13 MAY 1882, Page 17

THE ETHICS OF DOMESTIC ART.* IN a series of lectures

delivered in Birmingham, London, and Nottingham, Mr. William Morris has stated plainly his hopes and fears for what may be called the lesser arts. His subject, he says, "is that great body of art by means of which men have at all times more or less striven to beautify the familiar matters of every-day life," and a very important subject it is. From form of some kind no one can escape, but the question remains, —shall this form be beautiful or ugly P Shall it be a pleasure to those who make, and shall those who use it enjoy what is made P . Shall life be graceful and joyful with the graciousness of beauty, or shall it, through absence of all beauty and grace, produce only jarring friction and fretting strife P This is the question which Mr. Morris sets forward, and it is one that concerns us all. We must live in houses, we must daily use and move among surroundings which will either be beautiful and useful, or ugly and useless. We may have the most elevated philo- sophy, the most stirring philanthropic desires, but while the mind strives after mental growth, the body must still live among forms that shall charm and ennoble by their beauty and sim- plicity of purpose, or shall enervate and destroy through ugli- ness and luxury. Our surroundings, even to our very dress, influence for better or for worse. If harmony reigns through. out, the beauty that harmony creates will make itself felt in ever-widening circles. There is no need for wealth, to make us learn to love and seek out beauty everywhere. If form suits its end, it is so far good of its kind, and produces a sense

Hopes and Pears for Ant. Five Lectures. By William Morris. London : Ellis and White. 1882. of harmony; but if it is a base imitation of some other form that is fitted to other ends, no amount of decoration will hide its want of truth. Another quality which quickly makes itself felt is originality, even if it does not rise above per- sonality. If there is any trace of this in the composition of anything, it tends to awaken the like quality in others. If we have in ourselves any independence of taste, a house that has origin- ality or personality about it excites in us discontent with those mere square yards of brick and mortar, which any builder can supply at an hour's notice. In a house which is evidently an index to the mind of those who created it, our fancy is alive at once. Our imagination follows the lines of the architecture, and we strive with busy ingenuity to grasp the intention that lies behind each fresh departure from the common-place. We, too. feel inspired to have a shell that shall really be the expression of ourselves, and in imagination we frame our lives, so that they shall fit in with our ideal surroundings. If the realisation of the dream is unattainable at once, at least we have obtained a,. standard to be aimed at. A divine discontent has seized us, and we have become men by reason of progressive desire. Even if the final attainment of our aim is denied to us, we can hand it down to our children, teaching them that before they can attain to any good result, they must be men to know and to dis- tinguish between what they really do desire through their own. individuality, and what they have learnt to put up with through the injustice of others and their own sloth combined. The influence of beauty is widely spread, but to make it of any avail, it must be understood and loved consciously. It is only children who can afford to be unconscious in their love- To avoid caprice and superstition, men must know what they worship, and try that knowledge by the eternal rules of fitness, order, and beauty. By these means alone we shall escape the ever-present temptation to luxury and caprice on the one hand, and the testing of every emotion and aspiration by their exact money value on the other.

Whether this development of our higher nature lies in the future of Art, Mr. Morris cannot tell. His hopes and fears are in the balance, but while his hopes are vague and uncertain, his fears take very tangible form, and weigh him down with their• number and substance. But at any rate, he has the courage to speak out plainly the fears that oppress him. "The present state of the arts and their dealings with modern life and progress seem to me to point, in appearance at least, to- this immediate future ; that the world, which has for a long time busied itself about other matters than the arts, and has

carelessly let them sink lower and lower that the world, I say, busied and hurried, will one day wipe the slate, and be clean rid, in her impatience, of the whole matter, with all its tangle and trouble." " And then,—what then P" asks Mr. Morris. " Even now, amid the squalor of London, it is hard to imagine what it will be for once more, we must not deceive ourselves ; the death of one art means the death of all?" And what is the remedy that he proposes for this barren out- look P It may be summed up in two words,—" Honesty and simplicity of life." Without these, no revival of true art is. possible ; honesty, to know what we want ; simplicity, to do without, until we can attain honestly that which we want. The whole gist of these lectures lies in inculcating these two fundamental qualities, as the foundation of both the theoretical and practical sides of Art. Through these means, the art striven for is an art which all can share. It must be " an art made by the people and for the people, a joy to the maker and user." It must be found in the cottage, as well as in the palace. It must influence the unimportant as well as the importitnt. Wherever form appears, there beauty and usefulness must be pre- sent. Mr. Morris gives a golden rule by which to try all surround- ings,—" Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." It ought to be nothing to you, if other people think a thing beautiful. If you do not think so, and it is not useful, get rid of it as fast as you can, for un- less it has some other merit, such as association, which creates in it a moral beauty of its own to you, it is more than a superfluity, for it confuses your taste and hampers your individuality. Space is more worthy in its emptiness, than when it is filled by objects that neither give pleasure to the beholder, nor comfort to the user. Other golden advice that Mr. Morris gives is, " Learn to do without." When that lesson is learnt by heart, the task of choosing surroundings that shall justify their existence is easily achieved. One very substantial difficulty, at least, is removed towards attaining harmony and beauty. By learning to do

without, we discard the rubbish-heaps under which the tyranny of conventionality and fashion seek to bury us. Face life upon its narrower side, as far as objects of sense are concerned, and it is marvellous how large the mental horizon may grow, and how much room we have gained for our sense of beauty to move in. For learning to do without does not mean not understanding and loving beautiful objects. What it does mean is learning to be content to possess as individuals that amount of beautiful objects which we can legitimately obtain,— legitimately, that is to say, as far as both maker and user are concerned, neither oppressing the maker nor overlaying and hindering the user by the multiplicity of objects which tend to impede his growth in things more essential. The object of beautiful form is not self-contained. If it does not lead on to the better understanding of beauty in its essence, it only adds another impediment in the progress of humanity.

But Mr. Morris does not confine himself to the ethical side of his subject. One of the lectures is chiefly devoted, under the title of "Making the Best of It," to practical sugges- tions. From some of his views we differ, while others are mainly directed to the more technical side of his subject. Diffi- culties there are in the way of realising the higher aims that Mr. Morris places before the public. The world cannot turn over a new leaf in art with any greater ease than in politics or social matters. It is a question of time, and let us hope of the survival of the fittest. Meanwhile, Mr. Morris has contributed a most valuable aid towards the end he has in view, by pointing out so plainly, and at the same time so persuasively, the road along which all must travel if they would have life something more than a mere commercial struggle after luxury and fashion. Whether the road will be followed is another question, which the manner in which we treat the buildings that have come down to us from the past goes far towards answering in the negative. Can we hope that the people who are about to desecrate one of the most beautiful of architectural creations, in order that they may enter one of the most beautiful of European cities in a tram- car, will ever come to understand that a little convenience may be dearly purchased by such a sacrifice, and leave the few remains of beauty in the past, perhaps to gladden the eyes of those who look in vain for the ideal, in an age of stern Materialism.