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money, to establish the academy of the arts in this city, that profession, in which study, habit and emulation contributes, perhaps more than in any other, to the cultivation of the powers of the mind, and to the correction of the taste and the judgment, has been prominently active and useful: and that among the most distinguished members of the Academy of the Fine Arts, are those men who are the most eminent at the bar. The aid of their talents, of their eloquence, and of their high standing in society, cannot be without their effect, nor will the fine arts, to whom jointly with the poet and the historian, belongs the distribution of wreaths of immortality, be unmindful of their services.
By the facts enumerated in the discourse of Mr. Hopkinson, it is fully illustrated that the most effectual patronage which in their infancy the fine arts can receive, is the certainty of employment. The enthusiasm which belongs to genius will do much, but without this inducement to the young who possess superior talents to devote themselves to their cultivation as a profession, we shall ever remain mere occasional and unskilful copyists. When Hippocrates lamented that to attain perfection in the medical art, life is too short, he uttered a truth peculiarly applicable to the fine arts. Writers of the greatest genius have denied the existence of that individual native predisposition to eminence which is called genius. But though they fail to prove that education is everything, and genius nothing, it is very certain that he that is most diligent and persevering, will generally be most eminent. Without encouragement therefore, to look forward to the practice of the fine
arts for the means of a competent and honourable enjoyment of the ease and independence which may be procured by trade or agriculture, few, even of those who feel themselves irresistibly impelled by inclination to devote themselves to their culture, will follow the natural bent of their genius.
That subdivision of labour which has been found to produce such surprising effects in other employments, and which has in modern times, pervaded every branch of human activity, has separated the professors of the fine arts into distinct classes. The painters of history, of portraits, of landscape, of cattle, and of sea pieces, are now distinct persons. The sculptor and the architect, and the artist, who, by multiplying, perpetuates the works of all the others, the engraver, have provinces wholly distinct from each other. This subdivision of the labours of the fine arts is highly promotive of perfection in detail. Whether it is in other respects favourable to the formation of great artists, I will not now inquire; but it certainly gives to us, in the actual state of American society and wealth, the choice of honouring, and patronising those branches of the fine arts, which we find most conducive to our pleasures and our wants, and which can most easily attain excellence among us.
I am not of opinion that it would be possible to point out any set of practicable measures, to be adopted by the general or state governments, by which the course of the fine arts towards perfection could be promoted among us, so effectual, and so economical, as the simple system adopted by the Greeks. If
meritorious actions, and services rendered to the state,
* Mr. William Rush, of Philadelphia, is at the head of a branch of the arts which he has himself created. His figures, forming the head or prow of a vessel, place him, in the excellence of his attitudes and action, among the best sculptors that have existed; and in the proportion and drawing of his figures he is often far above mediocrity and seldom below it. The rules of design by which the figures of Mr. Rush are to be judged require a considerable latitude. The great object is general effect.In this he succeeds beyond competition. High finish would be misplaced. The constrained attitude of a figure on the prow of a ship would appear an insuperable difficulty. With him it is
legislature honour the hero or statesman of the revolu tion with busts; and sculptors will not be wanting: The genius which under exotic influence has given so high a rank to the American pencil of a West, Copley, Trumbull, and Vanderline, would, under domestic patronage, not refuse to inspire the American chisel. And whence arises it—is it our national ingratitude, our ignorance or our apathy—that those states or municipal bodies, which have endeavoured to erect a memorial to the merits of any of their public men, have confined it to the form of the face or the person; that the majority of the states have not even gone so far, and that the national legislature has absolutely done nothing:—while four American historical painters have attained the highest eminence in Europe, where their talents have been employed in immortalizing the achievements of a lord Heathfield, or of a major Pearson, in the war carried on against us; and where the patriotism of Trumbull, exhibited in his admirable pictures of the death of Warren and of Montgomery, has been obliged to wear the mask of British victory.
The annual expenditure which
nothing. In looking at his figures in general it would appear that his attitudes were those of choice; so little do they embarrass him. There is a motion in his figures that is inconceivable. They seem rather to draw the ship after them than to be impelled by the vessel. Many are of exquisite beauty. I have not seen one on which there is not the stamp of genius. But his element is the water. Ashore, his figures want repose, and that which is his highest excellence afloat, becomes a fault.The ships’-heads of Rush, engraved, would form an invaluable work.
would employ these great artists upon the transactions of our own country, and which would give to them honour and independence, would be as dust in the balance of our public accounts. The national pride, which such records excite, is well worth purchasing at the expense of a few thousand dollars; and, if the example of all the republics that have preceded us, did not authorize the hope, that history will not find us guilty of ingratitude, but only of delay, the national neglect of the memory of Washington would be sufficient to repress every sentiment of patriotism and public spirit. Of this neglect, aggravated by the solemn steps taken by Congress to obtain a right to remove the body of the founder of our liberties to a place of public and honourable sepulture, and the abandonment of that right when obtained, it is painful to speak—nor is it necessary.
There is not wanting a general sentiment of the disgrace which the nation suffers while the body of Washington rests upon a trussle, crouded into a damp and narrow vault, in which the rapid decay of the wooden support must in a few years mingle his ashes with those of his worthy but unknown relatives. Exertions, not altogether worthy of the object, but such as the present fashion of finance authorizes, are made, to give to his memory that ho. nour in other cities which is denied him in the metropolis of the union; and this sentiment, becoming daily more active, will reach and animate the halls of our Congress, and the honour paid to Timoleon by the little republic of Syracuse, will not be thought above the pecuniary means, or contrary to the constitutional principles of the American people.