24 FEBRUARY 1866, Page 19


* Millais' Inastralions. A Collection of Drawings on Wood. By John Everett Millais, B.A. London: Aleaatsler Stratton. MG. THESE drawings illustrate in a remarkable manner the strength and the weakness of one of our chief artists. Perhaps it is wrong to estimate Mr. Millais' strength by confeasedly minor works, and unjust to dwell on the weakness of minor works in which he has evidently had no interest. Yet we very often arrive at the truest knowledge of what a man can do in great things by ob- serving closely what he does in little things. Mr. Ruskin has said that even when Turner undertook the merest drudgery, for the lowest possible pay, he did his work thoroughly. If we were to try Mr. Millais by this standard we could not exempt him from blame, for it is evident that many of the illustrations have been drawn hastily, sometimes without apprehension of the author's meaning, sometimes without an attempt to work out the original idea. But though it is possible for a great man to perform mere drudgery with the effort required for work more worthy of him, it is not so certain that he can throw himself heart and soul into work where drudgery is not needed, but where he can find no room for his genius. In some of these drawings Mr. Millais has failed completely where artists of an altogether lower calibre would have succeeded. So long as these failures were confined to the books or periodicals for which they were intended, we might have overlooked them. But when Mr. Millaii challenges criticism by publishing his "collected illus- trations," we must state openly that we regret the course he has taken, and we must give our reasons for passing this sen- tence. We think it unfortunate that Mr. Millais should have gathered up so many indifferent drawings, which were done for the moment, and need not have survived the moment. The fact that some of these illustrations are among his best works ought to have kept him from loading his best works with a heap of mediocrities. We really think too much of Mr. ]Millais to wish him employed on things like "Polly," "Mary Queen of Scots at Buxton," " Pick-a-back," and " Herr Willy Koenig." We have even a right to expect better things of him than many of the pretty pictures in this collection, even " La Fine Bien Gardee," and "The Lark is Singing in the Sky." These last two are very graceful and charming; they are almost too good for a magazine, and worthy of a high rank among many others of their companions ; but Mr. Millais' own collection entitles us to be chary of our approval.

So long as Mr. Millais confines himself to the expression of a romantic or poetical idea, nothing can be more exquisite. There are drawings in this collection which are more perfect than pictures, and which of themselves would establish the fame of their creator, as they add to it now. Such as "The Wind is Blowing in Turret and Tree," and "Toll Ye the Church Bell," both from Tennyson, are instances of what a great and independent artist can do with the words of a great poet. Most illustrators would have given us a dramatic picture on "The Sisters." We might have a dozen different pictures out of it. But it is a question if any one of them would reproduce the feeling of the poem. Either the Earl would not be fair enough, or the sister would be too melodramatic, or the poet's delicate workmanship would be lost in our contemplation of the horrible story. Mr. Millais gives us merely a black, gaunt turret, two dark trees bending over in the wind, and a ghostly bar of cloud across the moon, and that is the whole poem. You can imagine the whole scene underneath the picture, as if you had only to lift up that leaf in order to see it, but you know that see- ing it would destroy the illusion. Nothing is so fatal to a grand poetical conception as to have it materialized by an illustrator.

" We have a vision of our own,

Ah ! why should we undo it ?"

What Mr. Millais has done in this instance, and in the " Death of the Old Year," has only been repeated inone other Tennysonian il- lustration," St. Agnes' Eve," and this is most unaccountably omitted from the present collection. What can be said of such drawings as the two from Locksley Rail and the two from the Miller's 0 Daughter? In these the worst faults of common illustrators are exaggerated. The words of the poet are taken in their most literal sense, and the spirit totally evaporates. There can be no doubt that the sentiment of the Miller's Daughter does not consist

in the two old people themselves, but in their memories of youth. Mr. Millais loses all this sentiment by taking the words "Yet fill my glass : give me one kiss," and drawing an old man and woman bringing their wrinkled faces together, while the old woman's hand is on the neck of the decanter. This same sacrifice to the letter is observable in Locksley Hall, where two young people go into a rather public embrace on the shore with a few " stately ships" in the distance. We hope that at the moment there were no glasses levelled at the shore, but even if the drawing had been better, that one scene is not the most significant of the poem.

The truth is, that Mr. Millais does not possess that dramatic power of telling a story which some inferior artists possess in such an eminent degree. There are men who hams not an idea of their own, whose stock of faces is limited to one type, who are utterly conventional. Yet let them illustrate a story, and you see in a moment what their meaning is ; they take the most dramatic incident and tell it with wonderful vigour ; there is nothing in either story or picture, but it is impossible

to mistake that nothing. With the highest admiration for Mr. Millais' great and rare gifts, we must say that he does not possess this small and common gift. He has ideas, and expresses them nobly ; he has variety, originality, thought, and beauty, but he cannot, or at least he does not in this collec- tion, tell you a story so that you are in no doubt as to its meaning. The surest test of this is to take some drawing which we have never met with before, and of which we do not know the subject. Mr. Millais allows us this test, as we are .not readers of Good Words, and as we have missed many numbers of Once a Week. Look at No. 71, called " Elizabeth Hand's First Place," and see if, with all your approval of the figure of Elizabeth Hand, you can tell anything about her first place or her first mistresses. Or look at No. 69, " Only a Servant ;" is it a parallel to Leech's " Servant- galism," or has it any deeper meaning ? Or look at " Dark Gordon's Bride ; " which is Dark Gordon, and what is the story ? Where we do know anything about the story, as in the illustra- tions to Orley Farm, we are more disposed to regret the attempts at dramatic expression for which so many better things are sacrificed. Mr Millais hampers himself with his story, and does not always preserve his native grace and power while striving for something lower. Much is unintentionally grotesque, much is unmeaning. As an instance of the former fault, even in a pretty picture, we allude to the last number, " Farewell," where the two women rest their chins on each other's shoulder, like Mr. Grammies bidding his theatrical adieu to Nicholas Nickleby. A far greater number are meaningless. " No Surrender," for instance, might be anything except what it is labelled. We should interpret it to be a father giving good advice to his son, and his son very downcast at the thought that the advice was so much needed. " Lady Stavely interrupting her Son and Sophia," is merely an old lady finding, two young people tote-h-tote in a quiet room, and dis- approving generally of such improprieties. Mr. Millais will per- haps answer that the characters in Orley Farm are vague, and some of them certainly give little hold to the artist. But we think he might have chosen better drawings from the same book, and we miss the two young men sitting on the gate. The view of Orley Farm itself is indeed admirable, and " Footsteps in the Corridor" is not only an exquisite picture, but succeeds where Mr. Millais is so apt to fail. It is because one of Mr. Millais' successes is worth fifty of his failures, that we regret he should .have published eighty drawings instead of eighteen or twenty.

We hope Mr. Millais will not suspect us of judging him by other men who may have illustrated novels or periodicals. Our -verdict on what he has done rests solely on what we think he might have done. We gauge him by his most eminent successes, and we are sorry that he should sink below his own level. To say that no one else can compete with him in illustrations is no great praise, for illustrations are not the highest line of art, they are an uncertain line of art, and a man may succeed in them one day and fail the next. Leech was more certain in illustrations than Millais; Leech was sure to tell his story, to avoid gross faults and ridicule, and to give us something pretty, and at the same time perfect in its way. Yet we are sure no one would compare the two artists, and we believe few would look half as often at the best of Leech's illustrations as at some which are not the best of Millais'. Leech succeeded where Millais fails, and would not have failed where Millais has succeeded. But for this very reason he would have stopped infinitely short of Millais' successes, and the sure ease with which he could attain to a lower level would prevent him from striving to gain a higher one.

"Are they perfect of lineament, perfect of stature ? In both, of such lower types are we,

Precisely because of our wider nature."

Probably no one but Millais could have drawn the " Finding of Moses," or would have incurred the penalty of such a ludicrous rendering of a scene which must be more or less conventional to suit minds accustomed to it from childhood. Certainly no one but Millais could have drawn the "Unjust Judge,"—a picture steeped in the indifferent cynicism of Satanic authority. Yet if he had not risked our laughter in the one case, he might not have risen to challenge our admiration in the other. We know how easy it would be to make a conventional scene of the " Unjust Judge ;" any German artist could do it from memory ; but look at the admirable way in which each touch does its duty in Millais' picture—the sovereign gesture of disdain with which the judge pooh-poohs the woman clinging to his knees, the man craning be- hind the judge's chair to watch, the indignant scribe at the side calling for the woman's removal, and the servile face of the offi- cial who stretches his arms to pull her away from the judge's seat —all this is dramatic indeed, but it is the dramatic power that results from completeness of feeling.