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    Chivalry

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    Chapter 5
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    THE SPIRIT OF CHIVALRY IN WESTMINSTER HALL

    "Of all the cants that are canted in this canting world," wrote
    Sterne, "kind Heaven defend me from the cant of Art!" We have no
    intention of tapping our little cask of cant, soured by the thunder
    of great men's fame, for the refreshment of our readers: its freest
    draught would be unreasonably dear at a shilling, when the same
    small liquor may be had for nothing, at innumerable ready pipes and
    conduits.

    But it is a main part of the design of this Magazine to sympathise
    with what is truly great and good; to scout the miserable
    discouragements that beset, especially in England, the upward path
    of men of high desert; and gladly to give honour where it is due, in
    right of Something achieved, tending to elevate the tastes and
    thoughts of all who contemplate it, and prove a lasting credit to
    the country of its birth.

    Upon the walls of Westminster Hall, there hangs, at this time, such
    a Something. A composition of such marvellous beauty, of such
    infinite variety, of such masterly design, of such vigorous and
    skilful drawing, of such thought and fancy, of such surprising and
    delicate accuracy of detail, subserving one grand harmony, and one
    plain purpose, that it may be questioned whether the Fine Arts in
    any period of their history have known a more remarkable
    performance.

    It is the cartoon of Daniel Maclise, "executed by order of the
    Commissioners", and called The Spirit of Chivalry. It may be left
    an open question, whether or no this allegorical order on the part
    of the Commissioners, displays any uncommon felicity of idea. We
    rather think not; and are free to confess that we should like to
    have seen the Commissioners' notion of the Spirit of Chivalry stated
    by themselves, in the first instance, on a sheet of foolscap, as the
    ground-plan of a model cartoon, with all the commissioned
    proportions of height and breadth. That the treatment of such an
    abstraction, for the purposes of Art, involves great and peculiar
    difficulties, no one who considers the subject for a moment can
    doubt. That nothing is easier to render it absurd and monstrous, is
    a position as little capable of dispute by anybody who has beheld
    another cartoon on the same subject in the same Hall, representing a
    Ghoule in a state of raving madness, dancing on a Body in a very
    high wind, to the great astonishment of John the Baptist's head,
    which is looking on from a corner.

    Mr. Maclise's handling of the subject has by this time sunk into the
    hearts of thousands upon thousands of people. It is familiar
    knowledge among all classes and conditions of men. It is the great
    feature within the Hall, and the constant topic of discourse
    elsewhere. It has awakened in the great body of society a new
    interest in, and a new perception and a new love of, Art. Students
    of Art have sat before it, hour by hour, perusing in its many forms
    of Beauty, lessons to delight the world, and raise themselves, its
    future teachers, in its better estimation. Eyes well accustomed to
    the glories of the Vatican, the galleries of Florence, all the
    mightiest works of art in Europe, have grown dim before it with the
    strong emotions it inspires; ignorant, unlettered, drudging men,
    mere hewers and drawers, have gathered in a knot about it (as at our
    back a week ago), and read it, in their homely language, as it were
    a Book. In minds, the roughest and the most refined, it has alike
    found quick response; and will, and must, so long as it shall hold
    together.

    For how can it be otherwise? Look up, upon the pressing throng who
    strive to win distinction from the Guardian Genius of all noble
    deeds and honourable renown,--a gentle Spirit, holding her fair
    state for their reward and recognition (do not be alarmed, my Lord
    Chamberlain; this is only in a picture); and say what young and
    ardent heart may not find one to beat in unison with it--beat high
    with generous aspiration like its own--in following their onward
    course, as it is traced by this great pencil! Is it the Love of
    Woman, in its truth and deep devotion, that inspires you? See it
    here! Is it Glory, as the world has learned to call the pomp and
    circumstance of arms? Behold it at the summit of its exaltation,
    with its mailed hand resting on the altar where the Spirit
    ministers. The Poet's laurel-crown, which they who sit on thrones
    can neither twine or wither--is that the aim of thy ambition? It is
    there, upon his brow; it wreathes his stately forehead, as he walks
    apart and holds communion with himself. The Palmer and the Bard are
    there; no solitary wayfarers, now; but two of a great company of
    pilgrims, climbing up to honour by the different paths that lead to
    the great end. And sure, amidst the gravity and beauty of them all-
    -unseen in his own form, but shining in his spirit, out of every
    gallant shape and earnest thought--the Painter goes triumphant!

    Or say that you who look upon this work, be old, and bring to it
    grey hairs, a head bowed down, a mind on which the day of life has
    spent itself, and the calm evening closes gently in. Is its appeal
    to you confined to its presentment of the Past? Have you no share
    in this, but while the grace of youth and the strong resolve of
    maturity are yours to aid you? Look up again. Look up where the
    spirit is enthroned, and see about her, reverend men, whose task is
    done; whose struggle is no more; who cluster round her as her train
    and council; who have lost no share or interest in that great rising
    up and progress, which bears upward with it every means of human
    happiness, but, true in Autumn to the purposes of Spring, are there
    to stimulate the race who follow in their steps; to contemplate,
    with hearts grown serious, not cold or sad, the striving in which
    they once had part; to die in that great Presence, which is Truth
    and Bravery, and Mercy to the Weak, beyond all power of separation.

    It would be idle to observe of this last group that, both in
    execution and idea, they are of the very highest order of Art, and
    wonderfully serve the purpose of the picture. There is not one
    among its three-and-twenty heads of which the same remark might not
    be made. Neither will we treat of great effects produced by means
    quite powerless in other hands for such an end, or of the prodigious
    force and colour which so separate this work from all the rest
    exhibited, that it would scarcely appear to be produced upon the
    same kind of surface by the same description of instrument. The
    bricks and stones and timbers of the Hall itself are not facts more
    indisputable than these.

    It has been objected to this extraordinary work that it is too
    elaborately finished; too complete in its several parts. And Heaven
    knows, if it be judged in this respect by any standard in the Hall
    about it, it will find no parallel, nor anything approaching to it.
    But it is a design, intended to be afterwards copied and painted in
    fresco; and certain finish must be had at last, if not at first. It
    is very well to take it for granted in a Cartoon that a series of
    cross-lines, almost as rough and apart as the lattice-work of a
    garden summerhouse, represents the texture of a human face; but the
    face cannot be painted so. A smear upon the paper may be
    understood, by virtue of the context gained from what surrounds it,
    to stand for a limb, or a body, or a cuirass, or a hat and feathers,
    or a flag, or a boot, or an angel. But when the time arrives for
    rendering these things in colours on a wall, they must be grappled
    with, and cannot be slurred over in this wise. Great

    misapprehension on this head seems to have been engendered in the
    minds of some observers by the famous cartoons of Raphael; but they
    forget that these were never intended as designs for fresco
    painting. They were designs for tapestry-work, which is susceptible
    of only certain broad and general effects, as no one better knew
    than the Great Master. Utterly detestable and vile as the tapestry
    is, compared with the immortal Cartoons from which it was worked, it
    is impossible for any man who casts his eyes upon it where it hangs
    at Rome, not to see immediately the special adaptation of the
    drawings to that end, and for that purpose. The aim of these
    Cartoons being wholly different, Mr. Maclise's object, if we
    understand it, was to show precisely what he meant to do, and knew
    he could perform, in fresco, on a wall. And here his meaning is;
    worked out; without a compromise of any difficulty; without the
    avoidance of any disconcerting truth; expressed in all its beauty,
    strength, and power.

    To what end? To be perpetuated hereafter in the high place of the
    chief Senate-House of England? To be wrought, as it were, into the
    very elements of which that Temple is composed; to co-endure with
    it, and still present, perhaps, some lingering traces of its ancient
    Beauty, when London shall have sunk into a grave of grass-grown
    ruin,--and the whole circle of the Arts, another revolution of the
    mighty wheel completed, shall be wrecked and broken?

    Let us hope so. We will contemplate no other possibility--at
    present.
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