June 2d, 1867.
"THE DOMES OF THE YOSEMITE"
THAT is the name of Bierstadt's last picture. The art critics here abused it without stint when its exhibition began, a month ago. They ridiculed it so mercilessly that I thought it surely could not be worth going to see, and so I staid away. I went to-day, however, and I think it is very well worth going to see. It is very beautiful - considerably more beautiful than the original.
You stand twelve hundred feet above the valley, and look up it toward the east, with the North Dome on the left and the South Dome on the right. The rugged mountain range beyond the latter sweeps round to the right and shuts up the valley, and, springing up among the clouds in the distance, you see one or two great peaks clad in robes of snow. Well, the bird's-eye view of the level valley, with its clusters of diminished trees and its little winding river, is very natural, and familiar, and pleasant to look upon. The pine trees growing out of clefts in a bold rock wall, in the right foreground, are very proper trees, and the grove of large ones, in the left foreground, and close at hand, are a true copy of Nature, and so are the various granite boulders in the vicinity.
Now, to sum up the picture's merits, those snow-peaks are correct - they look natural; the valley is correct and natural; the pine trees clinging to the bluff on the right, and the grove on the left, and the boulders, are all like nature; we will assume that the domes and things are drawn accurately. One sees these things in all sorts of places throughout California, and under all sorts of circumstances, and gets so familiar with them that he knows them in a moment when he sees them in a picture. I knew them in Bierstadt's picture, and checked them off one by one, and said "These things are correct - they all look just as they ought to look, and they all belong to California. " But when I got around to the atmosphere, I was obliged to say "This man has imported this atmosphere; this man has surely imported this atmosphere from some foreign country, because nothing like it was ever seen in California." I may be mistaken, for all men are liable to err, but I honestly think I am right. The atmospheric effects in that picture are startling, are full of variety, and are charming. It is more the atmosphere of Kingdom-Come than of California.
The time is early morning; the eastern heavens are filled with shredded clouds, and these afford the excuse for the dreamy lights and shadows that play about the leftward precipices and the great dome - a rich blending of softest purple, and gray, and blue, and brown and white, instead of the bald, glaring expanse of rocks and earth splotched with cloud-shadows like unpoetical ink-blots which one ought to see in a Californian mountain picture when correctly painted. Some of Mr. Bierstadt's mountains swim in a lustrous, pearly mist, which is so enchantingly beautiful that I am sorry the Creator hadn't made it instead of him, so that it would always remain there. In the morning, the outlines of mountains in California, even though they be leagues away, are painfully bold and sharp, because the atmosphere is so pure and clear - but the outlines of Mr. Bierstadt's mountains are soft and rounded and velvety, which is a great improvement on nature.
As a picture, this work must please, but as a portrait I do not think it will answer. Portraits should be accurate. We do not want feeling and intelligence smuggled into the pictured face of an idiot, and we do not want this glorified atmosphere smuggled into a portrait of the Yosemite, where it surely does not belong. I may be wrong, but still I believe that this atmosphere of Mr. Bierstadt's is altogether too gorgeous.
A CURIOUS BOOK
In one of the libraries here I have found an edition of 1621 of the Apochryphal New Testament. It is rather a curious book, as one may judge by the titles to some of the chapters:
"Christ kissed by a bride made dumb by sorcerers, cures her. A leprous girl cured by the water in which the infant Christ was washed, and becomes the servant of Joseph and Mary. The leprous son of a Prince cured in like manner.
"A young man who had been bewitched and turned into a mule, miraculously cured by the infant Savior being put on his back, and is married to the girl who had been cured of leprosy. Whereupon the bystanders praise God."
[Extract.] "33. After the marriage of this girl, Joseph and Mary tarried there ten days, then went away, having received great respect from those people:
"34. Who, when they took their leave of them and returned home, cried,
"35. But especially the girl."
This book has many chapters devoted to the infancy of the Savior and the miracles he wrought. For instance:
"Chapter 15. Jesus and other boys play together and make clay figures of animals. Jesus causes them to walk; also makes clay birds which he causes to fly, and eat and drink. The children's parents are alarmed and take Jesus for a sorcerer, and order them to seek better company. He goes to a dyer's shop and throws all the clothes into the fire and works a miracle there with. Whereupon the bystanders praise God."
It appears that Joseph had a shop and was regularly in business as a carpenter, although his work was not remarkable for its excellence. The infant Savior was of great assistance to him, sometimes:
"Chapter 16. Christ miraculously widens or contracts gates, milk pails, sieves or boxes, not properly made by Joseph, he not being skillful at his carpenter's trade. The King of Jerusalem gives Joseph an order for a throne. Joseph works on it for two years and makes it two spans too short. The King being angry with him, Jesus comforts him - commands him to pull one side of the throne while he pulls the other and brings it to its proper dimensions. Whereupon the bystanders praise God."
"Chapter 19. Jesus charged with throwing a boy from the roof of a house, miraculously causes the dead boy to speak and acquit him; fetches water for his mother, breaks the pitcher and miraculously gathers the water in his mantle and brings it home; makes fish-pools on the Sabbath, and causes a boy to die who broke them down; another boy runs against him, whom he also causes to die. Whereupon the bystanders, etc., etc."
"Sent to a schoolmaster, refuses to tell his letters and the schoolmaster going to whip him, his hand withers and he dies."
"Kills a boy; causes blindness to fall upon his accusers, for which Joseph pulls him by the ear."
The young Savior's resentments were so frequent, and always of so exceedingly prompt and practical a turn, that Joseph finally grew concerned about the matter and gave it his personal attention:
"16. Then said Joseph unto Mary, henceforth we will not allow him to go out of the house, for every one who displeases him is killed."
His society was pleasant, but attended by serious draw backs.
Further on in this quaint volume of rejected gospels is an epistle of St. Clement to the Corinthians, which was used in the churches and considered genuine fourteen or fifteen hundred years ago. In it this account of the fabled phoenix occurs:
"1. Let us consider that wonderful type of the resurrection, which is seen in the Eastern countries, that is to say, in Arabia.
"2. There is a certain bird called a phoenix. Of this there is never but one at a time, and that lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near, that it must die, it makes itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when its time is fulfilled, it enters and dies.
"3 . But its flesh, putrefying, breeds a certain worm, which, being nourished with the juice of the dead bird, brings forth feathers; and when it is grown to a perfect state, it takes up the nest in which the bones of its parent lie, and carries it from Arabia into Egypt, to a city called Heliopolis:
"4. And flying in open day in the sight of all men, lays it upon the altar of the sun, and so returns from whence it came.
"5. The priests then search into the records of the time, and find that it returned precisely at the end of five hundred years."
Well, business is business, and there is nothing like punctuality, especially in a phoenix.
The few chapters relating to the infancy of the Savior contain many things which seem frivolous and trifling, and not worth preserving. A large part of the remaining portions of the book read like good Scripture, however, and one is inclined to wonder why the conclave of 318 Bishops who compiled our New Testament in the fourth century, from a mass of ancient manuscripts, rejected them. One Sabinus, a plain-spoken Bishop of Heraclea, explains the matter in this wise: He says that that conclave of compilers was composed of "a set of illiterate, simple creatures, that understood nothing!" Well, of course we do not know anything about that, and besides, Sabinus was doubt less prejudiced. But there is one verse in the back part of the book that ought not to have been rejected, because it so evidently prophetically refers to the general run of Congresses of the United States:
"199. They carry themselves high, and as prudent men; and though they are fools, yet would seem to be teachers."
A few months ago "puzzles" were all the rage with the street peddlers. A man could not walk three blocks without having some new invention of a ten-cent puzzle offered him to tangle his brain with. There were puzzles consisting of iron rings with handles to them, and iron rings strung on a stick, and iron rings linked together, and forty other puzzle nuisances. People bought these things - thousands and hundreds of thousands of them - and figured at them till they got them apart, and then figured at them till they got them together again; and then they saw the vanity of such things and did no more invest in them. And so the puzzle mania died.
Then there was an irruption of blind people from some where. Blind people led by a friend; blind people led by dogs; blind people who felt their way with a stick; blind people who sat on doorsteps with horrid poetry labelled on their hats, and a tin cup alongside, with a penny nest-egg in it; blind men who tortured charity from foot passengers by grinding dismal music out of a thing like a mud turtle. The blind business was immensely popular -for three days. Everybody who had a blind friend borrowed him and trotted him out. It was a short-lived excitement, but it was fine while it lasted.
Next came a villain who shrieked and whistled like a mocking bird, and who almost split people's ears when he happened upon them unawares. He carried a basket full of vile inventions, which were able to make other people as capable of dispensing his kind of misery as himself. I have lost sight of him, latterly. He is dead, maybe. I hope so.
The popular rage now runs to little painted horses, clowns, chickens, etc., suspended from India-rubber strings. On every corner is a vagrant peddling these wonderfully trifling toys. No invention, since the game of croquet, has reached such miraculous triviality. And, by-the-way, this toy-on-a-string business had its origin in a thing invented by a Brooklyn man about two years ago, and which consisted of nothing more extraordinary than a ball attached to an elastic cord. Its sole virtue was that when expelled from one's hand, it returned again, provided the end of the string was firmly held. This gave great satisfaction to the performer. Everybody bought this toy and played with it - men, women and children - everybody neglected graver pursuits, and revelled in the fierce intoxication of this amusement. The happiness it occasioned was universal. The inventor found him self suddenly famous and as suddenly wealthy. But mark you the moral. The fates favored him only to deceive. They promised him a long life blessed with the comfort and the serenity that go with a competence honestly earned. But behold, an ex-policeman waylaid the favorite of fortune in the streets of Brooklyn at dead of night a week ago, and shot him to death with an air-gun. Riches will still take wings and fly away, and so also will life - and nothing can assist them in their flight better than an ex-policeman.
It takes all kinds of people and more to make a world. We all know that. The world would not have been entirely complete, I think, without Capt. Summers of the navy. He is very old, now, and very proud of his long and honorable career, too, in the service of his country. He entered the navy "through the hawse-holes," as the phrase goes, and worked himself up to his present high rank by hard labor and close attention to duty. He is just a little illiterate, is eminently practical, has no poetry in his composition, and can abide no nonsense. He is entirely free from everything in the shape of sentiment. I had heard a good deal of him, and went to his favorite saloon, last night, purposely to hear him talk - you see he is on the retired list, and has nothing to do but spin yarns and sip away his pay in hot whiskey punches. I spent a pleasant evening and picked up many a queer item which I mean to print after a little, and did intend to in this letter, but it has already grown too long. Still, as I have mentioned the old Captain, I must tell one story they have on him, at any rate.
Twenty or thirty years ago, when missionary enterprise was in its infancy among the islands of the South Seas, Capt. Summers anchored his sloop-of-war off one of the Marquesas, I think it was. The next morning he saw an American flag floating from the beach, union down. This excited him fearfully, of course, and he sent off a boat at once to inquire into the matter. Presently the boat returned, and brought a grave-looking missionary. The Captain's anxiety ran high. He said:
"What's the trouble out there? - quick !"
"Well, I am grieved to say, sir," said the missionary, "that the natives have been interrupting our sacerdotal exercises."
"No! - blast their yaller hides. I'll - what - what was it you said they'd been doing?"
"It pains me, sir, to say that they have been interrupting our sacerdotal exercises."
"Interrupting your - your - h--l! Man them starboard guns! Stand by, now, to give 'em the whole battery!"
The astounded clergyman hastened to protest against such excessive rigorous measures, and finally succeeded in making the old tar understand that the natives had only been breaking up a prayer-meeting.
"Oh, devil take it, man, is that all? I thought you meant that they'd stopped your grog!"
The body of poor Artemus Ward ' arrived here per steamer to-day, from England, and was received by Chas. Dawson Shanley, and the other American executors of the deceased, and will be forwarded to the old homestead in Maine on Monday, for final interment.
Artemus stipulated in his will that his little valet should be apprenticed for two years to the best printer in America, to "learn the value of learning," and then sent to college.
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