May 28th, 1867.
ACADEMY OF DESIGN
EDITORS ALTA: I am thankful that the good God creates us all ignorant. I am glad that when we change His plans in this regard, we have to do it at our own risk. It is a gratification to me to know that I am ignorant of art, and ignorant also of surgery. Because people who understand art find nothing in pictures but blemishes, and surgeons and anatomists see no beautiful women in all their lives, but only a ghastly stack of bones with Latin names to them, and a network of nerves and muscles and tissues inflamed by disease. The very point in a picture that fascinates me with its beauty, is to the cultured artist a monstrous crime against the laws of coloring; and the very flush that charms me in a lovely face, is, to the critical surgeon, nothing but a sign hung out to advertise a decaying lung. Accursed be all such knowledge. I want none of it.
The art critics have been so diligently abusing everything in and about the Academy of Design, for weeks past, that I was satisfied that a visit there could produce nothing but unhappiness. I wandered into the place by accident to-day, how ever, and staid there three hours. I could have staid a week. I was not cultivated enough to see the dreadful faults that were so glaring to others' eyes. There were some three hundred pictures on exhibition, and, to me, about thirty or forty were very beautiful. I liked all the sea views, and the mountain views, and the quiet woodland scenes, with shadow-tinted lakes in the fore ground, and I just revelled in the storms.
There was a dreamy tropical scene - a wooded island in the centre of a glassy lake bordered by an impenetrable jungle of trees all woven together with vines and hung with drooping garlands of flowers - the still lake pictured all over with the reflected beauty of the shores - two lonely birds winging their way to the further side, where grassy lawns, and mossy rocks, and a wilderness of tinted foliage, were sleeping in a purple mist. I thought it was beautiful, but I suppose it wasn't. I suppose if I were not so ignorant I would have observed that one of the birds' hind legs was out of line, and that the coloring was shaky in places, and that some of the "effects" were criminal transgressions of the laws of art.
And I know I ought to have admired that picture, by one of the old masters, where six bearded faces without any bodies to them were glaring out of Egyptian darkness and glowering upon a naked infant that was not built like any infant that ever I saw, nor colored like it, either. I am glad the old masters are all dead, and I only wish they had died sooner.
There were two pictures that suited me, but they were so small and so modest that I was ashamed to let the other visitors see me looking at them so much, so I gazed at them side wise, and "let on" to be worshipping the "old master" rascalities. I had no catalogue, and did not want any - because, if a picture cannot tell its own story to us uncultivated vagrants, we scorn to read it out of a book. One of these pictures represented two libertines of quality teasing and jesting with a distressed young peasant girl, while her homely brother, (or sweetheart, may be,) sat by with the signs of a coming row overshadowing his face. The other was racy. In a little nook in a forest, a splendid gray squirrel, brimful of frisky action, had found a basket-covered brandy flask upset, and was sipping the spilled liquor from the ground. His face told that he was delighted. Close by, a corpulent old fox-squirrel was stretched prone upon his back, and the jolly grin on his two front teeth, and the drunken leer of his half-closed eye told that he was happy, and that the anxious solicitude in the face of the black squirrel that was bending over him and feeling his pulse was all uncalled for by the circumstances of the case.
More than half the paintings in the Academy are devoted to the usual harmless subjects, of course. You find the same old pile of cats asleep in the corner; and the same old party of kittens skylarking with a cotton ball; and the same old excited puppy looking out of a window; and the same old detachment of cows wading across a branch at sunset; and the same old naked libels marked "Eve ;" and the same old stupid looking wenches marked "Autumn," and "Summer," etc., loafing around in the woods, or toting flowers, and all of them out of shirts, in the same old way; and there were the everlasting farmers, gathering their eternal squashes; and a "Girl Swinging on a Gate;" and a "Girl Reading;" and girls performing all sorts of similar prodigies; and most numerous and most worn-out of all, there was the usual endless array of vases and dishes full of grapes and peaches and slices of watermelon, and such stuff; and the same tiresome old tom cat "laying" for a gold-fish. However, I ought to be circumspect in the matter of these fruit-pictures, because those are the first things the young ladies look at when they come in, and the last they examine before they go out.
Now, after four or five years of terrible warfare, there is only one historical picture in the Academy - Lincoln's entry into Richmond - and that is execrable. There isn't a single battle piece. What do you suppose is the reason?
There is one fine piece of statuary - Eve - but she had three apples - two in her left hand, and one in her right, which she was getting ready to bite. I thought our common mother only plucked one apple. When this sculptor makes another Eve he had better get her a basket.
Now, I suppose I have gone and done the very same thing the art critics do - left unmentioned the works I liked, and mentioned only those I did not like. However, let it go. I must abuse the building these things are in, though. Outside, it is barred, and cross-barred, and streaked, and striped, and spotted, and speckled, and gilded, and defiled from top to bottom, with in famous flummery and filagreed gingerbread, to that degree that the first glance a stranger casts upon it unsettles his mind for a week. First, he thinks it is a church - but then it flashes upon him that no God-fearing Christian would worship in such a church; then he thinks it is a hotel - and forthwith it occurs to him, that no man that has got sense enough to keep a hotel has got more sense than to build such a house as that; next, he thinks it is a huge dwelling house - but he acknowledges in a moment that no man could keep his brains straight who tried to live in such an architectural nightmare of a mansion as this; then he thinks it may be a lunatic asylum, built upon plans furnished by the inmates - but immediately he is ashamed of this mean insinuation against the helpless and unfortunate; at least he concludes that it is a preposterous stable, invented by some vulgar sporting man who has grown suddenly rich - but never, never, never, does he be come so lost to all honorable feeling as to conceive that that wretched pile of marble, paint and gold-leaf was created for the National Academy of Design. No man could fall so low as that. I speak only the truth when I say that the architecture of this Academy of Design is more atrocious than that of young Dr. Tyng's new church, and several other new churches that have sprung up here, and somehow are left undestroyed by the lightnings of heaven. The Academy people call their costly stack of architectural deviltry "the Moorish style" - as if the atmosphere of antiquity and poetry and romance, that cast a charm around that style in its ancient home beyond the seas, could be reproduced here in the midst of railroads and steamboats, and business rush and clamor, and acres of brownstone fronts - and as if it could be anything but clownish and repulsive without that atmosphere! They might as well have put up a wigwam there, and expected it to be romantic and picturesque without its natural surroundings of flowers and grass and brooks, and the solemn silence of dim old forests.
GREELEY AND JEFF.
Mr. Greeley has put his foot in it, in the Jeff. Davis bail bond matter, but with characteristic courage and independence he stands up for what he has done and refuses to go back an inch. He is catching it on all sides, and in language that despises elegant forms of speech, but goes straight to the matter in hand with a meat-axe earnestness and bluntness. Mr. Greeley has shown conclusively enough that his motives were good and worthy, that his record has been clear from the first, and that his conduct in this transaction was not in any respect inconsistent with that record. So far, so good. That part of Mr. Greeley's case is strong, and those who argue against it lose their labor. The Nation says that for the leader of the Northern sentiment that for six years has charged all manner of atrocities upon Davis, to come for ward at the last and take this arch-criminal to his arms, was repulsive - and in that light, no doubt, the people view it. After convicting a man, by argument and testimony, of murder, and robbery, and perjury, and treason, and other acts of an indelicate character, it is ungraceful to shake hands with him and ask him home to dinner.
It is contended that if Davis had been so friendless and forlorn that no man would come forward and bail him, it would have been a grand and magnanimous deed for his ancient enemy to save and succor him - but considering that Davis had a thousand friends at his back and could have got millions of dollars on his bond if necessary, there was no call for that ancient enemy to compromise with him at all - especially as that enemy was a representative man and his action might be taken as a compromise endorsed by the millions of men he represented. I think the very strongest argument that could be made in this thing, against Mr. Greeley, would be that he had no right to go on Jeff. Davis' bond because the millions he represented would not have done it - because he was not, and could not be, merely Mr. Horace Greeley, under such circumstances, but was the embodiment of a nation or a national sentiment - because he was Public Opinion, and had no right to misrepresent his character. Horace Greeley's position and antecedents render it impossible for him to act in great public matters as a private individual - he cannot shed his representative character as he could his coat. Mr. Jones, or Mr. Brown, or Mr. Smith might go on Jeff. Davis' bond, if they chose, because, being obscure and unknown, they could not implicate a nation, and because, being essentially private individuals, they have a right to do their own private will - but representative men possess no such rights. Mr. Greeley ought to have let the majority rule in a momentous matter like the bailing of Jeff. Davis. He ought to have sunk his character as one unimportant private individual, and assumed his public one as the representative of a great party and a wide-spread political sentiment, and acted as that character would have made it proper for him to act.
They are making a great fuss in Springfield, Mass., because a young lady school teacher has unmercifully flogged one of her boy pupils. Now, that is a nice subject for a public excitement, isn't it? Why, I used to catch it that way three times a day when I went to school, and nobody ever thought of getting up a general indignation about it. I never got any sympathy. It used to take me all vacation to grow a new hide in place of the one they flogged off me during the school term. They whipped boys, then, for every little thing; for throwing "spit-balls" at the teacher; for fixing pins in the benches for boys to sit down on; for catching flies during morning prayers, and even for throwing rocks at passing strangers, in recess, when the motive was in no wise dishonorable, the only object in view being to surprise the stranger. For these things they whipped boys, and, what was more degrading still, every boy had to furnish his own hickories. Boys had no friends in those dark days. They were persecuted on all occasions, and there was never any popular excitement about it. We pulled down a stable once (it was only an old stable, and very shabby, and the cow that was in it could have got out if she had wanted to - she had plenty of time), and once we burned a carpenter's shop - it was an ugly, shameful old affair, and spoiled the looks of the town - and merely for doing these things we were punished. As usual, no popular excitement. They took outrages like these very easy in those barbarous times.
But now things are different. School-marms cannot be such bloody pirates nowadays. They haul them up before the Courts and put them under $200 bonds to appear and answer. Oh, unfeeling Greeley that would sign one of them! But school marm instincts have not changed. The boy was getting the best of this one in Springfield, but she called for reinforcements, and another teacher came. They doubled teams on him. It is the old, old story. We had one of our old maids nearly flaxed out once - we had her to the edge of the well, and we would have got her in in another minute, but the unprincipled old harridan piped for assistance.
The times are changed. The world progresses. It is but another evidence of advancing civilization when public sympathy speaks up for the persecuted school-boy.
THE FORREST DIVORCE
An application by Mr. Edwin Forrest, yesterday, for an injunction to restrain his divorced wife from collecting the alimony awarded her in the celebrated divorce suit fifteen years ago, was denied. The award was S4,000 a year, but Mr. Forrest has managed, by appealing and re-appealing the case from time to time, to stave off payment, till the alimony bill has at last run up to about $60,000. It is supposed that all the various legal subterfuges for escaping payment have been exhausted, and that Mr. Forrest will have to liquidate, now. There is no telling, however. There may be some more holes in the legal net large enough for a man of Mr. Forrest's size to get through.
This unsightly pile, with its once white but now dingy filagree columns and pilasters boarded up with unpainted planks, still mars the beauty of the noblest street in America - the Fifth Avenue. They say it has already cost two millions of dollars, and that when it is finished and furnished it will have cost three. There are two hundred and fifty dwellings in the same street that are handsomer, more graceful, more elegant and richer in; appearance than Stewart's is, and not one of them cost a twentieth of the money. Verily it is one thing to have cash and an other to know how to spend it. The man ought to die a violent death that put it into people's heads to try to make cherished, beloved, sacred homes out of such cold, ghostly, unfeeling stuff as marble a material which God intended only for gravestones. You can build a house out of it, and put a door-plate on it, and; call it a dwelling, but it isn't any use it is bound to look like a mausoleum, after all. Stewart's house looks like a stately tomb, now, and after it is finished it will never look entirely natural without a hearse in front of it.
Stewart's dwelling is calculated to mislead people. It looks like the new Herald building, diminished in size just enough like it to make poor, unoffending drunken men, when they stumble on it, think they have got nearly to the foot of Broadway, in some unaccountable way, and start them out on a weary march towards Central Park. It is shameful to impose upon the helpless.
Nothing could be more beautiful, more refined, more elegant, than the brown stone used in facing buildings here; and for light, graceful architecture, nothing could be more charming than the rich, cream-colored Portland stone which has lately come into vogue, and which so fascinates the eye of a stranger, as he saunters up the new end of the magnificent avenue. But these didn't suit Mr. Stewart, and so he had to send to Italy and get some dismal ornamental tombstones, carved out at immense expense by those foreigners, and have them brought over here and piled on high in the midst of that cheerful street, to dampen people's spirits, and set them to thinking of the grave, and death, and the hereafter. It is all wrong. He could have beautified the city and yet spent his money right here in America, if he had chosen to do it.
I believe he is trying to see how much money he can spend on that mausoleum. He has put $10,000 worth of gas and water piping into it, and not a yard of it is visible to the eye. And after all, it is just possible that he is disappointed in his fine house, for they say he has given it, or is going to give it to the Ladies' Society for the Reclamation of Abandoned Women. It is a good idea. If anything could make a lost woman feel miserable and set her to reflecting, it would be to shut her up in that awful tomb.
Eighty-five passengers are booked for the Palestine excursion in the Quaker City, and more are to join at Marseilles. The ship is newly painted and handsomely fitted up throughout. I have got a nice moral room-mate, and he has got many shirts, and a History of the Holy Land, a cribbage-board and three thousand cigars. I will not have to carry any baggage at all. Gen. Sherman is not going. That is lucky. His state-room is fitted and furnished like a palace. I will naturally get that, now, because I stood No. 2 in the schedule, and come first in the order of promotion. There will be room for more baggage, then, if necessary.
Miss Maggie Mitchell and her mother have joined the expedition. There were to be amateur theatrical performances on the ship, anyhow, and now we shall have a star. Scenery is being prepared, and a stage will be erected in one end of the ship and a pulpit in the other. I will have a chance now. Young Beach, of the Suns is going to publish a newspaper on board. This will afford me an opening for a berth.
Massachusetts is getting shaky on the subject of compulsory temperance, and is going to submit the question of licensing people to sell rum to a popular vote again. Evidence has been brought forward which proves that prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places, and does not cure it or even diminish it. In one town in New Hampshire, the hotel-keepers have shut up their houses, and almost brought business to a dead stop, very much to the consternation of the community. The landlords say they will not open till they can sell liquor, and the people have thus been forced to entertain the motion, and are now discussing it with powerful interest. Excise is a rife subject all over the land, and it does so exercise the people that I think they ought to add that middle syllable to the word.
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