6 MARCH 1880, Page 14



" I built my soul a lordly pleasure-house, Wherein at ease for aye to dwell ; I said, '0 Soul, make merry and carouse, Dear Soul, for all is well !' "

I SOMETIIIES go into houses where my first thought is, "How beautiful is this place ! how happy must they be who can always live with such pretty things before their daily eyes." The paper is, let us say, a dark golden brown ; the wood-work, blue-grey. Persian rugs cover the floor; Doulton tiles surround the mantel- piece ; quaint sofas and carved chairs fill the room, save where

space has been made for a tiny Chippendale table, or a Sheraton sideboard; the ceiling is a picture, with its delicately-involved design of faintest yellow ; curious old stuffs lie about on couch and table, and black oak parquetry shines here and there upon the floor; lamps, coal-scuttles, door-handles, window-poles,

everything is delicately ornamented and gracefully formed ; and in the midst thereof I sit, waiting in somewhat awed admiration for the advent of the host. He comes, somewhat un- tidy as to his hair and beard, in deep-red morocco slippers and black velvet coat, his manner eager, his eyes a little vacant and restless, as if he were still questioning the oracles, and the response were ambiguous. I talk to him, expressing an honest admiration for his beautiful room, his exquisite taste. "This sofa now—what a perfect shade of green !"

Yes, yes," he will say, quickly ; "so-and-so was a long time getting it made for me, and it is not a bad substitute for the real thing." "The real thing !" murmur I, in placid astonish-

ment; "is it not, then, a sofa at all ?" My host gazes at me with perfectly unconcealed contempt, which fades almost directly into the resignation of a man accustomed to bear such ignorance. "You do not care for these things," he says, politely enough ; "let us talk of something else." "By no means. Enlighten me. Pray what is there sham about this sofa, which merely seems to me an ordinary one, except for its very beautifully coloured stuff?" " It is a copy," he says, solemnly, "a copy of perhaps the earliest piece of First Empire work known to be in existence. It is absolutely accurate, but the spirit of the old work, the morbidezza of its chiaroscuro,' has, alas! been lost for ever." Silence after this last sentence. I feel as

if in the immediate vicinity of a lively volcano; but the thought occurs to me, if this man really believes what he says, he must be mad. If he can use such terms of a sofa, how will he express his admiration of a picture or a statue?

We go through the house ; we examine Persian plates and Indian carvings, Italian faience and German wood engravings, and gradually I begin to understand my friend ; for with every fresh object to which he directs my attention, he says, with a certain melancholy satisfaction, "It is old, very old ! We can do nothing like it now !" and then relapses, with ap- parent gladness over our modern incapacity. I look round the house with a new interest, and find that everything in it is as sham as the sofa,—everything, that is to say, pretends to be something that it is not, or to do something of which it is transparently incapable. The hanging lamps could not be lighted, the tiled fire-place holds scarcely any coals, the extraction of fuel from the coal-box is as difficult as a mathematical problem, the tables cannot be used to put anything on, as they are too full already, the beautiful bits of stuff on the chairs are too good to sit upon, and so on throughout. One kicks up the loose rugs,. and stumbles on the oak parquetry, the dim light is insufficient for reading or writing, nor is there a book nor a pen and ink to be seen ; and then I look at the host, and a hatred comes over me of the whole business, for to use an expressive slang term, the host is the greatest fraud of all; he is neither true artist nor true man, but a sort of msthetic hybrid, able to work himself into a phrenzy of irrational admiration about any- thing which is sufficiently old, obscure, or grotesque. An unholy desire seizes me to make a row, after all this gasp- ing and goggling about Cinquecento and Greek coins, and the "philosophy of line" and the spirit of beauty. I want to take hold of my little friend in the red-morocco slippers, and. give him a good shake, and make him do his hair like other men. I should like to let a little fresh air into that house- of his, metaphorically as well as literally, and make him see- the futile absurdities of which he and others of his set are guilty. And the lecture would take something of this form :— "My very good friend, do you know that you are making your- self supremely ridiculous, instead of very admirable ? Are you aware that all this panting after and striving to realise an incongruous past, and despising of all productions of the present, save such as imitate that past, is both im- possible and unworthy ? Do you really think that the world is to be improved, or, indeed, that it could get on at all,_ if every one were to do as you are doing, and shut themselves in a sort of msthetic convent, with dead men's bones for their only companions ? And even if you are, as I know some of you are, supremely indifferent as to whether the world gets on or not, if you think it would be a good thing if we could go back to the old days of Dante and Giotto, or further still, to those of Pericles and Aspasia,_ —if you would rather the world were to retrogress than progress ; yet, as that is an impossibility, don't you think you had better make the most of what you've got ? And, perhaps, if you came to examine the matter, you might find that things are not so very hopeless with us, after all. At all events, the sun shines and the birds sing, much in the same manner as in mediroval Italy or ancient Greece, and if you will read the daily papers (which I know you never have done yet), you will find that even heroism, of a dogged, un- romantic kind, is not yet quite dead amongst us. And if this be so,—if the beauty of Nature is still the same, and the beauty of man, which is noble feeling and worthy doing, little altered from what it was of old,—don't you think it is very probable that Art, which sprang from the need of utterance of such beauty, may still so spring, if only you, and those like yen,. do not choke its growth, with your predetermined rejections?

"The art of a tea-cup and a coal-scuttle, my friend, does not depend upon its age, or the quaintness of its form, but upon its being well fitted to perform its office, and being decorated in sub- jection to that office. And in this respect, think for a moment of your house, for at present your house is, like yourself, a mon- strous anomaly. The first and chief requisite of a house is that it should be a place to live in,—perhaps, I might also add, a place to die in. Now, life cannot be passed in twilight con- templation of artistic objects belonging to another age. To be life at all, there must come into it some energy of production,. some interest in the affairs of others; but what energy could exist here, what work be done in these rooms of yours ? Are- you going to teach your children to creep in and out in this coloured silence, and murmur under their breath of Leonardo and Donatello P And if you do, what do you expect to make of them, but prigs and milksops, such even as you have made of yourself ?"

Lastly, I would say to my unfortunate friend, if he still remained within hearing, "Do not flatter yourself that you are going the right way to work to make yourself a great artist, or- even to gain any real knowledge of Art. If there is any one fact in the history of Art more noticeable than another,.it is that the greatest artists have uniformly been men who lived simple, kindly lives, generally as plain citizens. Their best work has been done in the open air, in sympathy with their surround- ings, rather than in selfish isolation and morbid exclusiveness. You talk very finely, my dear Sir, about Art being an inspira- tion and a noble dream and a mysterious energy, and all, the rest of the feeble cackle of your set, and in one sense- pm are right. But the inspiration and the dream are not those that come in the night, but are rather derived from the cultivation of habitual sympathy, and a noble interpretation of common-place things, which latter may be an illusion ; but even if it be, it is of use, for it tends to realise in Nature the thing that it depicts in Art ; and, like Nelson's signal to the fleet, it rouses the desire to justify a high standard of conduct. And the mys- terious energy which produces a great picture, is no whit more wonderful than that which produces all great actions,—namely, earnest work, directed to a worthy object.

"So my worthy little testhetic friend dwell no longer in this Paradise of your own contriving ; cultivate no more those delicious tremors that you experience when a glimpse of crimson drapery catches your eye, or the dim shining of the golden back. ground to your raedifeval saints pierces the half-light of your -chamber. Let all dead things be dead,' but do you, a living man, turn your. real appreciation of beauty to some working use ! Come out into the world and try to make it a little more beautiful than it be at present, for it is better that you should break your heart in impotent effort than stifle your soul in

selfish ease and languid repinings." H&RRY QUILTER.