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viction can be wrought, and diffused throughout the nation, that the fine arts may indeed be pressed into the service of arbitrary power, and like mercenary troops, do their duty well while well paid—yet that their home is in the bosom of a republic; then, indeed, the days of Greece may be revived in the woods of America, and Philadelphia become the Athens of the Western world. To produce such a conviction, I have thought it would be more effectual, to set before you the proofs of history, than the less interesting deductions even of the soundest reasoning. And, certainly, if human nature and human powers be at this day what they were from the earliest dawn of art in Greece, to the extinction. of the republican spirit in that country;--if the desire of present applause, and of posthumous fame, be still a stronger stimulant to genius than the certainty of wealth; -if talents, wherever scattered in a nation, are more readily and plentifully discovered where they may raise their heads freely and boldly, and employ their power and their activity on subjects of their own choice, than where they must wait the favour of the great, and do the drudgery of adulation,—then is this a soil as congenial to their nature, and as favourable to their growth and perfection, as that of Sparta, Thebes, Delphos, or Athens.
That the wealth and the titles, which arbitrary power has to bestow, will always furnish strong inducements to the cultivation of the fine arts, under monarchical governments, is undeniable. Under a Trajan, an Adrian, a Henry VII., a Charles I. and II., a Louis XIV., a Frederic II., or a Napoleon, monarchs, who, in the
excellence of the arts they fostered, and the general encouragement they gave to men of literature and science, sought aconsiderable portion of their own immortalitythe fine arts have flourished with great vigour.. Nor ought we to omit mention of the name of George III., by whose patronage our illustrious countryman, West, has become the first historical painter of the age. But in all these instances, and in others which might be added, it has not been owing to the character of the government, but to that of the individual monarch, that the arts have flourished under these reigns.
With the state of the arts in England, and with the influence and power of the British government, we are better acquainted than with that in other states. I would, therefore, ask, what have all the English monarchs, from Henry VII. down to the present reign, done for the arts, including the reigns of the two Charles's and of Queen Ann, to whom the fire of London, and the victories of Marlborough, gave so great an opportunity of building churches and palaces? The single name of Boydell, an engraver, supported himself, in the outset, by Strahan, a bookseller, eclipses, in consideration of the fine arts, those of all the English monarchs within so long a period: and, without insisting on the accidental circumstance, that the only English coins which do honour to the English mint, are those of the protectorship of Cromwell, it may be truly observed, that in that prosperous and fortunate island, the astonishing progress which the elegant and useful arts have made, is the effect of the spirit of the people of the very strong tincture of republican principle, which is an essential part
of the English constitution, and of the popular institutions and societies, which, as far as their objects extend, are practically republican communities*.
If then we need not dread the encouragement of the fine arts, as hostile to our best interests, the interests of our morals, and of our liberty, the inquiry, whether the state of society in our country be ripe for their introduction ceases to be of much importance. A
propensity to the fine arts is an instinctive property of human nature. To repress it, it is necessary to confine its activity by positive laws, enforced by all the horrors of religious dreadt. But, where no such restriction pre
* I have lately seen in the newspapers an account of a picture, painted by West, and representing the miracles of Christ. It is stated, that it was his design to send this picture to America, but that a society of Dilettanti had subscribed and paid to him the price fixed by him, on a work, which, from the richness of the subject, must have called forth and displayed all his talents. Whether the story be true or false, it is perfectly probable, and furnishes a strong instance of the popular encouragement given to art in England.
† The divine precept, “ thou shalt make unto thyself no likeness of any thing in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth,”- Thou shalt not box down to them to worship them;" has nearly extinguished the arts of painting and sculpture in all countries in which the religion of Moses or of Mahomet prevail. The omission of the latter part of the commandment, confining the prohibition to the adoration “ of the work of their own hands,” has perverted the meaning of the whole. And yet the propensity to art, limiting the Mahomedan artist to fillagree, Arabesque ornament and architecture, has, in these branches, produced admirable works. The sort of decoration called Arabesque, has been enriched by
vails, there is no nation so rude, so ignorant, só occupied with the toils and cares of procuring the support of a miserable existence, so harassed by war and rapine, among whom art does not spring up spontaneously, combating the sterility of the soil, and the rigor of the climate, but still struggling and succeeding to exist. The caves of the Hottentot, the deserts of Africa, the rocks of Easter-Island, and the snowy wastes traversed by the Esquimaux and our northern Indians, have their indications of the fine arts; and the club of cvery savage is carved and painted before it is dyed in the blood of his enemy. Art is a hardy plant. If nursed, tended, and pruned, it will lift its head to heaven, and cover with fragrance and beauty the soil that supports it; but, if neglected, stunted, trodden under foot, it will still live; for its root is planted in the very ground of our own existence. To draw; to imitate the forms around him, is the first delight of the infant; to contemplate and accumulate the productions of art, one of the proudest enjoyments of the polished man; and to be honoured by art with a monument, the last ambition of the dying
If therefore there exist no prejudice to oppose the growth of art among us, the state of society is always ripe for its introduction. And even where prejudices do exist, as they certainly do among us, the arts them
Raphael D’Urbino, in the Vatican, by the likeness of many works of creation, and by beautiful antique Mosaics; but this improvement is not to be found in the ornaments of Mahomedans, who strictly abide by their interpretation of the second commandment.
selves, like Hercules in the cradle, will strangle the serpents. Mild, insinuating, of no political party, all they require is a slight introduction to our acquaintance. Received at first with reserve, they will be cherished by the best of our affections, and find patronage from our most legitimate pride. Our vanity will combat our avarice in their behalf; they will sometimes be disgusted and repelled by ignorance and parsimony, but they will be consoled and attracted equally by liberality and ostentation. Their advancement to that footing of security and reward which is their right, will not be rapid, but it will be certain and durable. The taste for the fine arts when it shall become a national taste, will be as permanent as the national language. It will not be a fashion set by a Charles, or a Louis XIV.; it will be a law to which the economy of our legislatures will bend, and heroic actions will not go unacknowledged, because a statue or a monument requires an appropriation of money.
The Oration of Mr. Hopkinson, held before the Academy of Arts on the 13th of November last, has preoccupied, much more eloquently than my talents would have enabled me to have gone over it, much of the ground, to which these considerations lead, and has given to the public a very interesting account of the rise and progress, chiefly of the art of engraving, as connected with that of printing in this city.
It is a proud circumstance for the fine arts, that among those who have stepped forward with zeal and with talent, with a sacrifice of their time and of their