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Blenheim Raphael quite into the shade by comparison. This surprising offer was refused; and not, as might be supposed, because it would be undignified or improper to sell the nation's pictures for money, for there was an alternative offer of other paintings to the value of the sum named. No. The proposal was rejected for the reason that suggested it. This picture is the finest that Van Eyck ever painted. It has more of his own mastery in it than any other. It has the value of the unique; the worth that arises from the consideration that in forming a national collection, the aim should be to get the best of every school and every true master. One work of the first-rate should be preferred to five (or as many as you please) of the second
"You will say that this illustration was hardly necessary to show how difficult it is to fix the cash value of a work of art, and I agree; confessing that I only wished to make a gingerly approach to the opinion that the fallen prices which painters lament were in general much too high. They could and can afford a better pennyworth; and it would be well for themselves, I think, could some dignified means be found of making known that their expectations are not what they are often supposed to be. Already smaller canvasses are chosen by some discreet practitioners; my hopeful anticipation is, indeed (for that Art shall flourish and shall sell is my desire), that the Academy Exhibition of this year will reveal as much of ser
pentine wisdom as goes to that. Smaller canvasses, and yet large enough for the rooms that well-to-do people live in, have a wider scope of attraction, which is one thing; and they would help poor wounded vanity in dropping prices, which is another. The greater trouble is there; for the world at large is awed by report of the mighty sums that must be paid to reputable painters, and reputable painters mislike not that their wage shall seem mysteriously large.
"What to do to put things on a simpler and more sible footing? It is impossible that exhibitioners at the Royal Academy should ticket their pictures-that would be a too outrageous departure from the dignity of Art. Were that expedient adopted, it is horrible to think of the unseemly remarks which Mr Anstey would have to chronicle in his Voces Populi.' And yet it is doubtful whether the price - books laid out in the vestibule of Burlington House serve their purpose well enough. Shyness of consulting them is common to all but the habituated, and they are never at hand to be looked into when the wish to buy is fresh and warm. Struck to the heart with desire is the sufficiently moneyed visitor; but to get at the price-book he must course through three or four rooms, maybe, and to do that when he is with a friend seems ostentatious. Or he sets forth and is detained on the way by the sight of other pictures; or he is arrested by acquaintances; or he tells himself that he will look
at the book as he passes out. dramatists. Every considerable Meanwhile absence from the town had its playwright. alluring object cools desire; he Dozens of plays were written reflects on the unlikelihood of and printed every year, and the price being what he can better ones than the theatreafford; and so he never learns managers in some other counthat he might have had his tries seemed to be aware of. picture upon terms to jump at. "Now what a pity is this! A wrong is done to both producer and consumer- -immorality upon immorality. A refining influence is withheld from one home at the cost of disappointment and mortification in another. Here, Art is discouraged and the artist soured; there, the expansion of mind is checked and ascending spirit brought to earth again. Shall a point of etiquette, the punctilio of seemliness, stand in the way of amending such consequences as these? I put them high because I wish to ask if it would be too much to place in each room the price-book appropriate to it. Would that really be too tradesmanlike? Could a little table with a book on it in a corner of each room be very obstructive or otherwise offend? Then place it in the middle of the room, and be sure of resort to it five times a-day for once to the books in the vestibule.
""Twas the voice of a Spanish ambassador: and in the pleasant interval between the cheese and the coffee I heard him complain; and his complaint was of the continuous if slow decline of the arts and crafts in his native land. Little endeavour anywhere and no spontaneous fecundity, with one remarkable exception. The country of Lope de Vega was still prolific of good
"The Spaniard was partial, perhaps, and I would rather have him so. But partial cannot be the word if Spain in its decay do not retain far more of a splendid gift than England in full vitality. According to my reckoning, the revival of playgoing began about forty years ago; and from that time to this managers have never ceased to lament the difficulty of getting good English plays. By no means has the supply answered to the demand. The taste for the theatre has almost become a rage again. Survey the British Isles throughout, and there must be a thousand playgoers to-day where in 1860 there were not twice ten. Count the number of theatres open then and now, forget not to compare their capacity, and say whether that appears a much exaggerated guess. To any one who foresaw so eager a revival, and was at the same time prescient of the great revenues a taking piece would bring, the rise of a strong array of play-writers would have seemed a certain thing. In truth, and after many years, it is a consequence yet to come. Two or three dramatists there are who from time to time write good and very successful plays. But two or three are few at this hour of the day, and as yet not one of them is able to go to work with confidence against failure. Absolute confidence, of course,
I do not mean, but only as much as the greater novelists of the century soon acquired and could rest upon ever after. No doubt the dramatist's art is more difficult than the novelwriter's, or so we find it in the England of these generations. But there is such a thing as dramatic mastery, and it is evidently unattained by an age whose playwrights, working though they do amidst every known incitement to dramatic genius, consciously and always make uncertain shots at success. One or two of them succeed more often than the rest, and do write delightful plays if quite without pretension to greatness; but that does not alter the case, though there is promise in it of better things in time to come.
"If a Frenchman was asked to give the Lyceum Theatre a new play, and fit Sir Henry Irving with a new part, this reason for the choice must content us: something in the greater style was wanted, and M. Sardou was less likely than any Englishman to fail in the attempt. With me it is but the resurgence of an old regret that anything in the grand style was wanted by or for Sir Henry Irving; but he seems quite content with anything else, and as there is a great admiring public for him in such parts, he may indulge the preference sans peur et sans reproche. But should he or any other English actor wish for a new part in that style, he must either recur to our old dramatists or make himself as safe as may be by seeking abroad for his commodity.
"It is a little comfort, perhaps, that even there he is not very safe. M. Sardou's 'Robespierre' is so far from being a great play, that it is not even a good one in any high sense. Moreover, it is in treatment and character just what a hardworking, stage-knowing, clever British copyist and adaptor would have made of the subject. M. Sardou is the superior workman of the two, but the work is of the same playbuilding kind. There is but one illustration of character in the piece, by which I mean only one intentional and studied illustration of character. Looking from Robespierre to the personages surrounding him, we see that all of them, male and female, are of conventional types, or, at best, roughly yet lightly stamped with the common impression drawn from history-books. Even the part that Miss Terry has to play (and this was in M. Sardou's hands to shape as he would, being his own invention) is void of individuality; though no doubt so clever an actress will contrive to put into it something of the sort as the play runs on. The one seriously attempted piece of portraiture is Robespierre himself; and for many people the interest of the play, as a literary and dramatic effort, sprang from the question, What will Sardou make of it? For he is known to be a careful and competent inquirer along the lines of his craft; and it happens that opinion as to the real Robespierre has become more unsettled and curious of late. M. Sardou's presentation
of him is small help. That there is nothing new in it is of course no reproach; but its lack of force, of precision, of particularity, is disappointing. The Robespierre of the play is well clothed in the known characteristics of his original, but the inventive touch that might have enforced or illumined them is almost entirely withheld.
"In the carefully written first scene, Robespierre describes himself by word and deed, but mostly by oral explanation, very thoroughly. It is evident that M. Sardou spent great pains upon these passages, and very skilful they are; but having got through with them he seems careless of heightening-almost, I might say, of sustainingwhat no doubt is a most difficult piece of characterisation. And as with the author, so with the actor. Carefully as the one writes, as carefully the other plays. All through this scene he is Robespierre as closely as he can put on so evasive a character; but less Robespierre, and more Sir Henry Irving, thenceforward to the end of the play. Spectacle takes up the story. Scene and episode from that tremendous drama, the French Revolution, are brought in to fill the stage and tell a tale to which Robespierre is appertinent but which is not his history. These scenes are the making of the play,—these scenes contributed by record, and one fine dramatic passage which becomes what it is through Irving's genius. I need not tell you what I think of the prison scene, the ghost scene, the scene in the Convention. It is what
everybody who has viewed them thinks, or rather that half of the multitude which pays homage to the truth and power of the prison-scene in excess of pain. Impossible to wish it less effective, and yet it is wellnigh unendurable. Nicolai's hallucination, as described by himself, is reproduced to the utmost nicety in the ghost tableau, wherein M. Sardou and the Lyceum stage-masters are justified against the critics. And the ghosts seemed to me very good ghosts; but Sir Henry Irving's fright at them—no. Unless moderated since the first night's performance, it is not good. It is disagreeable. By its excess of hysteria for which Robespierre's 'peculiar nervous temperament' makes no imperative demand-it imparts a certain feeling of humiliation to those who witness it. I make bold to say that if after the apparition of the fourth or fifth ghost the actor uttered not another sound, but looked, and puzzled, and trembled, and as the spectral company converged upon him fainted, he would be more like Robespierre and ensure a finer effect. Another advantage it would have, but it is one that cannot be mentioned kindly.
"All this, however, is but preliminary to what I am dying to say, which now you shall hear.
recreations of the domestic hearth,' sends for the young man who has publicly denounced him that day before the altar of the Supreme Being. He will himself examine this young man, whom he does not know to be his son. The boy (too mulishly represented by Mr Bellew in this scene) will answer no questions. But Robespierre soon finds his way to the truth, and to the further discovery that Olivier's mother is herself in danger of condemnation under a name unknown to him. Robespierre cannot acknowledge these discoveries, but, deeply moved, he does all that anxiety can do to win the young man's confidence, as a means of saving both mother and son from death. I describe the situation baldly, but it is known by this time to thousands of play-goers and tens of thousands of newspaper readers.
"Well, of this quiet but deeply emotional scene it is to be said that ten minutes of it is worth hours and nights of Henry Irving in magnificent drama. But even so is another quiet passage with the least in it of the emotional : that where Robespierre, tranquilly seated in the Duplay domestic circle, listens so complacently, 'joins in' with such reverent and sweet respect, while his own little madrigal of Ophelia is sung at the spinet. Mounted as it is, there is a deal of delight in the play, and a deal of the pain that pleases us when it is neither too poignant nor too rude. But the only genuine bits of acting are these. All the rest is mere conventional histrionics, more
or less glorified; while as to these two passages, they are as nearly perfect as they can be. There we see what Irving can do when to himself he does justice. And there, again, we see how much the stage has lost by a most natural but too constant preference for great Shakespearian parts and the like of them for toploftiness. That Irving plays most of them in a striking way, that in some he is admirable, that in none can curiosity be withdrawn from him even when admiration will not stir-so much is unquestionable. But the greatness he achieves in this way falls far short of what he could have attained to in what by wretched error is considered a lower line of business. was more judicious, seeking and finding greatness in comedy as well as in tragic-grandeur parts; and it may be supposed without offence that Garrick had a stronger call to the heights of his profession than Irving. 'Garrick between Comedy and Tragedy' is a picture we are all familiar with on canvas or in print. Had Irving allowed us a similar spectacle on the stage, keeping it up to this day, how much richer we should be! I wonder whether he would have cared to win the praise of Charles Lamb! Sure am I, the while I wonder, that he could if he would have earned such praise had Lamb been still on earth to bestow it. And yet he might have risen to Macbeth, and Becket, and the rest, all the same, though not all the time.
"And now the question which I most humbly put is this: