Essays and Lectures
Oscar Wilde

Part 2 out of 3

writer of history; and no small light will be thrown on the
progress of historical criticism if we strive to collect and
analyse what in Polybius are more or less scattered expressions.
The ideal historian must be contemporary with the events he
describes, or removed from them by one generation only. Where it
is possible, he is to be an eye-witness of what he writes of; where
that is out of his power he is to test all traditions and stories
carefully and not to be ready to accept what is plausible in place
of what is true. He is to be no bookworm living aloof from the
experiences of the world in the artificial isolation of a
university town, but a politician, a soldier, and a traveller, a
man not merely of thought but of action, one who can do great
things as well as write of them, who in the sphere of history could
be what Byron and AEschylus were in the sphere of poetry, at once

He is to keep before his eyes the fact that chance is merely a
synonym for our ignorance; that the reign of law pervades the
domain of history as much as it does that of political science. He
is to accustom himself to look on all occasions for rational and
natural causes. And while he is to recognise the practical utility
of the supernatural, in an educational point of view, he is not
himself to indulge in such intellectual beating of the air as to
admit the possibility of the violation of inviolable laws, or to
argue in a sphere wherein argument is A PRIORI annihilated. He is
to be free from all bias towards friend and country; he is to be
courteous and gentle in criticism; he is not to regard history as a
mere opportunity for splendid and tragic writing; nor is he to
falsify truth for the sake of a paradox or an epigram.

While acknowledging the importance of particular facts as samples
of higher truths, he is to take a broad and general view of
humanity. He is to deal with the whole race and with the world,
not with particular tribes or separate countries. He is to bear in
mind that the world is really an organism wherein no one part can
be moved without the others being affected also. He is to
distinguish between cause and occasion, between the influence of
general laws and particular fancies, and he is to remember that the
greatest lessons of the world are contained in history and that it
is the historian's duty to manifest them so as to save nations from
following those unwise policies which always lead to dishonour and
ruin, and to teach individuals to apprehend by the intellectual
culture of history those truths which else they would have to learn
in the bitter school of experience,

Now, as regards his theory of the necessity of the historian's
being contemporary with the events he describes, so far as the
historian is a mere narrator the remark is undoubtedly true. But
to appreciate the harmony and rational position of the facts of a
great epoch, to discover its laws, the causes which produced it and
the effects which it generates, the scene must be viewed from a
certain height and distance to be completely apprehended. A
thoroughly contemporary historian such as Lord Clarendon or
Thucydides is in reality part of the history he criticises; and, in
the case of such contemporary historians as Fabius and Philistus,
Polybius in compelled to acknowledge that they are misled by
patriotic and other considerations. Against Polybius himself no
such accusation can be made. He indeed of all men is able, as from
some lofty tower, to discern the whole tendency of the ancient
world, the triumph of Roman institutions and of Greek thought which
is the last message of the old world and, in a more spiritual
sense, has become the Gospel of the new.

One thing indeed he did not see, or if he saw it, he thought but
little of it - how from the East there was spreading over the
world, as a wave spreads, a spiritual inroad of new religions from
the time when the Pessinuntine mother of the gods, a shapeless mass
of stone, was brought to the eternal city by her holiest citizen,
to the day when the ship CASTOR AND POLLUX stood in at Puteoli, and
St. Paul turned his face towards martyrdom and victory at Rome.
Polybius was able to predict, from his knowledge of the causes of
revolutions and the tendencies of the various forms of governments,
the uprising of that democratic tone of thought which, as soon as a
seed is sown in the murder of the Gracchi and the exile of Marius,
culminated as all democratic movements do culminate, in the supreme
authority of one man, the lordship of the world under the world's
rightful lord, Caius Julius Caesar. This, indeed, he saw in no
uncertain way. But the turning of all men's hearts to the East,
the first glimmering of that splendid dawn which broke over the
hills of Galilee and flooded the earth like wine, was hidden from
his eyes.

There are many points in the description of the ideal historian
which one may compare to the picture which Plato has given us of
the ideal philosopher. They are both 'spectators of all time and
all existence.' Nothing is contemptible in their eyes, for all
things have a meaning, and they both walk in august reasonableness
before all men, conscious of the workings of God yet free from all
terror of mendicant priest or vagrant miracle-worker. But the
parallel ends here. For the one stands aloof from the world-storm
of sleet and hail, his eyes fixed on distant and sunlit heights,
loving knowledge for the sake of knowledge and wisdom for the joy
of wisdom, while the other is an eager actor in the world ever
seeking to apply his knowledge to useful things. Both equally
desire truth, but the one because of its utility, the other for its
beauty. The historian regards it as the rational principle of all
true history, and no more. To the other it comes as an all-
pervading and mystic enthusiasm, 'like the desire of strong wine,
the craving of ambition, the passionate love of what is beautiful.'

Still, though we miss in the historian those higher and more
spiritual qualities which the philosopher of the Academe alone of
all men possessed, we must not blind ourselves to the merits of
that great rationalist who seems to have anticipated the very
latest words of modern science. Nor yet is he to be regarded
merely in the narrow light in which he is estimated by most modern
critics, as the explicit champion of rationalism and nothing more.
For he is connected with another idea, the course of which is as
the course of that great river of his native Arcadia which,
springing from some arid and sun-bleached rock, gathers strength
and beauty as it flows till it reaches the asphodel meadows of
Olympia and the light and laughter of Ionian waters.

For in him we can discern the first notes of that great cult of the
seven-hilled city which made Virgil write his epic and Livy his
history, which found in Dante its highest exponent, which dreamed
of an Empire where the Emperor would care for the bodies and the
Pope for the souls of men, and so has passed into the conception of
God's spiritual empire and the universal brotherhood of man and
widened into the huge ocean of universal thought as the Peneus
loses itself in the sea.

Polybius is the last scientific historian of Greece. The writer
who seems fittingly to complete the progress of thought is a writer
of biographies only. I will not here touch on Plutarch's
employment of the inductive method as shown in his constant use of
inscription and statue, of public document and building and the
like, because it involves no new method. It is his attitude
towards miracles of which I desire to treat.

Plutarch is philosophic enough to see that in the sense of a
violation of the laws of nature a miracle is impossible. It is
absurd, he says, to imagine that the statue of a saint can speak,
and that an inanimate object not possessing the vocal organs should
be able to utter an articulate sound. Upon the other hand, he
protests against science imagining that, by explaining the natural
causes of things, it has explained away their transcendental
meaning. 'When the tears on the cheek of some holy statue have
been analysed into the moisture which certain temperatures produce
on wood and marble, it yet by no means follows that they were not a
sign of grief and mourning set there by God Himself.' When Lampon
saw in the prodigy of the one-horned ram the omen of the supreme
rule of Pericles, and when Anaxagoras showed that the abnormal
development was the rational resultant of the peculiar formation of
the skull, the dreamer and the man of science were both right; it
was the business of the latter to consider how the prodigy came
about, of the former to show why it was so formed and what it so
portended. The progression of thought is exemplified in all
particulars. Herodotus had a glimmering sense of the impossibility
of a violation of nature. Thucydides ignored the supernatural.
Polybius rationalised it. Plutarch raises it to its mystical
heights again, though he bases it on law. In a word, Plutarch felt
that while science brings the supernatural down to the natural, yet
ultimately all that is natural is really supernatural. To him, as
to many of our own day, religion was that transcendental attitude
of the mind which, contemplating a world resting on inviolable law,
is yet comforted and seeks to worship God not in the violation but
in the fulfilment of nature.

It may seem paradoxical to quote in connection with the priest of
Chaeronea such a pure rationalist as Mr. Herbert Spencer; yet when
we read as the last message of modern science that 'when the
equation of life has been reduced to its lowest terms the symbols
are symbols still,' mere signs, that is, of that unknown reality
which underlies all matter and all spirit, we may feel how over the
wide strait of centuries thought calls to thought and how Plutarch
has a higher position than is usually claimed for him in the
progress of the Greek intellect.

And, indeed, it seems that not merely the importance of Plutarch
himself but also that of the land of his birth in the evolution of
Greek civilisation has been passed over by modern critics. To us,
indeed, the bare rock to which the Parthenon serves as a crown, and
which lies between Colonus and Attica's violet hills, will always
be the holiest spot in the land of Greece: and Delphi will come
next, and then the meadows of Eurotas where that noble people lived
who represented in Hellenic thought the reaction of the law of duty
against the law of beauty, the opposition of conduct to culture.
Yet, as one stands on the [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]
of Cithaeron and looks out on the great double plain of Boeotia,
the enormous importance of the division of Hellas comes to one's
mind with great force. To the north are Orchomenus and the Minyan
treasure-house, seat of those merchant princes of Phoenicia who
brought to Greece the knowledge of letters and the art of working
in gold. Thebes is at our feet with the gloom of the terrible
legends of Greek tragedy still lingering about it, the birthplace
of Pindar, the nurse of Epaminondas and the Sacred Band.

And from out of the plain where 'Mars loved to dance,' rises the
Muses' haunt, Helicon, by whose silver streams Corinna and Hesiod
sang; while far away under the white aegis of those snow-capped
mountains lies Chaeronea and the Lion plain where with vain
chivalry the Greeks strove to check Macedon first and afterwards
Rome; Chaeronea, where in the Martinmas summer of Greek
civilisation Plutarch rose from the drear waste of a dying religion
as the aftermath rises when the mowers think they have left the
field bare.

Greek philosophy began and ended in scepticism: the first and the
last word of Greek history was Faith.

Splendid thus in its death, like winter sunsets, the Greek religion
passed away into the horror of night. For the Cimmerian darkness
was at hand, and when the schools of Athens were closed and the
statue of Athena broken, the Greek spirit passed from the gods and
the history of its own land to the subtleties of defining the
doctrine of the Trinity and the mystical attempts to bring Plato
into harmony with Christ and to reconcile Gethsemane and the Sermon
on the Mount with the Athenian prison and the discussion in the
woods of Colonus. The Greek spirit slept for wellnigh a thousand
years. When it woke again, like Antaeus it had gathered strength
from the earth where it lay; like Apollo it had lost none of its
divinity through its long servitude.

In the history of Roman thought we nowhere find any of those
characteristics of the Greek Illumination which I have pointed out
are the necessary concomitants of the rise of historical criticism.
The conservative respect for tradition which made the Roman people
delight in the ritual and formulas of law, and is as apparent in
their politics as in their religion, was fatal to any rise of that
spirit of revolt against authority the importance of which, as a
factor in intellectual progress, we have already seen.

The whitened tables of the Pontifices preserved carefully the
records of the eclipses and other atmospherical phenomena, and what
we call the art of verifying dates was known to them at an early
time; but there was no spontaneous rise of physical science to
suggest by its analogies of law and order a new method of research,
nor any natural springing up of the questioning spirit of
philosophy with its unification of all phenomena and all knowledge.
At the very time when the whole tide of Eastern superstition was
sweeping into the heart of the Capital the Senate banished the
Greek philosophers from Rome. And of the three systems which did
at length take some root in the city, those of Zeno and Epicurus
were used merely as the rule for the ordering of life, while the
dogmatic scepticism of Carneades, by its very principles,
annihilated the possibility of argument and encouraged a perfect
indifference to research.

Nor were the Romans ever fortunate enough like the Greeks to have
to face the incubus of any dogmatic system of legends and myths,
the immoralities and absurdities of which might excite a
revolutionary outbreak of sceptical criticism. For the Roman
religion became as it were crystallised and isolated from progress
at an early period of its evolution. Their gods remained mere
abstractions of commonplace virtues or uninteresting
personifications of the useful things of life. The old primitive
creed was indeed always upheld as a state institution on account of
the enormous facilities it offered for cheating in politics, but as
a spiritual system of belief it was unanimously rejected at a very
early period both by the common people and the educated classes,
for the sensible reason that it was so extremely dull. The former
took refuge in the mystic sensualities of the worship of Isis, the
latter in the Stoical rules of life. The Romans classified their
gods carefully in their order of precedence, analysed their
genealogies in the laborious spirit of modern heraldry, fenced them
round with a ritual as intricate as their law, but never quite
cared enough about them to believe in them. So it was of no
account with them when the philosophers announced that Minerva was
merely memory. She had never been much else. Nor did they protest
when Lucretius dared to say of Ceres and of Liber that they were
only the corn of the field and the fruit of the vine. For they had
never mourned for the daughter of Demeter in the asphodel meadows
of Sicily, nor traversed the glades of Cithaeron with fawn-skin and
with spear.

This brief sketch of the condition of Roman thought will serve to
prepare us for the almost total want of scientific historical
criticism which we shall discern in their literature, and has,
besides, afforded fresh corroboration of the conditions essential
to the rise of this spirit, and of the modes of thought which it
reflects and in which it is always to be found. Roman historical
composition had its origin in the pontifical college of
ecclesiastical lawyers, and preserved to its close the uncritical
spirit which characterised its fountain-head. It possessed from
the outset a most voluminous collection of the materials of
history, which, however, produced merely antiquarians, not
historians. It is so hard to use facts, so easy to accumulate

Wearied of the dull monotony of the pontifical annals, which dwelt
on little else but the rise and fall in provisions and the eclipses
of the sun, Cato wrote out a history with his own hand for the
instruction of his child, to which he gave the name of Origines,
and before his time some aristocratic families had written
histories in Greek much in the same spirit in which the Germans of
the eighteenth century used French as the literary language. But
the first regular Roman historian is Sallust. Between the
extravagant eulogies passed on this author by the French (such as
De Closset), and Dr. Mommsen's view of him as merely a political
pamphleteer, it is perhaps difficult to reach the VIA MEDIA of
unbiassed appreciation. He has, at any rate, the credit of being a
purely rationalistic historian, perhaps the only one in Roman
literature. Cicero had a good many qualifications for a scientific
historian, and (as he usually did) thought very highly of his own
powers. On passages of ancient legend, however, he is rather
unsatisfactory, for while he is too sensible to believe them he is
too patriotic to reject them. And this is really the attitude of
Livy, who claims for early Roman legend a certain uncritical homage
from the rest of the subject world. His view in his history is
that it is not worth while to examine the truth of these stories.

In his hands the history of Rome unrolls before our eyes like some
gorgeous tapestry, where victory succeeds victory, where triumph
treads on the heels of triumph, and the line of heroes seems never
to end. It is not till we pass behind the canvas and see the
slight means by which the effect is produced that we apprehend the
fact that like most picturesque writers Livy is an indifferent
critic. As regards his attitude towards the credibility of early
Roman history he is quite as conscious as we are of its mythical
and unsound nature. He will not, for instance, decide whether the
Horatii were Albans or Romans; who was the first dictator; how many
tribunes there were, and the like. His method, as a rule, is
merely to mention all the accounts and sometimes to decide in
favour of the most probable, but usually not to decide at all. No
canons of historical criticism will ever discover whether the Roman
women interviewed the mother of Coriolanus of their own accord or
at the suggestion of the senate; whether Remus was killed for
jumping over his brother's wall or because they quarrelled about
birds; whether the ambassadors found Cincinnatus ploughing or only
mending a hedge. Livy suspends his judgment over these important
facts and history when questioned on their truth is dumb. If he
does select between two historians he chooses the one who is nearer
to the facts he describes. But he is no critic, only a
conscientious writer. It is mere vain waste to dwell on his
critical powers, for they do not exist.

In the case of Tacitus imagination has taken the place of history.
The past lives again in his pages, but through no laborious
criticism; rather through a dramatic and psychological faculty
which he specially possessed.

In the philosophy of history he has no belief. He can never make
up his mind what to believe as regards God's government of the
world. There is no method in him and none elsewhere in Roman

Nations may not have missions but they certainly have functions.
And the function of ancient Italy was not merely to give us what is
statical in our institutions and rational in our law, but to blend
into one elemental creed the spiritual aspirations of Aryan and of
Semite. Italy was not a pioneer in intellectual progress, nor a
motive power in the evolution of thought. The owl of the goddess
of Wisdom traversed over the whole land and found nowhere a
resting-place. The dove, which is the bird of Christ, flew
straight to the city of Rome and the new reign began. It was the
fashion of early Italian painters to represent in mediaeval costume
the soldiers who watched over the tomb of Christ, and this, which
was the result of the frank anachronism of all true art, may serve
to us as an allegory. For it was in vain that the Middle Ages
strove to guard the buried spirit of progress. When the dawn of
the Greek spirit arose, the sepulchre was empty, the grave-clothes
laid aside. Humanity had risen from the dead.

The study of Greek, it has been well said, implies the birth of
criticism, comparison and research. At the opening of that
education of modern by ancient thought which we call the
Renaissance, it was the words of Aristotle which sent Columbus
sailing to the New World, while a fragment of Pythagorean astronomy
set Copernicus thinking on that train of reasoning which has
revolutionised the whole position of our planet in the universe.
Then it was seen that the only meaning of progress is a return to
Greek modes of thought. The monkish hymns which obscured the pages
of Greek manuscripts were blotted out, the splendours of a new
method were unfolded to the world, and out of the melancholy sea of
mediaevalism rose the free spirit of man in all that splendour of
glad adolescence, when the bodily powers seem quickened by a new
vitality, when the eye sees more clearly than its wont and the mind
apprehends what was beforetime hidden from it. To herald the
opening of the sixteenth century, from the little Venetian printing
press came forth all the great authors of antiquity, each bearing
on the title-page the words [Greek text which cannot be
reproduced]; words which may serve to remind us with what wondrous
prescience Polybius saw the world's fate when he foretold the
material sovereignty of Roman institutions and exemplified in
himself the intellectual empire of Greece.

The course of the study of the spirit of historical criticism has
not been a profitless investigation into modes and forms of thought
now antiquated and of no account. The only spirit which is
entirely removed from us is the mediaeval; the Greek spirit is
essentially modern. The introduction of the comparative method of
research which has forced history to disclose its secrets belongs
in a measure to us. Ours, too, is a more scientific knowledge of
philology and the method of survival. Nor did the ancients know
anything of the doctrine of averages or of crucial instances, both
of which methods have proved of such importance in modern
criticism, the one adding a most important proof of the statical
elements of history, and exemplifying the influences of all
physical surroundings on the life of man; the other, as in the
single instance of the Moulin Quignon skull, serving to create a
whole new science of prehistoric archaeology and to bring us back
to a time when man was coeval with the stone age, the mammoth and
the woolly rhinoceros. But, except these, we have added no new
canon or method to the science of historical criticism. Across the
drear waste of a thousand years the Greek and the modern spirit
join hands.

In the torch race which the Greek boys ran from the Cerameician
field of death to the home of the goddess of Wisdom, not merely he
who first reached the goal but he also who first started with the
torch aflame received a prize. In the Lampadephoria of
civilisation and free thought let us not forget to render due meed
of honour to those who first lit that sacred flame, the increasing
splendour of which lights our footsteps to the far-off divine event
of the attainment of perfect truth.


AMONG the many debts which we owe to the supreme aesthetic faculty
of Goethe is that he was the first to teach us to define beauty in
terms the most concrete possible, to realise it, I mean, always in
its special manifestations. So, in the lecture which I have the
honour to deliver before you, I will not try to give you any
abstract definition of beauty - any such universal formula for it
as was sought for by the philosophy of the eighteenth century -
still less to communicate to you that which in its essence is
incommunicable, the virtue by which a particular picture or poem
affects us with a unique and special joy; but rather to point out
to you the general ideas which characterise the great English
Renaissance of Art in this century, to discover their source, as
far as that is possible, and to estimate their future as far as
that is possible.

I call it our English Renaissance because it is indeed a sort of
new birth of the spirit of man, like the great Italian Renaissance
of the fifteenth century, in its desire for a more gracious and
comely way of life, its passion for physical beauty, its exclusive
attention to form, its seeking for new subjects for poetry, new
forms of art, new intellectual and imaginative enjoyments: and I
call it our romantic movement because it is our most recent
expression of beauty.

It has been described as a mere revival of Greek modes of thought,
and again as a mere revival of mediaeval feeling. Rather I would
say that to these forms of the human spirit it has added whatever
of artistic value the intricacy and complexity and experience of
modern life can give: taking from the one its clearness of vision
and its sustained calm, from the other its variety of expression
and the mystery of its vision. For what, as Goethe said, is the
study of the ancients but a return to the real world (for that is
what they did); and what, said Mazzini, is mediaevalism but

It is really from the union of Hellenism, in its breadth, its
sanity of purpose, its calm possession of beauty, with the
adventive, the intensified individualism, the passionate colour of
the romantic spirit, that springs the art of the nineteenth century
in England, as from the marriage of Faust and Helen of Troy sprang
the beautiful boy Euphorion.

Such expressions as 'classical' and 'romantic' are, it is true,
often apt to become the mere catchwords of schools. We must always
remember that art has only one sentence to utter: there is for her
only one high law, the law of form or harmony - yet between the
classical and romantic spirit we may say that there lies this
difference at least, that the one deals with the type and the other
with the exception. In the work produced under the modern romantic
spirit it is no longer the permanent, the essential truths of life
that are treated of; it is the momentary situation of the one, the
momentary aspect of the other that art seeks to render. In
sculpture, which is the type of one spirit, the subject
predominates over the situation; in painting, which is the type of
the other, the situation predominates over the subject.

There are two spirits, then: the Hellenic spirit and the spirit of
romance may be taken as forming the essential elements of our
conscious intellectual tradition, of our permanent standard of
taste. As regards their origin, in art as in politics there is but
one origin for all revolutions, a desire on the part of man for a
nobler form of life, for a freer method and opportunity of
expression. Yet, I think that in estimating the sensuous and
intellectual spirit which presides over our English Renaissance,
any attempt to isolate it in any way from in the progress and
movement and social life of the age that has produced it would be
to rob it of its true vitality, possibly to mistake its true
meaning. And in disengaging from the pursuits and passions of this
crowded modern world those passions and pursuits which have to do
with art and the love of art, we must take into account many great
events of history which seem to be the most opposed to any such
artistic feeling.

Alien then from any wild, political passion, or from the harsh
voice of a rude people in revolt, as our English Renaissance must
seem, in its passionate cult of pure beauty, its flawless devotion
to form, its exclusive and sensitive nature, it is to the French
Revolution that we must look for the most primary factor of its
production, the first condition of its birth: that great
Revolution of which we are all the children though the voices of
some of us be often loud against it; that Revolution to which at a
time when even such spirits as Coleridge and Wordsworth lost heart
in England, noble messages of love blown across seas came from your
young Republic.

It is true that our modern sense of the continuity of history has
shown us that neither in politics nor in nature are there
revolutions ever but evolutions only, and that the prelude to that
wild storm which swept over France in 1789 and made every king in
Europe tremble for his throne, was first sounded in literature
years before the Bastille fell and the Palace was taken. The way
for those red scenes by Seine and Loire was paved by that critical
spirit of Germany and England which accustomed men to bring all
things to the test of reason or utility or both, while the
discontent of the people in the streets of Paris was the echo that
followed the life of Emile and of Werther. For Rousseau, by silent
lake and mountain, had called humanity back to the golden age that
still lies before us and preached a return to nature, in passionate
eloquence whose music still lingers about our keen northern air.
And Goethe and Scott had brought romance back again from the prison
she had lain in for so many centuries - and what is romance but

Yet in the womb of the Revolution itself, and in the storm and
terror of that wild time, tendencies were hidden away that the
artistic Renaissance bent to her own service when the time came - a
scientific tendency first, which has borne in our own day a brood
of somewhat noisy Titans, yet in the sphere of poetry has not been
unproductive of good. I do not mean merely in its adding to
enthusiasm that intellectual basis which in its strength, or that
more obvious influence about which Wordsworth was thinking when he
said very nobly that poetry was merely the impassioned expression
in the face of science, and that when science would put on a form
of flesh and blood the poet would lend his divine spirit to aid the
transfiguration. Nor do I dwell much on the great cosmical emotion
and deep pantheism of science to which Shelley has given its first
and Swinburne its latest glory of song, but rather on its influence
on the artistic spirit in preserving that close observation and the
sense of limitation as well as of clearness of vision which are the
characteristics of the real artist.

The great and golden rule of art as well as of life, wrote William
Blake, is that the more distinct, sharp and defined the boundary
line, the more perfect is the work of art; and the less keen and
sharp the greater is the evidence of weak imitation, plagiarism and
bungling. 'Great inventors in all ages knew this - Michael Angelo
and Albert Durer are known by this and by this alone'; and another
time he wrote, with all the simple directness of nineteenth-century
prose, 'to generalise is to be an idiot.'

And this love of definite conception, this clearness of vision,
this artistic sense of limit, is the characteristic of all great
work and poetry; of the vision of Homer as of the vision of Dante,
of Keats and William Morris as of Chaucer and Theocritus. It lies
at the base of all noble, realistic and romantic work as opposed to
the colourless and empty abstractions of our own eighteenth-century
poets and of the classical dramatists of France, or of the vague
spiritualities of the German sentimental school: opposed, too, to
that spirit of transcendentalism which also was root and flower
itself of the great Revolution, underlying the impassioned
contemplation of Wordsworth and giving wings and fire to the eagle-
like flight of Shelley, and which in the sphere of philosophy,
though displaced by the materialism and positiveness of our day,
bequeathed two great schools of thought, the school of Newman to
Oxford, the school of Emerson to America. Yet is this spirit of
transcendentalism alien to the spirit of art. For the artist can
accept no sphere of life in exchange for life itself. For him
there is no escape from the bondage of the earth: there is not
even the desire of escape.

He is indeed the only true realist: symbolism, which is the
essence of the transcendental spirit, is alien to him. The
metaphysical mind of Asia will create for itself the monstrous,
many-breasted idol of Ephesus, but to the Greek, pure artist, that
work is most instinct with spiritual life which conforms most
clearly to the perfect facts of physical life.

'The storm of revolution,' as Andre Chenier said, 'blows out the
torch of poetry.' It is not for some little time that the real
influence of such a wild cataclysm of things is felt: at first the
desire for equality seems to have produced personalities of more
giant and Titan stature than the world had ever known before. Men
heard the lyre of Byron and the legions of Napoleon; it was a
period of measureless passions and of measureless despair;
ambition, discontent, were the chords of life and art; the age was
an age of revolt: a phase through which the human spirit must
pass, but one in which it cannot rest. For the aim of culture is
not rebellion but peace, the valley perilous where ignorant armies
clash by night being no dwelling-place meet for her to whom the
gods have assigned the fresh uplands and sunny heights and clear,
untroubled air.

And soon that desire for perfection, which lay at the base of the
Revolution, found in a young English poet its most complete and
flawless realisation.

Phidias and the achievements of Greek art are foreshadowed in
Homer: Dante prefigures for us the passion and colour and
intensity of Italian painting: the modern love of landscape dates
from Rousseau, and it is in Keats that one discerns the beginning
of the artistic renaissance of England.

Byron was a rebel and Shelley a dreamer; but in the calmness and
clearness of his vision, his perfect self-control, his unerring
sense of beauty and his recognition of a separate realm for the
imagination, Keats was the pure and serene artist, the forerunner
of the pre-Raphaelite school, and so of the great romantic movement
of which I am to speak.

Blake had indeed, before him, claimed for art a lofty, spiritual
mission, and had striven to raise design to the ideal level of
poetry and music, but the remoteness of his vision both in painting
and poetry and the incompleteness of his technical powers had been
adverse to any real influence. It is in Keats that the artistic
spirit of this century first found its absolute incarnation.

And these pre-Raphaelites, what were they? If you ask nine-tenths
of the British public what is the meaning of the word aesthetics,
they will tell you it is the French for affectation or the German
for a dado; and if you inquire about the pre-Raphaelites you will
hear something about an eccentric lot of young men to whom a sort
of divine crookedness and holy awkwardness in drawing were the
chief objects of art. To know nothing about their great men is one
of the necessary elements of English education.

As regards the pre-Raphaelites the story is simple enough. In the
year 1847 a number of young men in London, poets and painters,
passionate admirers of Keats all of them, formed the habit of
meeting together for discussions on art, the result of such
discussions being that the English Philistine public was roused
suddenly from its ordinary apathy by hearing that there was in its
midst a body of young men who had determined to revolutionise
English painting and poetry. They called themselves the pre-
Raphaelite Brotherhood.

In England, then as now, it was enough for a man to try and produce
any serious beautiful work to lose all his rights as a citizen; and
besides this, the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood - among whom the names
of Dante Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Millais will be familiar to you
- had on their side three things that the English public never
forgives: youth, power and enthusiasm.

Satire, always as sterile as it in shameful and as impotent as it
is insolent, paid them that usual homage which mediocrity pays to
genius - doing, here as always, infinite harm to the public,
blinding them to what is beautiful, teaching them that irreverence
which is the source of all vileness and narrowness of life, but
harming the artist not at all, rather confirming him in the perfect
rightness of his work and ambition. For to disagree with three-
fourths of the British public on all points is one of the first
elements of sanity, one of the deepest consolations in all moments
of spiritual doubt.

As regards the ideas these young men brought to the regeneration of
English art, we may see at the base of their artistic creations a
desire for a deeper spiritual value to be given to art as well as a
more decorative value.

Pre-Raphaelites they called themselves; not that they imitated the
early Italian masters at all, but that in their work, as opposed to
the facile abstractions of Raphael, they found a stronger realism
of imagination, a more careful realism of technique, a vision at
once more fervent and more vivid, an individuality more intimate
and more intense.

For it is not enough that a work of art should conform to the
aesthetic demands of its age: there must be also about it, if it
is to affect us with any permanent delight, the impress of a
distinct individuality, an individuality remote from that of
ordinary men, and coming near to us only by virtue of a certain
newness and wonder in the work, and through channels whose very
strangeness makes us more ready to give them welcome.

LA PERSONNALITE, said one of the greatest of modem French critics,

But above all things was it a return to Nature - that formula which
seems to suit so many and such diverse movements: they would draw
and paint nothing but what they saw, they would try and imagine
things as they really happened. Later there came to the old house
by Blackfriars Bridge, where this young brotherhood used to meet
and work, two young men from Oxford, Edward Burne-Jones and William
Morris - the latter substituting for the simpler realism of the
early days a more exquisite spirit of choice, a more faultless
devotion to beauty, a more intense seeking for perfection: a
master of all exquisite design and of all spiritual vision. It is
of the school of Florence rather than of that of Venice that he is
kinsman, feeling that the close imitation of Nature is a disturbing
element in imaginative art. The visible aspect of modern life
disturbs him not; rather is it for him to render eternal all that
is beautiful in Greek, Italian, and Celtic legend. To Morris we
owe poetry whose perfect precision and clearness of word and vision
has not been excelled in the literature of our country, and by the
revival of the decorative arts he has given to our individualised
romantic movement the social idea and the social factor also.

But the revolution accomplished by this clique of young men, with
Ruskin's faultless and fervent eloquence to help them, was not one
of ideas merely but of execution, not one of conceptions but of

For the great eras in the history of the development of all the
arts have been eras not of increased feeling or enthusiasm in
feeling for art, but of new technical improvements primarily and
specially. The discovery of marble quarries in the purple ravines
of Pentelicus and on the little low-lying hills of the island of
Paros gave to the Greeks the opportunity for that intensified
vitality of action, that more sensuous and simple humanism, to
which the Egyptian sculptor working laboriously in the hard
porphyry and rose-coloured granite of the desert could not attain.
The splendour of the Venetian school began with the introduction of
the new oil medium for painting. The progress in modern music has
been due to the invention of new instruments entirely, and in no
way to an increased consciousness on the part of the musician of
any wider social aim. The critic may try and trace the deferred
resolutions of Beethoven to some sense of the incompleteness of the
modern intellectual spirit, but the artist would have answered, as
one of them did afterwards, 'Let them pick out the fifths and leave
us at peace.'

And so it is in poetry also: all this love of curious French
metres like the Ballade, the Villanelle, the Rondel; all this
increased value laid on elaborate alliterations, and on curious
words and refrains, such as you will find in Dante Rossetti and
Swinburne, is merely the attempt to perfect flute and viol and
trumpet through which the spirit of the age and the lips of the
poet may blow the music of their many messages.

And so it has been with this romantic movement of ours: it is a
reaction against the empty conventional workmanship, the lax
execution of previous poetry and painting, showing itself in the
work of such men as Rossetti and Burne-Jones by a far greater
splendour of colour, a far more intricate wonder of design than
English imaginative art has shown before. In Rossetti's poetry and
the poetry of Morris, Swinburne and Tennyson a perfect precision
and choice of language, a style flawless and fearless, a seeking
for all sweet and precious melodies and a sustaining consciousness
of the musical value of each word are opposed to that value which
is merely intellectual. In this respect they are one with the
romantic movement of France of which not the least characteristic
note was struck by Theophile Gautier's advice to the young poet to
read his dictionary every day, as being the only book worth a
poet's reading.

While, then, the material of workmanship is being thus elaborated
and discovered to have in itself incommunicable and eternal
qualities of its own, qualities entirely satisfying to the poetic
sense and not needing for their aesthetic effect any lofty
intellectual vision, any deep criticism of life or even any
passionate human emotion at all, the spirit and the method of the
poet's working - what people call his inspiration - have not
escaped the controlling influence of the artistic spirit. Not that
the imagination has lost its wings, but we have accustomed
ourselves to count their innumerable pulsations, to estimate their
limitless strength, to govern their ungovernable freedom.

To the Greeks this problem of the conditions of poetic production,
and the places occupied by either spontaneity or self-consciousness
in any artistic work, had a peculiar fascination. We find it in
the mysticism of Plato and in the rationalism of Aristotle. We
find it later in the Italian Renaissance agitating the minds of
such men as Leonardo da Vinci. Schiller tried to adjust the
balance between form and feeling, and Goethe to estimate the
position of self-consciousness in art. Wordsworth's definition of
poetry as 'emotion remembered in tranquillity' may be taken as an
analysis of one of the stages through which all imaginative work
has to pass; and in Keats's longing to be 'able to compose without
this fever' (I quote from one of his letters), his desire to
substitute for poetic ardour 'a more thoughtful and quiet power,'
we may discern the most important moment in the evolution of that
artistic life. The question made an early and strange appearance
in your literature too; and I need not remind you how deeply the
young poets of the French romantic movement were excited and
stirred by Edgar Allan Poe's analysis of the workings of his own
imagination in the creating of that supreme imaginative work which
we know by the name of THE RAVEN.

In the last century, when the intellectual and didactic element had
intruded to such an extent into the kingdom which belongs to
poetry, it was against the claims of the understanding that an
artist like Goethe had to protest. 'The more incomprehensible to
the understanding a poem is the better for it,' he said once,
asserting the complete supremacy of the imagination in poetry as of
reason in prose. But in this century it is rather against the
claims of the emotional faculties, the claims of mere sentiment and
feeling, that the artist must react. The simple utterance of joy
is not poetry any more than a mere personal cry of pain, and the
real experiences of the artist are always those which do not find
their direct expression but are gathered up and absorbed into some
artistic form which seems, from such real experiences, to be the
farthest removed and the most alien.

'The heart contains passion but the imagination alone contains
poetry,' says Charles Baudelaire. This too was the lesson that
Theophile Gautier, most subtle of all modern critics, most
fascinating of all modern poets, was never tired of teaching -
'Everybody is affected by a sunrise or a sunset.' The absolute
distinction of the artist is not his capacity to feel nature so
much as his power of rendering it. The entire subordination of all
intellectual and emotional faculties to the vital and informing
poetic principle is the surest sign of the strength of our

We have seen the artistic spirit working, first in the delightful
and technical sphere of language, the sphere of expression as
opposed to subject, then controlling the imagination of the poet in
dealing with his subject. And now I would point out to you its
operation in the choice of subject. The recognition of a separate
realm for the artist, a consciousness of the absolute difference
between the world of art and the world of real fact, between
classic grace and absolute reality, forms not merely the essential
element of any aesthetic charm but is the characteristic of all
great imaginative work and of all great eras of artistic creation -
of the age of Phidias as of the age of Michael Angelo, of the age
of Sophocles as of the age of Goethe.

Art never harms itself by keeping aloof from the social problems of
the day: rather, by so doing, it more completely realises for us
that which we desire. For to most of us the real life is the life
we do not lead, and thus, remaining more true to the essence of its
own perfection, more jealous of its own unattainable beauty, is
less likely to forget form in feeling or to accept the passion of
creation as any substitute for the beauty of the created thing.

The artist is indeed the child of his own age, but the present will
not be to him a whit more real than the past; for, like the
philosopher of the Platonic vision, the poet is the spectator of
all time and of all existence. For him no form is obsolete, no
subject out of date; rather, whatever of life and passion the world
has known, in desert of Judaea or in Arcadian valley, by the rivers
of Troy or the rivers of Damascus, in the crowded and hideous
streets of a modern city or by the pleasant ways of Camelot - all
lies before him like an open scroll, all is still instinct with
beautiful life. He will take of it what is salutary for his own
spirit, no more; choosing some facts and rejecting others with the
calm artistic control of one who is in possession of the secret of

There is indeed a poetical attitude to be adopted towards all
things, but all things are not fit subjects for poetry. Into the
secure and sacred house of Beauty the true artist will admit
nothing that is harsh or disturbing, nothing that gives pain,
nothing that is debatable, nothing about which men argue. He can
steep himself, if he wishes, in the discussion of all the social
problems of his day, poor-laws and local taxation, free trade and
bimetallic currency, and the like; but when he writes on these
subjects it will be, as Milton nobly expressed it, with his left
hand, in prose and not in verse, in a pamphlet and not in a lyric.
This exquisite spirit of artistic choice was not in Byron:
Wordsworth had it not. In the work of both these men there is much
that we have to reject, much that does not give us that sense of
calm and perfect repose which should be the effect of all fine,
imaginative work. But in Keats it seemed to have been incarnate,
and in his lovely ODE ON A GRECIAN URN it found its most secure and
faultless expression; in the pageant of the EARTHLY PARADISE and
the knights and ladies of Burne-Jones it is the one dominant note.

It is to no avail that the Muse of Poetry be called, even by such a
clarion note as Whitman's, to migrate from Greece and Ionia and to
placard REMOVED and TO LET on the rocks of the snowy Parnassus.
Calliope's call is not yet closed, nor are the epics of Asia ended;
the Sphinx is not yet silent, nor the fountain of Castaly dry. For
art is very life itself and knows nothing of death; she is absolute
truth and takes no care of fact; she sees (as I remember Mr.
Swinburne insisting on at dinner) that Achilles is even now more
actual and real than Wellington, not merely more noble and
interesting as a type and figure but more positive and real.

Literature must rest always on a principle, and temporal
considerations are no principle at all. For to the poet all times
and places are one; the stuff he deals with is eternal and
eternally the same: no theme is inept, no past or present
preferable. The steam whistle will not affright him nor the flutes
of Arcadia weary him: for him there is but one time, the artistic
moment; but one law, the law of form; but one land, the land of
Beauty - a land removed indeed from the real world and yet more
sensuous because more enduring; calm, yet with that calm which
dwells in the faces of the Greek statues, the calm which comes not
from the rejection but from the absorption of passion, the calm
which despair and sorrow cannot disturb but intensify only. And so
it comes that he who seems to stand most remote from his age is he
who mirrors it best, because he has stripped life of what is
accidental and transitory, stripped it of that 'mist of familiarity
which makes life obscure to us.'

Those strange, wild-eyed sibyls fixed eternally in the whirlwind of
ecstasy, those mighty-limbed and Titan prophets, labouring with the
secret of the earth and the burden of mystery, that guard and
glorify the chapel of Pope Sixtus at Rome - do they not tell us
more of the real spirit of the Italian Renaissance, of the dream of
Savonarola and of the sin of Borgia, than all the brawling boors
and cooking women of Dutch art can teach us of the real spirit of
the history of Holland?

And so in our own day, also, the two most vital tendencies of the
nineteenth century - the democratic and pantheistic tendency and
the tendency to value life for the sake of art - found their most
complete and perfect utterance in the poetry of Shelley and Keats
who, to the blind eyes of their own time, seemed to be as wanderers
in the wilderness, preachers of vague or unreal things. And I
remember once, in talking to Mr. Burne-Jones about modern science,
his saying to me, 'the more materialistic science becomes, the more
angels shall I paint: their wings are my protest in favour of the
immortality of the soul.'

But these are the intellectual speculations that underlie art.
Where in the arts themselves are we to find that breadth of human
sympathy which is the condition of all noble work; where in the
arts are we to look for what Mazzini would call the social ideas as
opposed to the merely personal ideas? By virtue of what claim do I
demand for the artist the love and loyalty of the men and women of
the world? I think I can answer that.

Whatever spiritual message an artist brings to his aid is a matter
for his own soul. He may bring judgment like Michael Angelo or
peace like Angelico; he may come with mourning like the great
Athenian or with mirth like the singer of Sicily; nor is it for us
to do aught but accept his teaching, knowing that we cannot smite
the bitter lips of Leopardi into laughter or burden with our
discontent Goethe's serene calm. But for warrant of its truth such
message must have the flame of eloquence in the lips that speak it,
splendour and glory in the vision that is its witness, being
justified by one thing only - the flawless beauty and perfect form
of its expression: this indeed being the social idea, being the
meaning of joy in art.

Not laughter where none should laugh, nor the calling of peace
where there is no peace; not in painting the subject ever, but the
pictorial charm only, the wonder of its colour, the satisfying
beauty of its design.

You have most of you seen, probably, that great masterpiece of
Rubens which hangs in the gallery of Brussels, that swift and
wonderful pageant of horse and rider arrested in its most exquisite
and fiery moment when the winds are caught in crimson banner and
the air lit by the gleam of armour and the flash of plume. Well,
that is joy in art, though that golden hillside be trodden by the
wounded feet of Christ and it is for the death of the Son of Man
that that gorgeous cavalcade is passing.

But this restless modern intellectual spirit of ours is not
receptive enough of the sensuous element of art; and so the real
influence of the arts is hidden from many of us: only a few,
escaping from the tyranny of the soul, have learned the secret of
those high hours when thought is not.

And this indeed is the reason of the influence which Eastern art is
having on us in Europe, and of the fascination of all Japanese
work. While the Western world has been laying on art the
intolerable burden of its own intellectual doubts and the spiritual
tragedy of its own sorrows, the East has always kept true to art's
primary and pictorial conditions.

In judging of a beautiful statue the aesthetic faculty is
absolutely and completely gratified by the splendid curves of those
marble lips that are dumb to our complaint, the noble modelling of
those limbs that are powerless to help us. In its primary aspect a
painting has no more spiritual message or meaning than an exquisite
fragment of Venetian glass or a blue tile from the wall of
Damascus: it is a beautifully coloured surface, nothing more. The
channels by which all noble imaginative work in painting should
touch, and do touch the soul, are not those of the truths of life,
nor metaphysical truths. But that pictorial charm which does not
depend on any literary reminiscence for its effect on the one hand,
nor is yet a mere result of communicable technical skill on the
other, comes of a certain inventive and creative handling of
colour. Nearly always in Dutch painting and often in the works of
Giorgione or Titian, it is entirely independent of anything
definitely poetical in the subject, a kind of form and choice in
workmanship which is itself entirely satisfying, and is (as the
Greeks would say) an end in itself.

And so in poetry too, the real poetical quality, the joy of poetry,
comes never from the subject but from an inventive handling of
rhythmical language, from what Keats called the 'sensuous life of
verse.' The element of song in the singing accompanied by the
profound joy of motion, is so sweet that, while the incomplete
lives of ordinary men bring no healing power with them, the thorn-
crown of the poet will blossom into roses for our pleasure; for our
delight his despair will gild its own thorns, and his pain, like
Adonis, be beautiful in its agony; and when the poet's heart breaks
it will break in music.

And health in art - what is that? It has nothing to do with a sane
criticism of life. There is more health in Baudelaire than there
is in [Kingsley]. Health is the artist's recognition of the
limitations of the form in which he works. It is the honour and
the homage which he gives to the material he uses - whether it be
language with its glories, or marble or pigment with their glories
- knowing that the true brotherhood of the arts consists not in
their borrowing one another's method, but in their producing, each
of them by its own individual means, each of them by keeping its
objective limits, the same unique artistic delight. The delight is
like that given to us by music - for music is the art in which form
and matter are always one, the art whose subject cannot be
separated from the method of its expression, the art which most
completely realises the artistic ideal, and is the condition to
which all the other arts are constantly aspiring.

And criticism - what place is that to have in our culture? Well, I
think that the first duty of an art critic is to hold his tongue at
all times, and upon all subjects: C'EST UN GRAND AVANTAGE DE

It is only through the mystery of creation that one can gain any
knowledge of the quality of created things. You have listened to
PATIENCE for a hundred nights and you have heard me for one only.
It will make, no doubt, that satire more piquant by knowing
something about the subject of it, but you must not judge of
aestheticism by the satire of Mr. Gilbert. As little should you
judge of the strength and splendour of sun or sea by the dust that
dances in the beam, or the bubble that breaks on the wave, as take
your critic for any sane test of art. For the artists, like the
Greek gods, are revealed only to one another, as Emerson says
somewhere; their real value and place time only can show. In this
respect also omnipotence is with the ages. The true critic
addresses not the artist ever but the public only. His work lies
with them. Art can never have any other claim but her own
perfection: it is for the critic to create for art the social aim,
too, by teaching the people the spirit in which they are to
approach all artistic work, the love they are to give it, the
lesson they are to draw from it.

All these appeals to art to set herself more in harmony with modern
progress and civilisation, and to make herself the mouthpiece for
the voice of humanity, these appeals to art 'to have a mission,'
are appeals which should be made to the public. The art which has
fulfilled the conditions of beauty has fulfilled all conditions:
it is for the critic to teach the people how to find in the calm of
such art the highest expression of their own most stormy passions.
'I have no reverence,' said Keats, 'for the public, nor for
anything in existence but the Eternal Being, the memory of great
men and the principle of Beauty.'

Such then is the principle which I believe to be guiding and
underlying our English Renaissance, a Renaissance many-sided and
wonderful, productive of strong ambitions and lofty personalities,
yet for all its splendid achievements in poetry and in the
decorative arts and in painting, for all the increased comeliness
and grace of dress, and the furniture of houses and the like, not
complete. For there can be no great sculpture without a beautiful
national life, and the commercial spirit of England has killed
that; no great drama without a noble national life, and the
commercial spirit of England has killed that too.

It is not that the flawless serenity of marble cannot bear the
burden of the modern intellectual spirit, or become instinct with
the fire of romantic passion - the tomb of Duke Lorenzo and the
chapel of the Medici show us that - but it is that, as Theophile
Gautier used to say, the visible world is dead, LE MONDE VISIBLE A

Nor is it again that the novel has killed the play, as some critics
would persuade us - the romantic movement of France shows us that.
The work of Balzac and of Hugo grew up side by side together; nay,
more, were complementary to each other, though neither of them saw
it. While all other forms of poetry may flourish in an ignoble
age, the splendid individualism of the lyrist, fed by its own
passion, and lit by its own power, may pass as a pillar of fire as
well across the desert as across places that are pleasant. It is
none the less glorious though no man follow it - nay, by the
greater sublimity of its loneliness it may be quickened into
loftier utterance and intensified into clearer song. From the mean
squalor of the sordid life that limits him, the dreamer or the
idyllist may soar on poesy's viewless wings, may traverse with
fawn-skin and spear the moonlit heights of Cithaeron though Faun
and Bassarid dance there no more. Like Keats he may wander through
the old-world forests of Latmos, or stand like Morris on the
galley's deck with the Viking when king and galley have long since
passed away. But the drama is the meeting-place of art and life;
it deals, as Mazzini said, not merely with man, but with social
man, with man in his relation to God and to Humanity. It is the
product of a period of great national united energy; it is
impossible without a noble public, and belongs to such ages as the
age of Elizabeth in London and of Pericles at Athens; it is part of
such lofty moral and spiritual ardour as came to Greek after the
defeat of the Persian fleet, and to Englishman after the wreck of
the Armada of Spain.

Shelley felt how incomplete our movement was in this respect, and
has shown in one great tragedy by what terror and pity he would
have purified our age; but in spite of THE CENCI the drama is one
of the artistic forms through which the genius of the England of
this century seeks in vain to find outlet and expression. He has
had no worthy imitators.

It is rather, perhaps, to you that we should turn to complete and
perfect this great movement of ours, for there is something
Hellenic in your air and world, something that has a quicker breath
of the joy and power of Elizabeth's England about it than our
ancient civilisation can give us. For you, at least, are young;
'no hungry generations tread you down,' and the past does not weary
you with the intolerable burden of its memories nor mock you with
the ruins of a beauty, the secret of whose creation you have lost.
That very absence of tradition, which Mr. Ruskin thought would rob
your rivers of their laughter and your flowers of their light, may
be rather the source of your freedom and your strength.

To speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insouciance
of the movements of animals, and the unimpeachableness of the
sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside, has been
defined by one of your poets as a flawless triumph of art. It is a
triumph which you above all nations may be destined to achieve.
For the voices that have their dwelling in sea and mountain are not
the chosen music of Liberty only; other messages are there in the
wonder of wind-swept height and the majesty of silent deep -
messages that, if you will but listen to them, may yield you the
splendour of some new imagination, the marvel of some new beauty.

'I foresee,' said Goethe, 'the dawn of a new literature which all
people may claim as their own, for all have contributed to its
foundation.' If, then, this is so, and if the materials for a
civilisation as great as that of Europe lie all around you, what
profit, you will ask me, will all this study of our poets and
painters be to you? I might answer that the intellect can be
engaged without direct didactic object on an artistic and
historical problem; that the demand of the intellect is merely to
feel itself alive; that nothing which has ever interested men or
women can cease to be a fit subject for culture.

I might remind you of what all Europe owes to the sorrow of a
single Florentine in exile at Verona, or to the love of Petrarch by
that little well in Southern France; nay, more, how even in this
dull, materialistic age the simple expression of an old man's
simple life, passed away from the clamour of great cities amid the
lakes and misty hills of Cumberland, has opened out for England
treasures of new joy compared with which the treasures of her
luxury are as barren as the sea which she has made her highway, and
as bitter as the fire which she would make her slave.

But I think it will bring you something besides this, something
that is the knowledge of real strength in art: not that you should
imitate the works of these men; but their artistic spirit, their
artistic attitude, I think you should absorb that.

For in nations, as in individuals, if the passion for creation be
not accompanied by the critical, the aesthetic faculty also, it
will be sure to waste its strength aimlessly, failing perhaps in
the artistic spirit of choice, or in the mistaking of feeling for
form, or in the following of false ideals.

For the various spiritual forms of the imagination have a natural
affinity with certain sensuous forms of art - and to discern the
qualities of each art, to intensify as well its limitations as its
powers of expression, is one of the aims that culture sets before
us. It is not an increased moral sense, an increased moral
supervision that your literature needs. Indeed, one should never
talk of a moral or an immoral poem - poems are either well written
or badly written, that is all. And, indeed, any element of morals
or implied reference to a standard of good or evil in art is often
a sign of a certain incompleteness of vision, often a note of
discord in the harmony of an imaginative creation; for all good
work aims at a purely artistic effect. 'We must be careful,' said
Goethe, 'not to be always looking for culture merely in what is
obviously moral. Everything that is great promotes civilisation as
soon as we are aware of it.'

But, as in your cities so in your literature, it is a permanent
canon and standard of taste, an increased sensibility to beauty (if
I may say so) that is lacking. All noble work is not national
merely, but universal. The political independence of a nation must
not be confused with any intellectual isolation. The spiritual
freedom, indeed, your own generous lives and liberal air will give
you. From us you will learn the classical restraint of form.

For all great art is delicate art, roughness having very little to
do with strength, and harshness very little to do with power. 'The
artist,' as Mr. Swinburne says, 'must be perfectly articulate.'

This limitation is for the artist perfect freedom: it is at once
the origin and the sign of his strength. So that all the supreme
masters of style - Dante, Sophocles, Shakespeare - are the supreme
masters of spiritual and intellectual vision also.

Love art for its own sake, and then all things that you need will
be added to you.

This devotion to beauty and to the creation of beautiful things is
the test of all great civilised nations. Philosophy may teach us
to bear with equanimity the misfortunes of our neighbours, and
science resolve the moral sense into a secretion of sugar, but art
is what makes the life of each citizen a sacrament and not a
speculation, art is what makes the life of the whole race immortal.

For beauty is the only thing that time cannot harm. Philosophies
fall away like sand, and creeds follow one another like the
withered leaves of autumn; but what is beautiful is a joy for all
seasons and a possession for all eternity.

Wars and the clash of armies and the meeting of men in battle by
trampled field or leaguered city, and the rising of nations there
must always be. But I think that art, by creating a common
intellectual atmosphere between all countries, might - if it could
not overshadow the world with the silver wings of peace - at least
make men such brothers that they would not go out to slay one
another for the whim or folly of some king or minister, as they do
in Europe. Fraternity would come no more with the hands of Cain,
nor Liberty betray freedom with the kiss of Anarchy; for national
hatreds are always strongest where culture is lowest.

'How could I?' said Goethe, when reproached for not writing like
Korner against the French. 'How could I, to whom barbarism and
culture alone are of importance, hate a nation which is among the
most cultivated of the earth, a nation to which I owe a great part
of my own cultivation?'

Mighty empires, too, there must always be as long as personal
ambition and the spirit of the age are one, but art at least is the
only empire which a nation's enemies cannot take from her by
conquest, but which is taken by submission only. The sovereignty
of Greece and Rome is not yet passed away, though the gods of the
one be dead and the eagles of the other tired.

And we in our Renaissance are seeking to create a sovereignty that
will still be England's when her yellow leopards have grown weary
of wars and the rose of her shield is crimsoned no more with the
blood of battle; and you, too, absorbing into the generous heart of
a great people this pervading artistic spirit, will create for
yourselves such riches as you have never yet created, though your
land be a network of railways and your cities the harbours for the
galleys of the world.

I know, indeed, that the divine natural prescience of beauty which
is the inalienable inheritance of Greek and Italian is not our
inheritance. For such an informing and presiding spirit of art to
shield us from all harsh and alien influences, we of the Northern
races must turn rather to that strained self-consciousness of our
age which, as it is the key-note of all our romantic art, must be
the source of all or nearly all our culture. I mean that
intellectual curiosity of the nineteenth century which is always
looking for the secret of the life that still lingers round old and
bygone forms of culture. It takes from each what is serviceable
for the modern spirit - from Athens its wonder without its worship,
from Venice its splendour without its sin. The same spirit is
always analysing its own strength and its own weakness, counting
what it owes to East and to West, to the olive-trees of Colonus and
to the palm-trees of Lebanon, to Gethsemane and to the garden of

And yet the truths of art cannot be taught: they are revealed
only, revealed to natures which have made themselves receptive of
all beautiful impressions by the study and worship of all beautiful
things. And hence the enormous importance given to the decorative
arts in our English Renaissance; hence all that marvel of design
that comes from the hand of Edward Burne-Jones, all that weaving of
tapestry and staining of glass, that beautiful working in clay and
metal and wood which we owe to William Morris, the greatest
handicraftsman we have had in England since the fourteenth century.

So, in years to come there will be nothing in any man's house which
has not given delight to its maker and does not give delight to its
user. The children, like the children of Plato's perfect city,
will grow up 'in a simple atmosphere of all fair things' - I quote
from the passage in the REPUBLIC - 'a simple atmosphere of all fair
things, where beauty, which is the spirit of art, will come on eye
and ear like a fresh breath of wind that brings health from a clear
upland, and insensibly and gradually draw the child's soul into
harmony with all knowledge and all wisdom, so that he will love
what is beautiful and good, and hate what is evil and ugly (for
they always go together) long before he knows the reason why; and
then when reason comes will kiss her on the cheek as a friend.'

That is what Plato thought decorative art could do for a nation,
feeling that the secret not of philosophy merely but of all
gracious existence might be externally hidden from any one whose
youth had been passed in uncomely and vulgar surroundings, and that
the beauty of form and colour even, as he says, in the meanest
vessels of the house, will find its way into the inmost places of
the soul and lead the boy naturally to look for that divine harmony
of spiritual life of which art was to him the material symbol and

Prelude indeed to all knowledge and all wisdom will this love of
beautiful things be for us; yet there are times when wisdom becomes
a burden and knowledge is one with sorrow: for as every body has
its shadow so every soul has its scepticism. In such dread moments
of discord and despair where should we, of this torn and troubled
age, turn our steps if not to that secure house of beauty where
there is always a little forgetfulness, always a great joy; to that
CITTE DIVINA, as the old Italian heresy called it, the divine city
where one can stand, though only for a brief moment, apart from the
division and terror of the world and the choice of the world too?

This is that CONSOLATION DES ARTS which is the key-note of
Gautier's poetry, the secret of modern life foreshadowed - as
indeed what in our century is not? - by Goethe. You remember what
he said to the German people: 'Only have the courage,' he said,
'to give yourselves up to your impressions, allow yourselves to be
delighted, moved, elevated, nay instructed, inspired for something
great.' The courage to give yourselves up to your impressions:
yes, that is the secret of the artistic life - for while art has
been defined as an escape from the tyranny of the senses, it is an
escape rather from the tyranny of the soul. But only to those who
worship her above all things does she ever reveal her true
treasure: else will she be as powerless to aid you as the
mutilated Venus of the Louvre was before the romantic but sceptical
nature of Heine.

And indeed I think it would be impossible to overrate the gain that
might follow if we had about us only what gave pleasure to the
maker of it and gives pleasure to its user, that being the simplest
of all rules about decoration. One thing, at least, I think it
would do for us: there is no surer test of a great country than
how near it stands to its own poets; but between the singers of our
day and the workers to whom they would sing there seems to be an
ever-widening and dividing chasm, a chasm which slander and mockery
cannot traverse, but which is spanned by the luminous wings of

And of such love I think that the abiding presence in our houses of
noble imaginative work would be the surest seed and preparation. I
do not mean merely as regards that direct literary expression of
art by which, from the little red-and-black cruse of oil or wine, a
Greek boy could learn of the lionlike splendour of Achilles, of the
strength of Hector and the beauty of Paris and the wonder of Helen,
long before he stood and listened in crowded market-place or in
theatre of marble; or by which an Italian child of the fifteenth
century could know of the chastity of Lucrece and the death of
Camilla from carven doorway and from painted chest. For the good
we get from art is not what we learn from it; it is what we become
through it. Its real influence will be in giving the mind that
enthusiasm which is the secret of Hellenism, accustoming it to
demand from art all that art can do in rearranging the facts of
common life for us - whether it be by giving the most spiritual
interpretation of one's own moments of highest passion or the most
sensuous expression of those thoughts that are the farthest removed
from sense; in accustoming it to love the things of the imagination
for their own sake, and to desire beauty and grace in all things.
For he who does not love art in all things does not love it at all,
and he who does not need art in all things does not need it at all.

I will not dwell here on what I am sure has delighted you all in
our great Gothic cathedrals. I mean how the artist of that time,
handicraftsman himself in stone or glass, found the best motives
for his art, always ready for his hand and always beautiful, in the
daily work of the artificers he saw around him - as in those lovely
windows of Chartres - where the dyer dips in the vat and the potter
sits at the wheel, and the weaver stands at the loom: real
manufacturers these, workers with the hand, and entirely delightful
to look at, not like the smug and vapid shopman of our time, who
knows nothing of the web or vase he sells, except that he is
charging you double its value and thinking you a fool for buying
it. Nor can I but just note, in passing, the immense influence the
decorative work of Greece and Italy had on its artists, the one
teaching the sculptor that restraining influence of design which is
the glory of the Parthenon, the other keeping painting always true
to its primary, pictorial condition of noble colour which is the
secret of the school of Venice; for I wish rather, in this lecture
at least, to dwell on the effect that decorative art has on human
life - on its social not its purely artistic effect.

There are two kinds of men in the world, two great creeds, two
different forms of natures: men to whom the end of life is action,
and men to whom the end of life is thought. As regards the latter,
who seek for experience itself and not for the fruits of
experience, who must burn always with one of the passions of this
fiery-coloured world, who find life interesting not for its secret
but for its situations, for its pulsations and not for its purpose;
the passion for beauty engendered by the decorative arts will be to
them more satisfying than any political or religious enthusiasm,
any enthusiasm for humanity, any ecstasy or sorrow for love. For
art comes to one professing primarily to give nothing but the
highest quality to one's moments, and for those moments' sake. So
far for those to whom the end of life is thought. As regards the
others, who hold that life is inseparable from labour, to them
should this movement be specially dear: for, if our days are
barren without industry, industry without art is barbarism.

Hewers of wood and drawers of water there must be always indeed
among us. Our modern machinery has not much lightened the labour
of man after all: but at least let the pitcher that stands by the
well be beautiful and surely the labour of the day will be
lightened: let the wood be made receptive of some lovely form,
some gracious design, and there will come no longer discontent but
joy to the toiler. For what is decoration but the worker's
expression of joy in his work? And not joy merely - that is a
great thing yet not enough - but that opportunity of expressing his
own individuality which, as it is the essence of all life, is the
source of all art. 'I have tried,' I remember William Morris
saying to me once, 'I have tried to make each of my workers an
artist, and when I say an artist I mean a man.' For the worker
then, handicraftsman of whatever kind he is, art is no longer to be
a purple robe woven by a slave and thrown over the whitened body of
a leprous king to hide and to adorn the sin of his luxury, but
rather the beautiful and noble expression of a life that has in it
something beautiful and noble.

And so you must seek out your workman and give him, as far as
possible, the right surroundings, for remember that the real test
and virtue of a workman is not his earnestness nor his industry
even, but his power of design merely; and that 'design is not the
offspring of idle fancy: it is the studied result of accumulative
observation and delightful habit.' All the teaching in the world
is of no avail if you do not surround your workman with happy
influences and with beautiful things. It is impossible for him to
have right ideas about colour unless he sees the lovely colours of
Nature unspoiled; impossible for him to supply beautiful incident
and action unless he sees beautiful incident and action in the
world about him.

For to cultivate sympathy you must be among living things and
thinking about them, and to cultivate admiration you must be among
beautiful things and looking at them. 'The steel of Toledo and the
silk of Genoa did but give strength to oppression and lustre to
pride,' as Mr. Ruskin says; let it be for you to create an art that
is made by the hands of the people for the joy of the people, to
please the hearts of the people, too; an art that will be your
expression of your delight in life. There is nothing 'in common
life too mean, in common things too trivial to be ennobled by your
touch'; nothing in life that art cannot sanctify.

You have heard, I think, a few of you, of two flowers connected
with the aesthetic movement in England, and said (I assure you,
erroneously) to be the food of some aesthetic young men. Well, let
me tell you that the reason we love the lily and the sunflower, in
spite of what Mr. Gilbert may tell you, is not for any vegetable
fashion at all. It is because these two lovely flowers are in
England the two most perfect models of design, the most naturally
adapted for decorative art - the gaudy leonine beauty of the one
and the precious loveliness of the other giving to the artist the
most entire and perfect joy. And so with you: let there be no
flower in your meadows that does not wreathe its tendrils around
your pillows, no little leaf in your Titan forests that does not
lend its form to design, no curving spray of wild rose or brier
that does not live for ever in carven arch or window or marble, no
bird in your air that is not giving the iridescent wonder of its
colour, the exquisite curves of its wings in flight, to make more
precious the preciousness of simple adornment.

We spend our days, each one of us, in looking for the secret of
life. Well, the secret of life is in art.


IN my last lecture I gave you something of the history of Art in
England. I sought to trace the influence of the French Revolution
upon its development. I said something of the song of Keats and
the school of the pre-Raphaelites. But I do not want to shelter
the movement, which I have called the English Renaissance, under
any palladium however noble, or any name however revered. The
roots of it have, indeed, to be sought for in things that have long
passed away, and not, as some suppose, in the fancy of a few young
men - although I am not altogether sure that there is anything much
better than the fancy of a few young men.

When I appeared before you on a previous occasion, I had seen
nothing of American art save the Doric columns and Corinthian
chimney-pots visible on your Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Since
then, I have been through your country to some fifty or sixty
different cities, I think. I find that what your people need is
not so much high imaginative art but that which hallows the vessels
of everyday use. I suppose that the poet will sing and the artist
will paint regardless whether the world praises or blames. He has
his own world and is independent of his fellow-men. But the
handicraftsman is dependent on your pleasure and opinion. He needs
your encouragement and he must have beautiful surroundings. Your
people love art but do not sufficiently honour the handicraftsman.
Of course, those millionaires who can pillage Europe for their
pleasure need have no care to encourage such; but I speak for those
whose desire for beautiful things is larger than their means. I
find that one great trouble all over is that your workmen are not
given to noble designs. You cannot be indifferent to this, because
Art is not something which you can take or leave. It is a
necessity of human life.

And what is the meaning of this beautiful decoration which we call
art? In the first place, it means value to the workman and it
means the pleasure which he must necessarily take in making a
beautiful thing. The mark of all good art is not that the thing
done is done exactly or finely, for machinery may do as much, but
that it is worked out with the head and the workman's heart. I
cannot impress the point too frequently that beautiful and rational
designs are necessary in all work. I did not imagine, until I went
into some of your simpler cities, that there was so much bad work
done. I found, where I went, bad wall-papers horribly designed,
and coloured carpets, and that old offender the horse-hair sofa,
whose stolid look of indifference is always so depressing. I found
meaningless chandeliers and machine-made furniture, generally of
rosewood, which creaked dismally under the weight of the ubiquitous
interviewer. I came across the small iron stove which they always
persist in decorating with machine-made ornaments, and which is as
great a bore as a wet day or any other particularly dreadful
institution. When unusual extravagance was indulged in, it was
garnished with two funeral urns.

It must always be remembered that what is well and carefully made
by an honest workman, after a rational design, increases in beauty
and value as the years go on. The old furniture brought over by
the Pilgrims, two hundred years ago, which I saw in New England, is
just as good and as beautiful to-day as it was when it first came
here. Now, what you must do is to bring artists and handicraftsmen
together. Handicraftsmen cannot live, certainly cannot thrive,
without such companionship. Separate these two and you rob art of
all spiritual motive.

Having done this, you must place your workman in the midst of
beautiful surroundings. The artist is not dependent on the visible
and the tangible. He has his visions and his dreams to feed on.
But the workman must see lovely forms as he goes to his work in the
morning and returns at eventide. And, in connection with this, I
want to assure you that noble and beautiful designs are never the
result of idle fancy or purposeless day-dreaming. They come only
as the accumulation of habits of long and delightful observation.
And yet such things may not be taught. Right ideas concerning them
can certainly be obtained only by those who have been accustomed to
rooms that are beautiful and colours that are satisfying.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do is to choose
a notable and joyous dress for men. There would be more joy in
life if we were to accustom ourselves to use all the beautiful
colours we can in fashioning our own clothes. The dress of the
future, I think, will use drapery to a great extent and will abound
with joyous colour. At present we have lost all nobility of dress
and, in doing so, have almost annihilated the modern sculptor.
And, in looking around at the figures which adorn our parks, one
could almost wish that we had completely killed the noble art. To
see the frock-coat of the drawing-room done in bronze, or the
double waistcoat perpetuated in marble, adds a new horror to death.
But indeed, in looking through the history of costume, seeking an
answer to the questions we have propounded, there is little that is
either beautiful or appropriate. One of the earliest forms is the
Greek drapery which is exquisite for young girls. And then, I
think we may be pardoned a little enthusiasm over the dress of the
time of Charles I., so beautiful indeed, that in spite of its
invention being with the Cavaliers it was copied by the Puritans.
And the dress for the children of that time must not be passed
over. It was a very golden age of the little ones. I do not think
that they have ever looked so lovely as they do in the pictures of
that time. The dress of the last century in England is also
peculiarly gracious and graceful. There is nothing bizarre or
strange about it, but it is full of harmony and beauty. In these
days, when we have suffered dreadfully from the incursions of the
modern milliner, we hear ladies boast that they do not wear a dress
more than once. In the old days, when the dresses were decorated
with beautiful designs and worked with exquisite embroidery, ladies
rather took a pride in bringing out the garment and wearing it many
times and handing it down to their daughters - a process that
would, I think, be quite appreciated by a modern husband when
called upon to settle his wife's bills.

And how shall men dress? Men say that they do not particularly
care how they dress, and that it is little matter. I am bound to
reply that I do not think that you do. In all my journeys through
the country, the only well-dressed men that I saw - and in saying
this I earnestly deprecate the polished indignation of your Fifth
Avenue dandies - were the Western miners. Their wide-brimmed hats,
which shaded their faces from the sun and protected them from the
rain, and the cloak, which is by far the most beautiful piece of
drapery ever invented, may well be dwelt on with admiration. Their
high boots, too, were sensible and practical. They wore only what
was comfortable, and therefore beautiful. As I looked at them I
could not help thinking with regret of the time when these
picturesque miners would have made their fortunes and would go East
to assume again all the abominations of modern fashionable attire.
Indeed, so concerned was I that I made some of them promise that
when they again appeared in the more crowded scenes of Eastern
civilisation they would still continue to wear their lovely
costume. But I do not believe they will.

Now, what America wants to-day is a school of rational art. Bad
art is a great deal worse than no art at all. You must show your
workmen specimens of good work so that they come to know what is
simple and true and beautiful. To that end I would have you have a
museum attached to these schools - not one of those dreadful modern
institutions where there is a stuffed and very dusty giraffe, and a
case or two of fossils, but a place where there are gathered
examples of art decoration from various periods and countries.
Such a place is the South Kensington Museum in London, whereon we
build greater hopes for the future than on any other one thing.
There I go every Saturday night, when the museum is open later than
usual, to see the handicraftsman, the wood-worker, the glass-blower
and the worker in metals. And it is here that the man of
refinement and culture comes face to face with the workman who
ministers to his joy. He comes to know more of the nobility of the
workman, and the workman, feeling the appreciation, comes to know
more of the nobility of his work.

You have too many white walls. More colour is wanted. You should
have such men as Whistler among you to teach you the beauty and joy
of colour. Take Mr. Whistler's 'Symphony in White,' which you no
doubt have imagined to be something quite bizarre. It is nothing
of the sort. Think of a cool grey sky flecked here and there with
white clouds, a grey ocean and three wonderfully beautiful figures
robed in white, leaning over the water and dropping white flowers
from their fingers. Here is no extensive intellectual scheme to
trouble you, and no metaphysics of which we have had quite enough
in art. But if the simple and unaided colour strike the right
keynote, the whole conception is made clear. I regard Mr.
Whistler's famous Peacock Room as the finest thing in colour and
art decoration which the world has known since Correggio painted
that wonderful room in Italy where the little children are dancing
on the walls. Mr. Whistler finished another room just before I
came away - a breakfast room in blue and yellow. The ceiling was a
light blue, the cabinet-work and the furniture were of a yellow
wood, the curtains at the windows were white and worked in yellow,
and when the table was set for breakfast with dainty blue china
nothing can be conceived at once so simple and so joyous.

The fault which I have observed in most of your rooms is that there
is apparent no definite scheme of colour. Everything is not
attuned to a key-note as it should be. The apartments are crowded
with pretty things which have no relation to one another. Again,
your artists must decorate what is more simply useful. In your art
schools I found no attempt to decorate such things as the vessels
for water. I know of nothing uglier than the ordinary jug or
pitcher. A museum could be filled with the different kinds of
water vessels which are used in hot countries. Yet we continue to
submit to the depressing jug with the handle all on one side. I do
not see the wisdom of decorating dinner-plates with sunsets and
soup-plates with moonlight scenes. I do not think it adds anything
to the pleasure of the canvas-back duck to take it out of such
glories. Besides, we do not want a soup-plate whose bottom seems
to vanish in the distance. One feels neither safe nor comfortable
under such conditions. In fact, I did not find in the art schools
of the country that the difference was explained between decorative
and imaginative art.

The conditions of art should be simple. A great deal more depends
upon the heart than upon the head. Appreciation of art is not
secured by any elaborate scheme of learning. Art requires a good
healthy atmosphere. The motives for art are still around about us
as they were round about the ancients. And the subjects are also
easily found by the earnest sculptor and the painter. Nothing is
more picturesque and graceful than a man at work. The artist who
goes to the children's playground, watches them at their sport and
sees the boy stoop to tie his shoe, will find the same themes that
engaged the attention of the ancient Greeks, and such observation
and the illustrations which follow will do much to correct that
foolish impression that mental and physical beauty are always

To you, more than perhaps to any other country, has Nature been
generous in furnishing material for art workers to work in. You
have marble quarries where the stone is more beautiful in colour
than any the Greeks ever had for their beautiful work, and yet day
after day I am confronted with the great building of some stupid
man who has used the beautiful material as if it were not precious
almost beyond speech. Marble should not be used save by noble
workmen. There is nothing which gave me a greater sense of
barrenness in travelling through the country than the entire
absence of wood carving on your houses. Wood carving is the
simplest of the decorative arts. In Switzerland the little
barefooted boy beautifies the porch of his father's house with
examples of skill in this direction. Why should not American boys
do a great deal more and better than Swiss boys?

There is nothing to my mind more coarse in conception and more
vulgar in execution than modern jewellery. This is something that
can easily be corrected. Something better should be made out of
the beautiful gold which is stored up in your mountain hollows and
strewn along your river beds. When I was at Leadville and
reflected that all the shining silver that I saw coming from the
mines would be made into ugly dollars, it made me sad. It should
be made into something more permanent. The golden gates at
Florence are as beautiful to-day as when Michael Angelo saw them.

We should see more of the workman than we do. We should not be
content to have the salesman stand between us - the salesman who
knows nothing of what he is selling save that he is charging a
great deal too much for it. And watching the workman will teach
that most important lesson - the nobility of all rational

I said in my last lecture that art would create a new brotherhood
among men by furnishing a universal language. I said that under
its beneficent influences war might pass away. Thinking this, what
place can I ascribe to art in our education? If children grow up
among all fair and lovely things, they will grow to love beauty and
detest ugliness before they know the reason why. If you go into a
house where everything is coarse, you find things chipped and
broken and unsightly. Nobody exercises any care. If everything is
dainty and delicate, gentleness and refinement of manner are
unconsciously acquired. When I was in San Francisco I used to
visit the Chinese Quarter frequently. There I used to watch a
great hulking Chinese workman at his task of digging, and used to
see him every day drink his tea from a little cup as delicate in
texture as the petal of a flower, whereas in all the grand hotels
of the land, where thousands of dollars have been lavished on great
gilt mirrors and gaudy columns, I have been given my coffee or my
chocolate in cups an inch and a quarter thick. I think I have
deserved something nicer.

The art systems of the past have been devised by philosophers who
looked upon human beings as obstructions. They have tried to
educate boys' minds before they had any. How much better it would
be in these early years to teach children to use their hands in the
rational service of mankind. I would have a workshop attached to
every school, and one hour a day given up to the teaching of simple
decorative arts. It would be a golden hour to the children. And
you would soon raise up a race of handicraftsmen who would
transform the face of your country. I have seen only one such
school in the United States, and this was in Philadelphia and was
founded by my friend Mr. Leyland. I stopped there yesterday and
have brought some of the work here this afternoon to show you.
Here are two disks of beaten brass: the designs on them are
beautiful, the workmanship is simple, and the entire result is
satisfactory. The work was done by a little boy twelve years old.
This is a wooden bowl decorated by a little girl of thirteen. The
design is lovely and the colouring delicate and pretty. Here you
see a piece of beautiful wood carving accomplished by a little boy
of nine. In such work as this, children learn sincerity in art.
They learn to abhor the liar in art - the man who paints wood to
look like iron, or iron to look like stone. It is a practical
school of morals. No better way is there to learn to love Nature
than to understand Art. It dignifies every flower of the field.
And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing
becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw
the customary stone. What we want is something spiritual added to
life. Nothing is so ignoble that Art cannot sanctify it.


PEOPLE often talk as if there was an opposition between what is
beautiful and what is useful. There is no opposition to beauty
except ugliness: all things are either beautiful or ugly, and
utility will be always on the side of the beautiful thing, because
beautiful decoration is always on the side of the beautiful thing,
because beautiful decoration is always an expression of the use you
put a thing to and the value placed on it. No workman will
beautifully decorate bad work, nor can you possibly get good
handicraftsmen or workmen without having beautiful designs. You
should be quite sure of that. If you have poor and worthless
designs in any craft or trade you will get poor and worthless
workmen only, but the minute you have noble and beautiful designs,
then you get men of power and intellect and feeling to work for
you. By having good designs you have workmen who work not merely
with their hands but with their hearts and heads too; otherwise you
will get merely the fool or the loafer to work for you.

That the beauty of life is a thing of no moment, I suppose few
people would venture to assert. And yet most civilised people act
as if it were of none, and in so doing are wronging both themselves
and those that are to come after them. For that beauty which is
meant by art is no mere accident of human life which people can
take or leave, but a positive necessity of life if we are to live
as nature meant us to, that is to say unless we are content to be
less than men.

Do not think that the commercial spirit which is the basis of your
life and cities here is opposed to art. Who built the beautiful
cities of the world but commercial men and commercial men only?
Genoa built by its traders, Florence by its bankers, and Venice,
most lovely of all, by its noble and honest merchants.

I do not wish you, remember, 'to build a new Pisa,' nor to bring
'the life or the decorations of the thirteenth century back again.'
'The circumstances with which you must surround your workmen are
those' of modern American life, 'because the designs you have now
to ask for from your workmen are such as will make modern' American
'life beautiful.' The art we want is the art based on all the
inventions of modern civilisation, and to suit all the needs of
nineteenth-century life.

Do you think, for instance, that we object to machinery? I tell
you we reverence it; we reverence it when it does its proper work,
when it relieves man from ignoble and soulless labour, not when it
seeks to do that which is valuable only when wrought by the hands
and hearts of men. Let us have no machine-made ornament at all; it
is all bad and worthless and ugly. And let us not mistake the
means of civilisation for the end of civilisation; steam-engine,
telephone and the like, are all wonderful, but remember that their
value depends entirely on the noble uses we make of them, on the
noble spirit in which we employ them, not on the things themselves.

It is, no doubt, a great advantage to talk to a man at the
Antipodes through a telephone; its advantage depends entirely on
the value of what the two men have to say to one another. If one
merely shrieks slander through a tube and the other whispers folly
into a wire, do not think that anybody is very much benefited by
the invention.

The train that whirls an ordinary Englishman through Italy at the
rate of forty miles an hour and finally sends him home without any
memory of that lovely country but that he was cheated by a courier
at Rome, or that he got a bad dinner at Verona, does not do him or
civilisation much good. But that swift legion of fiery-footed
engines that bore to the burning ruins of Chicago the loving help
and generous treasure of the world was as noble and as beautiful as
any golden troop of angels that ever fed the hungry and clothed the
naked in the antique times. As beautiful, yes; all machinery may
be beautiful when it is undecorated even. Do not seek to decorate
it. We cannot but think all good machinery is graceful, also, the
line of strength and the line of beauty being one.

Give then, as I said, to your workmen of to-day the bright and
noble surroundings that you can yourself create. Stately and
simple architecture for your cities, bright and simple dress for
your men and women; those are the conditions of a real artistic
movement. For the artist is not concerned primarily with any
theory of life but with life itself, with the joy and loveliness
that should come daily on eye and ear for a beautiful external

But the simplicity must not be barrenness nor the bright colour
gaudy. For all beautiful colours are graduated colours, the
colours that seem about to pass into one another's realm - colour
without tone being like music without harmony, mere discord.
Barren architecture, the vulgar and glaring advertisements that
desecrate not merely your cities but every rock and river that I
have seen yet in America - all this is not enough. A school of
design we must have too in each city. It should be a stately and
noble building, full of the best examples of the best art of the
world. Furthermore, do not put your designers in a barren
whitewashed room and bid them work in that depressing and
colourless atmosphere as I have seen many of the American schools
of design, but give them beautiful surroundings. Because you want
to produce a permanent canon and standard of taste in your workman,
he must have always by him and before him specimens of the best
decorative art of the world, so that you can say to him: 'This is
good work. Greek or Italian or Japanese wrought it so many years
ago, but it is eternally young because eternally beautiful.' Work
in this spirit and you will be sure to be right. Do not copy it,
but work with the same love, the same reverence, the same freedom
of imagination. You must teach him colour and design, how all
beautiful colours are graduated colours and glaring colours the
essence of vulgarity. Show him the quality of any beautiful work
of nature like the rose, or any beautiful work of art like an
Eastern carpet - being merely the exquisite gradation of colour,
one tone answering another like the answering chords of a symphony.
Teach him how the true designer is not he who makes the design and
then colours it, but he who designs in colour, creates in colour,
thinks in colour too. Show him how the most gorgeous stained-glass
windows of Europe are filled with white glass, and the most
gorgeous Eastern tapestry with toned colours - the primary colours
in both places being set in the white glass, and the tone colours
like brilliant jewels set in dusky gold. And then as regards
design, show him how the real designer will take first any given
limited space, little disk of silver, it may be, like a Greek coin,
or wide expanse of fretted ceiling or lordly wall as Tintoret chose
at Venice (it does not matter which), and to this limited space -
the first condition of decoration being the limitation of the size
of the material used - he will give the effect of its being filled
with beautiful decoration, filled with it as a golden cup will be
filled with wine, so complete that you should not be able to take
away anything from it or add anything to it. For from a good piece
of design you can take away nothing, nor can you add anything to
it, each little bit of design being as absolutely necessary and as
vitally important to the whole effect as a note or chord of music
is for a sonata of Beethoven.

But I said the effect of its being so filled, because this, again,
is of the essence of good design. With a simple spray of leaves
and a bird in flight a Japanese artist will give you the impression
that he has completely covered with lovely design the reed fan or
lacquer cabinet at which he is working, merely because he knows the
exact spot in which to place them. All good design depends on the
texture of the utensil used and the use you wish to put it to. One
of the first things I saw in an American school of design was a
young lady painting a romantic moonlight landscape on a large round
dish, and another young lady covering a set of dinner plates with a
series of sunsets of the most remarkable colours. Let your ladies
paint moonlight landscapes and sunsets, but do not let them paint
them on dinner plates or dishes. Let them take canvas or paper for
such work, but not clay or china. They are merely painting the
wrong subjects on the wrong material, that is all. They have not
been taught that every material and texture has certain qualities
of its own. The design suitable for one is quite wrong for the
other, just as the design which you should work on a flat table-
cover ought to be quite different from the design you would work on
a curtain, for the one will always be straight, the other broken
into folds; and the use too one puts the object to should guide one
in the choice of design. One does not want to eat one's terrapins
off a romantic moonlight nor one's clams off a harrowing sunset.
Glory of sun and moon, let them be wrought for us by our landscape
artist and be on the walls of the rooms we sit in to remind us of
the undying beauty of the sunsets that fade and die, but do not let
us eat our soup off them and send them down to the kitchen twice a
day to be washed and scrubbed by the handmaid.

All these things are simple enough, yet nearly always forgotten.
Your school of design here will teach your girls and your boys,
your handicraftsmen of the future (for all your schools of art
should be local schools, the schools of particular cities). We
talk of the Italian school of painting, but there is no Italian
school; there were the schools of each city. Every town in Italy,
from Venice itself, queen of the sea, to the little hill fortress
of Perugia, each had its own school of art, each different and all

So do not mind what art Philadelphia or New York is having, but
make by the hands of your own citizens beautiful art for the joy of
your own citizens, for you have here the primary elements of a
great artistic movement.

For, believe me, the conditions of art are much simpler than people
imagine. For the noblest art one requires a clear healthy
atmosphere, not polluted as the air of our English cities is by the
smoke and grime and horridness which comes from open furnace and
from factory chimney. You must have strong, sane, healthy physique
among your men and women. Sickly or idle or melancholy people do
not do much in art. And lastly, you require a sense of
individualism about each man and woman, for this is the essence of
art - a desire on the part of man to express himself in the noblest
way possible. And this is the reason that the grandest art of the
world always came from a republic: Athens, Venice, and Florence -
there were no kings there and so their art was as noble and simple
as sincere. But if you want to know what kind of art the folly of
kings will impose on a country look at the decorative art of France
under the GRAND MONARQUE, under Louis the Fourteenth; the gaudy
gilt furniture writhing under a sense of its own horror and
ugliness, with a nymph smirking at every angle and a dragon
mouthing on every claw. Unreal and monstrous art this, and fit
only for such periwigged pomposities as the nobility of France at
that time, but not at all fit for you or me. We do not want the
rich to possess more beautiful things but the poor to create more
beautiful things; for ever man is poor who cannot create. Nor
shall the art which you and I need be merely a purple robe woven by
a slave and thrown over the whitened body of some leprous king to
adorn or to conceal the sin of his luxury, but rather shall it be
the noble and beautiful expression of a people's noble and
beautiful life. Art shall be again the most glorious of all the
chords through which the spirit of a great nation finds its noblest

All around you, I said, lie the conditions for a great artistic
movement for every great art. Let us think of one of them; a
sculptor, for instance.

If a modern sculptor were to come and say, 'Very well, but where
can one find subjects for sculpture out of men who wear frock-coats
and chimney-pot hats?' I would tell him to go to the docks of a
great city and watch the men loading or unloading the stately
ships, working at wheel or windlass, hauling at rope or gangway. I
have never watched a man do anything useful who has not been
graceful at some moment of his labour: it is only the loafer and
the idle saunterer who is as useless and uninteresting to the
artist as he is to himself. I would ask the sculptor to go with me
to any of your schools or universities, to the running ground and
gymnasium, to watch the young men start for a race, hurling quoit
or club, kneeling to tie their shoes before leaping, stepping from
the boat or bending to the oar, and to carve them; and when he was
weary of cities I would ask him to come to your fields and meadows
to watch the reaper with his sickle and the cattle-driver with
lifted lasso. For if a man cannot find the noblest motives for his
art in such simple daily things as a woman drawing water from the
well or a man leaning with his scythe, he will not find them
anywhere at all. Gods and goddesses the Greek carved because he
loved them; saint and king the Goth because he believed in them.
But you, you do not care much for Greek gods and goddesses, and you
are perfectly and entirely right; and you do not think much of
kings either, and you are quite right. But what you do love are
your own men and women, your own flowers and fields, your own hills
and mountains, and these are what your art should represent to you.

Ours has been the first movement which has brought the
handicraftsman and the artist together, for remember that by
separating the one from the other you do ruin to both; you rob the
one of all spiritual motive and all imaginative joy, you isolate
the other from all real technical perfection. The two greatest
schools of art in the world, the sculptor at Athens and the school
of painting at Venice, had their origin entirely in a long
succession of simple and earnest handicraftsmen. It was the Greek
potter who taught the sculptor that restraining influence of design
which was the glory of the Parthenon; it was the Italian decorator
of chests and household goods who kept Venetian painting always
true to its primary pictorial condition of noble colour. For we
should remember that all the arts are fine arts and all the arts
decorative arts. The greatest triumph of Italian painting was the
decoration of a pope's chapel in Rome and the wall of a room in
Venice. Michael Angelo wrought the one, and Tintoret, the dyer's
son, the other. And the little 'Dutch landscape, which you put
over your sideboard to-day, and between the windows to-morrow, is'
no less a glorious 'piece of work than the extents of field and
forest with which Benozzo has made green and beautiful the once
melancholy arcade of the Campo Santo at Pisa,' as Ruskin says.

Do not imitate the works of a nation, Greek or Japanese, Italian or
English; but their artistic spirit of design and their artistic
attitude to-day, their own world, you should absorb but imitate
never, copy never. Unless you can make as beautiful a design in
painted china or embroidered screen or beaten brass out of your
American turkey as the Japanese does out of his grey silver-winged
stork, you will never do anything. Let the Greek carve his lions
and the Goth his dragons: buffalo and wild deer are the animals
for you.

Golden rod and aster and rose and all the flowers that cover your
valleys in the spring and your hills in the autumn: let them be
the flowers for your art. Not merely has Nature given you the
noblest motives for a new school of decoration, but to you above
all other countries has she given the utensils to work in.

You have quarries of marble richer than Pentelicus, more varied
than Paros, but do not build a great white square house of marble
and think that it is beautiful, or that you are using marble nobly.
If you build in marble you must either carve it into joyous
decoration, like the lives of dancing children that adorn the
marble castles of the Loire, or fill it with beautiful sculpture,
frieze and pediment, as the Greeks did, or inlay it with other
coloured marbles as they did in Venice. Otherwise you had better
build in simple red brick as your Puritan fathers, with no pretence
and with some beauty. Do not treat your marble as if it was
ordinary stone and build a house of mere blocks of it. For it is


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