-if you liked her better so. Nay, certain old Improper-Females (of quality), in their rouge and jewels, even these looked some reminiscence of enchantment; and I saw this and the other lean domestic Dandy, with icy smile on his old worn face; this and the other Marquis Chatabagues, Prince Mahogany, or the like foreign Dignitary, tripping into the boxes of said females, grinning there awhile, with dyed moustachios and macassar-oil graciosity, and then tripping-out again ;and, in fact, I perceived that Coletti and Cerito and the Rhythmic Arts were a mere accompaniment here.

Wonderful to see; and sad, if you had eyes! Do but think of it. Cleopatra threw pearls into her drink, in mere waste; which was reckoned foolish of her. But here had the Modern Aristocracy of men brought the divinest of its Arts, heavenly Music itself; and, piling all the upholsteries and ingenuities that other human art could do, had lighted them into a bonfire to illuminate an hour's flirtation of Chatabagues, Mahogany, and these improper persons! Never in Nature had I seen such waste before. O Coletti, you whose inborn melody, once of kindred, as I judged, to the Melodies Eternal,' might have valiantly weeded-out this and the other false thing from the ways of men, and made a bit of God's Creation more melodious,—they have purchased you away from that; chained you to the wheel of Prince Mahogany's chariot, and here you make sport for a macassar Chatabagues and his improper-females past the prime of life! Wretched spiritual Nigger, O, if you had some genius, and were not a born Nigger with mere appetite for pumpkin, should you have endured such a lot ? I lament for you beyond all other expenses. Other expenses are light; you are the Cleopatra's pearl that should not have been flung into Mahogany's claret-cup. And Rossini, too, and Mozart and Bellini --O Heavens! when I think that Music too is condemned to be mad, and to burn herself, to this end, on such a funeral pile, -your celestial Opera-house grows dark and infernal to me! Behind its glitter stalks the shadow of Eternal Death ; through it too, I look not 'up into the divine eye,' as Richter has it, but down into the bottomless eyesocket'—not up towards God, Heaven, and the Throne of Truth, but too truly down towards Falsity, Vacuity, and the dwelling-place of Everlasting Despair.

Good sirs, surely I by no means expect the Opera will abolish itself this year or the next. But if you ask me, Why heroes are not born now, why heroisms are not done now ? I will answer you : It is a world all calculated for strangling of heroisms. At every ingress into life, the genius of the world lies in wait for heroisms, and by seduction or compulsion unweariedly does its utmost to pervert them or extinguish them. Yes; to its Hells of sweating tailors, distressed needlewomen and the like, this Opera of yours is the appropriate Heaven ! Of a truth, if you will read a Psalm of Asaph till you understand it, and then come hither and hear the Rossini-andColetti Psalm, you will find the ages have altered a good deal. * * *

Nor do I wish all men to become Psalmist Asaphs and fanatic Hebrews. Far other is my wish; far other, and wider, is now my notion of this Universe. Populations of stern faces, stern as any Hebrew, but capable withal of bursting into inextinguishable laughter on occasion :-do you understand that new and better form of character ? Laughter also, if it come from the heart, is a heavenly thing. But, at least and lowest, I would have you a Population abhorring phantasms ;-abhorring unveracity in all things; and in your “amusements," which are voluntary and not compulsory things, abhorring it most impatiently of all.



To DAVID LAING, Esquire (Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of

Scotland), Signet Library, Edinburgh.

Chelsea, 3d May 1854. * With regard to that General Exhibition of Scottish Historical Portraits, it is certain there are many people more qualified to speak than I. In fact, it has never been with me more than an aspiration; an ardent wish, rather without much hope : to make it into an executable project there are needed far other capacities and opportunities than mine. However, you shall at once hear what my crude notions on the subject are or have been, since you wish it.

First of all, then, I'have to tell you, as a fact of personal experience, that in all my poor Historical investigations it has been, and always is, one of the most primary wants to procure a bodily likeness of the personage inquired after ; a good Portrait if such exists; failing that, even an indifferent if sincere one. In short, any representation, made by a faithful human creature, of that Face and Figure, which he saw with his eyes, and which I can never see with mine, is now valuable to me, and much better than none at all. This, which is my own deep experience, I believe to be, in a deeper or less deep degree, the universal one ; and that every student and reader of History, who strives earnestly to conceive for himself what manner of Fact and Man this or the other vague Historical Name can have been, will, as the first and directest indication of all, search eagerly for a Portrait, for all the reasonable Portraits there are ; and never rest till he have made out, it possi

1 Printed in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.i. part 3 (4to, Edinburgh, 1855).


ble, what the man's natural face was like. Often I have found a Portrait superior in real instruction to half-a-dozen written • Biographies,' as Biographies are written ;-or rather, let me say, I have found that the Portrait was as a small lighted candle by which the Biographies could for the first time be read, and some human interpretation be made of them; the Biogra. phied Personage no longer an empty impossible Phantasm, or distracting Aggregate of inconsistent rumours—(in which state, alas his usual one, he is worth nothing to anybody, except it be as a dried thistle for Pedants to thrash, and for men to fly out of the way of),—but yielding at last some features which one could admit to be human. Next in directness are a man's genuine Letters, if he have left any, and you can get to read them to the bottom : of course, a man's actions are the most complete and indubitable stamp of him ; but without these aids, of Portraits and Letters, they are in themselves so infinitely abstruse a stamp, and so confused by foreign rumour and false tradition of them, as to be oftenest undecipherable with certainty.

This kind of value and interest I may take as the highest pitch of interest there is in Historical Portraits ; this, which the zealous and studious Historian feels in them : and one may say, all men, just in proportion as they are Historians' (which every mortal is, who has a memory, and attachments and possessions in the Past), will feel something of the same,-every human creature, something. So that I suppose there is absolutely nobody so dark and dull, and everyway sunk and stupefied, that a Series of Historical Portraits, especially of his native country, would not be of real interest to him ;-real I mean, as coming from himself and his own heart, not imaginary, and preached-in upon him by the Newspapers; which is an important distinction.

And all this is quite apart from the artistic value of the Portraits (which also is a real value, of its sort, especially for some classes, however exaggerated it may sometimes be) : all this is a quantity to be added to the artistic value, whatever it may be ; and appeals to a far deeper and more universal principle in human nature than the love of Pictures is. Of which principle some dimmer or clearer form may be seen continually active wherever men are ;-in your Antiquarian Museum, for example, may be seen, giving very conspicuous proofs of itself, sanctioned more or less by all the world ! If one would buy an indisputably authentic old shoe of William Wallace for hun. dreds of pounds, and run to look at it from all ends of Scotland, what would one give for an authentic visible shadow of his face, could such, by art natural or art magic, now be had !

It has always struck me that Historical Portrait-Galleries far transcend in worth all other kinds of National Collections of Pictures whatever ; that in fact they ought to exist (for many reasons, of all degrees of weight) in every country, as among the most popular and cherished National Possessions :—and it is not a joyful reflection, but an extremely mournful one, that in no country is there at present such a thing to be found. What Louis-Philippe may have collected, in the way of French Historical Portrait, at Versailles, I did not see: if worth much (which I hear it is not), it might have proved the best memorial left by him, one day. Chancellor Clarendon made a brave attempt in that kind for England; but his House and Gallery' fell all asunder, in a sad way; and as yet there has been no second attempt that I can hear of. As matters stand, Historical Portraits abound in England ; but where they are, or where any individual of them is, no man knows, or can discover except by groping and hunting (underground, as it were, and like the mole !) in an almost desperate manner : even among the intelligent and learned of your acquaintance, you inquire to no purpose. Nor is the English National Gallery poorer in this respect than others,—perhaps even much the reverse. The sad rule holds in all countries.

In the Dresden Gallery, for instance, you find Flayings of Bartholomew, Flayings of Marsyas, Rapes of the Sabines : but if you ask for a Portrait of Martin Luther, of Friedrich the Wise, nay even of August the Big, of Marshal Saxe or poor Count Brühl, you will find no satisfactory answer. In Berlin itself, which affects to be a wiser city, I found, not long ago, Picture Galleries not a few, with ancient and modern virtù in abundance and superabundance,—whole acres of mythological smearing (Tower of Babel, and I know not what), by Kaulbach and others, still going on : but a genuine Portrait of Frederic the Greai was a thing I could nowhere hear of. That is strange, but that is true. I roamed through endless lines of Pictures ;

« VorigeDoorgaan »