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But if in painting and sculpture the American public have as yet done nothing for the arts, our necessities and our pride has been more favourable to the advancement of our skill in architecture. It is indeed to be regretted, that instead of adapting our architecture to the age of our society and of our institutions, and exhibiting in our public edifices that republican simplicity which we profess, some of the most magni. ficent situations in our country and in the world, should be already irrevocably occupied by structures copied from the palaces of the corrupt age of Dioclesian, or the still more absurd and debased taste of Louis the XIV. In this city however it might naturally be expected that the purest taste would prevail. Founded by a man, the beneficent effects of whose wisdom and policy will be enjoyed by a late posterity, and the simplicity of whose manners and principles have descended to a very numerous part of this community as an inheritance, influencing and correcting the character of the whole population, the city is held responsible to the whole union for the purity of her taste in the fine arts. Nor has she altogether set them an unworthy example in her architecture. The beautiful marble with which this neighbourhood abounds, and the excellence of all other building materials, give to Philadelphia great advantages in this branch of the fine arts. The first building in which marble was employed as the principal material of its front, is the Bank of the United States. Although only a copy of a European building of indifferent taste, and very defective in its execution, it is still a bold proof of the spirit of
the citizens who erected it, and of the tendency of the community to force, rather than to retard, the advancement of the arts. Only one year after its completion the Bank of Pennsylvania was built. Whatever may have been the success of the architect in devoting his best talents to produce a pure specimen of Grecian simplicity in design, and Grecian permanence in execution, the existence and taste of this building is due, not to the architect, but to a man, unhappily for the fine arts, now no more. Such a building, so different from all that had preceded it in form, arrangement, construction, and character, would not have overcome the dread of innovation, which uninformed prudence always feels, had not the late President of the Pennsylvania Bank, Mr. Samuel M. Fox, united to the purest taste, and extensive knowledge of the subject, an influence of personal character, which inspired implicit confidence in all he approved. If the style of this single building has given to the Philadelphian architecture, even in our plainest brick dwellings, a breadth of effect and a repose vainly sought in other cities, we owe this superiority to the mild but powerful influence of the discriminating taste of this one man. His. death, in the prime of his life and of his usefulness, was a loss, which those, who knew him, who loved him, among whom he shared his admirable qualities, whom his wisdom counselled, his benevolence served, his example instructed, his temper, his taste, and his various knowledge delighted, will never repair. In him native dispositions and talents of rare combination, were brought forth and matured by the best course of culture,
by the extreme simplicity of his early habits, by the advantages of education, by the improvement of foreign travel, and by the experience of the business and politics of his own country. To quickness of perception and ardor of feeling, he joined the mildest and most forbearing temper: cautious to decide-fearing to do wrong—and always leaning to kindness—he was bold, rigid, and immoveable in the performance of what he knew to be his duty. But to discover all the fund of knowledge and worth which his modesty concealed, and which he held, not for show, but for use, the relaxation of intimate friendship, or the call of his fellow citizens for his services, was necessary.
If this recollection of one of our most estimable citizens be out of place, I shall be forgiven; for to the acceptance among you, which his friendship first gave to me, I owe the honour that I may here speak of him. But where the fine arts are named, the name of Samuel Fox cannot be out of place. Had this city been Athens, he would have been a Pericles, in whose character, no Aristophanes could have found aught to censure or to ridicule.
But if the arts have lost his influence, we have this consolation, that in our institutions there is a wide field for the growth and influence of similar talents and virtues. If they exist they will not remain hidden or powerless. Of this, the supply of this city with water, the bridge of Schuylkill, and many other public works which have risen around us, and are even now spring
in every direction, are the best proofs.
I have already detained you far beyond the right which my feeble powers of instruction or entertainment give me. An attempt to remove the prejudices which oppose
the establishment of the fine arts among us, appeared to me the most pressing duty of the orator of the Society of Artists. I have fulfilled but a small part of that duty. If it were necessary to do more, I could call up the spirit of commerce to aid me.
I could enlist in the cause of the fine arts--that embellish domestic happiness, that charm leisure, that grace generosity, and honour patriotism-I could enlist in their cause, the demons of cupidity, and of avarice. I could show that though they are instructive, faithful, and amusing friends, they may also be made profitable slaves. I could mention the names of Wedgewood, whose pots and pitchers, and cups and saucers, and plates, shaped and decorated by the fine arts, have thus received a passport into the remotest corners of the globe-of Boydell, whose engraved prints are spread over and ornament the whole surface of the earth-of Bolton, and Watt, and of the smiths and founders of Birmingham, who, true sons of Vulcan, have rendered the fables of Homer, and the visits of the arts and the graces in the forges and furnaces of that sooty god, to assist in the design of the armour of the immortals, not only probable, but true. But I need not proceed further. The presence of this assembly shows that it is unnecessary, and its patronage will be more efficient than the most laboured oration.
To the artists and amateurs who compose this society it must be matter of infinite encouragement to
view the effect of their collected talents and industry in the exhibition now opened. The novelty of an exertion to bring together and to arrange the productions of art which cover the walls of the academy, must, necessarily, produce some imperfection, both in the collection and in the arrangement.
But without asking for any such allowance, have we not reason to be proud of our infant strength:-—that it is considerable:—that among the numerous pictures and drawings, there are many which would not dishonour the walls of the London and Parisian galleries, is certain:--And in this is our superiority; that our strength is our own. It is not hotbedded by imperial and royal patronage, nor even by the nobility of wealth: it is the concentrated force of individual genius and industry, and of the encouragement of private and unproclaimed protection. That this effort of the fine arts may be countenanced by your visits and your approbation, I need not solicit. It is in
your power to make your own amusements the foundation of all the eminence to which the most sanguine of us expect to attain; and, as the fair part of this assembly once did in adopting the Grecian dress, to stamp with the sanction of fashion, that which good taste recommends. The success of the exhibition of this year will ensure to you an infinitely superior collection in the next, and not only stimulate the zeal of our artists, but inform them on the best method of accomplishing their object.
In beholding the harmony in which the productions of so many talents are arranged; in considering the general and united effect of all the pictures which cover