Page images
PDF
EPUB

reasons for consenting to a new career, that love may seem not “the heyday in the blood,” but the cool choice that “waits upon the judgment."

Why should she wear away her youth in a childless widow's grief? Can the tenant of the grave claim such a devotedness from her, or even care for it? If she has rejected other suitors, is the rejection which her feelings dictated to become in turn their law? Nay, there is more at stake; and what inclination points to, true policy prescribes: the dangers of her infant state, with jealous neighbours around, and foes whose enmity follows her flight-the ambition of securing its interests, and raising it to glory, bid her alike to compass the means of safety, strength, and prosperity, in the union an auspicious Providence seems to place within her power.

Both cause and consequence find their parallel in Othello and his young bride. Unnatural as some might deem it, that she

“in spite of nature, Of years, of country, credit, everything,

Should fall in love with what she fear'd,” she surrenders

“her heart, subdued Even to the very quality of her lord; And to his honours and his valiant parts

Does she her soul and fortunes consecrate.”
“ Ever as she could,

She'd come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up his discourse,” with

"prayer of earnest heart
That he would all his pilgrimage dilate,
Whereof by parcels she had something heard,
But not intentively.”—He

“often did beguile her of her tears....
She lov’d him for the dangers lie had pass'd,

And he lov'd her that she did pity them.” What a picture is then presented to us of a struggle with forbidden passion, and the feverish attempts to dissemble and elude it! No excitement of novelty or pleasure, no recourse to all the rites soothsayers can devise or priests perform, to check it in the mastery it attains, or cure its corroding touch. Dido is (and where is a keener simile to be found ?) the stricken deer-wounded, she knows not whence-rushing, she knows not whither, for a refuge from the pain ; the hunter is ignorant of the wound, but his arrow is not the less fatal, and the barb can but be extracted with the life-blood. Such are

“the wounds invisible

That love's keen arrows make." The presence of her stranger-guest is but a short relief; his absence kindles the imagination,--the public interests are forgotten, the public works are given up,-an evidence refusing longer concealment of the new power which has become paramount.

Yet, were it not for these mental struggles, implying a kind of prescience of it, it might have seemed that all promised fair; all went “ merry as a marriage-bell,” and the favoured lover might have taken up Othello's words :

“ If after every tempest come such calms,

Let the winds blow till they have waken’d death." But his ambition is made of sterner stuff than to rest in these day-dreams. Again, like Othello, no sooner has the tide of fortune seemed at its height, and attachment been crowned and ratified by union, than the crisis of events

separates the pair. In Othello's case, it is indeed the force of patriotism, and a call to honourable service in his country's cause; with Æneas, however disguised by the semblance of a message from on high, by recollections of destiny, by forecast for Ascanius, there is too much of preference and inconstancy, less of consideration and regard for the heart surrendered to him: he has started at the summons, like a guilty thing; his preparations for flight are made no less hastily than in secret; while deception seems to excuse itself by the plea of kindness, and desertion is justified as duty.

Such secrecy is short, or soon unveiled. “All-telling fame has noised abroad” the sudden change; the betrayed, roused to madness, turns upon her betrayer.

The first exclamation is one of horror at his dissembling perfidy, but is followed by softer recollections of past endearments, and anticipations of her own helplessness and death. And is he so proof against these thoughts, and so bent upon the course now open to him, as to forget the obstacles, or at least the pretexts for delay, which the very seasons interpose ? Is his the patriot's fervour? or would he so " restem his backward course” if the destination were to Troy? or can it be thought that he is tired of his love; and has levity engendered hate, and hate suggested flight; and is any flight welcome that bears him from her sight?

Tears, pledges, espousals, union, the succour in time of need, the regard to “all that life holds soft and dear,” are claims upon him to pity and to reciprocate.

What has she not forfeited for him? The friendship of the bordering princes, who had courted her alliance; the attachment of her subjects, rendered jealous of the foreigners preferred; the credit of her vestal throne and former fame. And her reward is that she is left to die, without even that which her woman's heart suggests as the last solace in desolation-a child who should divert her affection to itself, and beguile her with the likeness of her lost love.

Such is the passionate appeal, trying in turn the effects of reproach, and the pleas of despair, pity, shame, and tenderness, with “a cry that knocks against the

very heart;" but it is met by a resolution proof at all points, and cold, as it were, in self-defence. Not that he will deny his obligations to the

queen, much less forget his love,-a love to be remembered “while memory holds a place in the distracted brain.” Yet has his stay been not of his own seeking, nor may he now prolong it. He is, as she has been, a wanderer, not led by his own will, nor free to rest short of his destined home.

But that in his cold reasonings there is no show of reciprocated feeling, the scene might correspond to Childe Harold's phrase of

“Love watching madness with unalterable mien." He is fixed and steadfast; she is lashed to frenzy by her repulse, exclaims upon his ingratitude and her own fatal self-surrender; her misery vents itself in imprecations of revenge, not ceasing even with her death; she tears herself away, to hide her head in darkness, and quench her suffering in despair. While, however, the busy preparations are going forward, she ventures yet again to believe that she is dear to him; she bows her spirit to fresh entreaty and to tears, and, through the medium of her sister, she tries once more what a gentler submissiveness may avail, to win delay at least, that the lesson of resignation may be learnt, and time soothe passion into silence and tranquillity.

GENT. MAG. VOL. XLVII,

HI

Alas! even this last hope is denied her; aghast at her destiny, she finds no tranquillity, save in the prospect of the tomb. Portents and prodigies combine to overpower her shattered feelings,—the visions and voices of earlier days and her first love, terrors in her dreams by night, more startling than the waking sense of loneliness brought back by day.

She must, then, die; but her sister's aid is needed-and can she aid in this ? She must be beguiled, by the pretence of magic charms and ceremonies, into preparing the funeral pile to release the victim from her living death.

The pyre is prepared, the charms are said : have they indeed power to soothe the mind diseased ? Believe it not. All else is hushed in reposeland and seas, field and forest, man and beast; the ever-restless motion, the ever-twittering note, of birds, is still ; all but one, whose nerves are strung to sleeplessness, whose heart is now crushed by its pain, now stirred by its frenzy, -in each incapable of rest, and hopeless of relief.

The night is passed in conceiving alternatives of action, and rejecting each, as found in turn unavailing. The dawn of day brings on a fresh convulsive action, and, by revealing the fleet in life and motion, quickens into a new and last effort the almost spent passion and the sinking heart. She sees her betrayers starting on the path of desertion to her, of bright and bounding enterprise to them. She sees the mockery of contrast, and feels its agony. Revenge and fury are instinctive, but powerless. Here is the depth of remorse, deepened by the false glare of the virtues whose semblance lent the charm to his tale of adventure, and won her confiding heart. Visions of impossible and unnatural revenge on him and his, of deadly struggles and sweeping destruction, fill her imagination; and, lighted up by the inspiration of approaching death, her imprecations become prophetic, and forebode not only his personal sufferings, but the destinies of his kingdom and descendants, down to the career of that avenger who should start up from amongst her people, to carry fire and sword, conquest and desolation, into the adopted country of the author of her wrongs.

Yet do her last thoughts find vent in a burst of tenderness, and the last scene of all closes over the plaintive and pathetic echoes of her overwhelming though unsurrendered love,-and "farewell, queen!"

THE NATIONAL GALLERY.

A LOVE for pictorial art, together with a higher appreciation of its value and importance in a national point of view, has greatly increased since the date of the erection of the niggard structure now honoured with the title of National Gallery". This edifice is, in fact, merely one wing of a screen for a barracks and a workhouse ; the other wing is occupied by an encroaching neighbour, which, like the fabled cuckoo in the hedge-sparrow's nest, bids fair to oust its more modest and unassuming co-tenant, if the latter does

* A singular phenomenon annually presents itself in Trafalgar-square during the Exhibition season : the doors of the soi-disant "Royal” Academy (which, when public accountability is demanded of it, assumes to be a private, and therefore an irresponsible, concern,) display a Corporal's guard of honour; while its next-door neighbour, the “National Gallery—the property of the nation-is left all the year to take care of itself, unhonoured by bearskin or bayonet.

not betake itself in good time to the suburban site marked out at Kensington.

At the date of the erection of this edifice, no further thought was taken of its capacity, than to render it capable of containing the pictures at that time the property of the nation. No provision for future acquisitions was thought necessary, and probably the idea of addition was, in those days of comparative barbarism, not entertained at all. But by legacies and purchases, the few scanty rooms provided for the nation's art-treasures have become over-crowded, and the necessity for a new structure, adequate to the purpose, and worthy of our national resources, is universally conceded; and a new site is, as some think, also required.

Leaving for the present the consideration of these questions of new structure and new site, let us first enter upon that of what a National Gallery should be composed. Our present National Gallery has, we opine, nothing national about it but the name. This was doubtless bestowed upon it to signify that it is national property,—it is the Nation's Gallery. By the term National Gallery we should prefer to recognise a collection of national productions; i.e. the works of our native artists. For such a National Gallery we have, in the bequest of Turner, and in the Vernon and Sheepshanks' collections, a better nucleus and foundation than the Angerstein collection furnished for the soi-disant National Gallery.

Such is our idea of a National Gallery :—that it should consist of the works of British artists; of those upon whom time has set its seal of approval ; whose popularity no longer depends upon the whims and caprices of ignorant admirers or prejudiced connoisseurs, but whose genius is of the true British stamp,-natural, vigorous, manly, and truthful,—such as we find in the works of Hogarth, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Morland, Wilson, Turner, and others who, living, it would be invidious to name. As most of the works of this race of painters have become absorbed into private collections, the formation of a public gallery of their paintings must necessarily be the slow work of many years. But the generous and patriotic spirit manifested by a Vernon, a Sheepshanks, and a Turner, will doubtless excite emulation in those who possess similar treasures, and, in imitating their example, enable the coming generation to find delight and instruction in a gallery of which it may well be proud, seeing that it would be, in every sense of the word, National.

Yet we would not limit our patronage to the productions of deceased artists. For the living there is work demanding the highest genius, and deserving the noblest rewards. The History of England remains yet unpainted. Who that has stood in the spacious galleries of Versailles, before the dramatic and truthful battle-scenes by Vernet, but must have sighed for an English Vernet, with British patronage to sustain him ? If it be desirable to encourage an English school of historical painting, there is ample room and verge enough in the incidents our history affords, to employ the pencils of more than one generation of painters; at least, of as many among them as may exhibit the requisite genius to admit of their being entrusted with so important a task. To accomplish this laudable object, space is required- in a new National Gallery it may be amply provided. It has long been a reproach to the private patrons of art, that they have withheld their support from the historical painter, while they have continued to lament the absence of an English historical school of painting ; but let the nation patronize this branch of art, and it will doubtless become as fully developed as it is in other nations. But as a gallery of the works of the “ Old Masters” has become a “ fixed idea” in the mind of the British public, we shall give that subject the consideration it appears to demand.

To for a truly good collection of the works of the Old Masters at the present day is, it must be admitted, a hopeless task. Such treasures are too dearly prized by their present owners, public and private, to render it at all probable that they can become accessible to British patrons of art -unless, indeed, universal continental bankruptcy take place ; an event, which if not immediately imminent, is, in the minds of those gifted with prophetic ken, not altogether without the bounds of possibility. public money will continue to be annually voted and misspent upon “copies” and “ restorations," valued at more than "originals," and the artloving nation of Great Britain will have its newly awakened appetite for art fed by German dilettanti, whose Teutonic taste (which we cannot altogether admire), and not our own, will for the nonce regulate the supplies. Certain it is, that the additions made in past years to the Angerstein collection by purchase, add but little to the value of the nation's gallery, seeing that English connoisseurs are ever but too ready dupes to continental picture-dealers. The recent appointment of a German travelling agent it is premised will guard us from becoming dupes in future, but we confess to having misgivings, both as to the necessity for such an officer, and to the good he may be able to accomplish. He cannot be ubiquitous; and while he is chaffering for Van der Deckers in the north, he may be missing a single opportunity for acquiring a Correggio in the south.

Numerous opportunities of adding to the national collection have occurred during the past five-and-twenty years, which, being callously allowed to pass by unnoticed and unimproved, are gone for ever. And now that a tardy recognition of the necessity and importance of forming a public gallery of Old Masters has arrived, it is, in a measure, too late ; for the treasures of the private collections offered for sale have been bought up with avidity by public and private collectors, and doubtless are now become local heir-looms to posterity.

Seeing, then, that we must despair of ever acquiring even a tolerably adequate representation of the various schools of painting, how idle it appears to waste the public money upon works of doubtful character or of second-rate merit. In forming a public gallery, having in view the instruction and delight of the mass of the people, we should abandon all dilettantism, and look at the object in a business-like and common-sense manner. The mass of the people, even the rudest and most uneducated, take great delight in pictures; but it is not the technics of art that strike their attention, or command their admiration,-it is the subject, and that only. They know nothing of such terms as chiaroscuro, or breadth, or handling—and care less; this jargon they wisely leave to the learned: but they can read without interpreters the glowing delineations of a Raphael or a Leonardo, or a Michael Angelo. To the million, good copies of the chefs d'æuvre of these and other great masters would answer every purpose of the originals, to instruct and delight. If, by good fortune, the original" of a copy became accessible, the copy might go to furnish a provincial gallery. The dilettant will doubtless sneer at the suggestion: to him, a manufactured original is of more value than a good copy, which pretends to be nothing more. But we can conceive of no surer means of advancing a knowledge and taste for art in this country, barren as it is in public galleries of Old Masters, than that here suggested.

From what has been stated, it will appear that there is open to our choice

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »