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despicable bashfulness, that I shall venture to say a word or two of that great artist, and with them let this desultory chat, which to me at least has been pleasant, come to a close.
A complete or final idea of the character and achievements of Turner's genius I cannot profess to have formed. But I have had somewhat uncommon opportunities of observing his pictures, and have examined innumerable engravings from his works. I can say with decision, that I have discerned certain lineaments, vague yet unmistakable, of a gigantic mind, great in its simplicity, in its massiveness, in its sweep of comprehension, in its concentration of energy. Turner had none of your perked and paltry originalities about him. His power of plagiarism was as magnificent as Shakspeare's, Goethe's, or Carlyle's. His real originality was no more doubtful than theirs. "He who has really caught the mantle of the prophet, is the last man to imitate his walk:" and he who catches the mantle, without imitating the gait, is the true original. Turner was the most earnest of scholars; he reminds you continually of other painters; but what he found brick, he left marble. As a realist, his grasp was irresistible, and will not now be questioned. But it is my deliberate opinion that as a poet he was more wonderful than as a realist. He rendered mountains and skies, forests and streams, as they had never previously been rendered. Every bone in the frames of the reclining giants whose weight steadies the earth, every wrinkle on their brows, every gleam of light upon their craggy foreheads, he brought out with solitary power. The springing also of the bough and the sinewy strength of the stem, the wayward grace of the river and boiling torrent foam, the hot haze, swooning over the distances of mid-summer, the scenery of the upper heavens, the lurid or
fiery red of stormy sunset, all were Turner's own. he surpassed other painters in these and other provinces of pure realism, he surpassed them still more, as I said, in strictly poetic, in creative might. Who could select like Turner? You know that city and the scenery in which it is embosomed: but did you ever see it in that grandeur of attitude, could any other painter have showed you it so ? You would say cities and mountains were proud to sit to their great portrait-painter, since none could perceive like him their characteristic points, none could so elicit and combine their distinctive and contrasted beauties, none could let them so well be seen. Yet selection is by no means the only power of Turner. Taste might go far to impart or regulate a power of selection, but the sovereign imagination alone could give the deepest poetry that dwells in Turner's pictures. He seems, by life-long observation and musing, to have detected nature's secrets of effect, her modes of contrast, her suggestions of thought: and his imagination struck out more grandly that at which she aimed. The strength and stateliness of the precipice, the majesty of mountain shadow, the exulting magnificence of broad streaming light, the mysterious suggestion of infinitude, by the steep and soaring line of mountain side lost in the hanging clouds that seem to vail immensity, are all as it were vocal in a picture by Turner. The mountains are no longer dumb; Turner caught their inarticulate accents; and when he made them speak, all could understand them. This is not an easy thing to explain in words; but the universal sentiment as to prints from Turner proves that I am not alone in finding in his works the most poetic renderings of nature's deepest expressions. A critic, whose literary immortality is, I think, as secure as that of Sporus or King Colley, is severe upon Mr. Ruskin for demanding FIRST SERIES. 24
thought in pictures. The thoughts that are built up in the mountains may be to him a great mystery. But if
you ask me where you will find thought, poetry, invention, in landscape painting, I refer you to any volume of engravings after Turner.
I cannot fix upon any picture to illustrate all the characteristics of Turner's genius, and to more than one picture, I must not now refer. Let me take one almost indiscriminately. In Lord Ellesmere's Gallery, there is a large picture by Turner, painted evidently after the great Vandervelde in the same collection. I shall briefly compare the
The Vandervelde contains a considerable number of vessels. In front is a Dutch packet-ship, a gleam of color on its sail from the dreary sunlight to windward. It mounts a broken sea, dipping into its foam, which dashes up over the bows. To leeward is a ship with sails clewed up, facing the wind. The sky has two great banks of cloud, one of them again dividing into three tower-like masses, through which is shed a faint illumination of stormy sunlight. The sea in front is broken, yeasty, racing before the wind with fearful velocity. Look now to the Turner.
One vast bank of cloud, piled mountain after mountain, comes darkening over the waves, "cramming all the blast before it." Its rounded tops are steeped in the sombre light which appears in the Vandervelde. A gleam of the same rests on the sail in front. The whole under-part of the great bank of cloud is black and thundery; beneath, the white waves are seen mysteriously rising and writhing. In the distance, a tall, three-masted ship has furled all sail and looks towards the blast. In front, two small vessels are lifted into prominence, running foul of each other, the one with canvas down, the other with bellying sail attempt
ing to hold up to the wind. A sea strikes them both, dashing in wild foam over the bow of that one which has its sail spread. The waves in the foreground roll in one or two huge, angry ridges, the trough of the sea being filled with seething foam.
It is known that the picture by Turner is a companion to that by Vandervelde, and was a direct attempt either to imitate or to grapple with it. But mark how the conception, or rather conceptions, of Vandervelde, gain from the touch of Turner. The forms of the Dutchman's picture seem to have been dissolved or sent apart, and again brought together, into grander, simpler masses, at the word of a mightier imagination. Vandervelde's sea is covered with ships. Only one or two break the loneliness and gloom of Turner's. The sea of Vandervelde is chopping and gusty, a broad plain of countless equal waves. One or two mighty ridges, with millions of wavelets in their hollows, occupy the front of Turner's. But the alteration in which the master mind and hand are most signally displayed is that passed upon the clouds. These all come together in Turner's picture; no division breaks the unity of the simple, overpowering mass; it rolls on there, dark, heavy, towering, majestic, in the grandeur and terror of tempest.
It could, I think, be distinctly proved, that a change, similar to that observable in Turner's treatment of Vandervelde's subject, was effected by him in all that he made, by earnest study, his own. The conceptions of other artists I compare to the many hills, interesting, varied, beautiful, of the newer geological formations. They may be the picturesque crags of the limestone, they may even be the jagged crests of the metamorphic hills; but they are comparatively low and comparatively many: the imagination
of Turner, working from lower deeps and with mightier power, upheaved the central ridge, the primary mountain chain, rising above all the rest, unapproached in height, and unbroken and alone in majesty. Composition becomes, with him, vital artistic unity; prettiness becomes. noble symmetry and proportion; beauty becomes sublimity. I think I can admire the grace and elegance, the liquid sky and limpid water, the ordered pillars and dignified fronts, of Claude. But my perception of the fact that a precipice is more majestic than a palace gable, is hardly more distinct than my perception of a greatness and majesty in the forms of Turner totally absent from those of Claude. The latter is to the former as Pope was to Homer. And this I say while aware of the historical fact that Turner studied Claude with tears of despairing admiration in his eyes.
And so, farewell.