THE ADVENT OF A PROPHET.*
THERE can be no task more delightful than that of wel- coming a remarkable book and calling others to share our enjoyment of its quality. As Hazlitt says, we become, " by busying ourselves about it, a sort of accessories after the fact"; we boast of our -discovery and bask complacently in reflected glory. The pleasant office of sponsor is not, however, without its responsibility ; there is always a dread lest we injure that which we so cordially admire by clumsy or injudicious praise.
Mr. Lisle March Phillipps's collection of essays, entitled The Works of Man, is in many ways above all liability to harm 'through rash criticism ; it is obviously permanent literature of importance, and claims judgment by the highest standards. What may be called the philosophical study of historic art has not latterly attracted many Englishmen, and those whom it has attracted have not generally produced very encouraging results. There was a great opportunity here for some one, and Mr. Phillipps has fully availed himself of it.
"'The consideration of art as an expression of human life and character." In these words he defines his intention, explaining further that ho dealt' chiefly" with' architecture Incense, " being the moat, broadly human of the arts, it is the richest in human character." •
This claim for architecture may come as a surprise to many people, but it can be upheld by actual evidence. 'Unlike other arts, architecture finds expression in forms of an anterior usefulness, in forms primarily designed to serve such ends as shelter and stability. The building of a bORRO. i8.more.nearly • The Work, of Man. By Lisle March Phillipps. London.: Dioliworth and `Co. 17a. ed. not.] an artistic process than any equally primitive occupation, and, speaking generally, architecture may be said to be coincident with civilization. The Egyptians cultivated it, the Greeks excelled in it, Arabs, Normans, Englishmen; Italians, all possess an unbroken series of buildings in which their racial history may be traced.
The first two chapters in Mr. Phillipps's book are devoted to Egyptian art, and are entitled respectively " The Temples of Egypt" and "The Tyranny of the 'Nile." Egyptian civilization, he points out, "deals only with.what is obvious. Its expedients are the expedients of primitive .man, perfectel by endless repetition." Never is the hand, aided by the intellect, never does the handiwork show mare, than " the • narrow proficiency of perpetual iteration." And, this per. petual iteration is the mirror of the natural surroundings amidst which the artist worked. Every year the Nile floods again the country of its making, deposits its precious burden of fertile soil, and returns to within its banks. Every year the huebandman awaits the river's gift, certain of unclouded days in which he may profit by it. Nothing unexpected ever happens ; there can be no accident against which he must guard himself, no contingency for which he must provide. The Nile is the one source of his prosperity, and the
Nile will not fail. How then could it be otherwise than that the adoration of the Nile should be the ruling. sentiment of Egyptian art ? Mr. Phillipps points this out forcibly and picturesquely when he says, " It is difficult to convey . . . the influence of the river which exudes from these dense-growing groves of bulbs, for they are more bulbs than shafts. All the feeling we associate with swamps and marshes, with sleepy, lapping water, with the succulent, rank growth of reeds and sedges, inhabits those dim interiors. The influence which dominates Egypt is in the Egyptian temple focussed and con- centrated."
And then, suddenly, "Enter the Greek." In the chapter thus entitled and in the succeeding one Mr. Phillipps analyses the Greek attitude of mind, with its natural susceptibility to intellectual appeal. Speaking of the optical "corrections" which are so well known a feature of the Parthenon and of other buildings, he says that the object and aim of all these ex- pedients is to adapt the outlines of the temple more perfectly and accurately to the laws of sight. . . . The real shape of the thing did nct matter; it was the apparent shape that mat- tered." This is the accepted version of the case, but it may be questioned whether it is entirely satisfying. Ever since the fact was first discovered we have been told that since straight lines would have looked bent in certain positions the Greeks built bent lines that looked straight. Now, since the degree of apparent curvature in those lines would also be present in natural objects under similar conditions, it is difficult to believe that such degree of curvature has not been taken into account by the mind in its normal conception of straightness. For our normal conception of straightness can be no more than an unconscious generalization from the appearance of straight lines under every condition. There is a theory that the Greeks, in portraying gods, attempted to create the superhuman by the deliberate exaggeration of human characteristics. All that man has in common with the lower animals was minimized, all that is peculiarly his was intensified. Their gods in some sort bear the relation to men that men bear to monkeys. Is it not possible that in architecture they sought, not the correction' of optical de- lusions, but a super-superlative degree of common qualities that they wished their lines to he straighter than straightness, their spacing more regular than regularity, their surfaces flatter than flatness P Nobody could be better qualified to pronounce on such a theory than Mr. phillipps– and it would be in the highest degree interesting to Isamu his opinion upon it.' Quitting Greece we °¢r'rlve nl OfkantiuM, .aga.in to delighted by what we shall- learn of its art. It' la inipOseibli3 in this review to follow. any further the course of the book,.
but the chapters already described are fair samples of the whole. "The Gothic Contribution," "The Rise of the Renaissance," " Sculpture and the Modern Mind," " Painting and the Intellectual Movement "—these are' the titles of others, and in all of them the reader may discoyer the same
,acute thought and felicitous expression. Mr., Phillipps will —have the sympathy of. many when be disagrees with the common " theory of the medimval mind, prostrated and priest-ridden, and of the Renaissance as the fairy prince setting it free." As be observes " the ago looked at life move often through.a, steel visor than through a cowl," and "if thought waslacking, it was not• because it was strangled, but because the ,thinking agerhaRlatot yet been reached." But on every page there are passages equally well worth quoting. Mr. Phillipps ,must bo congratulated in. the warmest tenets upon his achievement, and it is further to be hoped. that he, may have the .will, as.he certainly has the capacity, to surpass it at some future date.„