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of Murillo is as likely as any that I know to call them forth. There are a few among the company walking about with their hats in their hands, and well would it be could they prevail on the rest, by their more civilized, courteous, and respectful demeanour, to follow their example; but, no, it will not do. It is only striving against an irresistible stream. The manners of the poorer and the middle classes of English people are growing freer and bolder every day. The gentleman of fifty years ago is not now very often to be seen.
I have stood for ten minutes opposite Gaspar Poussin's landscape, representing Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac. Stand in a good light; gaze for awhile, without speaking or stirring, on those influential depths of colour, those glorious masses of dark green foliage, and if you find not yourself breathing the fresh air, and holding communion with nature in her rural retreats, conclude at once that you have no soul for painting.
There are capital paintings in the gallery by the three presidents of the Royal Academy, sir Joshua Reynolds, West, and sir Thomas Lawrence. The Graces, by Reynolds; Christ healing the Sick in the Temple, by West; and the portrait of Benjamin West, by Lawrence, are all admirable. The last picture is now before me. It has a speaking face, and is in the very best style of portrait painting. Sir Thomas's pencil was a gifted one. The picture by Nicholas Poussin of the Plague of Ashdod, is of an arresting kind. The Philistines were victors, for they had overthrown the Israelites in battle: but no sooner did they place the captured ark of the covenant in the temple of Dagon at Ashdod, than it fell down, and a loathsome plague raged among the Philistines. See that unconscious babe sucking nourishment from its plague-struck and deceased mother! Struck by the piteous spectacle, there are not wanting those to take away the child from contagion and death.
Some painters of wondrous power do not succeed in producing pleasing pictures. Nature may be correctly represented without affording satisfaction to the spectator. On the other hand, some painters are happy in the selection and execution of their designs, so that you cannot gaze on their productions without pleasurable emotions. Murillo's Holy Family, Wilkie's Blind Fiddler, and the Village Festival, are striking illustrations of this remark.
As the lover of nature gazes with delight on the varied objects of creation, so the lover of art revels in the glowing and truthful productions of master minds. Five hours ago, I noticed a young man seated on the bench opposite a painting of Canaletti, a View on the Grand Canal, Venice; and he is sitting in the same spot now. A ten minutes' conversation with him has told me that he came up from the country almost on purpose to study Canaletti. Oh, how enthusiastically, how extravagantly, he has been pointing out to me the different excellences of the picture, dwelling on them, and especially on the fluidity and luminousness of the water, with ecstacy! Were Canaletti alive and present, I doubt not he would willingly bow down, and kiss his feet. There he sits, with a pencil in his hand of a superior kind, which has cost him three shillings and sixpence; and from a word or two which escaped him, I suspect it was nearly the last three-and-sixpence he had in his purse.
I love to hear a man talk who is in right earnest with his subject, whether he speak of temporal or eternal things. We get no good in going to sleep when we should be wide awake, or in loitering when we should be making progress. It may appear a little abrupt, perhaps, to go at once from a modern painter to a shepherd king; but I never read the ninety-fifth Psalm without thinking that David was in earnest—that he flung his soul into his words, when he burst out as he did into the—"O come, let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms."
This picture of Canaletti is a fine production. Alas! how is the proud and splendid city of the Adriatic now humbled! Venice that was, and Venice that is, are indeed different places. Her greatness is departed.
There are many splendid specimens of art, magnificent triumphs of the pencil, in the gallery, to which, on account of the freedom exercised in their design and execution, particular allusion cannot be made. One of two things must be admitted, either that the general conception of modesty and propriety entertained by the Christian world is too strict, or that painters in their principles and practice are too free. Without any affectation, I am quite inclined to think that the latter is the more just, and certainly the more safe conclusion of the two. The morality of a painting reaches the judgment only by passing through the lengthy avenues of reason and reflection, while its immorality influences the passions instantaneously through the eye. Hardly can I persuade myself that my error is to be too precise and severe in judging of the thoughts, words, or deeds of my fellow men, though I do oftentimes fear that I fall into the opposite error.
Many of the paintings are from scriptural subjects, and beautifully do they embody them; so that he who is a Bible reader, as he regards them, cannot fail to go in his thoughts to the blessed volume of Divine instruction.
Even here, while gazing on the whirlwind energy of Michael Angelo; the fiery vigour of Rubens, the rich and glorious colouring of Titian, and the deep and grand dark-green masses of Gaspar Poussin's pencil, we ought to acknowledge an adorable Creator, in these imitations of his works, as well as in the wonders of his creation, and the wisdom and goodness of his holy word. The sunlit sky, with all its glorious hues, the hills and vales, the endowments of mind and body, and all the pleasure-giving faculties of man, spring from the same Almighty source. God is wise: "There is no searching of his understanding," Isa. xl. 28. "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised," Psa. cxlv. 3. God is good: "full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy," Psa. cxlv. 8.