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If they came from any other quarter nobody would look at them; but they have an Imprimatur from dulness and authority: we know that there is no offence in them; and they are stuck in the shop-windows, and read in the intervals of Lord Byron's works, or the Scotch novels) in cathedral towns and close boroughs!
It is, I understand and believe, pretty much the same in more modern institutions for the encouragement of the Fine Arts. The end is lost in the means: rules take place of nature and genius; cabal and bustle, and struggles for rank and precedence, supersede the study and the love of art. A Royal Academy is a kind of hospital and infirmary for the obliquities of taste and ingenuity—a receptacle where enthusiasm and originality stop and stagnate, and spread their influence no farther, instead of being a school founded for genius, or a temple built to fame. The generality of those who wriggle, or fawn, or beg their way to a seat there, live on their certificate of merit to a good old age, and are seldom heard of afterwards. If a man of sterling capacity gets among them, and minds his own business, he is nobody; he makes no figure in council, in voting, in resolutions or speeches. If he comes forward with plans and views for the good of the Academy and the
advancement of art, he is immediately set upon as a visionary, a fanatic, with notions hostile to the interest and credit of the existing members of the society. If he directs the ambition of the scholars to the study of History, this strikes at once at the emoluments of the profession, who are most of them (by God's will) portrait painters. If he eulogises the Antique, and speaks highly of the Old Masters, he is supposed to be actuated by envy to living painters and native talent. If, again, he insists on a knowledge of anatomy as essential to correct drawing, this would seem to imply a want of it in our most eminent designers. Every plan, suggestion, argument, that has the general purposes and principles of art for its object, is thwarted, scouted, ridiculed, slandered, as having a malignant aspect towards the profits and pretensions of the great mass of flourishing and respectable artists in the country. This leads to irritation and ill-will on all sides. The obstinacy of the constituted authorities keeps pace with the violence and extravagance opposed to it; and they lay all the blame on the folly and mistakes they have themselves occasioned or increased. It is considered as a personal quarrel, not a public question ; by which means the dignity of the body is implicated in resenting
the slips and inadvertencies of its members, not in promoting their common and declared objects. In this sort of wretched tracasserie the Barrys and H- s stand no chance with the Catons, the Tubbs, and the F- s. Sir Joshua even was obliged to hold himself aloof from them, and Fuseli passes as a kind of nondescript, or one of his own grotesques. The air of an academy, in short, is not the air of genius and immortality; it is too close and heated, and impregnated with the notions of the common sort. A man steeped in a corrupt atmosphere of this description is no longer open to the genial impulses of nature and truth, nor sees visions of ideal beauty, nor dreams of antique grace and grandeur, nor has the finest works of art continually hovering and floating through his uplifted fancy; but the images that haunt it are rules of the academy, charters, inaugural speeches, resolutions passed or rescinded, cards of invitation to a council-meeting, or the annual dinner, prize-medals, and the king's diploma, constituting him a gentleman and esquire. He “ wipes out all trivial, fond records;" all romantic aspirations; “ the Raphael grace, the Guido air ;” and the commands of the academy alone “must live within the book and volume of his brain, unmixed with
baser matter.” It may be doubted whether any work of lasting reputation and universal interest can spring up in this soil, or ever has done in that of any academy. The last question is a matter of fact and history, not of mere opinion or prejudice; and may be ascertained as such accordingly. The mighty names of former times rose before the existence of academies; and the three greatest painters, undoubtedly, that this country has produced, Reynolds, Wilson, and Hogarth, were not “ dandled and swaddled” into artists in any institution for the fine arts. I do not apprehend that the names of Chantry or Wilkie, (great as one, and considerable as the other of them is,) can be made use of in any way to impugn the jet of this argument. We may find a considerable improvement in some of our artists, when they get out of the vortex for a time. Sir Thomas Lawrence is all the better for having been abstracted for a year or two from Somerset-House; and Mr. Dawe, they say, has been doing wonders in the North. When will he return, and once more “bid Britannia rival Greece ?"
Mr. Canning somewhere lays it down as a rule, that corporate bodies are necessarily correct and pure in their conduct, from the knowledge which the individuals composing them
have of one another, and the jealous vigilance they exercise over each other's motives and characters; whereas, people collected into mobs are disorderly and unprincipled from being utterly unknown and unaccountable to each other. This is a curious pass of wit. I differ with him in both parts of the dilemma. To begin with the first, and to handle it somewhat cavalierly, according to the model before us: we know, for instance, there is said to be honour among thieves, but very little honesty towards others. Their honour consists in the division of the booty, not in the mode of acquiring it: they do not (often) betray one another, but they will waylay a stranger, or knock out a traveller's brains: they may be depended on in giving the alarm when any of their posts are in danger of being surprised; and they will stand together for their ill-gotten gains to the last drop of their blood. Yet they form a distinct society, and are strictly responsible for their behaviour to one another and to their leader. They are not a mob, but a gang, completely in one another's power and secrets. Their familiarity, however, with the proceedings of the corps, does not lead them to expect or to exact from it a very high standard of moral honesty; that is out of the question ; but they are sure to gain the good