페이지 이미지



tion;" and that " the substantial presence even of the things which we love the best will inevitably and forever be found wanting in one strange and tender charm, which belonged to the dreams of them."

The second of these answers to our question is, I think, correct. i Ruskin has strained the resources of language to give emphasis to his inculeation of truth to fact and fidelity of representation; but this is because he holds that imagination feeds on fact, not on fancy; on truth, not on falsehood; and whenever he is called upon to discriminate between the materials with which art works, and the powers of invention and imagination which breathe into these materials a new life, he assigns the throne to the lastj Ruskin has himself warned us that "useful truths" are "eminently biped," and we must be on our guard against concluding that, because he vehemently claims attention to one of the two legs of a truth, he is denying the existence of the other. His practical procedure as a critic of pictures accords with the position that he owns the supremacy of imagination in art. We may talk on theory for weeks, and yet attain to no certainty that we know each other's meaning, until we exemplify it by specification of instances. Ruskin has denied to recent landscapes by Brett and Millais the name of works of art, on the ground of their lack of imagination. There is no doubt that, as executive draughtsmen, Brett and Millais are among the most consummate of their time, and if literal transcript from nature were Ruskin's idea of perfect art, he would have been in eestasies over their work. For my part, I see more imagination in Brett's rock and sea, and in Millais's hill and field, than suffices to entitle them, in my opinion, to be classed as works of art; but all the more convincing on this account, as evidence that Ruskin is iro literalist in art, is his estimate of them as mere illustrations in topography or natural history.

One other question as to the nature of Ruskin's teaching must be faced. yWhat is to be the governing principle in the education of artists? Is imagination, in the scholar as well as in the master, in the young artist as well as in the old, to be allowed to touch nature with the transforming or transfiguring sceptre of sovereignty? Ruskin's answer to this question must, I fear, be allowed to be negative. "From young artists," he says, "nothing ought to be tolerated but bona fide imitation of nature. . . . Their duty is neither to choose, nor compose, nor imagine, nor experimentalize; but to be humble and earnest in following the steps of nature, and tracing the finger of GodJ. . . They should go to nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instruction; rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing; believing all things to be right and good, and rejoicing always in the truth. Then, when their memories are stored and their imagmations fed, and their hands firm, let them take up the scarlet and the gold, give the reins to their fancy, and show us what their heads are made of." If this, which was written many years ago, means only that students and young artists—nay, artists of every age—ought to work from nature constantly and faithfully, that conscious invention in young men is generally conceit or insolence, that imagination cannot work without materials, and that, in the logical order, accumulation of materials comes before the imaginative use of them, I assent to it, every word; and this is, perhaps, all that Ruskin would now affirm.\ But appealing to the studies of Leonardo da Vinci on the one hand, and to the studies and sketches of Turner on the other, I am quite sure that the art^student works imaginatively from the first, works imaginatively even when he is gathering the materials for invention, and can never, except at the risk of stifling his imagination, break himself to slavish imitation. Above all, he must from the first learn to reject. Unless he rejects decisively, promptly, by art-instinct, ho will

[merged small][ocr errors]

cither execute facsimiles of little bits of nature all his life, or will wrestle with nature on a large scale, and, like the man that wrestled with God, will go a cripple to bis grave. Of all the lessons — and they are not to be numbered — derivable from Turner's course as a student, none, I think, is more impressive or more important than the magnificent ease, the absolute decision, with which he takes from nature what he wants, and lets the rest alone. I cannot but believe that if Turner had not been an imaginative student, he would never have been an imaginative master. Students who work in their youth as slaves will not take up the scarlet and the gold at all. Having forced themselves for ten or twenty years to draw as botanists or as facsimile makers, they will find imagination stiff and cold, her dead hand capable, indeed, of manufacture, but powerless to create.

It was, then, I must conclude, fatal to Ruskin's prospects as an artist, that "serious botanical work," and a frenzy of admiration for grass-blades and Alpine-rose bells, made him break the neck of his imagination; but with deliberate and entire acquiescence, I note his remark, "The power of delineation natural to me only became more accurate." It has not only been exquisitely accurate in transcript from nature, but has been guided by a poetically tender and delicate choice of natural objects to be delineated, and almost all that it has yielded us is beautiful. Ruskin's "Wild strawberry blossom, one of the weeds of such a rock, painted as it grew," is a ravishing glimpse of "nature's naked loveliness." It would have made Shelley weep for joy. The pale, tiny flower, frail in its whiteness, unites in simple harmony with the green and gray and russet-ruby in leaf, crag, tendril, making up a gem of beauty which we take to ourselves at once and forever, to wear next the heart "for fear our jewel tine." Not with the pen alone, but with the brush and the pencil, has Ruskin been a revealer of nature's sweet and subtle beauty; and his productions, if not in the strict sense works of art, arc precious and unique.



WHATEVER he may call himself, it is as a painter of nature with words that Ruskin is named with enthusiasm wherever men speak the English tongucj It has been through his books, not through his pictures, that he has mainly influenced his generation, and sent that wave of passionate enthusiasm for nature into ten thousand young hearts, which has shown itself in the fresh, impetuous, exulting, and sometimes weak and affected naturalism of our recent schools. Nor has its influence been confined to the schools or the coteries of pictorial art. It has told upon literature; it has been felt in social life; it has penetrated into quarters in which pictures are scarcely know.n. The class directly influenced by Turner's pictures has been small compared with that influenced by Ruskin's books.

Some twenty years ago, I had occasion to state, in print, my estimatc of the value and importance of Ruskin's word-painting of nature. The passage was received by some with ridicule as mere enthusiastic extravagance; but I have never seen cause to modify it; and I have the more satisfaction in recurring to it now, because I wish to say that, however much I may have disagreed with some of his recent opinions, I have never harbored a doubt as to the greatness and the splendor of his service in delineating the facts of nature.

After an introductory word or two upon the ministry of mind to mind, so that an original thinker inspires multitudes with thought, and " the delight first felt in a single breast is HIS DESCRIPTION OF NATORE.


communicated by sympathy, and thrills through a thousand," I proceeded as follows: "A man gifted with pre-eminent sensibility to nature's beauty, with pre-eminent ability to perceive nature's truth, lends a voice to the hills, and adds a music to the streams; he looks on the sea, and it becomes more calmly beautiful; on the clouds, and they are more radiantly touched; he becomes a priest of the mysteries, a dispenser of the charities of nature; and men call him poet. Ruskin stands among a select and honored few who have thus interpreted nature's meaning, and conveyed her bounty to mankind. He has spoken with a voice of fascinating power of those pictures which never change, yet are ever new; which are old, yet not dimmed or defaced; of the beauty of which all art is an acknowledgment, of the admiration of which all art is the result, but which, having hung in our view since childhood, we are apt to pass lightly by. He has reminded us that morning, rosy-fingered as in the days of Homer, has yet a new and dis» tinct smile at each arising; and that, as she steps along the ocean, its foam is still wreathed into new broideries of gold and roses. Ho has shown us, by evidence which none can resist, that no true lover ever trysted with Spring by her own fountains or in her own woods, without seeing some beauty never seen before. At his bidding we awake to a new consciousness of the beauty and grandeur of the world. We have more distinct ideas as to what it is; we know better how to look for it. Summer has for us a new opulence and pride; Autumn—which j is Summer meeting death with a smile—a new solemnity and I a more noble sadness. Even to Winter we learn to look for his part in nature's pageantry, in nature's orchestral beauty; we find a new music in his storms, a new majesty in his cataracts, a more exquisite pencilling in his frost-work." There are multitudes now who, without fear of ridicule, would apply these words to Ruskin, and declare that he had either opened their eyes to the grandeur and loveliness of nature, or enabled

« 이전계속 »