25 DECEMBER 1880, Page 18


JA.PAIT has been a good deal—some might and do say, too much—with us of late. Miss Bird, who is almost as pre-eminent among lady travellers as George Eliot among novelists, has taken us with her Over unbeaten tracks in the Land of Great Peace; and we have received within three short months works, all valuable and meritorious, on Japanese design, on Japanese

• Ausakso Hiyakts-Sei; or, a Hundred Views of Fuji (Fusiyama). By BokusaL Introductory and Explanatory Prefaces. with Translations from the Japanese, and Description. of the Plates, by Frederick V. Dinkins, Sc.13. London : B. T. Bateford.

Japanese Fairy World: Stories from the Wonder-Lore of loan. By W. E. Urges. Illustrated by °saws, of Tokio. Schenectady, N.Y.: Barhyte.

pottery, and Japanese sport. An American publisher has given us yet another version of an old friend, the Tale of the Forty-Seven Mains, which scoffers might imagine, from its frequent reappearances, to be the only romance that has issued from the Japanese brain. And yet there was room, we are persuaded, for the two works—one published in England and one in America—which are now before us. Mr. Griffis's little volume is something more than its title would lead us to expect. It gives, in a very small compass, sketches from Japanese mythology, popular tales, cosmogony, and religion, expressly selected for the purpose of illustrating the vases, netsukes, bronzes, and pictures which are the laughing-stock of many and the delight of more. It thus adds a fresh charm to the little works of art that light up many a dull spot in our too often unlovely homes. Mr. Griffis is well known as the author of The Mikado's Empire, which is a standard dictionary of refer- ence for the unlearned on Japanese subjects. His stories are fairly free from bloodthirstiness, and can be read through with pleasure. We cannot help remarking that too many of them are identical with those with which lititford has rendered us familiar, and that his style is deficient in literary grace and

charm, and the qualities which go to make up the born racon- teur,—in short, he is not a Ralston. Bat with some revision,

and a little more condescension on the part of the publisher to human prejudices in favour of a pretty book, the Japanese Fairy World could hardly fail to be generally acceptable in England. It conveys a great deal of information in agreeable form and moderate compass. We know of no book on the subject of such small pretensions and such sterling worth.

Doubtless, some over-enthusiastic souls have brought con- tempt on the Japanese and their handiwork. The Japanese zeal of many has been by no means according to knowledge.

But still, when all reserves are made, Japan has much instruc- tion for us. A great Orford teacher used to be never tired of enforcing on his pupils that it was one of the grossest of fal-

lacies-to suppose that the human mind was the same in all ages and in all climes. Until twenty years ago, the Japanese mind was almost absolutely isolated from the European, so that we can study it in its native state, as a physicist would fain examine a substance or a gas. And to take only one branch of human activity, we are able, in the case of Japan, to observe and to estimate an art which, whatever Chinese or Corean

elements it may have assimilated at starting, was, at least,

developed independently of foreign influences, save those only which the Dutch connection may have introduced. Of this art we have an admirable illustration in the first work before us. Hokusai is, perhaps, of all the artists of Japan, the one whose name is most familiar to European ears. He has founded a

school, and some of his sketches meet our eyes in almost every recent work on his fellow-countrymen. No samurai exceeded him in his hatred of the foreigner. His career was over before his native soil was polluted by the tread of the alien, for he was born in 1760, and died between the years 1834 and 1849. He is Constantly styled the Japanese Hogarth, and Sir E. Reed compares him with Leech. "More may be learned," says that writer, "of the true nature of the Japanese masses from a study of these marvellous collections of sketches than from a library of the descriptions of the country .found in Europe, but it is necessary that every page should be explained by a Japanese." The work before us comprises a hundred views of Fuji, by some considered to be Hokusai's masterpiece ; they are contained in three volumes, while the letterpress forms a fourth. Though full of individuality—Sir E. Reed carefully warns us against setting too lightly by the purely personal element in Hokusai—these sketches show us as in a glass the typical merits and defects and the limitations of Japanese art and artists generally. What these are, let as hear from Mr. Dickins himself :—

" The excellence of Japanese art is certainly not born of any de- liberate or direct study of Nature. Even the flower and bird com- positions of the Japanese, exquisite as they are are almost always, botanically and ornithologieally, incorrect in drawing. Of dogs and horses, deer and oxen, and quadrupeds generally, the portraiture is childishly and ludicrously wrong ; while of the human form and of the human countenance no attempt to limn the contours and lines of beauty and force, with either truth or grace, seems ever to have been made by the Japanese artist. Yet the special port and gesture, so to speak, of the subject, be it a flower, a bush, a mass of wind-blown foliage, a gnarled tree, or a wing-poised bird, are rendered, maugre the faulty drawing, with incomparable vigour, with a fluent ease hardly to be met with among ourselves, with a feeling that has got at the very core of the matter. Japanese sketches of social life, of tired peasants, doughty warriors, dainty damsels, traders, pedlars,

street-folk—aye, even of things divine—despite faulty and some- times absurd drawing, show always a certain idiosyncratic quaint- ness, often an indescribable and, to those not familiar with Japanese modes of life and thought, not at once apprehensible, humour or sly under-current of enjoyment, as if the artist were gently, but not unkindly, laughing in his sleeve at the amusing aspect, which, as well as a sad one, every phase of human life may be said, in some

greater or less degree, to possess The excellence of that art—viewing it as distinct from the decorative art of Japan, which is otherwise supreme within its limits of flat ornamenta- tion—lies in the unrivalled ease and fluency rather than accuracy of its drawing, in the sobriety of its means and aims, and in the naïve and admirable sincerity, and often truly Hogarthian wealth of incident, with which the peculiar and indescribable moods of the Japanese artistic mind, arising mainly out of the study of con- ventional models, themselves evolved originally from a loyal though narrowed contemplation of Nature, are represented."

Mr. Franks, in his admirable introduction to the little South Kensington Handbook to Japanese Pottery (lately published), and Mr. Jarves, in his somewhat misty Glimpses, express them- selves to much the same effect. Hokusai's marvellous wolf baying the moon, which goes far to spoil an exquisite moon- light view of Prosperity Mountain—for so Fuji is styled in the title of this work—his puppies playing on the pile of snow which boys have built up in the likeness of Fuji, his impossible pack-horses—witness the monster among the tobacco-leaves hung up to dry—and the white stag, which serves as the emblem of the god of Lougevity,—all these, compared with his loving pictures of the great mountain from many a point of view, of the fields, and seas, and rivers which the mountains commands so proudly, of the mists that veil its base and the clouds that gather upon its brow, of the varied scenes of which Fugi is ever the stately background, of the trees that deck its lower slopes, and, of the men that pay it a reverence that is akin to worship, show the justice and accuracy of the criticism. But when all is said, it is a right worthy and enjoyable art, this of Hokusai's.

And what shall we say of the subject of his book, the lordly Fuji,—whether he is so called because he is a mountain with- out a peer, or because of the wistaria that decks his feet, or as the Learned Scholar's hill? Time would fail us to tell how be sprang up in a night, 285 years before the birth of Christ, while Biwa, the lake that is like a lute in form, was made by his rising ; how, in 1707, a hump was formed on his side, and a fate like that of Pompeii befell the dwellers at his base ; how he is like in shape to a fan or the stand of a mirror, and his summit resembles to the sacred lotus with its eight petals; how the Japanese honour and dread the Peerless Mountain ; how, as each August comes, the pilgrims go up in long line, with their great hats inscribed with the word "Peerless," to adore the mountain gods whose shrines are around his black crater ; how he looks to those who dwell on every side—for from almost every side does he appear the same regular and graceful cone—Hokusai, the mirror-maker's son, shows in these hundred sketches in black and white and grey, which are but one century out of many such. Japanese as he is, he cannot resist a joke at the holy mountain's expense. Now it is seen through a fisherman's net, or a spider's web, or a pile of umbrellas, or, like a roller- picture, through a paperless window-pane ; now reversed in a wayfarer's saucer or a reedy lake ; now trying conclusions with a football, and now shut in by a maze of bridges, or exposed seemingly to a crushing blow from a cooper's hammer. To every rank alike, gentle and simple, samurai, and priest, and peasant going out to cut grass with hoe on shoulder and teapot in hand, Fuji is something not of this world, the place where is hidden the elixir of life, dear to saints and gods, something of a supernatural presence. Now it is the Loochooan envoys, in all their pomp and gorgeous ceremonial, and now the far-off Coreans, who gaze rapturously on the August Mountain. The Japanese views Nature rather as the Englishman of our own day than as the Greek, or the genera- tions that knew not Wordsworth. Nor is it only the people of Dai Nipon or their neighbours that delight in Fuji. The first European who writes of it, in 1691, is well-nigh as enthusiastic as Sir E. Reed, in 1880, who describes it as "whiter with snow than if wrought of silver, purer than the very sky into which it towers, and more perfect in form than any human hands could model,—a shrine of splendour worthy of the true God, -and a consecration to the land which is so fortunate as to form its pedestal." Miss Bird prefers Fujisan to all mountains, save the cone of Tristan d'Acunha. The native writers, in the somewhat dithyrambic prefaces here translated, break into poetry when they speak of him. And truly it is difficult to retest the enthusiasm caused by these sketches, as we see him among the pure cherry- blossoms of spring, in the windless calm of a summer evening, at early-morning time, or purple with the night, rising against a cloudless sky, or blotted with mist, striped with snowy fleeces, or blackened with the jagged thunder-cloud, with the dark pine forests on his shoulders, or mantled with his 12,000 feet of snow. One need not be a Japanese, or a member of the Alpine Club, or a professed art-critic, to prize these hundred views of Fuji. Whoever loves art and nature with a catholic affection, whoever is alive to the charm with which a history and a race different from his own invest the products of the human hand and brain, will feel that he is in the presence of a choice spirit and an original and individual genius, as he turns over these leaves in which Hokusai has jotted down his impressions of the glory and boast of his Eastern fatherland.