round and round before their eyes, but at length Meynell fell back in a heavy and almost death-like sleep. Atawa had just strength enough left to fold the blanket close round the sleeper, and cast a little more wood on the fire, when she too sank down exhausted.
The Indian had till now borne the pangs of hunger with courage and patience, but the morsel of food—the taste of blood, seemed to work like intoxication upon him. As his sickness passed away, his eyes glowed in their deep sockets, with a fierce and unnatural brightness. His cheeks were withered up, and his black parched lips drawn back, exposed his teeth in a horrible grin. Possessed with a momentary strength, he raised himself on his hands and knees, and, grasping an axe, moved stealthily towards the sleeper, madly thirsting for his blood. Atawa saw him coming, and guessed his terrible intent; she shook Meynell faintly, and called to him to awake. He slowly opened his eyes, and thought it but a horrid dream, when he saw the wild glaring eyes of the savage fixed upon him, and the gaunt arm upraised to strike, while Atawa feebly tried to hold it back. The blow descended the next moment, but the generous girl, unable to restrain the maniac's force, threw herself in the way, and fell stricken senseless on the snow. Her efforts had happily turned the edge of the axe, and she was only stunned, not wounded. Meynell seized the Indian by the throat; they struggled to their feet, and grappled closely together: the madman's furious excitement lent him force for a time to meet the greatly superior strength of his opponent but he failed rapidly, his grasp relaxed, his eyes closed; Meynell, mustering all his remaining energies, threw him back with violence, and then, utterly exhausted in the struggle, fell himself also fainting to the ground.
When he began to recover, the dim morning light was reflected from the snowy waste, the fire was nearly burnt down, and the intensity of the cold had probably awakened him. Atawa still lay motionless; he tried anxiously to arouse her, and at the same time to collect his scattered thoughts, after the dreadful dream of the night before. She slowly recovered, and opened her eyes to the sight of horror that presented itself to their returning consciousness. Ta-ou-renche lay dead, and half consumed in the fire: he had fallen stunned across the burning logs, and perished miserably.
Then a sudden terror seized the survivors, and lent them renewed strength; they scarcely cast a second look on the charred corpse, but rose up and fled away together, leaving every thing behind. For hours they hurried on, and exchanged never a word, Atawa often casting a terrified look behind, as though she thought she were pursued. About mid-day, their failing limbs refused to carry them any farther, and they lay down on the trunk of a fallen pine. The winter sun stood high up in the cloudless heaven, pouring down its dazzling but chilly light upon the frozen earth. To the dark line of the distant horizon, far as the eye could reach lay the snowy desert. There was not a breath of wind, no rustling leaves or murmuring waters, not a living thing beside themselves breathed in that awful solitude; not a sound awakened the echoes in its deathlike silence. Meynell's heart sank within him; the brief energy lent him by the terror of the dreadful scene he had left, yielded now to the reaction of despair. Their throats were parched with thirst; the gnawing pangs of hunger racked their wasted frames; they scarcely dared to look upon each other, so fiercely burned the fire in their sunken eyes. He had ceased to hope; with his feeble limbs stretched out, and his head rested on a branch, he waited helplessly for death.
The Indian girl dragged herself slowly to his side, put a small phial to his parched lips, and poured a few drops of brandy down his throat. He immediately revived, and the failing pulse resumed its play. "You shall still live," she said; "a few hours' journey more, and we shall reach the river; by this time the white man will be selling the pine trees on its banks. I have kept this fire-water hidden till there was no other hope, and now it must save me too, that I may guide you." She tasted the invigorating cordial sparingly, and now, animated with new strength, they set out bravely once again. Slowly and painfully they press on, often falling through exhaustion, but the strong hope and the stronger will urges them still on. The character of the country begins to change, the trees become thicker and of a larger growth, the ground varied with rise and hollow; and at length, to their great joy, a well-known hill appears in sight, beyond which they know the wished-for river runs. They drain the last drop from the phial, and again refreshed press on,—on, through the thick woods and falling shades of night.
Then the moon arose in unclouded splendour; her silver rays, piercing through the tall pine-trees, lighted them on their way, and in a little time showed them a column of smoke rising from the far side of the hill beyond the river into the still air. Hope was now almost a certainty: they reached the high bank over the stream, but stumbling and falling at nearly every step. In the vale beyond, they saw two or three woodcutters' huts, lighted up by blazing watch-fires.
Meynell rushed impatiently on, his eyes fixed upon the hope-inspiring lights. "Hold! hold!" cried Atawa, vainly trying to restrain him, "one step more, and you are lost!" But she spoke too late: ere the echoes of her cry had ceased, Meynell's soul had gone to its last account. He had approached too near the edge of the precipice: the snow gave way beneath his feet; a moment more, and he lay a bleeding corpse upon the ice-bound rocks below. Atawa's despairing shrieks brought out the inmates of the huts. They were obliged to use force, to separate her from the lifeless body; she rent her hair, and tried to lay violent hands upon herself, long refusing all sustenance. From her incoherent words, they at length gathered something of her story, and the probable fate of the rest of her tribe. Some of the woodmen immediately started in hopes of rendering assistance to the unhappy Montaignais; they found six of the families on their way, in the last stage of starvation, and saved them, but all the rest of the tribe perished in that barren land.
The following night the woodmen dug a hole, and laid the mangled corpse to rest. It was so light and emaciated, that a child might have borne it thither. They then heaped some snow over it, and, threading their way by torchlight through the trees back to their huts, left it without a blessing. So there he sleeps—unwept, save by the poor Indian girl! his fate for years unknown to those who had wondered at his gifts and beauty. His bones lie whitening in that distant land, no friendly stone or sod to shelter them from the summer sun and wintry frost.
Let us yet dare to hope, that in those last dark days of toil and suffering, where life and death were in the balance, He, whose love is infinite, may have made the terrible punishment of this world the furnace wherein to melt that iron heart, and mould it to His ends of mercy.
WAS RUBENS A COLOURIST?
I do not ask if Rubens was a man of genius. I am only questioning the title, which has been so generally conferred upon him, of a colourist. I am aware that a host of artists and connoisseurs will rather admire the audacity of making the inquiry, than pursue it, through the necessary disquisition, into the true principles of art. It may be possible that the taste of the English school, and of our English collectors, may have become to a degree vitiated. And with regard to the former, the artists, (and I say it without at all denying their great abilities,) it may be very possible, nay, it is certain, that any vitiation of taste must be a blight upon their powers, natural or acquired, however great. I believe this very reputation of Rubens as the great colourist, has been extensively injurious to the British School of Art, (if there be such a school.) It has been so often repeated, that artists take it up as an established fact, not to be denied; and have too blindly admired, and hence endeavoured (though for lack of the material they have failed) to imitate him in this one department, his colour. The result has been melancholy enough; an inferior, flimsy, and flashy style has been engendered, utterly abhorrent from any sound and true principle of colouring. Even in Rubens, there is this tendency to the flimsy, to the light glitter, rather than to the substantial glory of the art: but it is much disguised under his daring hand, and by the use of that lucid vehicle which, independent of subject, and even colour, is pleasing in itself. There is always power in his pictures, for his mind was vigorous to a degree; a power that throws down the gauntlet, as it were, with a confidence that disdains any disguise or fear of criticism: a confidence the more manifest in the defects, particularly of grossness and anachronism, bringing them out strongly palpable and conspicuous by a more vivid colouring, more determined opposition of dark and light,—as if he should say, behold, I dare. And this power has the usual charm of all power; it commands respect, and too often obeisance. But Rubens' colour requires Rubens' power in the other departments of art. To endeavour to imitate him in that respect, with any the least weakness either of hand or design, is only to set the weakness in a more glaring light, dressing it up, not in the gorgeous array and real jewellery of the court, but in the foil and tinsel glitter, and mock regality of a low theatrical pageantry. And this would be the case even if we had in use his luscious vehicle; but with an inferior one, too often with a bad one, the case of weakness is aggravated, and not unseldom the presumption and the failure of an attempt the more conspicuous.
I do not mean to say, that Rubens is universally imitated among us; but where his peculiar style is not imitated, the vitiation to which it has led is seen, in the general tendency of our artists, to shun the deep and sober tones of the Italian school, and, as their phrase is, to put as much daylight as possible into their works. But even here I would pause to suggest, that light, daylight, in its great characteristic, is more lustrous than white, and will be produced rather by the lower than the lighter tones, as may be seen in the pictures of Claude, whose key of colouring is many degrees lower than in pictures which affect his light, without his means of attaining it.
It is surprising that there should be such inconsistency in the decisions of taste; but this title of colourist has been bestowed chiefly upon two painters, who in this very respect of colour were the antipodes to each other, Titian and Rubens. Are there no steady sure principles of colour? If there be, it is impossible that such discordant judgments can be duly and justly given.
It will be necessary to refer to something of a first principle, before we can come to any true notion of good colouring. And it is surprising, when we consider its simplicity, that it should, at least practically, have escaped the due notice of artists in general.
There are two things to be first considered in colour. Its agreeability per se,—its charm upon the eye; and its adaptation to a subject,—its expressing the sentiment.
However well it may express the palpable substance and texture of objects that are but parts, if it fail in these first two rules, the colour of a picture is not good. With regard to the first, its agreeability. Is it a startling assertion to say, that this does not depend upon its naturalness? That it does so is a common opinion. Aware, however, that the term naturalness would lead to a deeper disquisition than I here mean to enter upon, I shall take it in its common meaning, as it represents the common aspect of nature. Now, besides that this aspect is subject to an almost infinite variety by changes of atmosphere, and other accidents, affording the artist a very wide range from which to select, it has a characteristic as important as its light and its dark of colour,—its illumination; so that a sacrifice (for art is a system of compensation) of one visible truth, say a very light key, does not necessarily render a picture less natural, if it attain that superior characteristic, which by the other method it would not attain.
Then, again, that very variety of nature, by its multiplicity, disposes the mind ever to look for a constant change and new effect, so that we are not easily startled by any actual unnaturalness, unless it be very strange indeed, and entirely out of harmony, one part with another, as we should be were one aspect only and constantly presented to us. This may be exemplified by a dark mirror—and, better still, by a Claude glass, as it is called, by which we look at nature through coloured glasses. We do not the less recognise nature—nay, it is impossible not to be charmed with the difference, and yet not for a moment question the truth. I am not here discussing the propriety of using such glasses—it may be right or it may be wrong, according to the purpose the painter may have; I only mean to assert, that nature will bear the changes and not offend any sense. The absolute naturalness, then, of the colour of nature, in its strictest and most limited sense, local and aerial, is not so necessary as that the eye cannot be gratified without it. And it follows, that agreeability of colour does not depend upon this strict naturalness.
I said, that it is of the first importance that the colouring be agreeable per se; that, without any regard to a subject, the eye should be gratified by the general tone, the harmony of the parts, and the quality—namely, whether it be opaque or transparent, and to what degree. There are certain things that we greatly admire on this very account—such as all precious gems, polished and lustrous stones and marbles, especially those into which we can look as into a transparent depth.
A picture, therefore, cannot be said to be well coloured unless this peculiar quality of agreeability be in it. To attain this, much exactness may be sacrificed with safety. It should be considered indispensable.
And this perfect liberty of altering to a certain degree the naturalness of colouring, leads properly to that second essential—its adaptation to a subject, or its expressing the sentiment. For it is manifest, that if we can, without offending, alter the whole aspect of nature in most common scenes, we can still more surely do so when the scenes are at all ideal or out of the common character. And we can do it likewise without a sacrifice of truth, in the higher sense of truth, as a term of art or of poetry.
For the mind also gives its own colouring, or is unobservant of some colours which the eye presents, and makes from all presented to it its own selections and combinations, and suits them to its own conception and creation. It has always been admitted that the painter's mind does this with objects of form, omitting much, generalizing or selecting few particulars. Now if this power be admitted with regard to objects themselves, as to their forms and actual presence, why should it not, with equal propriety, be extended to the colours of those objects, even though they have a sensible effect upon the scenes which are before us? But, as was said, the mind colours; it is not the slave to the organ of sight, and in the painter, as in the poet, asserts its privilege of making, delighting even to "exhaust worlds" and "imagine new." It takes for an imperial use the contributions the eye is ever offering, but converts them into riches of its own. It will not be confined by space, nor limited by time, but gathers from the wide world, and even beyond its range. Thus, in the simple yet creative enthusiasm of his passion, did Burns gather, at one moment, the flowers of all seasons, and all
"To pu' a posy for his ain sweet May;"
and cold would be the criticism that would stop to note the impossibility; yet was it a great truth, the garden was his own heart, and his every wish a new flower. Here they all were.
It is the misfortune of art that this great power of the mind over materials is not sufficiently and practically admitted. In colouring we seem to have altogether abandoned the idea of invention. We go quite contrary to the practice of those good architects of other ages, who spoke and painted by their art; who invented because they felt the religious awe, that solemn chiaro-scuro—and the painted windows, not gorgeous and flaring with large masses of unmixed colours, (as are the unmeaning windows the modern Templars have put up in their ill-painted church, in which, too, the somewhat tame and dead Byzantine colouring of the walls agrees not with the overpowering glass of the windows;) these old architects, I say, affecting the "dim religious light," and knowing the illumination and brilliancy of their material, took colours without a name, for the most part neither raw reds, nor blues, nor yellows, but mixed, and many of a low and subdued tone; and so, when these windows represented subjects, the designs had a suitable quaintness, a formality, a saint-like immutability, a holy repose; and the very strong colours were sparingly used, and in very small spaces; and the divisions of the lead that fastened the parts together had doubtless, in the calculation of the architect, their subduing effect. Religious poetry—the highest poetry, consequently the highest truth—was here. There are who might prefer the modern conventicle, with its glare of sunshine, and white glass, and bare, unadorned, white-washed walls, and justify their want of taste by a reference to nature, whose light and atmosphere, they will tell you, they are admitting. And like this is the argument of many an artist, when he would cover the poverty of his invention under the plea of his imitation of nature—a plea, too, urged in ignorance of nature, for nature does actually endeavour—if such a word as endeavour maybe used where all is done without effort—to subdue the rawness of every colour, and even to stain the white-wash we put upon her works, and covers the lightest rocks with lichen.
But as the mind colours, and absolute naturalness is not necessary, it results that there must be a science by which the mind can effect its purpose.
For the cultivation of a sense arises from a want which the mind alone at first feels, and to the mind in that state of desire things speak suggestively that were before mute; discoveries are made into the deeper and previously hidden secrets of nature, and new means are invented of gratifying the awakened senses. Hence all art which is above the merely common and uncultivated sense. All we see and all we hear takes a vitality not its own from our thoughts, mixes itself (as aliment does, and becomes our substance) with our intellectual texture, and is anew created.
Winds might have blown, and wild animals have uttered their cries, but it was the heightened imagination that heard them howl and roar. And it was from a further cultivation of the sense, giving forth, at every step, new wants, that the nature of all sounds was investigated and music invented—science but discovering wonderful mysteries, secrets, and gifted faculties drawing them out of their deep hiding-places, making them palpable, and combining and converting them into humanities whereby mankind may be delighted and improved.
If, then, the ear has its science, so has the eye. There is the mystery of colours as well as of sounds. Nor can it be justly said that we are out of nature because we pursue that mystery beyond its commonly perceptible and outward signs to its more intricate truths; nay, on the contrary, as we have thereby more of those truths, we have more of nature; and we know them to be truths by their power and by their adoption.
This science of colour has been, perhaps, too much neglected. In conversing with artists, one is surprised how little attention they have paid to it; and even where it has been studied, it is only upon its surface, and by those well known diagrams which show the oppositions.
Few, indeed, consider colouring as a means of telling the story—as at all sympathetic. In an historical subject, more attention is paid to the exact naturalness of the light, the time of day, the local colouring of the objects, as they probably were, than upon those tones and hues which best belong to the feeling which the action represented is meant to convey: by which practice an unnaturalness is too often the result; for there is forced upon the eye a vividness and variety of colours, in dresses, accessories, and the scene, which one present at the action would never have noticed—which, as the feeling would have rejected, so would the obedient eye have left undistinguished; and we know how the eye is obedient to the feelings and withholds impressions, and in the midst of crowds, to use a common expression, will "fix itself on vacancy." It will do even more; it will adopt the colouring which the feeling suggests—will set aside what is, and assume what is not. Thus, in reading some melancholy tale, the very scene becomes
"Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;"
and thus it is that actually the eye aids tile imagination while it
"Breathes a browner horror o'er the woods."
This neglect of colour as an end, as a means of narration, and as a sympathy, is peculiar to modern art. And hence it is, that there is less feeling among us for works of the Italian schools, than for those less poetical, and too often mean and low ones of the Dutch and Flemish. I mean not here to pass any censure on the colouring of the Dutch and Flemish schools; it was admirable in its lucid and harmonious, but mostly so in its imitative, character. Their subjects seldom allowed scope for any high aim at sympathetic colouring: both appealed to the eye,—not without exceptions, however,—to mention one only, Rembrandt, whose colouring was generally ideal, and by it mostly was the story told. But one perfection of colour they almost all of them had, that agreeability, that gem-like lustre and richness, which I spoke of as one of the essentials of good colouring. And in this, even where modern art has professed to work upon the model of the Flemish school, it has failed, and by endeavouring to go beyond that school in brightness, has fallen very far short of its excellence; for in the very light key that has been adopted, and the prevalence of positive white, it has lost sight of that mellowness and illumination which is so great a charm in the Dutch and Flemish pictures. It has, too, mistaken lightness for brightness, and a certain chalkiness has been the result. And artists who have fallen into this error, perceiving, as they could not fail to do, this bad effect, have endeavoured to divert the eye from this unpleasantness, by force, by extreme contrasts of glazed dark, by vividness of partial crude colours, and by the violence of that most disagreeable of all pigments, as destructive of all real depth and atmosphere—asphaltum.
In our assuming, then, this very high, this white key, we deviate from the practice of every good school. It is not desirable that this should be the peculiarity of the English school; but it certainly has too great a tendency that way. The Dutch and Flemish are of a much lower key, and the Italian of a lower still. Even in their landscape it is remarkable, that the painters whose country was the lightest, should have adopted the deepest tones; and that the landscapes of their historical painters are of all the deepest, and they were the best landscape painters. What exquisite richness and depth, and jewel-like glow, is there in the landscape of Titian, and Giorgione; and what illumination, that superior characteristic of nature, so much overlooked now a-days. And yet our country is, from our atmosphere, darker than theirs, and presents a greater variety of deep tones and nameless colours. And as I before mentioned, the admired Claude, whom I rank of the Italian school, is of a very low key, delighting in masses of deep tones. And it is remarkable that his trees are never edged out light with Naples yellow, as our artists are fond of doing, but are mostly in dark masses, and whether near or distant, singly or in groups, are always without any strong and vivid colour. His object seems to have been to paint atmosphere not light, or rather that free penetrating light which he best effected by his lower key. And from this cause it is, that the eye rests, is filled, satisfied by the general effect, is never irritated either by too much whiteness, or too vivid colours; for he knew well that such irritation, though at first it attracts and forces attention, is after a while painful, and should therefore at any sacrifice be avoided.
But, to return to colouring as an expression. Here is a great field for practical experiment. On this subject I will quote a passage from the Sketcher in Maga of Sept. 1833.
"As in music all notes have their own expression, and combinations of them have such diversity of effect upon the mind, may not the analogy hold good with regard to colours? Has not every colour its own character? And have not combinations of them effects similar to certain combinations in sounds? This is a subject well worth the attention of any one who has leisure and disposition to take it up: and I am persuaded that the old masters either worked from a knowledge of this art, or had such an instinctive perception of it, that it is to be discovered in their works. Suppose a painter were to try various colours on boards, and combinations of them—place them before him separately with fixed attention, and then examine the channels into which his thoughts would run. If he were to find their character to be invariable, and peculiar to each of the boards put before him, he would learn that before he trusts his subject to the canvass, he should question himself as to the sentiment he intends it to express, and what combination of colours would be consentient or dissentient to it.
"This will certainly account for the colours of the old (particularly the historical) painters being so much at variance with common nature, sometimes glaringly at variance with the locality and position of the objects represented." "This knowledge of the effect of colours is certainly very remarkable in the Bolognese school. Who ever saw Corregio's backgrounds in nature, or indeed the whole colour of his pictures, including figures? Examine his back-ground to his Christ in the garden—what a mystery is in it! The Peter Martyr, at first sight, from the charm of truth that genius has given to it, might pass for the colour of common nature; but examine the picture as an artist, and you will come to another conclusion, and you will the more admire Titian."
Some critics have been misled by the simplicity of art in this masterpiece of Titian's, and have greatly admired the exactness with which he has drawn and coloured every object; but they have been deceived by that perfect unity which exists in all its parts, and have wrongly conceived the kind of naturalness of the picture. It is full of this sympathetic naturalness of colour; we are thoroughly satisfied, and ascribe that general naturalness to each particular part. Indeed if it were altogether in colour and forms no more than common nature, there would be no real martyrdom in it—it would be but a vulgar murder; but every part is in sympathy with the sentiment. Had Titian merely represented the clear sky of Italy, and brought out prominently green-leaved trees and herbage, because such things are, and were in such a scene where this martyrdom was suffered, the picture would not have been as it is, and must ever be, the admiration of the world and a monument of the genius of Titian. There was wanted a sky in which angels might come and go, and hover with the promise of the crown and glory of martyrdom, and there must be an under and more terrestrial sky, still grand and solemn, such as might take up the tale of horror, and tell it among the congenial mountains; and such there is in the voluminous clouds about the distant cliffs. And it is very observable that, in this picture, Titian, the colourist, is most sparing of what we are too fond of calling colour. Colour, indeed, there is, and of the greatest variety, but it is all of the subdued hues, with which the very ground and trees are clothed, that nothing shall presume to shine out of itself in the presence of the announcing angels, and to be unshrouded before such a deed.
I remember, I think it was about three years ago, a picture which well exemplifies this ideal colouring. It was exhibited at the Institution; it was of a female saint to whom the infant Saviour appears, by P. Veronese. The very excellence of the colouring was in its natural unnaturalness; I say natural, because it was perfectly true to the mystic dream, the saintly vision; a more common natural would have ruined it. No one ever, it is true, saw such a sky—but in a gifted trance it is such as would alone be seen, acknowledged, and remembered as of a heavenly vision. All the colouring was like it, rich and glorifying and unearthly, and imitative of the sanctifying light in old cathedrals. The sky was of very mixed tones and hues of green. The entire scene of the vision was thus hemmed in with the light and glory of holiness, apart from the world's ideas and employments. Why should modern painters be afraid of thus venturing into the ideal of colouring? Never was there a greater mistake, than that the common natural can represent the ideal. Wilkie with all his acuteness and good sense was bewildered with a notion of their union, and thought his sketches from the Holy Land would assist him in painting sacred subjects; whereas the truth is, that the very realities before his eyes would unpoeticise his whole mind; instead of trusting to his feeling, to his visionary dream, he would begin to doubt, as he did, what should be the exact costume, if his figures should stand or sit as Asiatics. As we are removed from events by time, so should we be by thought; we pass over an extensive region, and the clouds of days and of nights pursue us out of it, and we look back upon it in our memory, as under another light—the land itself, by distance and by memory making it a part of our minds, more than of our vision, becomes fabulous; it is no longer one for common language, but for song; and so the pencil that would paint it must be dipped in the colours of poetry. Memory glazes, to use a technical word, every scene. "The resounding sea and the shadowy mountains are far between us," as Homer says, and those fabulous territories that we love to revisit in the dreams of poetic night. There are no muses with their golden harps on Highgate Hill; nor would the painter that would paint them be over wise to expect a glimpse of their white feet on the real Parnassus. As to nature in art, we make too much of a little truth, neglecting the greater. It is not every creation that is revealed to the eye; even to adore and to admire properly, we must imagine a more beautiful than we see. The inventions of genius are but discoveries in regions of a higher nature.
"God's work invisible, Not undiscover'd, their true stamp impress On thought, creation's mirror, wherein do dwell His unattained wonders numberless."
Of late years some painters have taken up the novelty of representing scriptural subjects as under the actual scenery and climate of the holy land, and attempted besides to portray the characteristics of the race,—a thing never dreamed of by the great painters of history. They are partial to skies hot and cloudless, and to European feelings not agreeable; forgetful of a land of promise and of wonder, and that these subjects belong, and must be modified to the mental vision of every age and country. They abhor the voluminous and richly coloured clouds, as unnatural. Can they not feel the passage—
"Who maketh the clouds his chariot?"
Let then, not only their forms, but their colours too, be as far as may be worthy Him whom they are said to bear. They are, as it were, the folding and unfolding volumes wherein the history of all creation is written. As they are prominent in the language of poetry, so should they ever be the materials for poetic art.
I speak of this noble character of cloud skies, because a writer of more persuasive power than mature judgement,—the Author of "Modern Painters,"—has condemned them; that he has not felt them is surprising. He has, however, in his second, in many respects admirable part, manifested such change of opinion, and has shown such a growing admiration for the old masters, whom in his first volume he treated with so little respect, nay, with perfect contempt, that I cannot doubt the operation of his better judgment, when in prosecuting his subject, he will be led to consider the use of these materials of nature to poetic art.
I must not, however, forget that I began this paper with questioning the title of Rubens as a colourist. It has been shown, that I consider no painter a colourist, who does not unite the two essentials of colour,—agreeability, and its perfect sympathy with the subject.
I have endeavoured to show in what this agreeability consists. I have not presumed to lay down any definite rules for the second great essential; but I have endeavoured by illustration to enforce its necessity; in this confident that a proper practice will follow, and be the necessary result of a proper feeling. Now to speak of Rubens; what are his characteristics as a colourist? Wherein lies his excellence? I do not stop to repeat any of the extravagant praises that have been so freely lavished upon him. But I would ask, is there one important picture by his hand, wherein the colour is of a sentiment? Is there any one which, if you remove from it to such a distance as not to see the subject in its particulars, will indicate by its colouring what sort of narrative is to be told by a nearer inspection? Try him by those in our National Gallery. I will take first, his most powerful, and one of a subject most advantageous perhaps to his manner, because there is no very striking sentiment to be conveyed by it; for he seems scarcely serious in his treatment of this passage in the Roman history. I speak of his "Rape of the Sabines." Inasmuch as it is a picture of glare, and fluster, and confusion, it may be said to represent the subject; but such ought not to be the sentiment of it. But inasmuch as it has this glare, and is entirely deficient in all repose of colour, (for it is not requisite to representation of violent action, that there should not be that character of repose of colour which the essential agreeability demands,) the eye cannot rest upon it with satisfaction as a whole. You must approach it then nearer, to see how the particular objects are coloured. You will be pleased with the skill with which one colour is set off by another; and, doubtless, you will acknowledge a certain truth in the flesh tints: but all this while you are led away from the subject, draw no conclusion from it as a whole, and are induced to examine a detail which, however coloured with skill, and powerfully executed, is vulgar and disgusting. A mere trifle more of gross vulgarity would turn it into caricature, and you would think, that Rubens had been a successfully laborious satirist upon the narrative of the Roman historian. I confess that, but for its technical merits, which are lost upon most of the visitors of the Gallery, the picture would give me no pleasure whatever, nay, much disgust, as altogether derogatory to the dignity of art.
I purposely pass by his allegorical pictures as mere furniture for walls, not being subjects of sentiment; nor should I very much care if his "Peace and War" were in the sorry condition which has been wrongly given to it.
Examine then the Judgment of Paris. Here is a subject most favourable for him. It shows glaringly the defect of his manner. Admit that his flesh tints are most natural, that they are beautiful; has he not sacrificed too much to make them so? All, excepting these nude figures, is monotonous, has no relation by any tint to the figures, or to any idea of sentiment such a subject may be supposed to convey. The single excellence lies in the flesh-colouring of the three goddesses. But when I use the word excellence, I do not mean to say that in this respect he surpasses any other painter, as I will presently show. Now, there is a peculiarity in Rubens' method, and which strictly belongs to his colouring, from which arises what may be not improperly designated flimsiness, that is, the leaving too much of the first getting in of his picture, the first transparent sketchy brown. If in some respect this gives force to the more solid parts, by the contrast of the transparent with the opaque, yet is it rather a flashy force, in which the means become too visible; an entire substance is wanted; we come too immediately to the bare ground of the canvass. And this first colouring being a mere brown, not deserving the name of colour, as it is not the real colour of the objects upon which it is disposed, is in entire disagreement with the studied truth to nature in the other parts. There is every reason to believe that Rubens, after his return from Italy, was aware of this, by his partially adopting the Italian method of more generally solid painting and after glazing; but he returned to the Flemish method, and as it certainly was the more expeditious, it may have better suited his hand, and the demands upon it. Now, here it may be remarked, that even for the first essential—agreeability of colouring, that is, of the substance of the paint—it is necessary that it should be rich, really a substance, not a merely thin wash: such was the positive depth of even the shadowy parts in the back grounds of Corregio; the paint itself is a rich substance, with the lustrous depth of precious stones. So that it would appear that there is in Rubens' style of colouring an original incompleteness, destructive in part of the naturalness he would aim at; it is a mannerism, very tolerable in such light works as those lucid and charming pictures by Teniers where all is light and unlaboured; but becoming a weakness where the other labour and the subject are important.
Now, with regard to this celebrated excellence of his, in colouring the nude, (and here it should be observed, that it is almost exclusively in his female figures,) however natural it may be, is it nature in its most agreeable, its most perfect colouring? It has been said, and intended as praise, that the flesh looks as if it had fed upon roses; but is it a praise? I should rather say it would not unaptly express the thinness, the unsubstantialness of it, as of a rose leaf surface merely. In form, indeed, the figures are any thing but thin and unsubstantial: but I am considering only the colouring; it is not rich; it has indeed the light and play of life, but it has not the glow; it is a surface life, not life, warm life to the very marrow, such as we see in the works of Titian and Giorgione. They did not, as Rubens did, heighten the flesh with pure white; they reserved the power of that for another purpose, preserving throughout a lower tone, so that the eye shall not fasten upon any one particular tint, the whole being of the character of the "nimium lubricus aspici." Their white and their dark, they artfully placed as opposition, the cool white to set off the warmth, the life-glow of the flesh, and the dark to make the low tone shine out fair; so that in this very excellence of flesh painting, they were more perfect, that one only approach to excellence, by which it should seem Rubens had acquired his title as a colourist. But these painters, as well as many others—though take only these, as the most striking contrasts to Rubens—excelled also in the agreeability of their colouring, without reference to subject, and in the sympathy with regard to it. So that in them were united the two essentials. Whereas Rubens had in any perfection neither; the one not at all, and the other only in a minor part and degree.
Such was the general character of Rubens' colouring. I do not mean that there are no felicitous exceptions. I would notice—but there the human figure is not—his lioness on a ledge of rock; there is an entire absence of his strong and flickering colours: on the contrary all is dim—the scenery natural to the animal, for it partakes of its proper colours, (and this is strictly true, as the hare and the fox conceal themselves by their assimilating earths and forms.) The spectator advances upon the scene, unaware of the stealthily lurking danger. The dimness and repose are of a terror, that contrast and forcible colour would at least mitigate; the surprise would be lost, or rather be altogether of another kind; it would arm you for the danger, which becomes sublime by taking you unprepared. And there is his little landscape with the sun shedding his rays through the hole in the tree, where the sentiment of the obscure—the dim wood—is enhanced by the bright gleam—and there is in this little picture a whole agreeability of colour. His landscapes in general are, however, very strange; rather eccentric than natural in colour, yet preserving the intended atmospheric effect by an idealism of colouring not quite in keeping with the unromantic commonness of the scenery.
But these exceptions do not indicate the characteristics of Rubens as a colourist; he is more known, and more imitated, as far as he can be imitated, in the mannerism of his style which has been described.
Deficient, then, as I think him to have been in these two essentials, I am still disposed to question his claim to the title, and to ask, "Was Rubens a colourist?" If the answer be in the negative, it may be worth while to consider the precise point from which his style may be said to have deviated from the right road; nor is it here necessary to particularise, but to refer to the Italian practice generally, which will be found to consist chiefly in this—in the choosing a low key; and for the greatest perfection of colouring, the proper union of the two essentials of good colouring, it may be safe to refer, first to the Venetian, the Lombard, and then to the Bolognese schools. Not that the Roman school is altogether to be omitted. Out of his polished style, Raffaelle is often excellent—both rich in tone, and, where he is not remarkably so, often sentimental. Some of his frescoes, as the Heliodorus, are good examples. And in that small picture in our National Gallery, the "St Catherine," the sentiment of purity and loveliness is admirably sustained in the colouring. There is in the best pictures of that school no affected flashiness of high lights—no flimsiness in the unsubstantial paint in the shadows; there is an evenness throughout, which, if it reach not the perfection of colouring, is the best substitute for it.
Power is not inconsistent with modesty—with forbearance. In the flashy style, all the force is expended, and visibly so; and as in that excess of power the flash of lightning is but momentary, we cannot long bear the exhibition of such a power rendered continuous. In the more modest—the subdued style—the artist conceals as much as may be the very power he has used, thereby actually strengthening it; for while you have all you want, you know not how much may be in reserve, and you feel it unseen, or may believe it to be unseen, when in fact it is before your eyes, though half veiled for a purpose.
Let not any painter who would be a colourist deceive himself into the belief that the most vivid and unmixed colours are the best for his art, nor that even they are the truest to nature, in whatever sense he may take the word nature. It is easy enough to lay on crude vermilion, lake, and chrome yellows; yet the colours that shall be omitted shall be infinite, and by far more beautiful than the chosen, and for which, since the generality are not painters, nor scientific in the effects of colours, there are no names. Let a painter who would have so limited a scale and view of colour do his best, and the first flower-bed he looks at will shame him with regard to those very colours he has adopted, as with regard to those thousand shades of hues, mixed and of endless variety, which are still more beautiful. We scarcely ever in nature see a really unmixed colour; and that the mixed are the most agreeable may be more than conjectured, from the fact that, of the three, the blue, the red, and the yellow, the mixture of the two will be so unsatisfactory, that the mind's eye will, when withdrawn, supply the third.
A few words only remain to be said. To complete, practically, agreeability of colouring, there is wanting a more perfect vehicle for our colours. Much attention has, of late years, been directed to this subject; and there is every reason to believe not in vain. I wait, impatiently enough, Mr Eastlake's other volume, in which he promises to treat of the Italian methods. He has been indefatigable in collecting materials,—has an eye to know well what is wanted; and, as a scholar and collector of all that has been written on art, in Italian, as well as other languages, has the best sources from which to gather isolated facts, which, put together, may lead to most important discoveries.
Mrs Merrifield, also, whose translation from Cennino Cennini, and whose works on fresco painting are so valuable, has been collecting materials abroad, and will shortly publish her discoveries. The two proofs to which we are to look are documents and chemistry. The secret of Van Eyck may have been found out, but its modification under the Italian practice will be, perhaps, the more important discovery. I am glad also to learn, that Mr Hendrie intends to publish entire with notes, the "De Magerne MS." in the British Museum. I believe artists are already giving up the worst of vehicles, the meguilp, made of mastic, of all the varnishes the most ready to decompose, as well as to separate the paint, and produce those unseemly gashes which have been the ruin of so many pictures.
Whether colour be considered in its agreeability, per se, or in its sympathetic, its sentimental application,—for the attainment of either end, it is of the highest importance to resume the very identical vehicle, and the mode of using it, which were the vehicle and the methods of Titian, Giorgione, and Corregio, and generally of the old masters. Yours ever,
4th June, 1847.
 Titian's palette was most simple: the great variety in the colouring of his pictures was effected by the fewest and most common colours—browns I believe he did not use, of which we boast to possess so many; the ochres, red and yellow, with his black and blue, made most or all of his deepest tones, the great depth being given, by glazing over with the same, and touching in here and there slight varieties, more or less of the red or yellow, lighter or darker being used in these repetitions. Hence the harmony of his general tones—upon which, as the subject required them, he laid his more vivid colours. I believe the best painters have used the simplest palette—the fewest colours. Our own Wilson is said to have replied to one who told him a new brown was discovered, "I am sorry for it." But by far the most injurious of all our pigments is asphaltum; it always gives rather rottenness than depth.
 Mr Etty has written a letter, which has been lithographed and widely circulated, bearing so directly upon this subject, that I cannot refrain from noticing it. And this I do, because the authority of a Royal Academician, and one, I believe, selected to be judge in the distribution of the prizes in Westminster Hall Exhibition, cannot but have an influence, both with the public and the rising professors of the art.
He speaks of his high purposes in his choice of the subject of Joan of Arc and other pictures, and the process by which those purposes were brought to completion. He tells us, that in his enthusiasm he visited, as a pilgrim, the spot where the heroic and tragic scenes of his subject were enacted. He presumes that the houses there are now pretty much what they were then; and he has thought an exact representation of them necessary to historical truth, and he has accordingly introduced them.
Enthusiasm is good, but it should in this, as in all human concerns of importance, be under the guidance of strong principles. Now here the principles of historical painting, which separate that great act from the lower and imitative, are violated.
Had an eyewitness described as he felt the event which Mr Etty has undertaken to paint, would he have told of or portrayed to the mind's eye, and prominently, the very houses, with all their real accidents of material and colours, so that, were a tile off a roof, your sympathy must be made to stay for the noticing it?
This precision is not for historical painting, for it is in antagonism with poetry, (which is feeling high-wrought, by imagination.) It is wrong in colouring as in design. With regard to the first, the question should be asked—How would memory have coloured it to the spectator in his after vision? How would imagination colour it in the page of history? Details of this kind are sure to vulgarise a subject, and by their little truths destroy the greater—the heroism, the devotion—to which the eye would most naturally have been riveted, so as to have seen little else, and to have been quite out of a condition to arithmetise the pettinesses of things. Such treatment would better suit the levity of the author of the "Pucelle" than the grave historian or the still more serious and impressive historical painter. It is very important that Mr Etty, if he is likely to be again selected to pronounce judgment upon works of the competitors for rewards in historical painting and honour, revise his opinions, and test them by the established principles which are applicable alike to poetry and to painting; and without the practical use of which, genius, if it could co-exist, would be but an inane and objectless extravagance.
THE AMERICAN LIBRARY.
We are not—as the title placed at the head of this paper, till further explained, might seem to imply—we are not about to pass in review the whole literature of America. Scanty as that youthful literature is, and may well confess itself to be, it would afford subject for a long series of papers. Besides, the more distinguished of its authors are generally known, and fairly appreciated, and we should have no object nor interest just at present in determining, with perhaps some nearer approach to accuracy than has hitherto been done, the merits of such well-known writers as Irving, Cooper, Prescott, Emerson, Channing, and others. But the series now in course of publication by Messrs Wiley and Putnam, under the title of "Library of American Books," has naturally attracted our attention, bringing as it were some works before us for the first time, and presenting what—after a few distinguished names are bracketed off—may be supposed to be a fair specimen of the popular literature of that country.
It will be seen that we have taken up a pretty large handful for present examination. Our collection will be acknowledged, we think, to be no bad sample of the whole. At all events we have shaken from our sheaf two or three unprofitable cars, and one in particular so empty, and so rotten withal, that to hang over it for close examination was impossible. How it happens that the publishers of the series have admitted to the "Library of American Books" as if it were a book—a thing called "Big Abel and The Little Manhattan," is to us, at this distance from the scene of operations, utterly inexplicable. It is just possible that the author may have earned a reputable name in some other department of letters; pity, then, he should forfeit both it, and his character for sanity, by this outrageous attempt at humour. Perhaps he is the potent editor of some American broad-sheet, of which publishers stand in awe. We know not; of this only we are sure, that more heinous trash was never before exposed to public view. We read two chapters of it—more we are persuaded than any other person in England has accomplished—and then threw it aside with a sort of charitable contempt. For the sake of all parties, readers, critics, publishers and the author himself, it should be buried, at once, out of sight, with other things noisome and corruptible.
On the other hand, we shall be able to introduce to our readers (should it be hitherto unknown to them) one volume, at least, which they will be willing to transfer from the American to the English library. The "Mosses from an old Manse," is occasionally written with an elegance of style which may almost bear comparison with that of Washington Irving; and though certainly it is inferior to the works of that author in taste and judgment, and whatever may be described as artistic talent, it exhibits deeper traces of thought and reflection. What can our own circulating libraries be about? At all our places of summer resort they drug us with the veriest trash, without a spark of vitality in it, and here are tales and sketches like these of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which it would have done one's heart good to have read under shady coverts, or sitting—no unpleasant lounge—by the sea-side on the rolling shingles of the beach. They give us the sweepings of Mr Colburn's counter, and then boastfully proclaim the zeal with which they serve the public. So certain other servants of the public feed the eye with gaudy advertisements of every generous liquor under heaven, and retail nothing but the sour ale of some crafty brewer who has contrived to bind them to his vats and his mash-tub.
The first book we opened of this series is one called, with a charming alliteration, "Views and Reviews," by the author of "The Yemassee, &c." whom we fortunately learn, from another quarter, to be a gentleman of the more commodious name of Mr Sims; and the first words which caught our eye were "Americanism in Literature," printed in capital letters, it being the title of an essay which has for its object to stimulate the Americans to the formation of a national literature. This appears to be a favourite subject with a certain class of their writers, more distinguished for ardour than for judgment. Mrs Margaret Fuller, in her Papers on Literature and Art, is also eloquent on the same theme. Let us first hear Mr Sims. There is in this gentleman's enthusiasm a business-like air which is highly amusing.
"Americanism in Literature. This is the right title. It indicates the becoming object of our aim. Americanism in our literature is scarcely implied by the usual phraseology. American literature seems to be a thing certainly—but it is not the thing exactly. To put Americanism in our letters, is to do a something much more important. The phrase has a peculiar signification which is worth our consideration. By a liberal extension of the courtesies of criticism, we are already in possession of a due amount of American authorship; but of such as is individual and properly peculiar to ourselves, we cannot be said to enjoy much. Our writers are numerous—quite as many perhaps as, in proportion to our years, our circumstances, and necessities, might be looked for amongst any people. But, with very few exceptions, their writings might as well be European. They are European. The writers think after European models, draw their stimulus and provocation from European books, fashion themselves to European tastes, and look chiefly to the awards of European criticism. This is to denationalise the American mind. This is to enslave the national heart—to place ourselves at the mercy of the foreigner, and to yield all that is individual in our character and hope, to the paralysing influence of his will, and frequently hostile purposes."—(P. 1.)
All the literati of Europe are manifestly in league to sap the constitution and destroy the independence of America; and, at this very time, its own men of letters:—the traitors!—are seeking a European reputation. Truly a state of alarm which may be described as unparalleled. "A nation," says our most profound and original patriot, "must do its own thinking, as well as its own fighting, for as truly as all history has shown that the people who rely for their defence in battle on foreign mercenaries, inevitably become their prey; so the nation falls a victim to that genius of another to which she passively defers." Fearful to contemplate. There can be no safety for the United States as long as people will read Bulwer and Dickens instead of our "Yemassee," and our "Wigwams and Cabins."
But a national literature—will it come for any calling to it? Will it come the sooner for the banishment of all other literature? If Mr Sims makes his escape into the woods, and sits there naked and ignorant as a savage, will inspiration visit him? Will trying to uneducate his mind, however successful he may be in the attempt,—and he has really carried his efforts in this direction to a most heroic length—exactly enable him, or any other, to compete with this dreaded influence of foreign literature? And if not, what other measures are to be taken against this insidious enemy? We see none.
But no nation was ever hurt, as far as we have heard, by the light of genius shining on it from another. And as to this national literature—though it will not obey the conjurations of Mr Sims, we may be quite sure that, in due time, it will make its appearance. America can no more begin a literature, no more start fresh from its woods and its prairies, than we here in England could commence a literature, neither can it any more abstract itself from the influence of its own institutions, the temper of its people, its history, its natural scenery, than we here in England can manumit ourselves from the influence of the age in which we live. These things determine themselves by their own laws. You may as well call out to the tides of the ocean to flow this way or that, as think to control these great tidal movements of the human mind. America cannot begin a literature, for it must look up to the same wellhead, or rather to the same mountain streams as ourselves; neither do we suppose that it is seriously anxious to disclaim all connexion with Bacon and Shakspeare, Milton and Locke; but it can, and will, continue and carry on a literature of its own in a separate stream, branching from what we must be permitted to call, for some time at least, the main current; and which, now diverging from that, and now approaching to it, will at length wear for itself a deep and independent channel.
But such slow and gradual progress of things by no means suits the impetuous patriotism of Mr Sims. He is possessed evidently with the idea that some great explosion of national genius would suddenly take place, if the people would but resolve upon it. It is an affair of public opinion, like any other measure of policy; if but the universal suffrage could be brought to bear upon it, the thing were done; it is from the electoral urn that the whole scroll of poets and philosophers is to be drawn. "Let the nation," he solemnly proclaims, "but yield a day's faith to its own genius, and that day will suffice for triumph!... Our development," he continues, "depends upon our faith in what we are, and in our independence of foreign judgment." One would think Mr Sims was fighting over again the war of independence. Or has some old speech of Mr O'Connell's on the repeal of the union got shuffled amongst his papers? One expects the sentence to close with the reiterated quotation,—
"Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow!"
As the freedom Mr Sims is struggling for, is the release from superior genius, superior intelligence, from philosophy and taste, we may surely congratulate him, at least, on his own personal attainment of it. He has "struck the blow" for himself—whatever blow was necessary. He is free. Free, and as barren, as the north wind. Free as the loose and blinding sand upon a gusty day—and about as pleasing and as profitable. His "Views and Reviews" demonstrate in every page that he has quite liberated himself from all those fetters and prejudices which, in Europe, go under the name of truth and common sense.
Mrs or Miss Margaret Fuller—the titlepage does not enable us to determine which is the correct designation, but, in the absence of proof to the contrary, we shall bestow, what we hope we shall not offend a lady who has written upon "Woman in the Nineteenth Century" by still calling the more honourable title—Mrs Margaret Fuller has touched upon the same theme in her papers upon literature and art. She, too, sighs impatiently after a national literature. In an essay devoted to the subject, she thus commences:—"It does not follow, because many books are written by persons born in America, that there exists an American literature. Before such can exist, an original idea must animate this nation, and fresh currents of life must call into life fresh thoughts along its shores."—(Vol. ii. p. 122.)
An original idea!—and such as is to animate a whole nation! Certainly it sounds fit and congruous that the new world, as their continent has been called, should give us a new truth; and yet, as this new world was, in fact, peopled by inhabitants from the old, who have carried on life much in the same way as it has been conducted in the ancient quarters of the globe, we fear there is little more chance of the revelation of a great original idea in one hemisphere than the other.
"We use the language of England," continues the lady, "and receive in torrents the influence of her thought, yet it is, in many respects, uncongenial and injurious to our constitution. What suits Great Britain, with her insular position, and consequent need to concentrate and intensify her life," (we hope our readers understand—we cannot help them if they do not,) "with her limited monarchy and spirit of trade, does not suit a mixed race, continually enriched with new blood from other stocks the most unlike that of our first descent, with ample field and verge enough to range in, and leave every impulse free, and abundant opportunity to develop a genius, wide and full as our rivers, flowery, luxuriant, and impassioned as our vast prairies, rooted in strength as the rocks on which the Puritan fathers landed."
If the future genius of America is to write "to order," as some appear to think, it would be difficult to give him, a more perplexing programme than the lady here lays down. This rock of the Puritans, standing amongst the luxuriant, flowery, and impassioned prairies, presents a very heterogeneous combination. And whether one who had rooted himself upon such a rock would altogether approve the "leaving every impulse free," may admit of a question.
But it is altogether a superfluous and futile anxiety which agitates these writers. A national literature the Americans will assuredly have, if they have a literature at all. It cannot fail to assume a certain national colour, although it would be impossible beforehand to fix and determine it. No effort could prevent this. And how egregious a mistake to imagine that they would hasten the advent of an American literature by discarding European models, and breaking from the influence of European modes of thought! It would be a sure expedient for becoming ignorant and barbarous. They cannot discard European models without an act of mental suicide; and who sees not that it is only by embracing all, appropriating all, competing with all, that the new and independent literature can be formed?
And, after, all, what is this great boast of nationality in literature? Whatever is most excellent in the literature of every country is precisely that which belongs to humanity, and not to the nation. What is dearest and most prized at home is exactly that which has a world-wide celebrity and a world-wide interest—that which touches the sympathies of all men. Are the highest truths national? Is there any trace of locality in the purest and noblest of sentiments? We invariably find that the same poets, and the same passages of their works, which are most extolled at home, are the most admired abroad. If there were any wondrous charm in this nationality it would be otherwise. The foreigner would fail to admire what is most delectable to the native. But the readers of all nations point at once, and applaud invariably, at the same passage. Who ever rose from the Inferno of Dante without looking back to the story of Ugolino and of Francesca? If a volume of choice extracts were to be culled from the works of Dante, Ariosto, Petrarch, an Englishman and an Italian would make no greater difference in their selection than would two Englishmen or two Italians.
Nationality one is sure to have, whether desirable or not, but the great writers of every people are unquestionably those who, without foregoing their national character, rise to be countrymen of the world. Mr Sims, instead of complaining that his fellow-countrymen are European, (may more of them become so!) should be assured of this, that it is only those who rise to European reputation that can be the founders of an American literature. The day that sees the American poet or philosopher taking his place in the high European diet of sages and of poets, is the day when the national literature has become confirmed and established.
Mr Sims is, at all events, quite consistent with himself in his wish to break loose from European literature—he who is disposed to break loose entirely from all the past. History with him, as history, is utterly worthless. It is absolutely of no value but as it affords a raw material for novels and romances. One would hardly credit that a man would utter such an absurdity. Here it is, however, formally divulged.
"The truth is—an important truth, which seems equally to have escaped," &c., &c.—"the truth is, the chief value of history consists in its proper employment for the purposes of art!—Consists in its proper employment, as so much raw material in the erection of noble fabrics and lovely forms, to which the fire of genius imparts soul, and which the smile of taste informs with beauty; and which, thus endowed and constituted, are so many temples of mind—so many shrines of purity—where the big, blind, struggling heart of the multitude may rush—in its vacancy, and be made to feel;—in its blindness, and be made to see;—in its fear, and find countenance;—in its weakness, and be rendered strong;—in the humility of its conscious baseness, and be lifted into gradual excellence and hope!"—(P. 24.)
Here is truth and eloquence, at one blow, enough to stagger the strongest of us. "It is the artist only who is the true historian," he again resolutely affirms. We should apprehend that, unless history were allowed to stand on a separate basis of its own, supported by its own peculiar testimony, it could be of little use even in enlarging the boundaries of art. History is said to enable the artist to transcend the limits which the modes of thought and feeling of his own day would else prescribe to him. But if the rules by which we judge of truth in history be no other than those by which we judge of truth or probability in works of fiction, (and to this the views of Mr Sims inevitably conduct us)—if history has not its own independent place and value—it can no longer lend this aid—no longer raise art above, or out of the circle in which existing opinions and sympathies would place her. Each generation of artists would not learn new truths from history, but history would be rewritten by each generation of artists. How, for example, could a Protestant of the nineteenth century, with whom religion and morality are inseparably combined—with whom conscience is always both moral and religious—how could he, guided only by his own experience, represent, or give credit to that entire separation of the two modes of feeling, moral and religious, which encounters us frequently in the middle ages, and constantly in the Pagan world? Surely a fact like this, learned from historical testimony, has a value of its own, other and greater than any fictitious representation which an artist might supply. But even this fictitious representation, as we have said, would grow null and void if not upheld by the independent testimony of history; the past would become the attendant shadow merely of the present.
We have the old predilection in favour of a true story, whenever it can be had. Mr Sims has written some tales under the title of "The Wigwam and the Cabin." They seem to be neither good nor bad;—it would be a waste of time to cast about for the exact epithet that should characterise them;—and in these tales we live much with the early settlers and the Red-skins. All his stories put together, had they twice their merit, are not equal in value to a few words he quotes from the brief authentic memoir of Daniel Boon. What were any picture from the hands of any artist whatever to the certainty we feel that this stout-hearted, fearless man did verily walk the untrodden forest alone, with as little disquiet as we parade the streets of a populous city? Can any paradoxical reasoning about eternal truths, and the universal reality of human sentiments, assimilate this history of Daniel Boon to the very best creation of the novelist? Here was the veritable hero who did exist. "You see," says Boon, "how little human nature requires. It is in our own hearts, rather than in the things around us, that we are to seek felicity. A man may be happy in any state. It only asks a perfect resignation to the will of Providence." Commonplace moralities enough, in the mouth of a commonplace person. Illustrated by the life of Boon, how they tell upon us! They are the words of the steadfast, solitary man, who could go forth single, amongst wild beasts and savages, braving all manner of dangers, and hardships, and deprivations. "I had plenty," he says, "in the midst of want; was happy though surrounded by dangers; how should I be melancholy? No populous city, with all its structures and all its commerce, could afford me so much pleasure as I found here."
Boon, though he never wrote so much as a single stanza about it, as we hear, added to his love of enterprise a sincere passion for the beauties of nature. No poet, therefore, could venture to draw upon his imagination for a bolder picture than we have here in the true story of Daniel Boon, breaking upon the sublime solitudes of nature, fearless and alone, and relying on his single manhood. The picture could gather nothing from invention. Shall any one pretend to say that it gathers nothing from being true?
Mr Sims is very indignant that Niebahr should rob him of many heroic and marvellous stories. How can Niebahr rob him of any thing—who looks not for truth in history, but for novel and romance? The great German critic will not interfere with his history—will leave him in undisturbed possession of all his novels and romances—all his noble fabrics—"temples of mind,"—"shrines of purity," &c. &c.—where he may walk as "big and as blind," as he pleases.
The new American literature which Mr Sims is to originate, will be as little indebted, it seems, to science as to history. This, too, has disturbed his faith in certain pleasing and most profitable stories. "That cold-blooded demon called Science," he exclaims, "has taken the place of all other demons. He has certainly cast out innumerable devils, however he may still spare the principal. Whether we are the better for his intervention is another question. There is reason to apprehend that in disturbing our human faith in shadows, we have lost some of those wholesome moral restraints which might have kept many of us virtuous where the laws could not."
A wholesome moral restraint in starting at every bush, and hating every old woman for a witch! Mr Sims, from his own intellectual altitude, pronounces these faiths to be "shadows;" he does not believe—not he—in the walking about at night of impalpable white sheets; but if you should happen to be of the same opinion with himself, then the cold-blooded demon of science has seized you for his prey. In this, there are many others who resemble Mr Sims; one often meets with half-educated men and women, who would take it as an affront, an unpardonable insult, if you were to suppose them addicted to the childish superstitions of the nursery, who nevertheless cannot endure to hear those very superstitions decried or exploded by others. They want to "disbelieve and tremble" at the same time.
We must state, in justice to Mr Sims, that this outbreak against science is the preluding strain to his "Wigwams and Cabins," where he has the intention of dealing with the supernatural and the marvellous. Let him tell his marvels, and welcome; a ghost story is just as good now as ever it was; but why usher it in with this didactic folly? Of these tales, as we do not wish again to refer to the works of Mr Sims, we may say here, that they appear to give some insight into the manner of life of the early settlers, and their intercourse with the savages. In this point of view they might be read with profit, could we be sure that the pictures they present were tolerably faithful. But a writer who has no partiality whatever for matter of fact, and who systematically prefers fiction to truth, comes before us with unusual suspicion, and requires an additional guarantee.
"Paperson Literature and Art." Our readers have already had a specimen, and not an unfavourable one, of the eloquence of Mrs Margaret Fuller. This lady is by no means given to the flagrant absurdities of the gentleman we have just parted with, but in her writings there is a constant effort to be forcible, which leads her always a little on the wrong side of good taste and common sense. There is an uneasy and ceaseless labour to be brilliant and astute. The reader is perpetually impressed with the effort that is put forth in his favour,—an ambiguous claim, and the only one, that is made upon his gratitude.
America is not without her army of critics, her well-appointed and disciplined array of reviewers. The North American Review betrays no inferiority to its brethren on this side of the Atlantic. Let there be therefore no mistake in regarding Mrs Margaret Fuller as the representative of the critical judgment of her country. But there is a large section, or coterie, of its literary people, whose mode of thinking we imagine this essayist may be considered as fairly expressing. Even this section, we do not suppose that she leads; but she has just that amount of talent and of hardihood which would prompt her to press forward into the front rank of any band of thinkers she had joined. She is not of that stout-hearted race who venture forth alone; she must travel in company; but in that company she will go as far as who goes farthest, and will occasionally dart from the ranks to strike a little blow upon her own account. The writings of minds of this calibre may be usefully studied for the indications they give of the currents of opinion, whether on the graver matters of politics, or, as in this instance, on the less important topics of literature.