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Whistler

Art happens--no hovel is safe from it, no Prince may depend upon
it, the vastest intelligence can not bring it about, and puny
efforts to make it universal end in quaint comedy, and coarse
farce.

--The "Ten-o'Clock" Lecture

The Eternal Paradox of Things is revealed in the fact that the men
who have toiled most for peace, beauty and harmony have usually
lived out their days in discord, and in several instances died a
malefactor's death. Just how much discord is required in God's
formula for a successful life, no one knows, but it must have a use,
for it is always there.

Seen from a distance, out of the range of the wordy shrapnel, the
literary scrimmage is amusing. "Gulliver's Travels" made many a
heart ache, but it only gladdens ours. Pope's "Dunciad" sent shivers
of fear down the spine of all artistic England, but we read it for
the rhyme, and insomnia. Byron's "English Bards and Scotch
Reviewers" gave back to the critics what they had given out--to
their great surprise and indignation, and our amusement. Keats died
from the stab of a pen, they say, and whether 't was true or not we
know that now a suit of Cheviot is sufficient shield. "We love him
for the enemies he has made"--to have friends is a great gain, but
to achieve an enemy is distinction.

Ruskin's "Modern Painters" is a reply to the contumely that sought
to smother Turner under an avalanche of abuse; but since the enemy
inspired it, and it made the name and fame of both Ruskin and
Turner, why should they not hunt out the rogues in Elysium and
purchase ambrosia?

Whistler's "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies" is a bit of
sharpshooter sniping at the man who was brave enough to come to the
rescue of Turner, and who afterward proved his humanity by adopting
the tactics of the enemy, working the literary stinkpot to repel
impressionistic boarders.

No friend could have done for Whistler what Ruskin did. Before
Ruskin threw an ink-bottle at him, as Martin Luther did at the
Devil, he was one of several; after the bout he was as one set
apart.

When we think of Whistler, if we listen closely we can hear the echo
of shrill calls of recrimination, muffled reveilles of alarm--
pamphlet answering unto pamphlet across seas of misunderstanding--
vituperations manifold, and recurring themes of rabid ribaldry--all
forming a lurid Symphony in Red.


John Davidson has dedicated a book to his enemy, thus:

"Unwilling Friend, let not thy spite abate: help me with scorn, and
strengthen me with hate."

The general tendency to berate the man of superior talent would seem
to indicate, as before suggested, that disparagement has some sort
of compensation in it. Possibly it is the governor that keeps things
from going too fast--the opposition of forces that holds the balance
true. But almost everything can be overdone; and the fact remains
that without encouragement and faith from without, the stoutest
heart will in time grow faint and doubt itself. It hears the yelping
of the pack, and there creeps in the question, "What if they are
right?" Then come the longing and the necessity for the word of
praise, the clasp of a kindly hand, and the look that reassures.

Occasionally the undiscerning make remarks, slightly tinged with
muriatic acid, concerning the ancient and honorable cult known as
the Mutual Admiration Society. My firm belief is, that no man ever
did or can do a great work alone--he must be backed up by the Mutual
Admiration Society. It may be a very small Society--in truth, I have
known Chapters where there were only two members, but there was such
trust, such faith, such a mutual uplift, that an atmosphere was
formed wherein great work was done.

In Galilee even the Son of God could do no great work, on account of
the unbelief of the people. "Fellowship is heaven and lack of
fellowship is hell," said William Morris. And he had known both.

Some One must believe in you. And through touching finger-tips with
this Some One, we may get in the circuit, and thus reach out to all.
Self-Reliance is very excellent, but as for independence, there is
no such thing. We are a part of the great Universal Life; and as one
must win approval from himself, so he must receive corroboration
from others: having this approval from the Elect Few, the opinions
of the many matter little.

How little we know of the aspirations that wither unexpressed, and
of the hopes that perish for want of the right word spoken at the
right time! Out in the orchard, as I write, I see thousands and
thousands of beautiful blossoms that will never become fruit for
lack of vitalization--they die because they are alone.

Thoughts materialize into deeds only when Some One vitalizes by
approval. Every good thing is loved into life.

Great men have ever come in groups, and the Mutual Admiration
Society always figures largely. To enumerate instances would be to
inflict good folks with triteness and truism. I do not wish to rob
my reader of his rights--think it out for yourself, beginning with
Concord and Cambridge, working backward adown the centuries.


There are two Whistlers. One tender as a woman, sensitive as a
child--thirsting for love, friendship and appreciation--a dreamer of
dreams, seeing visions and mounting to the heavens on the wings of
his soaring fancy. This is the real Whistler. And there has always
been a small Mutual Admiration Society that has appreciated,
applauded and loved this Whistler; to them he has always been
"Jimmy."

The other Whistler is the jaunty little man in the funny, straight-
brimmed high hat--cousin to the hat John D. Long wore for twenty
years. This man in the long black coat, carrying a bamboo wand, who
adjusts his monocle and throws off an epigram, who confounds the
critics, befogs the lawyers, affronts millionaires from Colorado,
and plays pitch and toss with words, is the Whistler known to
newspaperdom. And Grub Street calls him "Jimmy," too, but the voice
of Grub Street is guttural and in it is no tender cadence--it is
tone that tells, not the mere word: I have been addressed with an
endearing phrase when the words stabbed. Grub Street sees only the
one man and goes straightway after him with a snickersnee. To use
the language of Judge Gaynor, "This artistic Jacques of the second
part protects the great and tender soul of the party of the first
part."

That is it--his name is Jacques: Whistler is a fool. The fools were
the wisest men at court. Shakespeare, who dearly loved a fool,
belonging to the breed himself, placed his wisest sayings into the
mouths of men who wore the motley. When he adorned a man with cap
and bells, it was as though he had given bonds for both that man's
humanity and intelligence.

Neither Shakespeare nor any other writer of good books ever dared
depart so violently from truth as to picture a fool whose heart was
filled with pretense and perfidy. The fool is not malicious. Stupid
people may think he is, because his language is charged with the
lightning's flash; but these be the people who do not know the
difference between an incubator and an eggplant.

Touchstone, with unfailing loyalty, follows his master with quip and
quirk into exile. When all, even his daughters, had forsaken King
Lear, the fool bares himself to the storm and covers the shaking old
man with his own cloak; and when in our day we meet the avatars of
Trinculo, Costard, Mercutio and Jacques, we find they are men of
tender susceptibilities, generous hearts and lavish souls.

Whistler shakes his cap, flourishes his bauble, tosses that fine
head, and with tongue in cheek, asks questions and propounds
conundrums that pedantry can never answer. Hence the ink-bottle,
with its mark on the walls at Eisenach, and at Coniston.


Every man of worth is two men--sometimes many. In fact, Doctor
George Vincent, the psychologist, says, "We never treat two persons
in exactly the same manner." If this is so, and I suspect it is, the
person we are with dictates our mental process and thus controls our
manners--he calls out the man he wishes to see. Certain sides of our
nature are revealed only to certain persons. And I can understand,
too, how there can be a Holy of Holies, closed and barred forever
against all except the One. And in the absence of this One, I can
also understand how the person can go through life, and father,
mother, brothers, sisters, friends and companions never guess the
latent excellence that lies concealed. We defend and protect this
Holy of Holies from the vulgar gaze.

There are two ways to guard and keep alive the sacred fires; one is
to flee to convent, monastery or mountain and there live alone with
God; the other is to mix and mingle with men and wear a coat of mail
in way of manner.

Women whose hearts are well-nigh bursting with grief will often be
the gayest of the gay; men whose souls are corroding with care--
weighted down with sorrow too great for speech--are often those who
set the table in a roar.

The assumed manner, continued, evolves into a pose. Pose means
position, and the pose is usually a position of defense. All great
people are poseurs.

Men pose so as to keep the mob back while they can do their work.
Without the pose, the garden of a poet's fancy would look like
McKinley's front yard at Canton in the fall of Ninety-six. That is
to say, without the pose the poet would have no garden, no fancy, no
nothing--and there would be no poet. Yet I am quite willing to admit
that a man might assume a pose and yet have nothing to protect; but
I stoutly maintain that pose in such a one is transparent to every
one as the poles that support a scarecrow, simply because the pose
never becomes habitual.

With the great man pose becomes a habit--and then it is not a pose.
When a man lies and admits he lies, he tells the truth.

Whistler has been called the greatest poseur of his day; and yet he
is the most sincere and truthful of men--the very antithesis of
hypocrisy and sham. No man ever hated pretense more.

Whistler is an artist, and the soul of the man is revealed in his
work--not in his hat, nor yet his bamboo cane, nor his long black
coat, much less the language which he uses, Talleyrand-like, to
conceal his thought. Art has been his wife, his children and his
religion. Art has said to him, "Thou shalt have no other gods before
me," and he has obeyed the mandate.

That picture of his mother in the Luxembourg is the most serious
thing in the whole collection--so gentle, so modest, so appealing,
so charged with tenderness. It is classed by the most competent
critics of today along with the greatest works of the old masters.
We find upon the official roster of the fine arts of France this
tribute opposite the name of Whistler, "Portrait of the mother of
the author, a masterpiece destined for the eternal admiration of
future generations, combining in its tone-power and magnificence the
qualities of a Rembrandt, a Titian, a Velasquez." The picture does
not challenge you--you have to hunt it out, and you have to bring
something to it, else 't will not reveal itself. There is no
decrepitude in the woman's face and form, but someway you read into
the picture the story of a great and tender love and a long life of
useful effort. And now as the evening shadows gather, about to fade
off into gloom, the old mother sits there alone, poised, serene:
husband gone, children gone--her work is done. Twilight comes. She
thinks of the past in gratitude, and gazes wistfully out into the
future, unafraid. It is the tribute that every well-born son would
like to pay to the mother who loved him into being, whose body
nourished him, whose loving arms sustained him, whose unfaltering
faith and appreciation encouraged him to do and to become. She was
his wisest critic, his best friend--his mother!


The father of Whistler the artist, Major George Washington Whistler,
was a graduate of West Point, and a member of the United States
Corps of Engineers. He was an active, practical and useful man--a
skilful draftsman and mathematician, and a man of affairs who could
undertake a difficult task and carry it through to completion.

Such men are always needed, in the army and out of it.
Responsibility gravitates to the man who can shoulder it. Such men
as Major Whistler are not tied to a post--they go where they are
needed.

When George Washington Whistler was a cadet at West Point, there
came to visit the place Doctor Swift and his beautiful young
daughter, Mary. She took the Military School by storm; at least, she
held captive the hearts of all the young men there--so they said.
And in very truth the heart of one young man was prisoner, for Major
Whistler married Miss Swift soon after.

To them were born Deborah, the Major's only daughter, who married
Doctor Seymour Hayden of London, a famous surgeon and still more
famous etcher; George, who became an engineer and railway manager;
and two years later, Joseph.

And when Joe was two years old, this beautiful wife, aged twenty-
three, passed away, and young Major Whistler and his three babies
were left alone.

At West Point Whistler had a friend named McNeill, son of Doctor C.
D. McNeill, of Wilmington, North Carolina--a classmate--with whom he
had been closely associated since graduation. McNeill had a sister,
Anna Matilda, a great soul, serious and strong. At length Whistler
took his motherless brood--including himself--to her and she
accepted them all. I bow my head to the stepmother who loves into
manhood and womanhood children whom another has loved into life. She
must have a great heart already expanded by love to do this.
Naturally the mother-love grows with the child--that is what
children are for, to enlarge the souls of the parents. But at the
beginning of womanhood, Anna Matilda McNeill was great enough to
enfold in her heart and arms the children of the man she loved and
make them hers.

In the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty-four, Major Whistler and his
wife were living in Lowell, Massachusetts, where the Major was
superintending the construction of the first of those wonderful
waterways that tirelessly turn ten thousand spindles.

And Fate would have it so, that here at Lowell, in a little house on
Worthing Street, was born the first of the five sons of Major
Whistler and his wife, Anna Matilda. And they called the name of the
child James Abbott McNeill Whistler--an awful big name for a very
small baby.

About the time this peevish little pigmy was put into short dresses,
his father resigned his position in the United States Army to accept
a like position with the Czar of Russia. The first railroad
constructed in Russia, from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, was built
under the superintendence of Major Whistler, who also designed
various bridges, viaducts, tunnels and other engineering feats for
Adam Zad, who walks like a man, and who paid him princely sums for
his services.

Americans not only fill the teeth of royalty, but we furnish the Old
World machinery, ideas and men. For every twenty-five thousand men
they supply us, we send them back one, and the one we send them is
worth more than the twenty-five thousand they send us. Schenectady
is today furnishing the engines and supplying engineers to teach
engineers for the transcontinental Siberian railway. When you take
"The Flying Scotchman" from London to Edinburgh you ride in a
Pullman car, with all the appurtenances, even to a Gould coupler, a
Westinghouse air-brake, and a dusky George from North Carolina, who
will hit you three times with the butt of a brush-broom and expect a
bob as recompense. You feel quite at home.

Then when you see that the Metropolitan Railway of London is managed
by a man from Chicago, and that all trains of "the underground" are
being equipped with the Edison incandescent light; and you note
further that a New York man has morganized the transatlantic
steamship-lines, you agree with William T. Stead that, "America may
be raw and crude, but she is producing a race of men--men of power,
who can think and act." Coupled with the Englishman's remarkable
book, "The Americanization of the World," there is an art criticism
by Bernard Shaw, who comes from a race that will not pay rent,
strangely enough living in London, content, with no political
aspirations, who says, "The three greatest painters of the time are
of American parentage--Abbey, Sargent and Whistler; and of these,
Whistler has had greater influence on the artists of today than any
other man of his time."

But let us swing back and take a look at the Whistlers in Russia.
Little Jimmy never had a childhood: the nearest he came to it was
when his parents camped one Summer with the "construction gang."
That Summer with the workers and toilers, among the horses, living
out of doors--eating at the campfire and sleeping under the sky--was
the boy's one glimpse of paradise. "My ambition then was to be the
foreman of a construction gang--and it is yet," said the artist in
describing that brief, happy time to a friend.

The child of well-to-do parents, but homeless, living in hotels and
boarding-houses, is awfully handicapped. Children are only little
animals, and travel is their bane and scourge. They belong on the
ground, among the leaves and flowers and tall grass--in the trees or
digging in sand piles. Hotel hallways, table-d'hote dinners and the
clash of travel, are all terrible perversions of Nature's intent.

Yet the boy survived--eager, nervous, energetic. He acquired the
Russian language, of course, and then he learned to speak French, as
all good Russians must. "He speaks French like a Russ," is the
highest compliment a Parisian can pay you.

The boy's mother was his tutor, companion, playmate. They read
together, drew pictures together, and played the piano, four hands.

Honors came to the hard-working engineer--decorations, ribbons,
medals, money--and more work. The poor man was worked to death. The
Czar paid every honor to the living and dead that royalty can give.
When the family left Saint Petersburg with the body of their loved
one, His Imperial Majesty ordered his private carriage to be placed
at their disposal. And honors awaited the dead here. A monument in
the cemetery at Stonington, Connecticut, erected by the Society of
American Engineers, marks the spot where he sleeps. The stricken
mother was back in America, and James was duly entered at West
Point. The mother's ideal was her husband--in his life she had lived
and moved--and that James should do what he had done, become the
manly man that he had become, was her highest wish.

The boy was already an acceptable draftsman, and under the tutelage
of Professor Robert Weir he made progress. West Point does not teach
such a soft and feminine thing as picture-painting--it draws plans
of redoubts and fortifications, makes maps, and figures on the
desirability of tunnels, pontoons and hidden mines. Robert Weir
taught all these things, and on Saturdays painted pictures for his
own amusement. In the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington is a
taste of his quality--the large panel entitled, "The Departure of
the Pilgrims."

Tradition has it that young Whistler assisted his teacher on this
work.

Weir succeeded in getting his pupil heartily sick of the idea of
grim-visaged war as a business. He hated the thought of doing things
on order, especially killing men when told. "The soldier's
profession is only one remove from the business of Jack Ketch, who
hangs men and then salves his conscience with the plea that some one
told him to do it," said Whistler. If he remained at West Point he
would become an army officer and Uncle Sam or the Czar would own him
and order him to do things.

Weir declared he was absurd, but the Post Surgeon said he was
nervous and needed a change. In truth, West Point disliked Jimmy as
much as he disliked West Point, and he was recommended for
discharge. Mother and son sailed away for London, intending to come
back in time for the next term.

The young man took one souvenir from West Point that was to stand by
him. In a sham battle, during a charge, his horse went down, and the
cavalcade behind went right over horse and rider. When picked up and
carried out of the scrimmage, Cadet Whistler was unconscious, and
the doctors said his skull was fractured. However, his whipcord
vitality showed itself in a quick recovery; but a white lock of hair
soon appeared to mark the injured spot, to be a badge of distinction
and a delight to the caricaturist forever. In London the mother and
son found lodgings out towards Chelsea. No doubt the literary
traditions attracted them. Only a few squares away lived Rossetti,
with a wonderful collection of blue china, giving lessons in
painting. There were weekly receptions at his house, where came
Burne-Jones, William Morris, Madox Brown and many other excellent
people. Down a narrow street near by, lived a grumpy Scotchman, by
the name of Carlyle, whose portrait Whistler was later to paint, and
although Carlyle had no use for Rossetti, yet Mrs. Whistler and her
boy liked them both. It came time to return to America if the young
man was to graduate at West Point. But they decided to go over to
Paris so James could study art for a few months.

They never came back to America.


Whistler, the coxcomb, had Ruskin haled before the tribunal and
demanded a thousand pounds as salve for his injured feelings because
the author of "Stones of Venice" was colorblind, lacking in
imagination, and possessed of a small magazine wherein he briskly
told of men, women and things he did not especially admire.

The case was tried, and the jury decided for Whistler, giving him
one farthing damages. But this was success--it threw the costs on
Ruskin, and called the attention of the world to the absurdity of
condemning things that are, at the last, a mere matter of individual
taste.

Whistler was once asked by a fellow artist to criticize a wondrous
chromatic combination that the man had thrown off in an idle hour.
Jimmy adjusted his monocle and gazed long. "And what do you think of
it?" asked the painter standing by. "Oh, just a little more green, a
little more green [pause and slight cough] but that is your affair."

Whistler painted the "Nocturne," and that was his affair. If Ruskin
did not think it beautiful, that was his affair; but when Ruskin
went one step further and accused the painter of trying to hoodwink
the world for a matter of guineas, attacking the man's motives, he
exceeded the legitimate limits of criticism, and his public rebuke
was deserved. In matter of strictest justice, however, it may be as
well to say that Whistler was quite as blind to the beauty of
Ruskin's efforts for the betterment of humanity as Ruskin was to the
excellence of Whistler's pictures. And if Ruskin had been in the
humor for litigation he might have sued Whistler and got a shilling
damages because Whistler once averred: "The Society of Saint George
is a scheme for badgering the unfortunate, and should be put down by
the police. God knows the poor suffer enough without being
patronized!"

Mr. Whistler was once summoned as a witness in a certain suit where
the purchaser of a picture had refused to pay for it. The cross-
examination ran something like this:

"You are a painter of pictures?"

"Yes."

"And know the value of pictures?"

"Oh, no!"

"At least you have your own ideas about values?"

"Certainly!"

"And you recommended the defendant to buy this picture for two
hundred pounds?"

"I did."

"Mr. Whistler, it is reported that you received a goodly sum for
this recommendation--is there anything in that?"

"Oh, nothing, I assure you [yawning]--nothing but the indelicacy of
the suggestion."

The critics found much joy, several years ago, in tracing out the
fact that Whistler spent a year at Madrid copying Velasquez. That
he, like Sargent, has been benefited and inspired by the sublime art
of the Spaniard there is no doubt, but there is nothing in the
charge that he is an imitator of Velasquez, save the indelicacy of
the suggestion.

It was a comparison of Velasquez and Whistler, and a warm assurance
that his name would live with that of the great Spaniard, that led
Whistler to launch that little question, now a classic, "Why drag in
Velasquez?"

The great lesson that Whistler has taught the world is to observe;
and this he got from the Japanese. Lafcadio Hearn has said that the
average citizen of Japan detects tints and shades that are
absolutely unseen by Western eyes. Livingston found tribes in Africa
that had never seen pictures of any kind, and he had great
difficulty in making them perceive that the figure of a man, drawn
on a piece of paper a foot square, really was designed for a man.

"Man big--paper little--no good!" was the criticism of a chief. The
chief wanted to hear the voice of the man before he would believe it
was meant for a man. This savage chief was a great person, no doubt,
in his own bailiwick, but he lacked imagination to bridge the gap
between a real man and the repeated strokes of a pencil on a bit of
paper.

The Japanese--any Japanese--would have been delighted by Whistler's
"Nocturne." Ruskin wasn't. He had never seen the night, and
therefore he declared that Whistler had "flung a pot of paint in the
face of the public."

That men should dogmatize concerning things where the senses alone
supply the evidence, is only another proof of man's limitations. We
live in a peewee world which our senses create and declare that
outside of what we see, smell, taste and hear there is nothing. It
is twenty-five thousand miles around the earth--stellar space is not
computable; and man can walk in a day about thirty miles. Above the
ground he can jump about four feet. In a city his unaided ear can
hear his friend call about two hundred feet. As for smell, he really
has almost lost the sense; and taste, through the use of stimulants
and condiments, has likewise nearly gone. Man can see and recognize
another man a quarter of a mile away, but at the same distance is
practically color-blind.

Yet we were all quite willing to set ourselves up as standards until
science came with spectroscope, telephone, microscope and Roentgen
ray to force upon us the fact that we are tiny, undeveloped and
insignificant creatures, with sense quite unreliable and totally
unfit for final decisions.

Whistler sees more than other men. He has taught us to observe, and
he has taught the art world to select.

Oratory does not consist in telling it all--you select the truth you
wish to drive home; in literature, in order to make your point, you
must leave things out; and in painting you must omit. Selection is
the vital thing.

The Japanese see one single lily-stalk swaying in the breeze and the
hazy, luminous gray of the atmosphere in which it is bathed--just
these two things. They give us these, and we are amazed and
delighted.

Whistler has given us the night--not the black, inky, meaningless
void which has always stood for evil; not the darkness, the mere
absence of light, the prophet had in mind when he said, "And there
shall be no night there"--not that. The prophet thought the night
was objectionable, but we know that the continual glare of the sun
would quickly destroy all animal or vegetable life. In fact, without
the night there would be no animal or vegetable life, and no prophet
would have existed to suggest the abolition of night as a
betterment. In the night there are flowers that shed their finest
perfume, lifting up their hearts in gladness, and all nature is
renewed for the work of the coming day. We need the night for rest,
for dreams, for forgetfulness. Whistler saw the night--this great,
transparent, dark-blue fold that tucks us in for one-half our time.
The jaded, the weary and the heavy-laden at last find peace--the day
is done, the grateful night is here.

Turner said you could not paint a picture and leave man out.
Whistler very seldom leaves man out, although I believe there is one
"Nocturne" wherein only the stars and the faint rim of the silver
moon keep guard. But usually we see the dim suggestion of the
bridge's arch, the ghostly steeples, lights lost in the enfolding
fog, vague purple barges on the river, and ships rocking solemnly in
the offing--all strangely mellow with peace, and subtle thoughts of
stillness, rest, dreams and sleep.


The critics have all shied their missiles at Whistler, and he has
gathered up the most curious and placed them on exhibition in a
catalog entitled, "Etching and Dry Points." This document gives a
list of fifty-one of his best-known productions, and beneath each
item is a testimonial or two from certain worthies who thought the
thing rubbish and said so.

If you want to see a copy of the catalog you can examine it in the
"treasure-room" of most any of the big public libraries; or should
you wish to own one, a chance collector in need of funds might be
willing to disengage himself from a copy for some such trifle as
twenty-five dollars or so.

Whistler's book, "The Gentle Art," contains just one good thing,
although the touch of genius is revealed in the title, which is as
follows: "The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, as pleasingly
exemplified in many instances wherein the serious ones of this
earth, carefully exasperated, have been prettily spurred on to
unseemliness and indiscretion, while overcome by an undue sense of
right."

The dedication runs thus: "To the rare Few who early in life have
rid themselves of the Friendship of the Many, these pathetic papers
are inscribed."

The one excellent thing in the book is the "Ten o'Clock" lecture. It
is a classic, revealing such a distinct literary style that one is
quite sure its author could have evolved symphonies in words, as
well as color, had he chosen. However, this lecture is a sequence,
leaping hot from the heart, and would not have been written had the
author not been "carefully exasperated and prettily spurred on,
while overcome by an undue sense of right." Let us all give thanks
to the enemy who exasperated him. There is a great temptation to
produce the lecture entire, but this would be to invite a lawsuit,
so we will have to be content with a few scrapings from the palette:

Listen! There never was an artistic period.

There never was an Art-Loving Nation.

In the beginning, men went forth each day--some to do battle, some
to the chase; others, again, to dig and to delve in the field--all
that they might gain and live, or lose and die. Until there was
found among them one, differing from the rest, whose pursuits
attracted him not, and so he stayed by the tents with the women, and
traced strange devices with a burnt stick upon a gourd.

This man, who took no joy in the way of his brethren--who cared not
for conquest, and fretted in the field--this designer of quaint
patterns--this deviser of the beautiful--who perceived in Nature
about him curious curvings, as faces are seen in the fire--this
dreamer apart was the first artist.

And when, from the field and afar, there came back the people, they
took the gourd--and drank from out of it.

And presently there came to this man another--and, in time, others--
of like nature, chosen by the gods--and so they worked together; and
soon they fashioned, from the moistened earth, forms resembling the
gourd. And with the power of creation, the heirloom of the artist,
presently they went beyond the slovenly suggestion of Nature, and
the first vase was born, in beautiful proportion.

* * * * *

And the Amateur was unknown--and the Dilettante undreamed of.

And history wrote on, and conquest accompanied civilization, and Art
spread, or rather its products were carried by the victors among the
vanquished from one country to another. And the customs of
cultivation covered the face of the earth, so that all peoples
continued to use what the artist alone produced.

And centuries passed in this using, and the world was flooded with
all that was beautiful, until there arose a new class, who
discovered the cheap, and foresaw a fortune in the facture of the
sham.

Then sprang into existence the tawdry, the common, the gewgaw.

The taste of the tradesman supplanted the science of the artist, and
what was born of the million went back to them, and charmed them,
for it was after their own heart; and the great and the small, the
statesman and the slave, took to themselves the abomination that was
tendered, and preferred it--and have lived with it ever since.

And the artist's occupation was gone, and the manufacturer and the
huckster took his place.

And now the heroes filled from the jugs and drank from the bowls--
with understanding--noting the glare of their new bravery, and
taking pride in its worth.

And the people--this time--had much to say in the matter--and all
were satisfied. And Birmingham and Manchester arose in their might,
and Art was relegated to the curiosity-shop.

* * * * *

Nature contains the elements, in color and form, of all pictures, as
the keyboard contains the notes of all music.

* * * * *

The artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science these
elements, that the result may be beautiful--as the musician gathers
his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos
glorious harmony.

To say to the painter, that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to
say to the player, that he may sit on the piano.

That Nature is always right, is an assertion, artistically, as
untrue, as it is one whose truth is universally taken for granted.
Nature is very rarely right, to such an extent even, that it might
almost be said that Nature is usually wrong: that is to say, the
condition of things that shall bring about the perfection of harmony
worthy a picture is rare, and not common at all.

* * * * *

The sun blares, the wind blows from the east, the sky is bereft of
cloud, and without, all is of iron. The windows of the Crystal
Palace are seen from all points of London. The holiday-maker
rejoices in the glorious day, and the painter turns aside to shut
his eyes.

How little this is understood, and how dutifully the casual in
Nature is accepted as sublime, may be gathered from the unlimited
admiration daily produced by a very foolish sunset.

The dignity of the snow-capped mountain is lost in distinctness, but
the joy of the tourist is to recognize the traveler on the top. The
desire to see, for the sake of seeing, is, with the mass alone, the
one to be gratified, hence the delight in detail.

But when the evening mist clothes the riverside with poetry, as with
a veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and
the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces
in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and fairyland
is before us--then the wayfarer hastens home; the workingman and the
cultured one, the wise man and the one of pleasure, cease to
understand, as they have ceased to see, and Nature, who for once has
sung in tune, sings her exquisite song to the artist alone--her son
and her master--her son in that he loves her, her master in that he
knows her.

To him her secrets are unfolded, to him her lessons have become
gradually clear. He looks at the flower, not with the enlarging
lens, that he may gather facts for the botanist, but with the light
of the one who sees in her choice selection of brilliant tones and
delicate tints, suggestions of infinite harmonies.

He does not confine himself to purposeless copying, without thought,
each blade of grass, as commended by the inconsequent, but in the
long curve of the narrow leaf, corrected by the straight, tall stem,
he learns how grace is wedded to dignity, how strength enhances
sweetness, that elegance shall be the result.

In the citron wing of the pale butterfly, with its dainty spots of
orange, he sees before him the stately halls of fair gold, with
their slender saffron pillars, and is taught how the delicate
drawing high upon the walls shall be traced in tender tones of
orpiment, and repeated by the base in notes of graver hue.

In all that is dainty and lovable he finds hints for his own
combinations, and thus is Nature ever his resource and always at his
service, and to him is naught refused.

Through his brain, as through the last alembic, is distilled the
refined essence of that thought which began with the Gods, and which
they left him to carry out.

Set apart by them to complete their works, he produces that wondrous
thing called the masterpiece, which surpasses in perfection all that
they have contrived in what is called Nature; and the Gods stand by
and marvel, and perceive how far away more beautiful is the Venus of
Melos than was their own Eve.

* * * * *

And now from their midst the Dilettante stalks abroad. The Amateur
is loosed. The voice of the Aesthete is heard in the land, and
catastrophe is upon us.

* * * * *

Where the Artist is, there Art appears, and remains with him--loving
and fruitful--turning never aside in moments of hope deferred--of
insult--and of ribald misunderstanding; and when he dies she sadly
takes her flight: though loitering yet in the land, from fond
association, but refusing to be consoled.

With the man, then, and not with the multitude, are her intimacies;
and in the book of her life the names inscribed are few--scant,
indeed, the list of those who have helped to write her story of love
and beauty.

From the sunny morning, when, with her glorious Greek relenting, she
yielded up the secret of repeated line, as with his hand in hers
together they marked in marble, the measured rhyme of lovely limb
and draperies flowing in unison, to the day when she dipped the
Spaniard's brush in light and air, and made his people live within
their frames, that all nobility, and sweetness, and tenderness, and
magnificence should be theirs by right, ages had gone by, and few
had been her choice.

* * * * *

Therefore have we cause to be merry!--and to cast away all care--
resolved that all is well--as it ever was--and that it is not meet
that we should be cried at, and urged to take measures.

Enough have we endured of dulness! Surely are we weary of weeping,
and our tears have been cozened from us falsely, for they have
called us woe! when there was no grief--and where all is fair!

We have then but to wait--until, with the mark of the Gods upon him
--there come among us again the chosen--who shall continue what has
gone before. Satisfied that, even were he never to appear, the story
of the beautiful is already complete--hewn in the marbles of the
Parthenon, and broidered, with the birds, upon the fan of Hokusai,
at the foot of Fujiyama.


Elbert Hubbard

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