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Notes On Art
by [?]


[1] Originally prefixed to a Criticism on some paintings in the Scottish Academy.

The use of this feigned history” (the Ideal Arts of Poesy, Painting, Music, etc.) “hath been to give SOME SHADOW OF SATISFACTION TO THE MIND OF MAN IN THESE POINTS WHEREIN THE NATURE OF THINGS DOTH DENY IT, the world being in proportion inferior to the soul; by reason whereof, there is, agreeable to the spirit of man, A MORE AMPLE GREATNESS, A MORE EXACT GOODNESS AND A MORE ABSOLUTE VARIETY, than can be found in the nature of things. So it appeareth that Poesy” (and the others) “serveth and conferreth to magnanimity, morality, and to delectation. And therefore it was even thought to have some participation of divineness because IT DOTH RAISE AND DIRECT THE MIND, BY SUBMITTING THE SHEWS OF THINGS TO THE DESIRES OF THE MIND; whereas reason” (science, philosophy) “doth buckle and bow the mind to the nature of things.”–OF THE PROFICIENCE AND ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING.

To look on noble forms
Makes noble through the sensuous organism
That which is higher.”

One evening in the spring of 1846, as my wife and I were sitting at tea, Parvula in bed, and the Sputchard reposing, as was her wont, with her rugged little brown forepaws over the edge of the fender, her eyes shut, toasting, and all but roasting herself at the fire,–a note was brought in, which from its fat, soft look, by a hopeful and not unskilled palpation I diagnosed as that form of lucre which in Scotland may well be called filthy. I gave it across to Madam, who, opening it, discovered four five-pound notes, and a letter addressed to me. She gave it me. It was from Hugh Miller, editor of the Witness newspaper, asking me to give him a notice of the Exhibition of the Scottish Academy then open, in words I now forget, but which were those of a thorough gentleman, and enclosing the aforesaid fee. I can still remember, or indeed feel the kind of shiver, half of fear and pleasure, on encountering this temptation; but I soon said, “You know I can’t take this; I can’t write; I never wrote a word for the press.” She, with “wifelike government,” kept the money, and heartened me to write, and write I did but with awful sufferings and difficulty, and much destruction of sleep. I think the only person who suffered still more must have been the compositor. Had this packet not come in, and come in when it did, and had the Sine Qua Non not been peremptory and retentive, there are many chances to one I might never have plagued any printer with my bad hand and my endless corrections, and general incoherency in all transactions as to proofs.

I tell this small story, partly for my own pleasure, and as a tribute to that remarkable man, who stands alongside of Burns, and Scott, Chalmers, and Carlyle, the foremost Scotsmen of their time,–a rough, almost rugged nature, shaggy with strength, clad with zeal as with a cloak, in some things sensitive and shamefaced as a girl; moody and self-involved, but never selfish, full of courage, and of keen insight into nature and men, and the principles of both, but simple as a child in the ways of the world; self-taught and self-directed, argumentative and scientific, as few men of culture have ever been, and yet with more imagination than either logic or knowledge; to the last as shy and blate as when working in the quarries at Cromarty. In his life a noble example of what our breed can produce, of what energy, honesty, intensity, and genius can achieve; and in his death a terrible example of that revenge which the body takes upon the soul when brought to bay by its inexorable taskmaster. I need say no more. His story is more tragic than any tragedy. Would to God it may warn those who come after to be wise in time, to take the same–I ask no more–care of their body, which is their servant, their beast of burden, as they would of their horse.