Page images
[blocks in formation]


WITH the commencement of a new year we commence a new volume, and take the opportunity of at once incorporating with our work the expression of gratitude for the favourable manner in which we have been received, with a short recapitulation of the objects we have had in view. This may appear to many a supererogatory task, after having enabled the public to judge for themselves through eleven previous Numbers, and after having in some measure already stated those objects upon several different occasions. If our readers, however, will follow us through a very few pages, they may perhaps excuse even a little repetition, as being inseparable from the statements we have to make, proving our continued anxiety and endeavour to redeem the pledges we made at the commencement of our labours.

Those who are interested in whatever relates to Art, need not be reminded that several publications similar to ours have been at different times commenced, but without receiving such sufficient encouragement from the public as to induce the proprietors to continue them. In commencing another, then, we might be thought to have exposed ourselves to the imputation of either vainly imagining that we could render such an undertaking more acceptable to the public, or of casting a degree of censure on the manner in which those works had been conducted : neither of these charges, however, would apply to us as, no periodical, upon the same plan, and at the same price, had ever been attempted, and none of any plan, or at any price, for some years. The demand for periodical literature meanwhile had considerably increased, and the taste for it improved. That which was supplied to the public during the last century would not now be tolerated by the readers of even the penny and two-penny publications which we see pouring weekly from the press; and we believed that the public mind was now even prepared B

VOL. III.-No. 12.

to go one step further, nor have we been altogether mistaken. The periodical literature of the present day, though of a much higher order than that which had delighted former generations, still seemed to us to have a tincture of much that was objectionable. Idle tales and ridiculous inventions were introduced with much miscellaneous matter, that was neither calculated to afford information or to improve the mind, by instilling sound principles of morality or good taste. Besides this, every work of the kind referred to, seemed to make politics, or some other subject, the predominant object, and to place the Arts, if they noticed them at all, very low in the scale. Yet the Arts had flourished among us to a degree that would have excited the astonishment not only of those foreign philosophers who had been pleased to think there was something in our northern latitude to depress them, but even of our own most sanguine compatriots, who had hoped, though not so effectually, that our undoubted native talent would soon prove the fallaciousness of those theories. In every department of Art, England can accordingly produce names superior to those of any other school now existing; and in some, as in landscape especially, masters equal, if not superior to, any that the world ever saw. There was only one circumstance wanting to complete the triumph of Art; and that was, to have some means of bringing it, and keeping it so before the public, as to teach every order of the people to appreciate it justly, and become enabled to judge of it correctly. These means seemed to be offered by the system of periodical literature; and the only question was, whether that patronage, which was, as it was asserted, but niggardly afforded to Art, could be expected to be more liberally bestowed upon a work which treated of it in somewhat dry detail, without possessing those recommendations which often even compelled reluctant wealth to give way to its fascinations. But the careful observer might perceive that wealth and rank were not the only, and not even the best patrons of Art, any more than they were of literature. The people, in the best and widest acceptation of that term, were in fact the true patrons; and, if their means allowed, would have cast far into shade the protection which the Arts have received from the aristocracy. Of the hundreds who constitute our titled aristocracy, there are scarcely one in ten who have shown their devotion to Art even so far as to become subscribers to the British Institution; and the same observation applies equally to the untitled possessors of wealth. The people, however, have shown a more unequivocal proof of their regard for Art, and ability to appreciate it. A love for ornament and decoration of every kind we possess, as a principle of human nature, with the most savage na

tions: the only difference is, that as we become more civilized, we abandon the grotesque for that which a more cultivated taste pronounces preferable. The people then, though they cannot, from the circumstances of their situation in life, become the purchasers of those elaborate works which are produced by our astists, yet press with delight to view them at our Exhibitions, and to possess them at secondhand as it were, when they come within their reach by the means of engraving. The more that they are enabled to see of Art, the more they are enabled to appreciate it; and wherever excellence is found to exist, there they are ready to bestow their admiration. In the cottages throughout the country, a few years since might be seen the walls pasted round with wretched wood-cuts, and plaster cats and monkeys glazed with the most extraordinary colours:-now, very excellent engravings, as to design and execution, are in the reach of the humblest votary of taste, and casts from the sublimest conceptions of ancient and modern genius are brought, for the very smallest trifles, to our doors. Convinced that there was this innate and awakened feeling in the minds of the people, we determined to the utmost of our humble abilities to take advantage of it, and endeavour to improve public taste still more by teaching the principles by which alone excellence is to be attained, either in practice or judgment. In this, however, we never professed to make this work exclusively, or even primarily, a work only for artists. It would have been absurd in us to attempt to teach these the principles, and still less the practice of their profession. But we are not now for the first time to observe, how much the nature of a commodity depends upon the demand for it; and if the world would be satisfied with, or would insist upon showing favour only to inferior performance, it is evident that we might scarcely ever hope to see developed the higher capabilities of genius. We need not here repeat the numberless instances familiar to every one who is at all acquainted with the subject, to show how often fashion and folly have run after empty pretension, to the neglect and discouragement of real merit; nor how different in many cases is the estimate of posterity to that of an artist's own cotemporaries. Excellence must eventually compel the world to perceive it; but it may be, like light travelling from some of the heavenly bodies, many a long year in making its way known to us; and when it does reach us, has lost all power either to warm or to irradiate The only way to remedy this evil is to improve public taste, and keep public attention constantly bent upon the fact,-that the interests of the English School, and so far the honour of the English character, are the same. To show the people how much the most lasting and truest glory consists in those

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »