THE recently published Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, by his widow, if not an epoch-making biography, is certainly a monumental one. It is conspicuous in many ways, amongst the lives of nineteenth-century artists in England; and is unique as the work of a woman-writer, the wife of the remarkable man whom it memorialises. It is always difficult for a near relative to do justice to the life of a great man, saying neither too much nor too little; and if, in the memoirs of the late Bishop of London, and the author of John Inglesant, by their respective widows, we have exceptionally able biographies, it is no slight to them to place these volumes by Lady Burne-Jones on a still higher level of interest and of literary merit. They are full of brightness, illumination, pathos, abundant humour, and verisimilitude from first to last. There is no effeminacy in them, or gush of superfluous praise, but a dispassionate record of fact, set forth in a brilliant and most charming manner.
Copious extracts from letters throw a flood of light upon the writer of them, and on many con-temporary artists, poets, and literary men be-longing to the latter half of the nineteenth century. Although an original artist’s work is always his best memorial, Lady Burne-Jones is to be congratulated on raising so noble a literary monument to her husband.
Its primary interest to us, and to posterity, is the disclosure it gives of the character and art of one so singularly gifted and original as Burne-Jones was; but it is also extremely valuable for the light it casts on the men by whom he was surrounded, whom he attracted and influenced ; on their genius, their insight, and their friend-ships. It was indeed a remarkable company of illustrious and unenvious men, each of whom rejoiced in the achievements of all the rest. It may be doubted if there ever was such a group in the previous annals of Art. There was certainly nothing like it in Greece and Rome, and through the long developments of Mediaevalism. Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Maddox Brown, Holman Hunt, John Ruskin, George Frederick Watts, William Bell Scott, with many another kindred spirit, were a right noble brotherhood of workers for the beautiful; while outside the special artist group were some distinguished men, with whom the reader of these Memorials becomes familiar. The camaraderie amongst these friends was great; and although their influence on the future was not equal to that which Coleridge, Words-worth, and Lamb exerted at an earlier date-in the poetic springtime of the nineteenth century
it was perhaps more intense, one upon another, within the circle itself. The fact is that the art-production of Burne-Jones and his friends was poetic work; and the movement which they inaugurated, and helped forward, was similar in character to that literary renaissance for which the Lyrical Ballads prepared the way. Both of them were stupendous and inevitable reactions from past convention and commonplace.
The story of Burne-Jones’ life has now been told with minute and loving care. His child-hood and youth at Birmingham, his early reverence, his loneliness, his Celtic inheritance, his sense of the mystery of the world, his vivid appreciation of romance, his precocious and abounding humour, are all recorded. AEsop’s Fables was the first book he loved, his “treasure-house.” He rose rapidly at King Edward’s Grammar School till he was head of the English department, and got to love his books as Elizabeth Barrett Browning did, Ossian and Burger being early friends; while his love of fun and boyish pranks was early developed. At the age of fifteen a quaint religiousness comes out in his letters to his cousin, written from the “urbs fumi.” He went to Hereford, where the influence of the Cathedral and its services told upon him, and led him to think of taking clerical orders. An-other visit to London, however, opened his mind simultaneously to the wonders of ancient Art in the British Museum. The books which most influenced him were those of Scott, Dickens, Humboldt, and Newman. In his twentieth year he entered Exeter College, Oxford; and, although he did not work in the beaten tracks of scholarship so much as in the collateral paths of literature, he imbibed some of the best things in the Greek and Roman classics, without being captivated by them. Oxford did much for him indirectly; but so far as fellowship went, he was at first almost an alien, except for the one man who became his closest life-long friend, William Morris.
As he read with Morris, his first ambition . was to take part in forming a new community, which would be devoted to “the organised production of religious art. Simultaneously his sense of humour increased, and he wrote delightful letters personifying other people. The one he sent to his friend Pricein the character of “Edward Cardinal de Birmingham”has not been excelled in juvenile composition. But in the midst of Oxford scholarship he was disturbed, almost as keenly as Wordsworth was amongst the Cambridge wranglers, by
A strangeness in the mind, A feeling that he was not for that hour, Nor for that place.
It was not the subject-matter of what was taught that made him desolate, but the way in which it was imparted. The city itselfwith its wondrous mediævalismattracted him, and he had a strong natural bent towards Logic and Metaphysics; but his cravings were not satisfied. And in these undergraduate days he came increasingly under the influence of one who was almost a contemporary, and supremely original amongst the teachers of the hour, John Ruskin. In a letter to Mr. Price he said: “In æsthetics he (Ruskin) is an authority. Above all things I recommend you to read him. He will do you more good in twenty chapters than all the mathematics ever written.” (Vol. I., p. 79.) Again, in August, 1853: “Ruskin has published the second volume of his Stones of Venice, entitled ‘Sea Stories.’
His style is more wonderful than ever; the most persuasive oratory I ever read. His acme is to come. There never was such a mind and soul so fused through language yet. It has the brilliance of Jeffrey, the eloquence of Macaulay, the diction of Shakespeare (had he written in prose), and the fire of Ruskin; we can find no other.” (Vol. I., p. 85.)
At length, in his twenty-second year, the fountains of the great deep were broken up for him, and he writes from Oxford: “I have just come in from my terminal pilgrimage to Godstow ruins, and the burial-place of fair Rosamond. The day has gone down magnificently; all by the river’s bank I came back in a delirium of joy, the land was so enchanted with bright col-ours, blue and purple in the sky, shot over with a dust of golden shower, and in the water a mirrored counterpart, ruffled by a light west windand in my mind pictures of the old days, the abbeys and long processions of the faithful banners of the cross, copes and crosiers, gay knights and ladies by the river bank, hawking-parties, and all the pageantry of the golden ageit made me feel so wild and mad, I had to throw stones into the water to break the dream! I never remember having had such an unutterable ecstasy; it was quite painful with intensity, as if my forehead would burst. I get frightened of indulging now in dreams, so vivid that they seem recollections rather than imaginations, but they seldom last more than half an hour; and the sound of earthly bells in the distance, and presently the wreathing of steam upon the trees where the railway runs, calls me back to the years I cannot convince myself of living in.” (Vol. I., pp. 97-8.)
Those obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things Falling, from us, vanishings, Blank misgivings of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized, as truly as in Wordsworth’s case.
In a letter of the same year, written to his friend MacLaren, he gives an account of a visit to the Royal Academy, in which we see the signs of new insight into Art. He criticises Landseer, Maclise, and others, for the kind of subjects to which they confined themselves: “What with silly, unmeaning subjects, and those of more questionable character devoted to the hero-worship of traitors and robbers, or the prettiness and romance of a heartless religion, I saw that the Pre-Raphaelites had indeed come at a time when there was need of them.” (P. ioi.) And during the same time in London he thus describes a visit to the Crystal Palace: “I had only time to visit Sydenham once. As I looked at it in its gigantic wearisomeness, in its length of cheerless monotony, iron and glass, glass and iron, I grew more and more convinced of the powerlessness of such material to effect an Architecture. Its only claim to our admiration consists in its size, not in those elements in which lies the true principle of appreciation, form and colour; its form is necessarily rigid and mechanical, its colour simple transparency and a painfully dazzling reflection; it is a fit apartment for fragrant shrubs, trickling fountains, muslin-de – laines, eau-de-Cologne, Grecian statues, strawberry ices and brass bandsbut give me `The Light of the World,’ and the apse of Westminster.” (Vol. I., p. ioi.) N. B. that this is the language of a youth of twenty-two, in the year 1855.
His discovery that the clerical life was not one that either he or Morris should enter was made gradually, and with no revulsion from his old ideal even of a religious brotherhood, such as “the monastery” he once dreamt of; but he found that a magnet which they did not create, but only felt, drew them in a different direction. I think, however, that the unhappy expulsion of Frederick Denison Maurice from King’s College, and the traditionalism of many in the English Church, weakened the hold which the latter once had upon him; while a more inward religion was developing in him apacea religion, not with Art attendant as a handmaiden, but interpenetrated with it over its entire area, and entered by “the gate called Beautiful.” His character, too, was now growing in nobility, not passing through a period of Sturm und Drang, but evolving features of rare dignity, self-effacement, reserve, and consideration for others. No reader of these volumes can fail to note such characteristics of the man. How few have felt, as he did in his twenty-second year at Oxford: “I hold it a point of honour with every gentleman to conceal himself, and to ease life for everyone.”
He thought of a military life, but was rejected as unfit for the army on the score of health. He went instead to London, and soon got to know the charm of the art-brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelites. But a still richer experience awaited him.
In July, 1855, he made his first visit to the Continent with Morris. They went from Boulogne, by Abbeville to Amiens and Beauvais. Of the Cathedral of Beauvais he wrote, so late as the year 1892: “Do you know Beauvais, which is the most beautiful church in the world ? It is thirty-seven years since I saw it, and I remember it alland the processionsand the trombonesand the ancient singing, more beautiful than anything I had ever heard, and I think I have never heard the like since; and the great organ that made the air trembleand the greater organ that pealed out suddenly, and I thought the day of judgment had comeand the roof, and the long lights that are the most graceful things man has ever made. What a day it was, and how alive I was, and young; and a blue dragonfly stood still in the air so long that I could have painted him. . . If I took account of my life, and the days in it that most went to make me, Sunday at Beauvais would be the first day of my creation.” (Vol. I., p. i 13.) In 1897 he wrote of “the holy beauty of vast Beau-vais church.”
They went on in that year (1855) to Paris, to see the Louvre; returning by Chartres, and Rouen, to Havre; and it was “while walking on the quay at Havre at night that we (Morris and himself) resolved definitely that we would begin a life of Art, that he (Morris) should be an architect, and I should be a painter. That was the most memorable night of my life.” On his re-turn to England he went to Oxford and Birmingham, Poetry as well as Art engrossing him. He read the poets and novelists, for their own sakes, but also that they might inspire him with subjects for his art. His first work in his chosen field was a series of designs made for Mr. Mac-Laren’s Fairy Family; and he became one of a brotherhood of seven, who wrote for the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine.
He returned to Oxford to find it devoid of life. Its greatness was that of the past. When he came to seeas Morris didthat to take orders was not his vocation, and that for both of them Art and Literature were their calling,- he went up to London; longing to meet the author of The Blessed Damosel, the man who had drawn the Maids of Elfenmere. He wrote to Ruskin, and received a reply which led him to say: “I am not E. B. J. any longer.. I’m the man who wrote to Ruskin, and got an answer by return!” The influence of all the men of the renaissance, of Carlyle and Kingsley and Ruskin, of Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur, the study of the poets Chaucer Tennyson and Browning, changed his ideal. More especially the sudden hero-worship of Dante Rossetti as art-worker and colourist, the first sight of him at the Working Men’s College in Great Ormond Street, and their subsequent meeting and interview, decided his career for Burne-Jones. He was allowed to visit Rossetti’s studio, and “to see him at work some thirty times.” It was a momentous time in the evolution of the character of each; and we can-not exaggerate the rare wisdom of Rossetti in letting the genius of his friend develop in its own way, without his interference. His quick perception of what that genius might produce showed him that to prescribe the lines on which it should work would be detrimental.
Every young artist runs the risk of being deflected from the pathway prescribed to him by nature, through excessive hero-worship, and of thus becoming a copyist instead of an originator. But when. Burne-Jones subsequently imbibed the spirit and influence of some of his contemporariesnotably that of Wattshe improved both in his drawing and his colour.
His own account of the first days with Rossetti is one of the most memorable things he wrote.
“How we worshipped him! He was an inspirer of others, a finder of hidden things, a revealer of light and discoverer of beauty, who fired hundreds with the same enthusiasm, and kindled the divine spark in every breast. He it was who first taught me not to be afraid of my own ideas, but always be myself, and do the thing I thought best. And then how boundless was his generosity, how royal the praise with which he blessed our feeble efforts, how untiring the pains he took to help us . . . . of which a beautiful and golden record is somewhere writ-ten. What a world it was! and he the centre and light of it all!”
At an earlier date he had written to a friend: “Don’t be afraid of being independent in thought. It is a prerogative of man. This is the time for us to think highly of our species, to dream of development and the divinity of mind; we shall soon wash away fancies in getting our beard. It is a glorious thought that in our nature’s ruin we yet possess our identity, and stand isolated as beings with mind. It is grand to be in such peril as we are, to be born with free will,” etc. (Vol. I., p. 89.)
He also said that what Rossetti taught him was “to design perpetually, to seek no popularity.” And again: “I never knew anything that could encourage the superstition that some people have that the gods are jealous of the possible achievements of great men, as in Rossetti’s case. Everything was ready for the making of a glorious creaturethe perfect hunger for Romance that was spread abroad in the world at the time when he came into it, the mingling of blood in him, his own admiration and discrimination for all that was splendid, his surroundings, and the things he was brought up among, the people of all sorts of cultivation that he must have known from his earliest daysnever was anyone so started, so ready for a great career.” (Vol. I., pp. 149-50.)
A long article might be written on Burne-Jones’ appreciation of his brother artists and contemporary poetsas this, of a veteran comrade, still happily among us, written in 1856: “A glorious day it has been, one to be remembered by the side of the most notable in my life, for whilst I was painting, and Morris making drawings in Rossetti’s studio, there entered the greatest genius that is on earth alive, William Holman Huntsuch a grand-looking fellow, such a splendour of a man, with a great wiry golden beard, and faithful violet eyesoh, such a man! And Rossetti sat by him. * * * and all evening through Rossetti talked most gloriously, such talk as I do not believe any man could talk beside him.” (Vol. I., p. 139.)
In March, 1857, he wrote thus of Browning to Miss Salt:
“You won’t, at first like him much, perhaps. He is too different from anyone else to be liked at first sight by most, but he is the deepest and in tensest of all poets, writes lower down in the dark heart of things, rises up to the clear surface less often. Oh, how ten lines of him help one ! Paraceslus, and the Soul’s Tragedy, and King Victor, and the Unknown Painter, and the fifty Men and Women that follow, all sung out as if Browning sat continually at the roots of human life, and saw all things.” (Vol. I., p. 153.)
In the same letter, after mentioning Ruskin, he says: “One seems to want no guide now, but to flow down with the course of great spirits new and old, and understand them without an interpreter.”
This is on Tennyson, written after his funeral in the Abbey:
“There should have been street music, some soldiers and some trumpets, and bells muffled all over London, and rumbling drums. But, as he sleeps by Chaucer, I daresay they woke up and had talks in the night, and I have spent much of the early dark mornings making up talks for them. I suppose he’ll be hurrying off to Virgil soon.”
And as a final sample of the charm of his correspondence, take this, written in his twenty-fourth year to a girl who became his sister-in-law: “I want to teach you so much History that your sympathy may grow continually wider, and you may be able to feel and realise past generations of men just as you do the present, sorrowing for them when they failed, and triumphing with them when they prevailed; for I find this one conviction never changing but always increasing, that one cannot live a life manfully or truthfully without a very wide world of sympathy, and love, to exercise it in. So long as I had no heroes, but all times and generations of the past and present years were as one dead level of interest or indifference, I then knew nothing truly or enjoyed deeply, nor loved strongly; but now that I have set aside my heroes for peculiar reverenceall such as have been highly blessed with imagination, and have laboured nobly and fought valiantly, hundreds of them up and down great centuriessince then I have seen things more truly than ever before.” (Vol. I., pp. 143-4.)
To trace the sure though gradual rise of Burne-Jones as a painter is perhaps less necessary than to trace the expansion of his friendships and his influence. But the recognition of his genius, his success after reiterated discouragement, was the reward of patient toil and unflinching loyalty to his ideals. And to the historian of British art in the nineteenth century the chief thing to be noted is the way in which he has educated two generations of his fellow – countrymen. He worked joyously when he was very poor, feeling that outward poverty was no evil and no disgrace, when the riches were within. He scarcely ever felt it an impediment to work, while he scorned everything that was sordid, and despised a merely ephemeral and spectacular success. Nor must we forget in this connection his noble ethical teaching; both in his familiar letters, his conversation, and through the symbolism of his art.
No one who has once come under the spell of his genius can afterwards care for the trivial or sentimental, scarcely even for the commonplace. His painting was never didactic, any more than his letters were; but he taught by opening up a new world of ideality, with far-reaching vistas of suggestion on every side. Then he was so simple at times, so quaintly humorous; the “airy fairy” grace of his fancy blending with the royal power of his imagination, and both together leading him to a truly imperial constructiveness, in which he stood alone. He was never satisfied with what he had achieved; and probably none of our modern artists ever worked so easily with so many different kinds of material ; oil, water-colour, glass, tapestry, fresco-work, crayon, pen and ink. His perpetual aspiration was also seen in his habit of having many pictures in his studio, at different stages of progress towards completion; like some authors who have habitually several books in hand, at which they take turns, setting one aside and taking up another for a rest. In all his work he saw the possibility of new development, fresh attainment in store. Dissatisfaction accompanied all his successes, but this contained a prophecy of future realisation. We see it in his Love Among the Ruins. It comes out in the Godhead Fires, in the Pygmalion series, and in Love Leading the Pilgrim.
And so, if there is a good deal of sadness, there is also a preponderance of joy in his work. Much is disclosed, but more is kept back in a sublime reserve, and only hinted at, as was the case in all the noblest art of Watts. Nothing is obtruded; there is no pronouncement or parade. The simple ideality of some of his single figures, such as Vespertina Quies, or Aurora, or The Wood-Nymph, is unrivalled; and no modern British artists, except Watts and Rossetti, were so far removed from the photographic world of the actual. None ever worked more sedulously toward the ideal; and so, even when landscape is brought in for a backgroundas in Green Summer, or Venus’s Mirrorwe have not a reproduction of the actual, but its idealisation. Therefore it is that, with all the weird elements of his genius eliminated, we find that Burne-Jones invested everything he touched with an occult radiance, a joyous poetry, a far-off mysterious significance, helping us to see the highest types of Beauty through the veil of wondrous allegory.
It is easy to criticise the sameness of type in his woman’s faces, but the same may be said of almost every great artist; and Burne-Jones’ typical woman-face is superlatively lovely. Unlike the common monotonous reality that we usually see, it is at once a glorification of the actual, and a revelation of what transcends it. There was a delightful saying of his, which many of his contemporaries would endorse and which applies to much beyond the sphere of plastic art” When is a picture finished ? Never, I think; and it is a symbol of life itself in that way; so when I say it is finished I mean it is cut off, and must go away. He used to add that it was only the van coming to take it away that finished a picture for him.
There is no need to enlarge on his work in starting the Art Company, along with Morris and his friends, and the fortunes of the company, which has done so much for the refine-ment of decorative art in Britain. But his constant and strenuous love of work, his finding his best recreation within his own studio, is note-worthy. He agreed with the poet who wrote:
Work, work, work. ‘Tis better than what you work to get.
And he once said : “I thank the Lord in heaven He gave me a savage passion for work.” His knowledge and love of flowers was another memorable thing; but it is on the man and his work that emphasis must be mainly laid. A discriminative writer in Blackwood’s Magazine once called attention to his affinity in some things with Wordsworth. “They have much in common. The repose of mind, the sincerity and sobriety of temper, the sense of the infinite in simple things; all these and other points they touch.” This is true, but it is of what is distinctive in him that we are in search; and one thing comes out in an early letter, which he wrote. in his twenty-fifth year, to that kind Miss Sampson who had looked after him from infancy: “Don’t let any person persuade you that you have been a fool for not looking after your own interests. God doesn’t call such people fools. It’s right to do it, but it’s not wrong not to do it. I have worked very hard at Art for two years, and find it difficult to live ; but there are so many things to be grateful for, that it is not right to name anything as unfortunate.” (Vol. I., p.185.)
Mention must be made of the wonderful effect of foreign travel upon him, especially of his visits to Italy, of the way in which he instinctively assimilated the best things in mediæval art, and at once felt at home amongst its treasures. As Browning wrote,
Open my heart and you will see Graved inside of it Italy, as Matthew Arnold felt, “Every year in which I do not visit Italy is a year lost;” so Burne-Jones said, “I walk about in London, but all the while I live in Italy.” It was by his reproduction of the spirit of the great Florentines and Umbrians that he taught his generation, as others wrote of them; and he thus initiated thou-sands into the secrets of Botticelli, Luini, Carpaccio, Bellini, as much as Ruskin did by his lectures and writings. Not that he failed in description, for he had a wonderfully retentive memory, and the way in which he unfolded the excellence of pictures at Florence to Miss Graham, and those at Venice to Miss Gladstone, was marvellously vivid. Mention of Ruskin recalls their temporary misunderstanding. There was, however, no real breach at any time with his old friend and teacher, only a slight difference in sundry ideals, because the art-impulse in him was working for a time on other lines. He felt that, to unfold character, he must devote himself to the delineation of the human form, and therefore to the study of draperies. Ruskin wrote: “Nothing puzzles me more than the delight that painters have in drawing mere folds of drapery, and their carelessness about the folds of water and clouds, or hills and branches. Why should the tuckings in and out of muslin be eternally interesting ?” (Vol. II., p. 68.) Burne-Jones wrote: “He [Ruskin] quarrels with my pictures, and I with his writing; and there is no peace between us.” But, so soon as they again met, he said: “I forgave him all his blasphemy against my gods, he looked so good through and through.” And this is how Ruskin wrote to him, after a return from Switzerland in i 863: “I want you to do me a set of simple line illustrations of mythology and figurative creatures, to be engraved and to make a lovely book of my four political economy papers in Fraser, with a bit I’m just adding. I want to print it beautifully, and I want a Ceres for it, and a Proserpine, and a Pluto, and a Circe, and a Helen, and a Tisiphone, and an, and a Prudentia, and a Sapientia, and a Temperantia, and a Fortitudo, and a Justitia, and a Caritas, and a Fides, and a Charybdis, and a Scylla, and a Leucothea, and a Portia, and a Miranda, and an and an Ophelia, and a Lady Poverty, and ever so many people more; and I’ll have them all engraved so beautifullyand then I’ll cut up my text into little bits, and put it all about them, so that people must swallow all at once, and it will do them so much good. Please think of it directly.” (Vol. I., pp. 271-2.) Now, although this, if taken as prescribed, might have given to most people a very bad fit of artistic indigestion, it is noteworthy as showing to whom Ruskin turned as a fellow-worker in the domain of the beautiful. Not less interesting is the correspondence with Rus-kin about Whitelands College, its May Queen, and’ its hawthorn cross.
Much has been said of Burne-Jones’ inability to Work along with brother-artists, and it was true, of some of them, although much exaggerated. What he most prized removed him from the sphere in which many others worked. He broke with the Old Water Colour Society, and with the Royal Academy, in the most courteous way; and when he thought the management of the Grosvenor Gallery had declined, he did not scruple to say so, and to act, on his conviction. But it was all due to his sense of “the high calling” of “creative art.” The same ideal which led him to denounce the modern “restorer”whether of buildings or of picturesthe tampering with the glory of St. Mark’s at Venice, and the architectural misconstruction of many modern picture-galleries, induced him to discourage “loan museums” of Art in provincial cities, which often led to the injury or loss of priceless things; and to encourage instead the local establishment of “lasting collections of works of Art,” in which the people could see “the best copies procurable of the recognised masterpieces of the world still left to us.” Returning to the architectural faults of picture-galleries, he insisted that pictures should be so hung as to admit the light most favourable to them, and that each picture should, if possible, be separated from others by some inches of space. But this was quite as much in the interest of the spectator as of the artist. He felt strongly that some of the architects of our galleries were to blame for the results. In the National Portrait Gallery, for example, how impossible it was to see Watts’ portraits to advantage. “They seem all lumps of paint and ribs of canvas. There is no chance of a ray of sentiment penetrating them.” (Vol. II, p. 79.)
The details of life and work at the Grange are lovingly told in these Memorials; his joy in his work, and in the many friendships which advancing years brought him, and confirmed. Visits from George Eliot, Charles Norton, Madame Wagner, and many others, are delightfully recorded; and their appreciations cast light on every side. It is thus that Mrs. Lewis wrote of him: “I want to tell you that your work makes life larger and more beautiful to me. I mean that historical life of all the world, in which our little personal share often seems a mere standing-ground from which we can look all around, and chiefly backward. Perhaps the work has a strain of special sadness in itperhaps a deeper sense of the tremendous outer forces which urge us, than of the inner impulses towards heroic struggle and achievement; but the sadness i s so inwrought with pure elevating sensibility to all that is sweet and beautiful in the story of man, and in the face of the earth, that it can no more be found fault with than the sadness of midday, when Pan is touchy, like the rest of us.”
The wealth of curious dicta on many of the great questions of the ages which occur in these volumes, scattered amid its biographical details, gives us some rare glimpses into the character of those who uttered them, and turns what might have been a mere miscellany of dry facts into a hortus inclusus of wisdom. While “Morris never faileth, and Ruskin always flourisheth,” there are scores of others, less known but quite as interesting, to whom the reader is introduced in the most natural and delightful manner.
Much light, moreover, is cast on the origin, progress, and completion of that ‘great series of allegoric pictures in which Burne-Jones’ art is enshrined, and a separate descriptive article might be devoted to each of them. There was so much of a sane realism from which the mystic idealism sprang, and which it outsoared. The man who wrote: “I was born at Birmingham, but Assisi is my true birthplace,” had by that time attained to his artistic *majority; and he realised, as truly as Wordsworth did, that his vocation was to be “a teacher, or nothing;” not a doctrinaire expounder, but a symbolic interpreter of truth. We may go back to one of the earlier pictures which marks his discovery of the path in which his work was to be carried on, remembering that he wrote thus to a friend: “I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be, in a light that never shone, in a land no one can de-fine or remember, only desire; the form divinely beautiful.” It is his picture of The Merciful Knight, painted after he came under the early delicious influence of Tuscany; and in no work of his later years has he more nobly extracted the truth which lies at the heart of a Iegend. An admirable critic (Fortunec de Lisle) has written thus of it:
“It is taken from the Florentine legend of San Giovanni Gualberto, who, riding forth on a certain Good Friday to accomplish his vow of vengeance on the murderer of his brother, came upon him alone and unarmed in the desolate road which leads to San Miniato, and stayed his uplifted sword, and forgave the assassin, when, extending his arms in the form of a cross, he begged for mercy in the name of Him who, dying on that day, forgave his murderers.”
“The legend says that, letting his enemy de-part, Gualberto entered a wayside shrine, and knelt before the crucifix, and that the figure of Christ bent down and embraced him, “in token that his act had pleased God.” From that moment all earthly passions and desires fell from him; he forsook the world, and entered the monastery of San Miniato, and later became the founder of the Order of Vallombrosa. * * * No picture of a miracle that has ever been painted carries with it a more intense and awe-inspiring sense of the reality of a supernatural event than this one; and the tour de force the painter has accomplished is this, that the impression left on the mind of the beholder who has gazed entranced on its mystic beauty is not of the strangeness and impossibility of the event, nor of mere admiration for the skill with which it is depicted; it is an all-pervading sense of the mystical element which so impregnates the atmosphere of the picture as to compel acceptance of the facts presented, in the simple unquestioning spirit of the Middle Ages. The mind is exalted into a region of spiritual mysteries where all things are felt to be possible, and an overpowering conviction is borne in upon one, that in such a place, at such a time, and under such circumstances, at the great crisis of his soul’s historywhether the statue in very fact turned itself towards him becomes immaterialGualberto felt that embrace, which changed the current of his life.”
It is interesting to compare The Merciful Knight with the finished story of Pygmalion and the Image, which was first exhibited in 1879, especially with the third of the four pictures which he called The Godhead Fires, of which the same critic writes :
“It shows the completion of human work by divine power. Pygmalion has gone to the temple to pray; and, human passion having with-drawn itself, the divine presence enters; and the goddess of Love, herself borne on a cloud, doves fluttering beneath her feet, heaven’s sphere-like radiance about her head, with uplifted . right hand sends a thrill of life quivering through the marble limbs. Half woman, half statue, yet with bewildered soul gazing from the awakening eyes, Galatea bends forward with swaying motion, and her outstretched hands find support on the raised arm of the divinity.” (Pp. 118-19.)
It is easy to indicate in what Burne-Jones fell short of the very highest attainment. No one knew it better than he did. But he had no rival as an idealist in art, in that glorious realm of poetic insight where imagination and fancy combine with reason and the most delicate perception of the senses, except his great contemporary, Watts; and as I mentioned Watts’ oral tribute to his friend’s greatness, I may add Rossetti’s verdict written to another than myself. “If, as I hold, the noblest picture is a painted poem, then I say that in the whole history of Art there has never been a painter more highly gifted than Burne-Jones with the highest qualities of poetic invention.”
I conclude with two extracts from his letters. In one he wrote to me:
“I am without any exception the very worst correspondent that ever lived.” In an earlier one, he refers to an introduction to him which I had received from a common friend, who had given me a letter to him and another to Watts at the same time ; and aswhen I called at his residence, at KensingtonI had inadvertently sent in the one addressed to Watts, I afterwards asked for its return. He wrote from the Grange: ” Here is the introduction to Watts. To say truth it is the one I read when the maid brought me your card, and I thought it was nice of you to feel that it was interchangeable! Don’t forget us in June.”
IN closing this course of Scammon Art Lectures in Chicago, I wish to say in a single farewell sentence that it has been a real pleasure to me to revisit your great city. after some years of absence from it, and more especially to note the signs of advance which you are making along artistic as well as literary and scientific lines. I hope that some of the thoughts submitted to my audience may be as seeds which will bye and bye develop and bear fruit. It is the aim of every lecturer, especially a University one, to diffuse as far and wide as he can any of the ideas which he has himself reached, or the conclusions he has come to. In this short course we have been traversing some of the inter-related sections of the three great realms of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good; and I trust that you all feel with our great poet Tennyson that they are three sisters that dote upon each other, friends to man, And never can be sundered without tears.
I trust that none of you have been wearied by my treatment of the problems, and the personalities that have come before us; but that, some of you have been refreshed, and others of you stimulated.
VALE QUI LEGIS