last May, with a conceited young artist: and he did torment me! I wouldn't have minded his criticizing the pictures himself: but I had to agree with him--or else to argue the point, which would have been worse!"
"It was depreciatory criticism, of course?" said Arthur.
"I don't see the 'of course' at all."
"Why, did you ever know a conceited man dare to praise a picture? The one thing he dreads (next to not being noticed) is to be proved fallible! If you once praise a picture, your character for infallibility hangs by a thread. Suppose it's a figure-picture, and you venture to say 'draws well.' Somebody measures it, and finds one of the proportions an eighth of an inch wrong. You are disposed of as a critic! 'Did you say he draws well?' your friends enquire sarcastically, while you hang your head and blush. No. The only safe course, if any one says 'draws well,' is to shrug your shoulders. 'Draws well?' you repeat thoughtfully. 'Draws well? Humph!' That's the way to become a great critic!"
Thus airily chatting, after a pleasant drive through a few miles of beautiful scenery, we reached the rendezvous--a ruined castle--where the rest of the picnic-party were already assembled. We spent an hour or two in sauntering about the ruins: gathering at last, by common consent, into a few random groups, seated on the side of a mound, which commanded a good view of the old castle and its surroundings.
The momentary silence, that ensued, was promptly taken possession of or, more correctly, taken into custody--by a Voice; a voice so smooth, so monotonous, so sonorous, that one felt, with a shudder, that any other conversation was precluded, and that, unless some desperate remedy were adopted, we were fated to listen to a Lecture, of which no man could foresee the end!
The speaker was a broadly-built man, whose large, flat, pale face was bounded on the North by a fringe of hair, on the East and West by a fringe of whisker, and on the South by a fringe of beard--the whole constituting a uniform halo of stubbly whitey-brown bristles. His features were so entirely destitute of expression that I could not help saying to myself--helplessly, as if in the clutches of a night-mare-- "they are only penciled in: no final touches as yet!" And he had a way of ending every sentence with a sudden smile, which spread like a ripple over that vast blank surface, and was gone in a moment, leaving behind it such absolute solemnity that I felt impelled to murmur "it was not he: it was somebody else that smiled!"
"Do you observe?" (such was the phrase with which the wretch began each sentence) "Do you observe the way in which that broken arch, at the very top of the ruin, stands out against the clear sky? It is placed exactly right: and there is exactly enough of it. A little more, or a little less, and all would be utterly spoiled!"
[Image...A lecture, on art]
"Oh gifted architect!" murmured Arthur, inaudibly to all but Lady Muriel and myself. "Foreseeing the exact effect his work would have, when in ruins, centuries after his death!"
"And do you observe, where those trees slope down the hill, (indicating them with a sweep of the hand, and with all the patronising air of the man who has himself arranged the landscape), "how the mists rising from the river fill up exactly those intervals where we need indistinctness, for artistic effect? Here, in the foreground, a few clear touches are not amiss: but a back-ground without mist, you know! It is simply barbarous! Yes, we need indistinctness!"
The orator looked so pointedly at me as he uttered these words, that I felt bound to reply, by murmuring something to the effect that I hardly felt the need myself--and that I enjoyed looking at a thing, better, when I could see it.
"Quite so!" the great man sharply took me up. "From your point of view, that is correctly put. But for anyone who has a soul for Art, such a view is preposterous. Nature is one thing. Art is another. Nature shows us the world as it is. But Art--as a Latin author tells us--Art, you know the words have escaped my memory "Ars est celare Naturam," Arthur interposed with a delightful promptitude.