« VorigeDoorgaan »
as this. We should really not like to be capable of making this discovery in connection with Ruskin. We should fear that there was some baseness, dark, deep-lying, insidious, nestling about our heart and polluting all its streams. Such a perception of moral taint has surely in it something of recognition! Professor Aytoun is indeed no poet, except so far as is implied in a certain command over that mechanical part of poetry, which Milton, speaking of Dryden, distinguished as versification; and his character and poetry seem on the whole a very pertinent exemplification of what greatness is not. But he has one quality, both real and precious, which, we shall hope, rendered it impossible for him to find, in all the enthusiasm of feeling and glory of description, exhibited in the works of Ruskin, simply the paraphernalia of a small, nasty lie. Professor Aytoun possesses a talent of genial banter, all his own. It is playful yet manly, brilliant yet full of warm humor. If the vein is not so deep as Thackeray's, we suspect it is more rare. Thackeray has done nothing like The Raid of t' Pherson. The perception and appreciation of the two aspects of Highland character, that of this piece and that of the Cavalier ballads, shows a dramatic pliancy and amplitude of mind really fine. Professor Aytoun's banter could not be at present spared from British literature; it is unique, and we could not supply its place. We shall hope it was not he who arrived at this theory touching Ruskin.
The whole phenomenon of the author of Modern Painters and his critical assailants, the mode in which they attack him and the relation in which they stand to him, is singular and anomalous. About two hundred years ago, the London theatres were ringing with the applause of the dramatists of the Restoration. Pit, boxes, gallery, coffeehouse, court, echoed their renown. Meanwhile, in obloquy
and obscurity, John Milton was dictating Paradise Lost. Deafened by the shouts in their ears, dazzled by the glare of lamps and tinsel, the Congreves and Wycherlys knew nothing of him. The dramas of the Restoration are fast settling into that abyss of darkness, which swallows the meteors of the night and the glimmering exhalations of the fen. Paradise Lost is rising higher and higher above the mountain-tops of the world, still in the morning of its fame. Confident in the applause of Academies, strong in the renown of Reviews, blatant mediocrity attempts to cry down Ruskin. But he has told the world new truth, and the world will do him justice if he bide his time. Mediocrity may have it for years, but not for ages.
And he has not been without his reward. He has extended a magnificent patronage to those artists who reviled him. That is a reward which he can appreciate. Was not Actæon hunted by the base hounds he fed, and that because he, too, caught a glimpse of the Beautiful? But there are artists who can appreciate Ruskin ; and the pre-Raphaelite School, if not his express intellectual progeny, at least conforms to his rules. A critic in the National Review, very different from those we have noticed, has recognized the supremacy of his knowledge of nature, and may, by more full consideration, learn that it is the accidental manifestation, rather than the real character, of his mind, which is one-sided. It has been acknowledged in the Times that, let artists say what they will, he first made the public really aware what a painter they had in Turner. Best of all, the young intellect of Great Britain has heard his voice, the great heart of the nation has owned the might of his genius. The clouds of conventionalism, which have brooded over Europe for centuries, have been touched by his shafts of light and must gradually disappear. He has been a reconciler between Art and mankind, leading Art into the lowly paths of life, setting Art by the household fire, and astonishing men by the information, that the smile on her face is actually warm and human. Let him not hear the critics! Let him not be baited into indignation; let him not permit his sympathies to be chilled by the companionship of contempt! Let him reveal those visions which God has given him only to see among the hills ; let him tell us, as he only can, of the streams that run among the valleys; and let him leave to those who have candidly read him, that small vent for their gratitude, which they may find in answering his critics.
THERE is a great deal in this rough-hewn, boisterous, not very exquisitely mannered century, from which the whole class of dilettants and fine gentlemen turn aside. There has been no age in the world, and, until man radically alters there will be none, in which the guinea's stamp has not more or less drawn away men's eyes from the real gold. The nineteenth century has its own sycophancies and idolatries, its own Sir John Pauls and Barnums. But set fairly in comparison with other times, our epoch seems to be incontrovertibly distinguished by the scope it affords to real human faculty, and the willingness with which it recognizes a man when it sees him. He has now a poor chance who places his reliance upon ribands and parchment. He puts himself in an unenviable position who would now presume himself, on the strength of heraldic distinctions and well-filled purse, in a position to do honor, by the expression of his approval, or the bestowal of his company, to the man of genius who has forced his way from the ranks. Even within sixty years, a considerable advance has been made in this respect within the British Islands. There was something of the luxury of a haughty condescension, not unmingled with self-applause, in the reception of Burns by Edinburgh grandiosity at the close of last century. There was a serene complacency in the smiling, as if it were peculiarly beautiful and praiseworthy in people so fine and lofty to encourage the really entertaining and talented ploughman. With rather an effort of kindness, they patronized their king! Alexander Smith, his birth as humble as that of Burns, and coming some sixty years after him, finds a strong figure in the loathing with which he would spurn a rich man's dole, whether, doubtless, of patronage or of pay. Tennyson, the poet of the most refined culture, sees that feudalism with all its apportionment of honor, has become a joke:
“ Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
blue heaven above us bent, The grand old gardener and his wife
Smile at the claims of long descent."
The duke who would come to confer distinction on Hugh Miller, by taking his hand and showing him a little countenance, would get himself simply covered with derision. A man stands now more solely and independently on the pedestal of his individuality, than was ever the case before. And no man is in this more strikingly representative of his time than he of whom we here speak. What Hugh Miller is and has, he owes entirely to himself. In the firm, deliberate planting of his heavy step, in the quiet, wideopen determination of his eye, in the unagitated, unaffected, self-relying dignity of his whole gait and deportment, you behold the man who feels that, whatever his origin, he may, without pride or presumption, measure himself by the standard of his manhood, and so look every man, of what station soever, in the face.
Hugh Miller's education may also be pronounced if not distinctive of the nineteenth century, yet highly character