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With Brains, Sir
by [?]

“Multi multa sciunt, pauci multum.”

It is one thing to wish to have truth on our side, and another thing to wish to be on the side of truth.”–WHATELY.

“{Atalaiporos tois pollois he zetesis tes alepheias, kai epi ta hetoima mallon trepontai.}”–THUCYDIDES.

The most perfect philosophy of the natural kind, only staves off our IGNORANCE a little longer; as, perhaps, the most perfect philosophy of the moral or metaphysical kind, serves only to discover larger portions of it.”–DAVID HUME.

“Pray, Mr. Opie, may I ask what you mix your colors with?” said a brisk dilettante student to the great painter. “With Brains, sir,” was the gruff reply–and the right one. It did not give much of what we call information; it did not expound the principles and rules of the art; but, if the inquirer had the commodity referred to, it would awaken him; it would set him a-going, a-thinking, and a-painting to good purpose. If he had not the wherewithal, as was likely enough, the less he had to do with colors and their mixture the better. Many other artists, when asked such a question, would have either set about detailing the mechanical composition of such and such colors, in such and such proportions, rubbed up so and so; or perhaps they would (and so much the better, but not the best) have shown him how they laid them on; but even this would leave him at the critical point. Opie preferred going to the quick and the heart of the matter: “With Brains, sir.”

Sir Joshua Reynolds was taken by a friend to see a picture. He was anxious to admire it, and he looked it over with a keen and careful but favorable eye. “Capital composition; correct drawing; the color, tone, chiaroscuro excellent; but–but–it wants, hang it, it wants–That!” snapping his fingers; and, wanting “that,” though it had everything else, it was worth nothing.

Again, Etty was appointed teacher of the students of the Royal Academy, having been preceded by a clever, talkative, scientific expounder of aesthetics, who delighted to tell the young men how everything was done, how to copy this, and how to express that. A student came up to the new master, “How should I do this, sir?” “Suppose you try.” Another, “What does this mean, Mr. Etty?” “Suppose you look.” “But I have looked.” “Suppose you look again.” And they did try, and they did look, and looked again; and they saw and achieved what they never could have done, had the how or the what (supposing this possible, which it is not in its full and highest meaning) been told them, or done for them; in the one case, sight and action were immediate, exact, intense, and secure; in the other mediate, feeble, and lost as soon as gained. But what are “Brains”? what did Opie mean? and what is Sir Joshua’s “That”? What is included in it? and what is the use, or the need of trying and trying, of missing often before you hit, when you can be told at once and be done with it; or of looking when you may be shown? Everything in medicine and in painting–practical arts–as means to ends, let their scientific enlargement be ever so rapid and immense, depends upon the right answers to these questions.

First of all, “brains,” in the painter, are not diligence, knowledge, skill, sensibility, a strong will, or a high aim,–he may have all these, and never paint anything so truly good and effective as the rugged woodcut we must all remember, of Apollyon bestriding the whole breadth of the way, and Christian girding at him like a man, in the old sixpenny Pilgrim’s Progress; and a young medical student may have zeal, knowledge, ingenuity, attention, a good eye and a steady hand–he may be an accomplished anatomist, stethoscopist, histologist, and analyst; and yet, with all this, and all the lectures, and all the books, and all the sayings, and all the preparations, drawings, tables, and other helps of his teachers, crowded into his memory or his note-books, he may be beaten in treating a whitlow or a colic, by the nurse in the wards where he was clerk, or by the old country doctor who brought him into the world, and who listens with such humble wonder to his young friend’s account, on his coming home after each session, of all he had seen and done,–of all the last astonishing discoveries and operations of the day. What the painter wants, in addition to, and as the complement of, the other elements, is genius and sense; what the doctor needs to crown and give worth and safety to his accomplishments, is sense and genius: in the first case, more of this, than of that; in the second, more of that, than of this. These are the “Brains” and the “That.”