TO TILE EDITOR OF TIIE SPECTATOR.
Sin,—There is no country in the world where office, rank, right, and money are so awfully respected as in England. This is the cause of most of its virtues and many of its vices. The democratic feeling in
England is so strong, that it amounts to an absolute aristocracy. There is no country where the aristocracy is so apparently proud and so little accessible : not because the noble members of it are really prouder than other noblesse ; no, but because they think you, the people, have your rights—we have ours—we can't by law trample on you, therefore leave us what you claim, the rights of our class,—you shan't intrude upon us. The consequence is, the line of separation is stronger than in any other part of Europe ; and whoever approaches by rank or office the aristocratic line, is in that proportion separated from the public. This principle it is which generates in the public mind such a hatre(' tar public and corporate bodies : in art, science, or literature, met. as- semble and elect bret:s, who form laws, and conduct themselves as so =any separate little power. They eoubicier every ivihof the public which is not agreeable to their importance, as an insolent infringement on their vested rights ; docility becomes of more consequence than talent as a requisite for admission ; until at last so many docile persons become a part of the body, that they surrender their wills and their wishes into the hands of one more gifted with impudence than themselves, and become the property of individuals who have time or management to direct them.
LAwne stet, the surgeon, said, the public bodies in England had ever been in the rear of advancing knowledge; all great advances had been made by individuals ;—and be was decidedly right. This assertion applies more particularly to the Royal Academy ; but, at the time it was founded, had the Government set aside an annual vote to employ those whom it produced as historical painters, they would not have been obliged to paint portraits for bread, and thus add strength to that important body who was the bitterest foe to their interests : the influence of the portrait painter would have been balanced by the dig- nity of the historical painter, and we should not have been so eternally nauseated as we have been by individual resemblances ; and the sixty.. second exhibition would not have been, as it actually is, the least his- torical of all ! But do not suppose I am an enemy of the eminent portrait painters. The splendid effects of their light and shadow, the beauty of their colour, the simplicity of their expression, are requisites, and ever must be im- portant requisites of any national exhibition : but they are not the most Important ; -they are only nuisances when we have nothing else : when accident has given them a rank, which at last their professors consider a right, and when any attempt is made to restore the dignity of the art which they have ruined, they cry out, as if to encourage high art were an impertinent disrespect to their probable prospects. Certainly the art must be in a curiously perverted state, when Wmxte was refused the Presidency, HAYDON is in the Bench, MARTIN denied admittance to the Academy, and LOUGH'S genius a matter of dispute. However, it is not too late to correct these fatal mistakes, though to correct a taste is more difficult than to form one ; especially as a corporation of men has embodied itself in the feelings of the mob during the progress of sixty- two years, so that, in the minds of many, Somerset House and Fine Art are synonymous. Sir, the way the artist begins art in this country is truly lamentable. Little Thomas tries to copy the candlestick on the table, and the snuffers in the stand ; well, Sir, papa perceives it is meant for the snuffers, so doesmamma, and so do sister Mary and brother Dick. Well, mamma says 4' Try if you can take my likeness, my darling :" my darling tries—and Oh! wonderful to tell, papa thinks it very like mamma about the nose, and little sister Mary cries out mamma, the moment she sees it. Down come nurse and baby, up come John and Sally, and in a chorus all three cry Out, "Dear me, if that is not mistress ! Bless his little heart who could have thought it ! " Well, Sir, Tom is pronounced a great genius Of course—that's clear : Tom tries his friends—his attempts are all known. Tonethen paints alikeness, a pleasing likeness ; earns his honest 7s. ahead; gets'plenty to do, raises his price, and gets a great deal more. Tom then comes to,London with his savings ; paints the Chief Justice, a native of his birth-place; money rolls in a house is taken, a gallery built ; short noses and, long, noses, fat cheeks and flat cheeks, tall and short —generals and schni.ralsrrbeauties and dowagers—stretch along the wall of his newly.hiiilt gallery; and Tom looks down with ineffable contempt on MICHAEL ANGELO for spending years in dissection, while he has jumped into fortune and rank without dissection at all. Tom at last is looked on as one of the prime props of the system in vogue, be- comes Royal Academician, and at last President—ridicules high art at the tables of the nobility, quizzes the poverty of its professors to their wives, saves an enormous fortune, and wonders why foreigners ridicule the Royal Academy, or anybody can say there is no encouragement for art.
I appeal to the common sense of the country if' this be at all exagge- rated—if it be not true to the very letter ; and if these sort of artists have not had the direction of art, all its honours, and its emoluments, for these last seventy years ! The consequence is, they consider all the best places in the best room as their right, and complain of a grand his- torical picture if it occupy a side of it, as a nuisance. Never shall I forget the dismay in the salons of the most eminent portrait-painters three or four years ago, when it was whispered a Crucifixion was coming twenty-five feet high ! What a calamity l—the earthquake at Lisbon was nothing to it !
I assure you I am no enemy to the Royal Academy, far from it ; many of its members I have known from their boyhood ; but I am not from my respect for individuals to shut up my conviction that as a body it is no longer adequate to the demands of the genius in the country. I ant far from wishing to see it degraded, but I wish to see it reformed en- tirely, an extension of the allowed number settled on, and all the genius of the country taken in.
The great misfortune has hitherto been, that, for a great many years, the art was not separated from the Academy. When REYNOLDs began to practise history, they let out a little of the genuine trade feeling; but when the Gallery was founded, and the nobility appeared really desirous to improve the taste, and we all lent our fine old works of art, then in.. deed came out the genuine patriotism for art ! After the infamous Catalogue Raisonne, let no Academician talk of his national feeling for art ; all those venerated patrons who had spent thousands to support and advance the youth of genius were assailed with a rancour quite dis- graceful. Had the nobility acted with proper spirit, they would have never dined with them again ; but here came in the respect due to offices —a Royal Academician, being royal, it would have been improper not to endure any insult he choosed to inflict. At last, Sir, by their own act and deed, they have separated the art and the Academy for ever ; and nothing but their own act could have so soon accomplished it. 0 dear, Mr. Editor, I fear my age and infirmities are not adequate to do justice to the task I have undertaken ; but, with every allowance from the good nature of your readers, I will try. In the spring of the year LAWRENCE died, and who was to be his successor seemed to puzzle them all : at last the day of election comes, and, to the wonder of every body but myself, a portrait-painter' and the very worst, was the man.— The contempt expressed by the late Einp:, the astonishment of the tow-. and the wonder of the noWit7,-; --..ere all to me, Mr. editor, ab- solute absurdities ! To one who like myself had watched art for sixty- five years, who knew and had always predicted the fatal consequences of the neglect of the Government in not giving employment to the histo.. real painter by an annual vote at the time the Academy was founded, it was no wonder at all: it was a great pleasure, for I foresaw this election would soon again set art in an uproar, out of which turmoil a better system would arise. But, Sir, let me tell the Academy, with my best wishes, that the pre- cedent they have established, viz, that the highest talent is not necessary for the highest place, is one of the most fatal blows ever inflicted on the apparent dignity of the body, and has so lowered it in public and Conti- nental estimation as no subsequent elevation can ever redeem ; because it has originated a principle which the Academy ought never to have per- mitted, viz, that the head of the Academy is not necessarily the head of' the art, and has thrown the art—which for art is the greatest thing—en- tirely on the sympathy of public opinion, independently of all honours and rank.
To say great talent is not necessary to fill the highest place, says little for the talent required to fill it ; and to consider the highest honour not necessarily belonging to the highest genius opens the chair to a succes- sion of imbecility, to Dick, Harry, . and john, which, if permitted to take place, will reduce the Academy to Della Cruscan insignificance. However, this good has accrued from the election, the system has ripened, has blown, is rotting and will rot—it has come to a head, and suppuration is always relieving.
The two reformers of English art are Wi ram and HAYDON. HAVDON they tried to destroy at his very second picture, for_they foresaw his per- severanceavould lead to something. WILK IE'S modesty, his sacrifice of his friend, saved him till he came in contact with their importance ; but the moment the throne was endangered, not his genius, his inoffensive character, not even the palpable wish of the King, could avail. DAVID WILKIE, the greatest genius in the domestic style that ever lived, whose pictures are an wra in the art of the world, had rsvo vorrs, and my Irish friend, the very best of husbands and very worst of paint. ers, EIGHTEEN. The town was so astonished, that silence followed, which has been mistaken for approbation 1—Alas ! never was such a mistake.
In thus speaking of the Royal Academy, Sir, believe me I am sensible to its great utility as a school, and as a charitable institution : no afflicted brother, if infirm and aged, was ever turned away ; the very kindest sym. pathy animates its members ; there is no envy of the gout, serpigo, and the rheum, and assistance was never refused even to the victims of their own injustice. Perhaps you will think me severe : if so, you have not lived among them as I have done. In 1802 I was at Paris, and dined with them often and often. Never did I witness such a spirit animate any men ; no praise was ever bestowed on an Italian picture, but with a sneer-of some known defect of a brother at table ; and no censure but on the same prin- ciple. lashed a celebrated French artist if his Academicians were the same: he replied," Pour cela, mais oui, monsieur ; imaginez -volts qu'ity quarante membres; et chaiue membre a trente near ennemis ;"---at which
we both shrugged, and laughed heartily. •
But do I not begin to twaddle ? Pray, Sir, as the Bishoptrnested Gil Bias, pray tell me, when I give. syritptortts of eighty-skand five months, and be assured I will prove myself more sincere than the Bishop.
Alf OLD DILETTANTE.
P.S. To recapitulate.—The Academy was founded, and no provision was made for the historical painter. The history painter sunk into in- significance; the portrait painters got a-head, and have usurped the powers meant for the first; they wish to keep this power and its lucra- tive consequences ; and as the advance of public taste will prevent their doing so, they dread, and obstruct by every artifice, this desired event. This should be always kept in view, and it will explain all the doubtful acts for the last fifty years. This is what the enemies say, but I hope they go a little too far. Adieu.