14 FEBRUARY 1880, Page 14


[TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."] am glad to see that you intend to notice Mr. Watts's masterly and inspiriting article in the last Nineteenth, Century, on "The Present Conditions of Art." But you will write as an all-wise philosopher, while I ask to be allowed to say a word as one of the ignorant multitude. When a great artist takes the trouble to speak to us, it is fit that we should make some sign. Mr. Watts has given us a feeling of hope for the future of English Art, such as we have not known for years ; and he also tells us what even we, obscure as we are, can do to hasten the coming of the better time. It is hard work that he gives us, to do, in clearing away the rubbish from our life, and getting free for noble things; but it is a comfort to be, at last, told clearly what to work at, and still more, to believe that we may yet see a beautiful England round us some day, and even a beautiful London.

But we feel one difficulty left behind, that great artists can hardly understand. We middle-class Philistines have a deep and ardent longing for beauty (Mr. Matthew Arnold knows nothing about us), but we are puzzled where to look for it. We want wise men to tell us, but instead, they talk to us chiefly about ugliness. Our buildings, our statues, our dress, every- thing about us is condemned, and now we want to be told what we may admire. We know that we have got some undeniably beautiful things in our National Gallery, but when we go there, we do not feel as happy in looking at them as we should like to feel, and so we do not go very often. Let Mr. Watts tell one of his disciples to come and meet us there, and to show us on the spot, with the pictures before us to point to, the sweetness and glory of Titian and Turner, and I think we shall feel that he is bringing all heaven before our eyes. Let him treat us as a class of scholars, and encourage us to ask him questions, and show him all our dullness. Do not let him say too much about the history of Art, and how to know spurious Holbeins from real ones; but let him patiently open out to us the loveliness, and quietness, and simplicity, and splendour of the great paintings, till he quickens our vague, numb senses into living sight and joy. Long ago, a great sculptor once con- descended to take me to the British Museum; and the single hour we spent there, among the Parthenon Fragments, I listen- ing to his wonderful talk, and looking at curves and lines and groupings that I should never have seen but for him, taught me more than I ever learnt in all the years before or since. If Lord Beaconsfield wants to do something to make us forget his miserable wars, let him commission some man of understanding to give us lectures on sculpture in the British Museum itself,. with all the ages round us to refer to. It would be the opening of a new day for England, if the priceless treasures of Art in our- museums and galleries could be brought home to the eyes and hearts of the people in a way they could understand, by the- living voice, and on the spot where they can be seen.—I am [It is, perhaps, a little hard on the Spectator to taunt it with writing as " an all-wise philosopher." We are fully satisfied only with one feature in this journal, and that is, that it abhors the affectation of omniscience, and tries as much as possible to. correct its mistakes.—En. Spectator.]