« ZurückWeiter »
tor extend his eulogium a little farther; and commend the introduction of Dr. Burney in a tie wig among Tritons and naked sea nymphs ? Why has he not launched out in praise of that despicable picture, the Society? That Barry was a man of genius, it were folly to deny ; but that he
the superlatively gifted being his editor has represented him, nothing but 'ignorance'
presumption' would contend. His drawing is often incorrect, and always mannered ; his light and shadow is without principle ; and his colouring execrable.
Our estimate of Barry has been assisted by the opinion of a friend, who was intimately acquainted with his merits and defects. “Barry”, said he, “ was quite as unequal as other great geniuses. — Whether he has ever produced a picture which deserves the character of sublime, we are hardly enough removed from the period of the execution of his works to determine ; for myself I have been sometimes tempted to think, that he owes a great deal of the applause that has attended his paintings at the Adelphi to the space which they occupy, the magnitude of their scale, and the splendor of the coup d'oeil. To those who knew the man, all this would appear a sort of blasphemy. Barry wrote' well and talked better : he thought about the sublime, and talked about the sublime, tils his friends caught the infection ; and as he mixed and confounded his criti. cisms on Raffaelle aod Michael Angelo with references to the productions of his own pencil, it is not to be wondered at that those who moved in the little circle round him should fall into the same confusion, and look only to the Cinque Cento for works on a level with his genius."
As a' picture of expression, Barry's best work is the Adam and Eve, now in the possession of Mr. Solly. But as a grand composition, the Olympic Victors stands preeminent.' There is a classic raciness in this painting, which, notwithstanding its nuinerous defects, induces us to place it very high on the scale of modern art.
The remainder of the first of these volumes is occupied by the lectures which Barry delivered at the Royal Academy. The first is on the History of Art. It contains nothing particularly striking. Barry successfully combats the opinion of those, who attribute the invention, as well as the perfection of art, to Greece. The second is, we believe,- for the meaning is obscured by the strange, ram bling, digressive treatment of the subject, - on the highe qualities of Design. The third is a kind of Critical History of Design. It manifests a profound knowledge of the
principles of art, and the objections we might make to some of the parts, are but trifting drawbacks on our approbation of the whole. The fourth, on Composition, though inferior to the third, iš still inarked with considerable ability. The fifth, on Chiaro-scuro, is far superior to any of the preceding; it is a masterly performance, and excites our regret that he who was so well acquainted with the theory of light and shade, should have illustrated it so ill in his practice. Of the sixth and last lecture, on Colouring, the practical part is excellent; of the remainder we cannot speak very highly.
The contents of the second volume, excepting some critical reinarks upon the works of art in France and Italy, and those exhibited in this country as the Orleans Gallery, with a fragment on the story and painting of Pandora, have been long before the public.
Religion has, apparently, very little concern with an article of this kind; but we cannot forbear inserting, without comment, the following sentences.
• Even as it was, people soon forgot his rough language and his oaths in the strength of his mind : we have witnessed many instances of this, and once saw a devout old lady, entering the room where he . was, hold him for some time in a sort of horror.
The conversation, , however, happened to turn on the nature of Christian meekness, which gave him an opportunity of opening on the character of our Saviour with that power of heart and mind, and energy of words, that in spite of the oaths which fell abundantly, the old lady remarked that she never heard so divine a man in her life.'
It is a marvellous thing, that, instead of a set of miserably selected and executed vignettes, the editor did not furnish us with etchings of the Pandora, and the other works of Barry that are in private hands, and of course inaccessible to public inspection. Art. v. The Columbiad, a Poem. By Joel Barlow. Royal 8vo,
pp. 426. price 15s. R. Phillips. 1809. THIS.poem demand, more attention from the nature of its
subject, connected with the time of its appearance and the country of its author, than could be claimed for it on the very questionable ground of its intrinsic worth. As a work of immense labour and proportionate bulk, it not only affords an ample criterion of the present state of polite literature in America, but as a great national poem, the Columbiad will probably become, by right of primogeniture, a standard of imitation, and a stumbling block to genius, for ages to
This is not a random speculation. Mr. Barlow's book, with its pedantry of patriotism and barbaric verbosity of style, is so exquisitely transatlantic, both in its theme and its structure, that no true-born federalist can be in. different to its contents; and few, we apprehend, of the author's reading fellow citizens, will be so blind to its merits as not to admire it even for its faults. Nor can
a purer taste be expected to obtain, so long as commerce is the principal pursuit, and politics the favourite study of a na. tion of modern colonists, --whose population, beyond the course of nature, is augmenting in a double ratio by the influx of emigrant adventurers from distant and discordant countries, and whose progress to greatness, contrary to every precedent in history, must be insured, not by the triumph of arms, but of industry, not by the exertions of genius, but of labour. Among people so heterogeneous and self-interested, so eager for gain, so little tempted by glory, the fine arts may exist, but they cannot flourish. Few will seek leisure to improve them, and fewer find opportunity of rising to eminence by excelling in them. Not only the spirit to delight in poetry, but the occasions to inspire it, must be wanting in a state of society, characterized by mercenary speculation, and formed for individual aggrandizement.
It would be difficult to class the Columbiad with any preceding work of imagination. In fact it is a phænix, sprung from the ashes of a defunct poem by the same author, called “the Vision of Columbus ;” and we are inclined to save ourselves all further trouble on this head, by adapting to the production before us a celebrated line of Dry
None but itself can be its parallel.' The author, in his preface, declares that he shall not attempt to prove by any latitude of reasoning, that he has written an Epic Poem.' No, indeed; he aspires to much higher praise. For he affirms that his subject is far superior to any one of those, on which the most celebrated poems of this description have been constructed ;' and moreover, he has no doubt but the form he has given to the work is the best that the subject would admit.' Now if Mr. Barlow has chosen the best subject, and treated it in the best forın, how comes it that the Columbiad is not the best poem in the world ? — The author adds, that in no poem are the unities of time, place, and action more rigidly observed; the action, in the technical sense of the word, consisting only of what takes place between Columbus and Hesper, which must be supposed to occupy but a few hours, and is confined to the prison and to the mount of Vision. He might as well have said that the action of the Pilgrim's Progress consists in John Bunyan's falling asleep. There might be some plausibility for this plea, if Columbus and Hesper were the Hector and Achilles of the tale ; but in reality they are only the showman and spectator of the shifting scenes of a poetical phantasmagoria, the details of which, comprehending all tiine and occupying all space, form the action of the piece, while the abstruse and metaphysical dialogues between the aforenamed pair are only tedious interludes or impertinent digressions. Barlow had an indisputable right to select so multitudinous a subject, and we cannot blame him for thinking both his theme and his management of it ' far superior to the models of Homer and Virgil. We only regret that he has not compelled us to be of the same opinion, by having transcended all precedent in the execution of his task. The author further' observes, that there are two distinct objects to be kept in view in the conduct of a narrative poem ; the poetical object, and the moral object. The poetical is the fictitious design of the action, the moral is the real design of the poem.? To exemplify this, he tells us thatVirgil wrote and felt like a subject, 'not like a citizen. The real design of his poem was to increase the veneration of the people for a master, whoever he might be, and to encourage, like Homer, the great system of military depredation.' Now, in contradiction to this, we do not hesitate to assert, that all these notable moral motives for writing epic poems (so fashionable since the days of Bossu), are as visi. onary as any thing in the Columbiad itself." Poets write, in the first place, if we may so express it, for the very love of the thing; in the second, from the known infirmity of noble minds, the laudum immensa cupido. If in following the impulse, we might say the instinct, of their genius, they can further serve their interest or their country, it must be confessed, both to their honour and to their shame, that they have often availed themselves of the 'opportunity; but in every instance where such a moral can be deduced from a poet's fable, it will be found, on the minutest examination, to have been only a secondary and subordinate consideration. Will any man in his senses, on this side of the Atlantic, believe that Virgil's real object in composing the Æneid was to increase the veneration of the people to a master ?! Nay, would any
ject was to inmortalize his name ; and that, in chusing his subject, he suited it to the times and the government under which he lived, because he judged that he should thus more immediately and effectually promote his own glory? Conscious of his powers, would Virgil have hazarded the reversion of renown that awaited him with posterity, for the favour of Augustus ? No, not for the throne of Augustus. They know little, they know nothing of poets, who thus judge of them. Had Virgil planned his Æneid. a subject, he never could have accomplished it as a poet; for it is the spirit in which the offspring of fancy is ceived, that becomes the life of it when it is produced into being. Hence we account, at least in part, for Mr. Barlow's failure. We give him credit for having had the good of his country and the welfare of all mankind at heart ; but writing and feeling as a citizen', he has neither felt nor written as a poet.
If a work of sufficient dignity to render its absurdities of some importance were wanted, to illustrate a new Art of Sinking, and to exemplify every species of fault that can be committed in verse, we woulil recommend the Columbiad, as the richest treasury for quotation that the wit errant of man ever. accumulated. The poem is divided into ten books: the following would be a very apt motto for the title, and every page in the sequel would justify it :
• Rend with tremendous sound your ears asunder,
Pope. After a tame proposition of the subject, and a ranting , apostrophe to Freedom, the first book opens with night in Old Castile, and King Ferilinand in bed, not dreaming of those his mandates robbed of rest ;' nor
. Of him, who gemm'd his crown, who stretched his reign
Sweats the chill sod, and breathes inclement skies.' What is intended by sweating the chill sod, we not even, guess; we therefore leave that, and the realms that weigh'd, the tenfold poise of Spain', to 'indungeon' ourselves with Columbus beneath the tower of Valladolid. Here the imprisoned hero vents his miseries in 'a monologue on the great actions of his life, and the manner in which they have been rewarded. At the close of his lamenta. tion, one Hesper, the tutelary genius of America, and who is sometimes canonized and sometimes deified by the poet,