« PreviousContinue »
safely assert that the sooner they are dismissed thither, the sooner will the public be likely to reap the full and fair benefit of British art, and literature.
But so serious an evil appears to call for more serious notice; and though I cannot here mean to develope the various and deleterious practice of the empirics of art and literaturethat would not only be too wide a field to do more than look into just at present, but, if I may rely on some little experience, I might as well have disclosed the inhuman and unprincipled proceedings of the African slave-traders a dozen years ago;yet in stating this misuse of the single word Engraving, I find myself induced, on balancing the restraints, against the encouragement, of my experience, to dwell yet somewhat longer (and more gravely) on the hitherto unnoticed but increasing tribe of prospectus-mongers, and the mischiefs to which they have given rise.
Had they in the time of Dr. Adam Smith existed, and been generally known to exist, in the paradise of taste, as in the field of agriculture, it is somewhat to be feared that in the language which the senate appears to have adopted from that great philosopher of wealth,) they would have been merely classed with the “ middle-men:"-though the deterioration of mind, which alone, men live to improve, be incalculably more destructive to the ends and purposes of society, than raising the price of provisions or manufactures. At least such conclusions as these, are almost unavoidable, when considerations which involve the happiness, are either identified with, or superseded by, those which respect only the wealth of nations.
Middle men in one sense, they certainly are. I only quarrel with the office-phrase, because it expresses merely the station which they occupy, without alluding to the mischiefs which they produce. They are neither artists, scholars, nor book-sellers: but occupy a middle and unostensible station
between those who perform, and those who produce to the public, works of art and literature combined. They moreover precisely correspond, in their effects on the price and goodness of the work so produced, with those regrators, whose presence is so ill-endured by the community at large in the public markets; for they infallibly either strain off some portion of the honest reward of the authors or artists employed, or add to the price of the commodity produced : generally both of these; and too frequently the still more mischievous consequence of the deterioration of art and literature, results also from their interposition. The reader, unless he should be a mere office-man, who wishes only to get through the business of the state, fearing “ lest dinner cool,” and without minding its duties—must not, in reflecting on those evils, suffer himself for a moment to forget the incommensurable difference between an intellectual production, and a production of mere manual labour.
One word more of this non-descript, whom I shall now speak of in the singular, and I proceed with Mr. Green's Studies. The prospectus-monger, seems to have a greater predilection just now, for fine art, than for letters, finding probably that on this subject, the taste of the public, as well as that of the book-sellers, is less well informed, and their credulity greater, than in most of the pursuits of literature. In the concerns of book-making and book-selling, he is at once projector of the scheme, and foreman and overscer of the artists whom he engages to execute it; and the mystery of his craft consists partly, and indeed principally, in wording a prospectus, and drawing up a specious, pompous, and promising scheme of publication,--of which the observing reader will recollect but too many examples --where so much of deceit lurks under florid and flourishing phraseology, that the subscribers to such publications are infallibly cheated, while in some instances that I have known, the book-seller has also found himself deluded : as those men too late discover that
they are wedded to consumptions, who have mistaken a hectic complexion for the bloom of health.
In contriving these vague sinister and delusive promises, the word Engraving has often been found valuable, and while it is indistinctly attended to, or imperfectly understood, by the public, no one word contributes more to the dark spells of these hubble-bubble prospectus-mongers, or enables them more effectually to boil their cauldron, while they “ keep the word of promise to the ears” of their subscribers," and break it to their hopes."
In reviewing Messrs. Dance and Daniell's collection of portraits, I passed the distinction which should exist between Engraving, and the various other modes of producing Prints on paper, perhaps with too little notice: it becomes the more necessary for me now to say that it is as uncritical to call Etchings performed on stone, or through softened etching-varnish on copper, by the same word by which we understand and denote a highly-finished performance of Masson, Woollett, or Strange, as it would be to call plaster-casts, or models in clay, or terracotta, by the term sculpture : for though, both in the case of such etchings, and of such engravings, as I have mentioned, there be a manifestation of art, yet it is not of equal art, nor of art of the same kind, and ought not therefore to be denominated by the same word.-To denominate them by the same word, is in fact to obliterate or remove those landmarks of art, which separate its provinces, and on which the public eye, as it scans these ample, fertile, and flowery plains, should rest in honest confidence.
Without undertaking to reform the nomenclature of art, or repress the dishonest artifices of dealers and middle-men; without being fastidious about words; I may be allowed to entertain a reasonable solicitude that the public should not be led into erroneous expectations by their misuse. The present work of Mr. Green is simply a book of soft-ground etchings, than which, no known mode of producing prints on paper,
is better, if so well, adapted to the multiplication of sketches, or such outlines assisted with a little hatching of the leadpencil, as a landscape-painter copies immediately from nature: for, in fact, the prints produced, are impressions from these very sketches themselves, if the artist choose to take his varnished copper with him, when he places himself before the subjects of his imitation (and fac-similes of them, if he does not), the corrosive operation of aqua-fortis being alone added, in this mode of etching, to the art of drawing with lead pencil. Consequently, when employed by the hand of a master, and when exercised on such subjects as are adapted to its local powers and properties, etching in soft-ground is a very eligible mode of art; and Mr. Green, as the reader has already been informed, handles his lead pencil with considerable freedom and dexterity, while his eye and his mind are tenacious of what he sees, and his line characteristic of the object before him. His rocks, his rushing torrents, his foreground weeds, and boles of trees; his old planks, slates, and other cottage materials, are often feelingly touched ; and his general fidelity to the truths of individual nature, exemplary to that class of students in landscape, whom he more particularly addresses in his introductory page.
In his choice of subjects, the author is frequently judicious, but is sometimes otherwise. To such objects as painter's foregrounds, cottages, mills, bridges, and mountain-torrents, where little expression of space is required, and the mind of the spectator is satisfied with truth, strength, and spirit, though roughly rendered, soft-ground etching is well applied; but to an extensive landscape, such as a Cumberland lake surrounded by mountains softening into air and decorated with distant woods and villages, delicate gradations of light and shade are so indispensable, that this mode of etching ‘appears inadequate to the task of representing them: a rough foreground rock of Salvator Rosa, or, if Mr. Green pleases, of his own, may thus be very successfully sketched on copper,
and printed on paper, but a Westmoreland or Cumberland lake scene, to exhibit which in perfection requires the delicate blandishments, dulcet tones, and full harmony, which flowed from the pencil of Claude, cannot,-at least no man has yet been able to accomplish so much in this mode of art. I think, therefore, that Mr. Green had probably better have excluded from his publication, such subjects as his general views of Windermere, Elter-water, and Grasmere, which are numbered 48, 49, 50, and 51, as they serve to shew what soft-ground is not capable of effecting in landscape-etching; or, at least, disclose the boundaries of his ability in this art, which every artist would perhaps act wisely in concealing.
For the most part, however, the subjeets chosen are well suited to the pencil of the artist. The number of extensive views which he has introduced, is comparatively small; and the following plates may be spoken of with high approbation. Cottages at Stonethwaite, ....No. 5
Crooka Bridge, ...30
.36 and Lanefoot.
-38 Bridges at Askham,
.45 and Bowderdale.
.46 Stock-gill (a Waterfall),--. -----47, which Mr. Green says, he gives as a lesson in that sort of drawing.”
The Well at Skelgill, .No. 27, another excellent lesson.
Burdock and Brambles, &c. .52
....59 and 60 Gush of Water, in Rydal Park, ----65
All Mr. Green's studies, consisting of mossy stones, fern, foxglove, and various foliage, which he found among the springs in Rydal park, where nature appears to teem with