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M O N T H L Y
THE WANDERER, NO. III.
THE ARTS AND SCIENCES COMPATIBLE WITH FREEDOM.
(Continued from page 71. Vol. 2. No. 2.)
ITERATURE, and the liberal arts, indeed, seemed to
reach a high degree of splendour under the reign of the royal Mecænas of France, the fourteenth descendant of the house of Bourbon. But what effects did they produce? Did they mend the morals of the people; did they purify the heart of the French nation, and turn it from the error of its ways to the wisdom of the just? Did they diffuse the blessings of peace and of religion throughout all the corners of the kingdom ? No; the great mass of the people still remained in ignorance and in slavery, groaning under the burden of intolerable oppression; while the heart's-blood of their fathers, their husbands, their sons, and their brothers, flowed in torrents, bedewing the soil of other lands, and, with their bones, whitening far distant shores, to gratify the childish, but destructive vanity of their grand monarque, who was the great patron of the arts and sciences.
Full seven-tenths of the French people derived no benefit from this so loudly vaunted encouragement of the arts and
sciences; it lessened not the burdens of their misery; it fed not their wives and children ; it enlightened not their minds; it amended not their hearts. And, as for the higher orders of society, those, who immediately ranged themselves, in gilded rows, under the banner of royalty, did they set an example of decency, of sobriety, of temperance, of chastity, of mercy, of benevolence, of wisdom, of justice, of honour, of integrity, to the world?--No, no, no-Was not the king's own life one continued series of lewdness, and of lust, of cruelty and of superstition; of childish folly, and of military capering, of pitiful pride, and of ostentatious vanity? Did he not ruin and exhaust his people by his endless wars, his continual and exorbitant imposts and extortions, so that he laid the broad and the sure foundation of that revolution, which, for a time, crumbled the throne of France into annihilation, and struck a blow in Europe, that was then heard, and is now,
alas, still too loudly heard, throughout all the confines of the habitable world?
And was not licentious profligacy the order of the day throughout all his court? Was not an open and a shameless disregard of all the sacred and hallowed duties of connubial union tolerated, nay, encouraged ? Were not immorality, and barefaced, practical atheism, but flimsily hidden under the beggarly, bare-worn, cloak of monkish mummery, and fantastic foppery, avowed and cherished? Finally, did they not turn their backs upon, and despise, both by word and deed, whatsoever things were true, whatsoever things were honest, whatsoever things were just, whatsoever things were pure, whatsoever things were lovely, whatsoever things were of good report, whatsoever was virtue, and whatsoever was praise?
This man appears to have affected to patronize the arts and sciences, that they might serve as an embellishment to his court, as the splendid veil, which might cover from vulgar eyes the misshapen and horrible features of a corrupted and an odious despotism. The iniquities of the tyrant were varnished over by the borrowed merits of the patron ; and the name of a monster, black with every crime, and foul with every deformity, was engraven on the tablets of prostituted
genius, and handed down to posterity as the guardian-angel of merit, the liberal and the munificent dispenser of rewards and favours to talents and to worth.
But the arts and sciences require a more extended range for exertion and for experiment, than will ever be admitted by the jealous and distrustful policy of monarchs and of courts ; they must be free as that chartered libertine, the air, or the noblest and the loftiest display of their powers can never be called into action. If they are cherished only as the trappings of royalty, and the ornaments of a palace, their spirit of fire is palsied, and they become servile, corrupt panders to luxury and effeminacy, cowring under the wings of despotism. For this species of patronage assumes the tone of authority, and limits to its own petty standard of acquired taste, those exertions of the artist, which should be left free and uncontrolled to follow the magic workings of a mighty imagination ; whence all original conception, all bold and daring enterprize, are nipped in the bud, are blasted in the very sources of existence, by the benumbing power of frivolous coxcombry, and childish ignorance.
One of nature's bards, who is, now, himself, drooping under the pressure of poverty, and age, and privation of sight;who was, once, a common seaman in the British navy ;speak of Rushton, the blind poet of Liverpool, in England ;expresses nearly the same sentiments, in his elegy on the death of Burns, the ever to be lamented voice of Coila, the child of genius, who was born to uphold the dignity of the Scottish Muse ;
No tremor knows,
Life's pelting woes.
To wealth aspire,
To quench thy fire.
song ; So thy Eolian lyre was strung,
'Midst chilling times ; Yet cheerly didst thou roll along
Thy routh of rhymes.
Has higher soar'd;
Were never pour’d.
Shall oft rehearse,
Thy witching verse.
No man can esteem, or admire that, which he does not comprehend; because, as there are no other means of obtaining knowledge than through the medium of the senses, and the power of combining and arranging ideas is proportioned to the number or the paucity of the primary images received by the organs of sensation, it is evident, that no one can really feel either pleasure or pain from what has never made any impression upon his senses. Let this be applied to would-be patrons and sciolists of every description, and we shall see the glaring absurdity of such people affecting to be persons of taste, and to admire that, which could never possibly have made any impression on their organs of sensation, either through native dullness, or through that weakness of mind, which systematic dissipation gives, and which entirely precludes all power of that close and vigorous attention to objects,
without which no taste or judgment in discriminating what is beautiful or deformed, can ever exist.
If this truth be kept in view, it will readily appear how detrimental to the improvement of the arts and sciences must be their liability to receive the dictates and directions of men, who, from their general habits of ignorance and of intellectual idleness, cannot, possibly, entertain any regard for the higher productions of genius, which must be to them, for ever, as a fountain sealed, and a volume closed. We have seen,
in Europe, that the puerile and contemptible propensities of a man of very exalted rank and power, even of a monarch, by extensively diffusing his patronage, have introduced affectation and conceit into the sculpture of a whole nation, a false and a meretricious glare of colouring into her painting, and the gloomy, dull, dungeon-like style of building into her architecture.
It is manifest, then, that the assistance, which the arts and sciences receive from private patronage, even though that patronage should be the result of royal munificence, is but as a drop of water in the ocean, in comparison with the infinitely more extended benefits, that would accrue to
em from public and national encouragement, from governmental institutions. Private patronage is generally found to possess a tendency to corrupt the public taste, and to degrade the arts and sciences from that independent and dignified rank, which they ought to hold, and to bend them down to the debasing suit and service of vanity and folly.
Hence, is seen the necessity of those great national institutions, by which public improvement and public instruction are promoted. By the diffusion of general instructions the instances of individual excellence are multiplied ; because the powers of the human mind are almost uniformly, (always indeed, except in some few cases of drillism and idiocy) increased in vigour, proportionally to the incitements to action, which are applied ; and the greater number of stimuli, which are applied, of course, the greater number of men will start forward in the walks of intellectual greatness, and the larger will be the phalanx of genius in every department of mental pursuit.