« PreviousContinue »
turned to the improvement of one of the most instructive, as well as the most pleas ing, of the imitative arts. Those who ne
ver contributed a fingle benefit to their own age, nor will ever be mentioned in any after-one, might by this means employ their pride and their expence in a way which might render them entertaining and useful both to the prefent and future times. It would require, indeed, great judgment and addrefs in the painter, to choose and recommend fubjects proper to the various characters which would prefent themselves to his pencil; and undoubtedly we should fee many enormous abfurdities committed, if this fafhion were univerfally to be followed. It would certainly, however, afford a glorious fcope to genius; and probably fupply us, in due time, with fome productions which might be mentioned with those of the most celebrated schools. I am perfuaded at leaft, that great talents have been fometimes loft to this art, by being confined to the dull, tho' profitable, labour of senselefs portraits; as I should not doubt, (if the method I am speaking of were to take efB 4 fect,
fect, to fee that very promifing genius, who, in confequence of your generous offices, is now forming his hand by the nobleft models in Rome, prove a rival to thofe great mafters whofe works he is ftudying.
Ir cannot, I think, be denied, that the prevailing fondness of having our persons copied out for pofterity, is, in the present application of it, a moft abfurd and useless vanity; as, in general, nothing affords a more ridiculous fcene, than those grotesque figures, which ufually line the mansions of a man who is fond of displaying his canvas ancestry:
Good Heav'n! that fots and knaves fhould be fo vain,
To wish their vile refemblance may remain; And ftand recorded, at their own request, To future times a libel or a jeft. DRYDEN. You must by no means, however, imagine that I abfolutely condemn this lower application of one of the nobleft arts. It has certainly a very juft ufe, when employed in perpetuating the resemblances of that part of our fpecies, who have diftin
guifhed themselves in their refpective generations. To be defirous of an acquaintance with the perfons of those who have recommended themselves by their writings or their actions to our esteem and applaufe, is a very natural and reasonable curiofity. For myself, at least, I have often found much fatisfaction in contemplating a well-chofen collection of the portrait kind, and comparing the mind of a favorite character, as it was either expreffed or concealed in its external lineaments. There is something likewise extremely animating in these lively reprefentations of celebrated merit. And it was an observation of one of the Scipio's, that he could never view the figures of his anceftors without finding his bofom glow with the most ardent paffion of imitating their deeds. However, as the days of exemplary virtue are now no more, and we are not, many of us, difpofed to transmit the most inflaming models to future times; it would be but prudence, methinks, if we are refolved to make pofterity acquainted with the perfons of the prefent
prefent age, that it fhould be by viewing them in the actions of the past. I am, &c.
To PALA MEDES.
July 4, 1739. OTWITHSTANDING the fine things you alledge in favor of the Romans, I do not yet find myself disposed to become a convert to your opinion: the contrary, I am ftill obftinate enough to maintain, that the fame of your admired nation is more dazzling than folid, and owing rather to those false prejudices which we are early taught to conceive of them, than to their real and intrinfic merit. If conqueft indeed be the genuine glory of a state, and extenfive dominions the moft infallible test of national virtue ; it must be acknowledged that no people in all history, have so just a demand of our admiration. But if we take an impartial view of this celebrated nation, perhaps. much of our applaufe may abate. When
we contemplate them, for inftance, within their own walls, what do we fee but the dangerous convulfions of an ill-regulated policy as we can feldom, I believe, confider them with refpect to foreign kingdoms, without the utmost abhorrence and indignation.
BUT there is nothing which places these fons of Romulus lower in my estimation, than their unmanly conduct in the article of their triumphs. I must confess, at the fame time, that they had the fanction of a god to justify them in this practice. Bacchus, or (as Sir Ifaac Newton has proved) the Egyptian Sefoftris, after his return from his Indian conquefts, gave the first inftance of this ungenerous' ceremony. But tho' his divinity was confeffed in many other parts of the world; of the world; his example does not feem to have been followed till we find it copied out in all its infolent pomp at Rome.
It is impoffible to read the descriptions of these arrogant exhibitions of profperity, and not be ftruck with indignation at this barbarous method of infulting the calamities of the unfortunate.