Page images
PDF
EPUB

a continent. Had Franklin announced his electrical theory before provided with evidence to uphold it, or Davy his nitrous oxide, or Morse his telegraphic chirography, they would have shared the same convenient title. Fulton endured an unusual share of indifference, not to say contempt, while prosecuting his mechanical researches. It is related that when he applied, in his native city, to a celebrated polemic for contributions toward steam-navigation experiments, that his eloquent argument in behalf of the cause was answered by the oracular theologian with the complacent statement that his own mind was absorbed in an inquiry of so much greater importance, namely, the discovery of all the facts relating to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that he could not attend to so idle a proposition. A few years have elapsed since the interview, and the polemic's thick octavo on the book of Daniel is already covered with the dust of oblivion ; while the fruits of Fulton's constancy and genius are transforming the aspect of the earth, and giving wings to the progress of civilization. But it was his fate not only to contend with the scepticism of the learned, and the prejudices of the ignorant, who gave him the name of "crazy Fulton;" he also encountered, though with a dignified and urbane patience highly creditable to his manhood, the slights of the moneyed aristocracy. This incubus upon social progress in a republic is doubtless a necessary, but in all probability a temporary evil, incident to the early stage of national development in a free country devoted to commerce. There is, however, an essential opposition between the spirit of trade and the victories of intellect. In the former, attention to details and routine is the law of success; in the latter, superiority to immediate interests, and absorption in large and difficult undertakings of prospective utility, are equally requisite. Yet pecuniary means, which in this country are in the hands of the mercantile class, are often absolutely necessary to the cause of experimental science and art; and their votaries are, therefore, placed in a position of depenuence which the very nature of the case renders galling to selfrespect. The poverty of Fulton and his humble origin, as well as his utter indifference to the distinction of mere wealth, rendered him an inauspicious suitor to power based on money. Ile regarded mechanical science as an interest so vital to human welfare that it should be deemed a privilege and not a tax to promote it; and wealth, in his estimation, was only a means; its devotees, therefore, found little that was congenial in the noble mechanician, and amused themselves with what they considered his pretensions, instead of reaping honor by generous coöperation with him in his great designs. Among professional men, however, he was respected and beloved to an extent that amply consoled him under all social disparagement. The address of his friend, the celebrated Addis Emmett, in his argument for Fulton's rights as a patentee, when he urged him to call back his thoughts from inventive speculation and patriotic schemes, and remember what was due to his family, is one of the most affecting personal appeals on record; and is said to have been profoundly impressive in delivery. It eloquently assures us of the contemporary estimation in which Fulton was held by those capable of appreciating original merit. In Chancellor Livingston, also, he found, not only, a consistent friend, but an efficient coädjutor ; and, although his experience of the “law's delay" was sufficient to damp the ardor of a less mercurial temperament, and embarrassment and vexation continued to baffle him to the last, his serene firmness of purpose and genial animation of heart remained intact. He lived his own life, and was true to the reigning impulse of his nature. It was, there

, fore, by virtue of his character that he achieved his purposes, not less than through inventive talent. He persevered bravely in following truth to a practical issue, and thus bequeathed an incalculable benefit to mankind, and conferred permanent honor upon his country and his name.

THE LANDSCAPE PAINTER.

JOHN CONSTABLE.

The quiet and isolated life of a genuine landscape painter has seldom been more consistently illustrated than in the memoirs of John Constable. His letters, collected and arranged by his friend Leslie, open to our view an existence ideal in spirit, and the more remarkable from the absolute contrast it affords to the frivolous, versatile, and bustling social atmosphere in which it was chiefly passed. Indeed, it may be said to embody the most natural and

, characteristic phase of English life — the rural sentiment, if we may so call it; for to Constable this was the inspiration and the central light of experience. He first rises to the imagination as “the handsome miller” of a highly-cultivated and picturesque district in Suffolk; and, since Tennyson's charming poem of the “Miller's Daughter," a romantic association easily attaches itself to that vocation. To the young artist, however, it was actually a better initiation to his future pursuit than might readily be supposed. Two phases of nature, or rather the aspects of two of her least appreciated phenomena, were richly unfolded to his observant eye — the wind and sky; and to his early and habitual study of these may be ascribed the singular truthfulness of his delineation, and the loyal manner in which he adhered, through life, to the facts of scenery.

It seems to us that the process by which he arrived at what may be called the original elements of his art is identical with that of Wordsworth in poetry; and his admiration of the bard arose not more from just perception than from the possession of a like idiosyncrasy. They resemble each other in discovering beauty and interest in the humblest and most familiar objects; and in an unswerving faith in the essential charm of nature under every guise. Thus the very names of Constable's best pictures evince a bold simplicity of taste akin to that which at first brought ridicule, and afterwards homage to the venerated poet. A mill, with its usual natural accessories, continued a favorite subject with the painter to the last; and he sorely grieved when a fire destroyed the first specimen that his pencil immortalized. A harvest-field, a village church, a ford, a pier, a heath, a wain, scenes exhibited to his eye in boyhood, and to the daily vision of farmers, sportsmen, and country gentlemen, — were those to which his sympathies habitually clung. No compliment seems ever to have delighted him more than the remark of a stranger in the Suffolk coach, “This is Constable's country." His custom was to pass weeks in the fields, and sketch clouds, trees, uplands — whatever object or scene could be rendered picturesque on canvas; to gather herbs, mosses, colored earth, feathers, and lichens, and imitate their hues exactly. So intent was he at times in sketching, that field-mice would creep unalarmed into his pockets. But, perhaps, the natural beauties that most strongly attracted him were evanescent; the sweep of a cloud, the gathering of a tempest, the effect of wind on corn-fields, woods, and streams, and, above all, the play of light and shade. So truly were these depicted, that Fuseli declared he often was disposed to call for his coat and umbrella before one of Constable's landscapes representing a transition state of the elements.

His fame gradually widened. The artists of Paris first appreciated his excellence; and it has been said that he “ was as much the originator of modern French landscapes, as Scott was of French romance." When he came in after a day's sketching, he would sometimes say, "I have had a good skying.” Ilis clouds best attest the rarity of his skill, as well in the lucent depths as when completely effulgent.

If there be a single genuine poetic instinct in the English' mind, it is that which allies them to country life. The poets of that nation have never been excelled either in rural description or in conveying the sentiment to which such tastes gave birth. What we recognize in Constable is the artistic development of this national trait. We perceive at a glance that he was “native here, and to

. the manner born." There is an utter absence of exaggeration, at least in the still life of his pictures, — while no one can mistake the latitude of his atmospheres. They are not American, nor European, but thoroughly English. A great source of his aptitude was a remarkable local attachment. Ile not only saw distinctly the minute features of a limited scene, or a characteristic group of objects, but he loved them. He had the fondness for certain rural spots which Lamb confessed for particular metropolitan haunts; and, therefore, it was not necessary for him, in order to paint with feeling, to combine scattered beauties, as is the case with less individual limners, nor to borrow or invent accessories to set off bis chosen subject; but only to elicit, by patient attention, such favorable moments and incidents as were best fitted to exhibit it to advantage.

In this way, few painters have done more to suggest the infinite natural resources of their art. Its poetry to him was two-fold, consisting of the associations and of the intrinsic beauty of the

There is often evident in genius a kind of sublime com

- an intuitive intelligence, which careless observers mistake sometimes for obstinacy or waywardness. Constable displayed it in fidelity to his sphere, notwithstanding many temptations to wander from it. He felt that portrait and historical painting were not akin either to his taste or highest ability; and that the ambitious and elaborate in landscape would give no scope to his talent. In his view Art was not less a thing of feeling than of knowledge; and it was a certain indescribablo sentiment in the skies of Claude, and the composition of Ruysdael, that endeared them to him more than mere fidelity to detail. Accordingly, he labored with zest only upon subjects voluntarily undertaken, and to which he felt drawn by a spontaneous attraction; and over these he rarely failed to throw the grace of a fresh and vivid conception. The word "handling” was his aversion, because he saw no evidence of it in nature, and looked upon her loving delineator as working, not in a mechanical, but in a sympathetic relation. "There is room enough," he says, "for a

scene.

mon sense

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »