A PAINTER'S CAMP.*
Mn. HAMERTON'S second edition of A Painter's Camp is not only readable and interesting to the general reader, it contains many points of more technical concern to the artist and to the critic. The general reader will find much the same kind of plea- sure in accompanying Mr. Hamerton on his travels, which he might derive from accompanying a communicative artist to a picture gallery or through a studio. Artists cannot fail to look with heightened interest at different countries through the eyes of an artist, while the critic is curious to study a vocabulary, more or less professional without the pedantry of a school, and to study how, after all, a painter, gifted with real powers of thought and expression, conveys his own pictorial feelings in ordinary language. The language of the penny-a-liner we know, and the language of the eloquent rhetorician ; we know the purple Saxon of Mr. Ruskin, and we know the cold, conventional, slightly pompous vocabulary of the Crowe-Cavalcaselle school of art-historians (it is hard to be an art-historian and an artist), but there is a zest and a curiosity in listening to the language of a live artist painting his pictures not in colour, but in word.
The way in which Mr. Hamerton encamped, how be contrived his tent, and struck it in diverse wilds to study nature's varied moods at his leisure, we shall not describe, nor shall we describe his painter's life-boat. It is all very useful and amusing in its way, but it would swamp our article, and, honestly, we do think it a little overdone. As for Thursday's nautical education, quid ad rem? We care very little for Thursday and his nautical or any other education. Mr. Crusoe's Friday was a very great man, but for Mr. Hamerton's " Thursday " we cannot care a fig, not at least until we know him. Equally little do we care for Mr. Richard- son's life-boat,—here, at all events. If Mr. Hamerton had confined himself to explaining with all the force and brevity in his power the construction, uses, and merits of his boat for the benefit of other artists, and then given all the space spent on mock- heroical adventures and frittered on sub-rollicking banter, to the analysis of the Highland scenery and those half social, half moral, half pictorial glimpses oL a country which he is able, when he chooses, to touch off with a master's hand, he would have done * A Pai fliers Camp. fly Philip Gilbert Hammon. London: Idadniiiati. himself even more credit, and, let us add, only that credit to which he has a right to aspire. We should not waste our spleen on smaller fry. But while we are occupied with a writer whose powers of intuition and expression we sincerely admire, it is perhaps worth while to express our abhorrence of the modern tendency of second-rate English writers to revel in the batrachomyomachian style of would-ba wit. This style positively infects our literature, until even our greater writers at times fall into it, as if compelled to pay toll to the prevailing genius of funny mediocrity. All true art, even the art of laughter, is severe. Without severity and modesty at the core, without self-distrust and a certain bitter humiliation under the sense of an overshadowing ideal, there can be no true art in the shell. Those who make mankind laugh are not those who laugh themselves, not at least until they have time to turn round and see what they have unconsciously said or done. There is a vulgarity in the literary flavour of modern English light literature, a latent self-conceit, an implied belief that the writer is writing wittily, or funnily, or grandly, a whipper- snapper assumption of admiration in the reader, an absence of implied respect, a latent immodesty, which is disheartening. If we were to lay down a rule for the lighter writers of our period, we should make it this :—Say what you have to say, grave or gay, say it all, but say it in the inward temper of men who are addressing slightly hostile hearers, not friends. Put aside fami- liarity, forget tea-tables, forget champagne and cigars, and write expecting no mercy to yourselves, but only from the excellence of your matter. Such a precept would be excessive, we only suggest it as a corrective, and a purely artificial corrective, to the artificial indecency of a relaxed funniness.
After this Mr. Hamerton may perhaps feel a little doubt of our sincerity,, when we assure him again of the great interest and ad- miration with which we have read many parts of his really delightful book. His descriptive pictures of scenery are admirably terse and characteristic. Here, for instance, is one, near the opening of the volume, the effect of which in a few lines is complete. He is describ- ing a Lancashire moor. " Fancy a vast bleak range of hills, partitioned into fields by leagues upon leagues of stone walls, with here and there a dreary village, where the quarrymen live who work in the stone quarries on the hills, and one or two desolate mansions of the Elizabethan age standing forlorn on the bare hills, their fair parks cut up into pastures, their oak woods felled long ago, their their wainscoted chambers empty and cold, and their lofty gables rent and tottering. These, with the uncouth manners of the peasantry and the harshness of their northern dialect, recall vividly the wonderful flight of Jane Eyre." " Here I am," he says elsewhere,
" painting from nature on a Lancashire moor twelve hundred feet high, in the month of October, in a storm of wind and rain, with my colour box on a table by my side, and every convenience and comfort about me. Any one who doubts the utility of this but may come and do without it what I have done to-day. For six hours I have calmly studied the heather tuft by tuft, and the grass blade by blade, and the green mates and delicate small fern, when you would not have turned a dog out of doors, and the
shepherds themselves refuse to wander on the hills. On such a day what painter could work outside in the wind?" He adds, " I can scarcely conceive the results to my success in • art that may follow from this contrivance. My winter studies will be as perfect as my summer ones."
It will be seen from this that in his studies at least Mr. Hamer- ton is essentially a realist. He cannot understand how artists can gallop about a country taking hasty sketches. " My first impulse when I come to a noble subject is to pitch my tent straight in front of it, and stay there twelve months." If such impulses were acted upon we should have a resurrection of mediwval art. "In my opinion," he says again, " a snail is the perfect type of what
an artist upon his travels ought to be He travels at a • rational pace, stops wherever he feels inclined, and carries his house with him." And the following remark exhausts, we think, the philosophy of landscape study:" Let the tourist be in ever such a hurry, he will see no more, probably even less, wasting his time in travel." As Sir Isaac Newton is said to have sat on his bed-side thinking for a day with one stocking on, so it is related, we forget where, of Claude, that he would stand for the better part of a day in the fields with his arms folded watching effects of light. Mr. Hamerton's descriptions of Highland scenery are wonderfully good as observations of colour, and they contain many gleams of quaint idealization very characteristic and instructive. He is describing a " calm after rain" in May, at eight o'clock in the evening, near Ben Cruachan :—" The sky is blue at the zenith, greenish towards the horizon. Great lake clouds are rising
fast, and one peak is perfectly blended by them. This summit ia dark purple, and as hard and definite in outline as it would be possible to draw it. An enormous cloud is engulphing this moun- tain all round in vast billows of opaque, aluminium-coloured grey. A mountain on the left has a sort of peruke, more like cotton wool than I ever saw any cloud before ; the crown of the hill piercing the peruke as a priest's skull seems to pierce his natural head of hair when he is tonsured." His " Craiganunie after Sunset" is a little master-piece. And we have only quoted at random.
The chapters on French scenery are, in parts, beyond praise. In Mr. Hamerton social observation is married very closely to the observation of the painter, and he abounds in touches which suggest a picture and reveal a society. His description of the Burgundy country is a master-piece in that style, the end of which is, you scarcely know how, to beget the same sort of social idea of a district pictorially which the outward eye derives of a landscape by looking at it from an eminence. Mr. Hamerton takes you on his travels with a wine-taster. And, by degrees, without redundancy of detail, you feel yourself " in a land of wine, where more wine is drunk than water, where the people all drink wine, and talk wine, and think wine, where, from the wealthy proprietor, or successful wine merchant, down to the poorest working vine-dresser, the whole soul of the popu- lation is steeped in wine." It is also a land of good eating. " For a cook to be eminent in Burgundy is as difficult as it is for a surgeon to make himself famous in Paris ; for all Bur- gundians are professed gourmets." It is a land of rich pea- sants, with red faces, gold earrings, blue blouses, and sabots. "You may frequently meet a rough-looking man in a blue blouse and wooden shoes who has three or four thousand pounds' worth of wine in cask, besides valuable landed property and buildings. One such at Volnay, living in the simplest manner, made us drink some bottled wine that he had kept fourteen years " The reflections which follow might furnish the text for a very interesting social science lecture, and we recommend it to the attention of aspirants to celebrity at the next social science congress. After observing that the union of easy fortune with the habits and education of the poor is a social phenomenon which he had never seen so frequently as in Burgundy, except in the Lan- cashire cotton district, Mr. Hamerton asks " whether the rich pea- sant, in one sense the richest of men, is not in another just as poor as the common labourer ? In the proportion of his large means to his little wants he is the richest of men, but his money opens for him no new fields of intellectual advancement ; it does not improve him as a human being. He has leisure at command, but can make no use of it ; he might buy books, but he could not read them ; he might travel, but he does not know where to go, or what to go anywhere for. The benefits and enjoyment which he has are the peace of security and pride of possession. These are no doubt sweet, and [another pictorial touch on the confines of the social] he sucks them all day long." You see the man with his bands in his pockets, and his red face and gold earrings, sucking his dignity all day long. We make no pretence to exhaust the beautiful chapter on the " Slopes of Gold," and will only add that the description of the breakfast with the two priests at a rich Burgundian peasant's table is an idyl in itself, which to an Englishman who has not seen France may seem overcharged, but which will come home to any one at all familiar with French life. In conclusion, we can only say that if Mr. Hamerton gets tired of painting he may devote himself to writing fearlessly, for he has won his spurs, and need only choose his horse.