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Notes On Art
by [?]

In my views as to the office of the State I hold with John Locke and Coventry Dick,[2] that its primary, and probably its only function is to protect us from our enemies and from ourselves; that to it is intrusted by the people “the regulation of physical force;” and that it is indeed little more than a transcendental policeman. This is its true sphere, and here lies its true honor and glory. When it intermeddles with other things,–from your Religion, Education, and Art, down to the number, and size, and metal of your buttons, it goes out of its line and fails; and I am convinced that with some benefits, specious and partial, our Government interference has, in the main and in the long run, done harm to the real interests of Art. Spontaneity, the law of free choice, is as much the life of Art as it is of marriage, and it is not less beyond the power of the State to choose the nation’s pictures, than to choose its wives. Indeed there is a great deal on the physiological side to be said for law interfering in the matter of matrimony. I would certainly make it against law, as it plainly is against nature, for cousins-german to marry; and if we could pair ourselves as we pair our live stock, and give ear to the teaching of an enlightened zooenomy, we might soon drive many of our fellest diseases out of our breed; but the law of personality, of ultroneousness, of free will, that which in a great measure makes us what we are, steps in and forbids anything but the convincement and force of reason. Much in the same way, though it be a more trivial matter, pleasure, in order to please, must be that which you yourself choose. You cannot make an Esquimaux forswear train oil, and take to tea and toast like ourselves, still less to boiled rice like a Hindoo; neither can you all at once make a Gilmerton carter prefer Raphael and claret to a glass of raw whiskey and the Terrific Register. Leviathan is not so tamed or taught. And our Chadwicks and Kaye Shuttleworths and Coles–kings though they may be–enlightened, energetic, earnest, and as full of will as an egg is full of meat, cannot in a generation make the people of England as intelligent as themselves, or as fond and appreciative of the best Art as Mr. Ruskin. Hence all their plans are failing and must fail; and I cannot help thinking that in the case of Art, the continuance of the Cole dynasty is not to be prayed for very much. As far as I can judge, it has done infinitely more harm than good. These men think they are doing a great work, and, worse still, the country thinks so too, and helps them, whereas I believe they are retarding the only wholesome, though slow growth of knowledge and taste.

[2] In the thin octavo, The Office of the State, and in its twin volume on Church Polity, there will be found in clear, strong, and singularly candid language, the first lines of the sciences of Church and State politics. It does not say much for the sense and perspicuity of the public mind, if two such books are allowed to fall aside, and such a farrago of energetic nonsense and error as Mr. Buckle’s first, and we trust last, volume on Civilization, is read and admired, and bought, with its bad logic, its bad facts, and its had conclusions. In bulk and in value his volume stands in the same relation to Mr. Dick’s, as a handful, I may say a gowpen of chaff does to a grain of wheat, or a bushel of sawdust to an ounce of meal.

Take the Kensington Museum: the only thing there (I speak in all seriousness) worth any man spending an hour or a shilling upon, are the Sheepshank and Turner galleries; all those costly, tawdry, prodigious, and petty displays of arts and manufactures, I look upon as mere delusions and child’s play. Take any one of them, say the series illustrating the cotton fabrics; you see the whole course of cotton from its Alpha to its Omega, in the neatest and prettiest way. What does that teach? what impression does that make upon any young mind? Little beyond mere vapid wonder. The eye is opened, but not filled; it is a stare, not a look.