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view of the subject find instances apparently as strong as these, and much nearer to our own times, in the history of those states that have furnished us with the two great schools of paintingVenice and Florence.
These celebrated republics had their days of frugality and simplicity, of warlike renown, of triumph and of faction. They too enjoyed their commerce and their wealth--their days of glory and of genius in arts, in letters, and in song—they too had their days of degeneracy and downfall. Whilst Manutius was enriching the libraries, and Titian, Tintorett and Paul Veronese were adorning the galleries of Europe, whilst Guicciardini and Macchiavelli were writing the history of their own country or the politics of all, and the Tuscan muses were breathing their sweetest lays—the political fortunes of Italy had already begun to ebb, and luxury, effeminacy and indolence were fast usurping the ancient sway of virtue and enterprize. The liberties of Venice died away amidst the splendours of art, and the Medici assembled in the galleries of Florence the most glorious productions of painting and sculpture, to be, as it were, the witnesses and the monuments of their usurpations, and of the falling greatness of the country.
Thus it is inferred, that the fine arts, however attractive in themselves, are rather associated with the old age than the manhood of a country, and destined to be most exuberant and flourishing upon the very boundary line which separates national prosperity from decay. But if it be true, that states as well as individuals may become too affluent for their own welfare-that it is as natural for the one as the other to neglect the practice of the severer virtues, and to forget the maxims of prudence and frugality inter contagia lucri, amidst the overwhelming attractions of luxury and enjoyment-it is at least a happy compensation in the scheme of nature that wealth after exhausting more vulgar sources of pleasure, turns to the embraces of genius, and lavishes upon their mutual offspring, every glory and distinction. We have not time to pursue this inquiry much further, but leave it to be settled by Pericles and Cosmo in the Elysian fields, where Lord Lyttleton introduces them in earnest conversation.
We will add, however, that if there were any truth in this view of the subject, very far be the day, when the United States shall be the seat of the fine arts. Rather let us submit to retrenchments and tariffs, and all the ultra maxims of thrift and parsimony-let us convert our rising academies and exhibition halls into factories and lumber rooms—let us renounce and abjure forever all fealty to genius and taste let us envelope ourselves in smoke of steam-engines, and be content that our only progress should be upon our own canals and rail-roads. But notwithstanding all these untoward appearances, we venture to profess our ardent and devoted attachment to the fine arts, and to cherish the fond and confident persuasion, that our country, long before the days of its senility and decline, will boast its Leonardos and Guidos, its Canovas and Chantrys: and while nature shall bestow on us talents that may rival those great names, that our painters and sculptors will not be compelled to become the nurselings and protegés of foreign wealth and patronage, and to seek abroad those distinctions and rewards, which ought to await them at home. Paths of honour and renown will be found for them here to walk in. The history of our land, and the varied scenery with which nature has enriched it, will, we trust, give as profitable as ample employment to the painter, the statuary, and the engraver.
In shewing the reasonableness of this hope, we must endeavour to make it appear how we are to be exempted from those laws and influences which have shaped and determined the fate of other nations. Without entering very far into the particulars of the comparison, it will at once occur to'every one that nothing is more different than the character of ancient and modern society, and, indeed, all the institutions connected with their welfare. The light of revelation-the general diffusion of knowledge—the clearly defined principles of self-government and of political power-greater regularity and consistency in the administration of the law3—the spread of truth and the control of public opinion by means of the press, are peculiar to later times, and eminently distinguish the age in which we live. In this age, national taste and refinement are not the growth of foreign conquest, nor are their seeds introduced amidst the spoils of vanquished nations. Indeed, such is the moral sense of nations upon this subject, that they would not permit the fine arts to owe their existence to so unholy a cause. The prompt and generous restitution of all the plundered monuments of Italian art, is a lesson on this subject never to be forgotten. It may now be safely pronounced, that in no country can the arts be indebted for their support to the munificence of a successful usurper. If they flourish, it must be upon the broad and solid basis of liberty, intelligence and refinement. They constitute a part of a system of permanent, deep-seated, social improvement, and are developed commensurately with every other feature of national prosperity.
What a happy illustration of this does Great-Britain afford? Her glory in arms, in science, and in arts is the happy fruit of VOL. IV.NO. 7.
freedom and religion ; the one imparting vigour, the other restraining abuse-the one enlarging the sphere of her prosperity, the other directing it to the happiness of society. Her splendid and munificent patronage of the arts continued through several successive reigns, and resulting from a long course of wealth and prosperity, has not, as yet, been checked by any symptom of decay. In spite of her debt and her sinecures, of her tithes and her establishment, of her aristocracy and her poor laws, of Almack's and Crockford's, there is a principle of vitality in her political and civil institutions, which shews, very clearly, that the era of the fine arts is not necessarily an era of decline. Amidst all her wasteful expenditure and riotous excesses, her wars of ambition and her schemes of commercial monopoly, her almost undisputed dominion of the seas and her empire upon which the sun never sets—amidst such a display of magnificence, such an accumulation of capital, and such various and unbounded luxury as is scarcely parallelled in the history of any nation, her spirit is still as buoyant and elastic, her energies as masculine, her industry as active, her enterprise as bold and aspiring, and all the virtues, public and private, of her people as pure and exemplary at least, as they have been at any time since the Revolution of 1688. The truth is, that the schoolboy theme about luxury, and its effects in enervating and corrupting nations is as inapplicable to the condition of modern society as it is trite and hackneyed. Where the whole commonwealth was concentered in a single city, and the defence of it in a state of almost perpetual war, depended upon the courage and vigour of its own citizens, and where those citizens were considered as degraded by mercantile, or indeed by any other sober, industrious, civil pursuits, the case was very different. There could be scarcely any medium, in such a state of society, between the martial habits of ruder times, and the sloth and imbecility of an age of luxury and opulence. The state of nature, with all the republics of antiquity, was a state of war. As long as they were under arms they submitted to discipline as long as they were engaged in martial exercises, they enjoyed a robust and vigorous health. The true home of a citizen was the forum or the camp. If he was not plotting a war in council or waging it in the field, he had nothing to do, (we speak of the mass) or did nothing but mischief. From one extreme they passed to the other. Post Punica bella quietus, the Roman began to study the Greek models, but he entered, at the same time, upon a precipitate, downward course of vice, misrule, and civil war. It was even so with the commonwealths of Greece. They were literally condemned either to conquer or die. The slightest relaxation of discipline corrupted them, an interval of repose and socialimprovement was generally followed by fatal disasters; and at their highest pitch of refinement in arts and manners they were passed under the yoke by a more rigid disciplinarian at the head of a semi-barbarous horde from Macedon and Thrace. The ancient democracies-in consequence of the vast multitude of their slaves and other causes, were mere aristocracies, and the humblest of their citizens were degraded by prosperity, as Burke expresses it, “into the vices and follies of kings." The fact that "city" and "state" were synonimous, was alone enough to account for the most sudden and terrible revolutions. The influence of Paris was fatal to France in the same way. A handful of cowardly and ignorant jacobins, clothed in the municipal authority of that city, soon controlled its rabble, and through that rabble, the whole kingdom. The people of France had nothing to do with the perpetration of those horrors-further, at least, than their patient acquiescence in them, made them accessories by implication. Our republic, we fear, would stand but a poor chance of duration or happiness, if its concerns were all regulated and its destinies absolutely determined by the people of one of its great cities. A disorder which would be fatal to an ancient commonwealth is scarcely felt here. The equilibrium of the atmosphere is no sooner disturbed than it is restored. The infectious air which contaminates and lays waste a small part of our territory is corrected by the pure gales that visit it with healing under their wings, from every quarter of the heavens. The advantage of England is the same. Her country-gentlemen,her yeomanry-her peasantry, are her hope, her stay, and her glory. The soul of that empire, as Koutusoff said of Russia, and as may be more truly said of our own country, is not confined to any single member-it is diffused with its vital warmth and vigour over the whole gigantic frame. These reflections would, perhaps, be satisfactory, even if we admitted the effects of luxury on the ancient commonwealths. But we may well call them in question. The victors of Marathon might have been vanquished at Cheronéa, for the same reason that a successor of this very Philip was beaten by Flamininus. Those who banished Themistocles and Aristides were very much the same sort of people as the murderers of Socrates and Phocion. It is difficult, at this distance of time, to say how far the events, commonly ascribed to the decay of discipline and the corruption of the people, were produced by those causes, or by accident or superior power merely.
It is upon precisely such principles as we have just adverted to, that we rest our hope of seeing the fine arts flourish in this
country, without any evil consequences or concomitants. Speaking negatively, to avoid the too common practice of eulogizing ourselves and our institutions, we may be permitted to say, there is nothing in either to forbid it. A spirit of industry and enterprize is characteristic of the American people. With the wide spread resources, in the midst of which they live, wealth must inevitably be their inheritance. Already has it enabled them to make several laudable demonstrations towards the encouragement of the fine arts. But wealth, however important, is not the only aliment of genius. It is a creature of light and immortality, which, like that “secular bird,”
non fruge, neque herbis,
Sed Thuris lachrymis-et succo vivit amomi." Taste, sensibility, refinement, intelligence, must all contribute to its support. But although these are not always foremost in the train of wealth, they are seldom separated from it. Their influence and operation “will tell themselves when they be felt.” They will grow imperceptibly “occulto velut arbor ævo," and their maturity will be developed in all the glory and the splendor of the arts.
Mr. West, in a letter written not long before his death, thus expresses himself in reference to the treasures of ancient art at his first visit to them:
When I was in Italy in the year 1760, ihe stupendous productions in the fine arts which are in that country, rushed on my feelings with their impetuous novelty and grandeur; and their progress through the world, from the earliest period, arrested my attention. When I discovered they had accompanied empire, as shade does the body when it is most illuminated, and that they had declined both in Greece and Italy, as the ancient splendour of those countries passed away. Reflecting thus on their stations when in prosperity, and their movements in decline, it led me to reflect on the civil and religious rights which the several charters had given to the then existing people of North-America ; and from those circumstances, it appeared to me that country was most likely to possess empire and the fine arts. What I then anticipated has since been realized in one respect, and is about to be accomplished in the other."
The prophetic opinion of this great philosophical observer, formed seventy years ago, and expressed in reference to the establishment of the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, derives considerable force, not only from the increasing respectability of that institution, but of similar ones subsequently formed in almost all the large cities of the Union. Without pretending to know what have been the real causes of the superiority of art