Monday, March 30, 2009

AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISM





William Merritt Chase
American impressionist painter
Date 1900
Author Unidentified photographer
From From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


William Merritt Chase (November 1, 1849 – October 25, 1916) was an American painter known as an exponent of Impressionism and as a teacher. He was born in Williamsburg (now Nineveh), Indiana, to the family of a local merchant. Chase's father moved the family to Indianapolis in 1861 and employed his son as a salesman in the family business. Chase showed an early interest in art, and studied under local, self-taught artists Barton S. Hays and Jacob Cox.
After a brief stint in the Navy, Chase's teachers urged him to travel to New York to further his artistic training. He arrived in New York in 1869, met and studied with Joseph Oriel Eaton for a short time, then enrolled in the National Academy of Design under Lemuel Wilmarth, a student of the famous French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme.
In 1870 declining family fortunes forced Chase to leave New York for St. Louis, Missouri, where his family was then based. Chase's talent elicited the interest of wealthy St. Louis collectors who arranged for him to visit Europe for two years, in exchange for paintings and Chase's help in securing European art for their collections. In Europe Chase settled at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, a long-standing center of art training that was attracting increasing numbers of Americans. He studied under Alexander Von Wagner and Karl von Piloty, and befriended American artists Walter Shirlaw, Frank Duveneck, and J(oseph) Frank Currier.
Chase worked in all media. He was most fluent in oil painting and pastel, but also created watercolor paintings and etchings. He is perhaps best known for his portraits, his sitters including some of the most important men and women of his time in addition to his own family. Chase often painted his wife Alice and their children, sometimes in individual portraits, and other times in scenes of domestic tranquility: at breakfast in their backyard, or relaxing at their summer home on Long Island, the children playing on the floor or among the sand dunes of Shinnecock.


Study in Pink aka Portrait of Mrs. Robert P. McDougal
Oil on canvas, 1895
54 1/2 x 36 inches (138.43 x 91.44 cm)
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


A Study aka The Artist's Wife
Oil on canvas, 1892
20 x 16 inches (50.8 x 40.64 cm)
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Self Portrait
Oil on canvas, 1915
52 1/2 x 63 1/2 inches (133.4 x 161.3 cm)
Art Association of Richmond
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Portrait of Louis Betts
Oil on canvas
20 x 15 7/8 inches (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Memories
Oil on canvas
50 1/2 x 37 inches (128.27 x 93.98 cm)
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute Museum of Art, Utica
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


In addition to painting portraits and full-length figurative works, Chase began painting landscapes in earnest in the late 1880s. His interest in landscape art may have been spawned by the landmark New York exhibit of French impressionist works from Parisian dealer Durand-Ruel in 1886.


Idle Hours, 1894
William Merritt Chase
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth
Texas
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Chase is best remembered for two series of landscape subjects, both painted in an impressionist manner. The first was his scenes of Prospect Park, Brooklyn and Central Park in New York:


Boat House, Prospect Park
Oil on board, 1887
10 1/8 x 15 7/8 inches (26.0 x 40.6 cm)
Collection of Meg Newhouse
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Prospect Park
Oil on canvas, 1886
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Terrace, Prospect Park
Pastel on paper, c.1886
National Museum of American Art
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The second were his summer landscapes at Shinnecock. Chase usually featured people prominently in his landscapes. Often he depicted woman and children in leisurely poses, relaxing on a park bench, on the beach, or lying in the summer grass at Shinnecock. The Shinnecock works in particular have come to be thought of by art historians as particularly fine examples of American Impressionism.


Alice in the Shinnecock Studio
Oil on canvas, c.1900
38 1/8 x 42 3/4 inches (96.84 x 108.59 cm)
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Shinnecock Hills
Oil on canvas, c.1893
34 5/8 x 39 3/4 inches (88 x 101 cm)
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Shinnecock Hills from Canoe Place, Long Island
Oil on canvas
17 1/2 x 27 1/4 inches (44.45 x 69.22 cm)
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


William Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
Sunny Afternoon, Shinnecock Hills
Oil on panel, 1898
12 x 15 inches (30.48 x 38.1 cm)
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Chase continued to paint still lifes as he had done since his student days. Decorative objects filled his studios and homes, and his interior figurative scenes frequently included still life images. Perhaps Chase's most famous still life subject was dead fish, which he liked to paint against dark backgrounds, limp on a plate as though fresh from a fishmonger's stall.


A Fishmarket in Venice
Oil on canvas, 1878
49 x 65 inches (124.5 x 165.1 cm)
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit


Still Life, Fish, 1912
Brooklyn Museum Of Art, New York, USA
39.45 inch wide x 31.89 inch high
From william-merritt-chase.org


Still Life with Watermelon
Oil on canvas, 1869
27 7/8 x 24 inches (71.1 x 61.0 cm)
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


Still Life (Brass and Glass)
Pastel on paper, 1888
27 x 37 inches (68.6 x 94.0 cm)
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. George J. Arden
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center


The Big Brass Bowl
Oil on canvas, c.1898
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center



Sunday, March 29, 2009

BONA FIDE


The air we breathe, so long as it is neither too hot nor cold, nor rough, nor full of smoke - that is to say, so long as it is in that state within which we are best acquainted - seldom enters into our thoughts; yet there is hardly anything with which we are more incessantly occupied night and day.
Indeed, it is not too much to say that we have no really profound knowledge upon any subject - no knowledge on the strength of which we are ready to act at all moments unhesitatingly without either preparation or after-thought - till we have left off feeling conscious of the possession of such knowledge, and of the grounds on which it rests. A lesson thoroughly learned must be like the air which feels so light, though pressing so heavily against us, because every pore of our skin is saturated, so to speak, with it on all sides equally. This perfection of knowledge sometimes extends to positive disbelief in the thing known, so that the most thorough knower shall believe himself altogether ignorant. No thief, for example, is such an utter thief - so good a thief - as the kleptomaniac. Until he has become a kleptomaniac, and can steal a horse as it were by a reflex action, he is still but half a thief, with many unthievish notions still clinging to him. Yet the kleptomaniac is probably unaware that he can steal at all, much less that he can steal so well. He would be shocked if he were to know the truth. So again, no man is a great hypocrite until he has left off knowing that he is a hypocrite. The great hypocrites of the world are almost invariably under the impression that they are among the very few really honest people to be found and, as we must all have observed, it is rare to find any one strongly under this impression without ourselves having good reason to differ from him.
What is true of knowing is also true of willing. The more intensely we will, the less is our will deliberate and capable of being recognised as will at all. So that it is common to hear men declare under certain circumstances that they had no will, but were forced into their own action under stress of passion or temptation. But in the more ordinary actions of life, we observe, as in walking or breathing, that we do not will anything utterly and without remnant of hesitation, till we have lost sight of the fact that we are exercising our will.
The new-born child cannot eat, and cannot drink, but he can swallow as soon as he is born; and swallowing would appear (as we may remark in passing) to have been an earlier faculty of animal life than that of eating with teeth. The ease and unconsciousness with which we eat and drink is clearly attributable to practice; but a very little practice seems to go a long way - a suspiciously small amount of practice - as though somewhere or at some other time there must have been more practice than we can account for. We can very readily stop eating or drinking, and can follow our own action without difficulty in either process; but, as regards swallowing, which is the earlier habit, we have less power of self-analysis and control: when we have once committed ourselves beyond a certain point to swallowing, we must finish doing so, - that is to say, our control over the operation ceases. Also, a still smaller experience seems necessary for the acquisition of the power to swallow than appeared necessary in the case of eating; and if we get into a difficulty we choke, and are more at a loss how to become introspective than we are about eating and drinking.
Why should a baby be able to swallow - which one would have said was the more complicated process of the two - with so much less practice than it takes him to learn to eat? How comes it that he exhibits in the case of the more difficult operation all the phenomena which ordinarily accompany a more complete mastery and longer practice? Analogy would certainly seem to point in the direction of thinking that the necessary experience cannot have been wanting, and that, too, not in such a quibbling sort as when people talk about inherited habit or the experience of the race, which, without explanation, is to plain-speaking persons very much the same, in regard to the individual, as no experience at all, but bonâ fide in the child’s own person.
Breathing, again, is an action acquired after birth, generally with some little hesitation and difficulty, but still acquired in a time seldom longer than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. For an ant which has to be acquired at all, there would seem here, as in the case of eating, to be a disproportion between, on the one hand, the intricacy of the process performed, and on the other, the shortness of the time taken to acquire the practice, and the ease and unconsciousness with which its exercise is continued from the moment of acquisition.
We observe that in later life much less difficult and intricate operations than breathing acquire much longer practice before they can be mastered to the extent of unconscious performance. We observe also that the phenomena attendant on the learning by an infant to breathe are extremely like those attendant upon the repetition of some performance by one who has done it very often before, but who requires just a little prompting to set him off, on getting which, the whole familiar routine presents itself before him, and he repeats his task by rote. Surely then we are justified in suspecting that there must have been more bonâ fide personal recollection and experience, with more effort and failure on the part of the infant itself than meet the eye.
Seeing and hearing require some practice before their free use is mastered, but not very much. They are so far within our control that we can see more by looking harder, and hear more by listening attentively - but they are beyond our control in so far as that we must see and hear the greater part of what presents itself to us as near, and at the same time unfamiliar, unless we turn away or shut our eyes, or stop our ears by a mechanical process; and when we do this it is a sign that we have already involuntarily seen or heard more than we wished. The familiar, whether sight or sound, very commonly escapes us.
Take again the processes of digestion, the action of the heart, and the oxygenisation of the blood - processes of extreme intricacy, done almost entirely unconsciously, and quite beyond the control of our volition.
Is it possible that our unconsciousness concerning our own performance of all these processes arises from over-experience?
Is there anything in digestion, or the oxygenisation of the blood, different in kind to the rapid unconscious action of a man playing a difficult piece of music on the piano? There may be in degree, but as a man who sits down to play what he well knows, plays on, when once started, almost, as we say, mechanically, so, having eaten his dinner, he digests it as a matter of course, unless it has been in some way unfamiliar to him, or he to it, owing to some derangement or occurrence with which he is unfamiliar, and under which therefore he is at a loss now to comport himself, as a player would be at a loss how to play with gloves on, or with gout in his fingers, or if set to play music upside down.
Can we show that all the acquired actions of childhood and after-life, which we now do unconsciously, or without conscious exercise of the will, are familiar acts - acts which we have already done a very great number of times?
Can we also show that there are no acquired actions which we can perform in this automatic manner, which were not at one time difficult, requiring attention, and liable to repeated failure, our volition failing to command obedience from the members which should carry its purposes into execution?
If so, analogy will point in the direction of thinking that other acts which we do even more unconsciously may only escape our power of self-examination and control because they are even more familiar - because we have done them oftener; and we may imagine that if there were a microscope which could show us the minutest atoms of consciousness and volition, we should find that even the apparently most automatic actions were yet done in due course, upon a balance of considerations, and under the deliberate exercise of the will.
We should also incline to think that even such an action as the oxygenisation of its blood by an infant of ten minutes’ old, can only be done so well and so unconsciously, after repeated failures on the part of the infant itself.
a baby of a day old sucks (which involves the whole principle of the pump, and hence a profound practical knowledge of the laws of pneumatics and hydrostatics), digests, oxygenises its blood (millions of years before Sir Humphry Davy discovered oxygen), sees and hears - all most difficult and complicated operations, involving a knowledge of the facts concerning optics and acoustics, compared with which the discoveries of Newton sink into utter insignificance? Shall we say that a baby can do all these things at once, doing them so well and so regularly, without being even able to direct its attention to them, and without mistake, and at the same time not know how to do them, and never have done them before?
If we saw any self-consciousness on the baby’s part about its breathing or circulation, we might suspect that it had had less experience, or profited less by its experience, than its neighbours - exactly in the same manner as we suspect a deficiency of any quality which we see a man inclined to parade. We all become introspective when we find that we do not know our business, and whenever we are introspective we may generally suspect that we are on the verge of unproficiency. Unfortunately, in the case of sickly children, we observe that they sometimes do become conscious of their breathing and circulation, just as in later life we become conscious that we have a liver or a digestion. In that case there is always something wrong. The baby that becomes aware of its breathing does not know how to breathe, and will suffer for his ignorance and incapacity, exactly in the same way as he will suffer in later life for ignorance and incapacity in any other respect in which his peers are commonly knowing and capable. In the case of inability to breath, the punishment is corporal, breathing being a matter of fashion, so old and long settled that nature can admit of no departure from the established custom, and the procedure in case of failure is as much formulated as the fashion itself in the case of the circulation, the whole performance has become one so utterly of rote, that the mere discovery that we could do it at all was considered one of the highest flights of human genius.
(Excerpta from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Life and Habit, by Samuel Butler

Saturday, March 28, 2009

THE ROADS THAT LEAD TO HEAVEN AND HELL ARE ONE UNTIL THEY PART


Before you can begin to think about politics at all you have to abandon the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men. Now if one half of the people is bent upon proving how wicked a man is and the other half is determined to show how good he is, neither half will think very much about the nation. Any publication gives the whole performance away. It shows as clearly as words could, how disastrous the good-and-bad-man theory is to political thinking. If politics is merely a guerilla war between the bribed and the unbribed, then statecraft is not a human service but a moral testing ground. It is a public amusement, a melodrama of real life, in which a few conspicuous characters are tried. Even though we desired it there would be no way of establishing any clear-cut difference in politics between the angels and the imps. The angels are largely self-appointed, being somewhat more sensitive to other people's tar than their own.
But if the issue is not between honesty and dishonesty, where is it?
If you stare at a checkerboard you can see it as black on red, or red on black, as series of horizontal, vertical or diagonal steps which recede or protrude. The longer you look the more patterns you can trace, and the more certain it becomes that there is no single way of looking at the board. So with political issues. There is no obvious cleavage which everyone recognizes. Many patterns appear in the national life. The "progressives" say the issue is between "Privilege" and the "People"; the Socialists, that it is between the "working class" and the "master class." An apologist for dynamite told me once that society was divided into the weak and the strong, and there are people who draw the line.
When you rise up and announce that the conflict is between this and that, you mean that this particular conflict interests you. The issue of good-and-bad-men interests this nation to the exclusion of almost all others. But experience shows that it is a fruitless conflict and a wasting enthusiasm. Yet some distinction must be drawn if we are to act at all in politics. With nothing we are for and nothing to oppose, we are merely neutral. This cleavage in public affairs is the most important choice we are called upon to make. In large measure it determines the rest of our thinking. Now some issues are fertile; some are not. Some lead to spacious results; others are blind alleys. With this in mind, the distinction most worth emphasizing to-day is between those who regard government as a routine to be administered and those who regard it as a problem to be solved.
Just because a man is in opposition to another, there is no guarantee that he has freed himself from the routineer's habit of mind. A prejudice against some mannerism or a dislike of pretensions may merely cloak some other kind of routine. Take the "good government" attitude. No fresh insight is behind that. It does not promise anything; it does not offer to contribute new values to human life. The machine which exists is accepted in all its essentials: the "goo-goo" yearns for a somewhat smoother rotation.
The world grinds on: we are a fly on the wheel. That sense of an impersonal machine going on with endless reiteration is an experience that imaginative politicians face. Often as not they disguise it under heroic phrases and still louder affirmation, just as most of us hide our cowardly submission to monotony under some word like duty, loyalty, conscience. If you have ever been an office-holder or been close to officials, you must surely have been appalled by the grim way in which committee-meetings, verbose reports, flamboyant speeches, requests, and delegations hold the statesman in a mind-destroying grasp.
The corruption of which we hear so much is certainly not accounted for when you have called it dishonesty. It is too widespread for any such glib explanation. When you see how business controls politics, it certainly is not very illuminating to call the successful business men of a nation criminals. Yet I suppose that all of them violate the law. May not this constant dodging or hurdling of statutes be a sign that there is something the matter with the statutes? Is it not possible that graft is the cracking and bursting of the receptacles in which we have tried to constrain the business of this country? It seems possible that business has had to control politics because its laws were so stupidly obstructive.
The thought-processes are too lumbering for the needs of the nation. Against that evil muckraking ought to be directed. Those senators and representatives are largely irrelevant; they are not concerned with realities. Their dishonesties are comparatively insignificant. The scorn of the public should be turned upon the emptiness of political thought, upon the fact that those men seem without even a conception of the nation's needs. And while they maunder along they stifle the forces of life which are trying to break through.
We need a new sense of political values. These times require a different order of thinking. We cannot expect to meet our problems with a few inherited ideas, uncriticised assumptions, a foggy vocabulary, and a machine philosophy. Our political thinking needs the infusion of contemporary insights. The enormous vitality that is regenerating other interests can be brought into the service of politics. Our primary care must be to keep the habits of the mind flexible and adapted to the movement of real life. The only way to control our destiny is to work with it. In politics, at least, we stoop to conquer. There is no use, no heroism, in butting against the inevitable, yet nothing is entirely inevitable. There is always some choice, some opportunity for human direction.
Poor bewildered statesmen, unused to any notion of change, have seen the national life grow to a monstrous confusion and sprout monstrous evils by the way. Men and women clamored for remedies, vowed, shouted and insisted that their "official servants" do something--something statesmanlike--to abate so much evident wrong. But their representatives had very little more than a frock coat and a slogan as equipment for the task. Trained to interpret a constitution instead of life, these statesmen faced with historic helplessness the vociferations of ministers, muckrakers, labor leaders, women's clubs, granges and reformers' leagues. Out of a tumultuous medley appeared the common theme of public opinion--that the leaders should lead, that the governors should govern.
They started out to abolish human instincts, check economic tendencies and repress social changes by laws prohibiting them. They turned to this sanctified ignorance which is rampant in almost any nursery, which presides at family councils, flourishes among "reformers"; which from time immemorial has haunted legislatures and courts. Under the spell of it men try to stop drunkenness by closing the saloons; when poolrooms shock them they call a policeman; if Haywood becomes annoying, they procure an injunction. They meet the evils of dance halls by barricading them; they go forth to battle against vice by raiding brothels and fining prostitutes. For trusts there is a Sherman Act. In spite of all experience they cling desperately to these superstitions.
There is a law against suicide. It is illegal for a man to kill himself. What it means in practice, of course, is that there is punishment waiting for a man who doesn't succeed in killing himself. We say to the man who is tired of life that if he bungles we propose to make this world still less attractive by clapping him into jail. In the annual report of the president of a distilling company, he made a statement that business had increased in the "dry" states. In a prohibition town ed you could drink all you wanted by belonging to a "club" or winking at the druggist. And in another city where Sunday closing was strictly enforced, the Monday police blotter showed less drunks and more wife-beaters. We pass a law against race-track gambling and add to the profits from faro. We raid the faro joints, and drive gambling into the home, where poker and bridge whist are taught to children who follow their parents' example. We deprive anarchists of free speech by the heavy hand of a police magistrate, and furnish them with a practical instead of a theoretical argument against government. We answer strikes with bayonets, and make treason one of the rights of man. Nothing so simply true as that prevails in politics. When a government routine conflicts with the nation's purposes--the statesman actually makes a virtue of his loyalty to the routine. His practice is to ignore human character and pay no attention to social forces. The shallow presumption is that undomesticated impulses can be obliterated; that world-wide economic inventions can be stamped out by jailing millionaires--and acting in the spirit of Mr. Chesterton's man Fipps "who went mad and ran about the country with an axe, hacking branches off the trees whenever there were not the same number on both sides."
Social systems, which do not even feed and house men and women, which deny pleasure, cramp play, ban adventure, propose celibacy and grind out monotony, are a clear confession of sterility in statesmanship. And politics, however pretentiously rhetorical about ideals, is irrelevant if the only method it knows is to ostracize the desires it cannot manage.
Suppose that statesmen transferred their reverence from the precedents and mistakes of their ancestors to the human material which they have set out to govern. Suppose they looked mankind in the face and asked themselves what was the result of answering evil with a prohibition. Such an exercise would involve a considerable strain on what reformers call their moral sensibilities. For human nature is a rather shocking affair if you come to it with ordinary romantic optimism. Certainly the human nature that figures in most political thinking is a wraith that never was--not even in the souls of politicians. "Idealism" creates an abstraction and then shudders at a reality which does not answer to it. Now statesmen who have set out to deal with actual life must deal with actual people. They cannot afford an inclusive pessimism about mankind. Let them have the consistency and good sense to cease bothering about men if men's desires seem intrinsically evil. Moral judgment about the ultimate quality of character is dangerous to a politician. He is too constantly tempted to call a policeman when he disapproves.
We must study our failures. Gambling and drink, for example, produce much misery. But what reformers have to learn is that men don't gamble just for the sake of violating the law. They do so because something within them is satisfied by betting or drinking. To erect a ban doesn't stop the want. It merely prevents its satisfaction. And since this desire for stimulants or taking a chance at a prize is older and far more deeply rooted in the nature of men than love of the Prohibition Party or reverence for laws made at Albany, people will contrive to drink and gamble in spite of the acts of a legislature. A man may take liquor for a variety of reasons: he may be thirsty; or depressed; or unusually happy; he may want the companionship of a saloon, or he may hope to forget a scolding wife. Perhaps he needs a "bracer" in a weary hunt for a job. Perhaps he has a terrible craving for alcohol. He does not take a drink so that he may become an habitual drunkard, or be locked up in jail, or get into a brawl, or lose his job, or go insane. These are what he might call the unfortunate by-products of his desire. If once he could find something which would do for him what liquor does, without hurting him as liquor does, there would be no problem of drink. For human nature seems to have wants that must be filled. If nobody else supplies them, the devil will. The demand for pleasure, adventure, romance has been left to the devil's catering for so long a time that most people think he inspires the demand. He doesn't. Our neglect is the devil's opportunity. What we should use, we let him abuse, and the corruption of the best things, as Hume remarked, produces the worst. Pleasure in mny cities has become tied to lobster palaces, adventure to exalted murderers, romance to silly, mooning novels. Like the flower girl in Galsworthy's play, we have made a very considerable confusion of the life of joy and the joy of life. The first impulse is to abolish all lobster palaces, melodramas, yellow newspapers, and sentimentally erotic novels. Why not abolish all the devil's works? the reformer wonders. The answer is in history. It can't be done that way. It is impossible to abolish either with a law or an axe the desires of men. It is dangerous, explosively dangerous, to thwart them for any length of time.
Instead of tabooing our impulses, we must redirect them. Instead of trying to crush badness we must turn the power behind it to good account. The assumption is that every lust is capable of some civilized expression.We say, in effect, that evil is a way by which desire expresses itself. The older moralists, the taboo philosophers believed that the desires themselves were inherently evil. To us they are the energies of the soul, neither good nor bad in themselves. Like dynamite, they are capable of all sorts of uses, and it is the business of civilization, through the family and the school, religion, art, science, and all institutions, to transmute these energies into fine values. Behind evil there is power, and it is folly,--wasting and disappointing folly,--to ignore this power because it has found an evil issue. All that is dynamic in human character is in these rooted lusts. The great error of the taboo has been just this: that it believed each desire had only one expression, that if that expression was evil the desire itself was evil. We know a little better to-day. We know that it is possible to harness desire to many interests, that evil is one form of a desire, and not the nature of it. In each individual the original differences are small. Training and opportunity decide in the main how men's lust shall emerge. Left to themselves, or ignorantly tabooed, they break forth in some barbaric or morbid form. Only by supplying our passions with civilized interests can we escape their destructive force.
This was put negatively, as a counsel of prudence. But he who has the courage of existence will put it triumphantly, crying "yea" as Nietzsche did, and recognizing that all the passions of men are the motive powers of a fine life. For the roads that lead to heaven and hell are one until they part.
To the politician whose daily life consists in dodging the thousand and one conflicting prejudices of his constituents, in bickering with committees, intriguing and playing for the vote; to the business man harassed on four sides by the trust, the union, the law, and public opinion,--distrustful of any wide scheme because the stupidity of his shipping clerk is the most vivid item in his mind, all this discussion about politics and the inner life will sound like so much fine-spun nonsense.
We are not disposed to blame the politicians and the business and the business men. They govern the nation, it is true, but they do it in a rather absentminded fashion. Those revolutionists who see the misery of the country as a deliberate and fiendish plot overestimate the bad will, the intelligence and the singleness of purpose in the ruling classes. Business and political leaders don't mean badly; the trouble with them is that most of the time they don't mean anything. They picture themselves as very "practical," which in practice amounts to saying that nothing makes them feel so spiritually homeless as the discussion of values and an invitation to examine first principles. Ideas, most of the time, cause them genuine distress, and are as disconcerting as an idle office boy, or a squeaky telephone.
Do not underestimate the troubles of the man of affairs. We have lived with politicians, whose good-will was abundant and intentions constructive. The petty vexations pile up into mountains; the distracting details scatter the attention and break up thinking, while the mere problem of exercising power crowds out speculation about what to do with it. Personal jealousies interrupt co-ordinated effort; committee sessions wear out nerves by their aimless drifting; constant speech-making turns a man back upon a convenient little store of platitudes--misunderstanding and distortion dry up the imagination, make thought timid and expression flat, the atmosphere of publicity requires a mask which soon becomes the reality. Politicians tend to live "in character," and many a public figure has come to imitate the journalism which describes him. You cannot blame politicians if their perceptions are few and their thinking crude.
If a nation's destiny were really bound up with the politics reported in newspapers, the impasse would be discouraging. If the important sovereignty of a country were in what is called its parliamentary life, then the day of Plato's philosopher-kings would be far off indeed. Certainly nobody expects our politicians to become philosophers. When they do they hide the fact. And when philosophers try to be politicians they generally cease to be philosophers. But the truth is that we overestimate enormously the importance of nominations, campaigns, and office-holding. If we are discouraged it is because we tend to identify statecraft with that official government which is merely one of its instruments. Vastly over-advertised, we have mistaken an inflated fragment for the real political life of the country.
(Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg eBook, A Preface to Politics, by Walter Lippmann)


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

EVIL PASSIONS


Jealousy, envy, animosities and selfishness no doubt play a great part in life and disguise themselves under many specious forms, and the cynical moralist was not wholly wrong when he declared that 'Virtue would not go so far if Vanity did not keep her company,' and that not only our crimes but even many of what are deemed our best acts may be traced to selfish motives.
Friendship is a mere exchange of interests in which each man only seeks to gain something from the other; that most women are only pure because they are untempted and regret that the temptation does not come; that if we acknowledge some faults it is in order to persuade ourselves that we have no greater ones, or in order, by our confession, to regain the good opinion of our neighbours; that if we praise another it is merely that we may ourselves in turn be praised; that the tears we shed over a deathbed, if they are not hypocritical tears intended only to impress our neighbours, are only due to our conviction that we have ourselves lost a source of pleasure or of gain; that envy so predominates in the world that it is only men of inferior intellect or women of inferior beauty who are sincerely liked by those about them; that all virtue is an egotistic calculation, conscious or unconscious.
No one can look with an unjaundiced eye upon the world without perceiving the enormous amount of disinterested, self-sacrificing benevolence that pervades it; the countless lives that are spent not only harmlessly and inoffensively but also in the constant discharge of duties; in constant and often painful labour for the good of others.
The spectacle of suffering naturally elicits compassion. Kindness naturally produces gratitude. The sympathies of men naturally move on the side of the good rather than of the bad. This is true not only of the things that immediately concern us, but also in the perfectly disinterested judgments we form of the[Pg 79] events of history or of the characters in fiction and poetry. Great exhibitions of heroism and self-sacrifice touch a genuine chord of enthusiasm. The affections of the domestic circle are the rule and not the exception; patriotism can elicit great outbursts of purely unselfish generosity and induce multitudes to risk or sacrifice their lives for causes which are quite other than their own selfish interests. Human nature indeed has its moral as well as its physical needs, and naturally and instinctively seeks some object of interest and enthusiasm outside itself.
If we look again into the vice and sin that undoubtedly disfigure the world we shall find much reason to believe that what is exceptional in human nature is not the evil tendency but the restraining conscience, and that it is chiefly the weakness of the distinctively human quality that is the origin of the evil. It is impossible indeed, with the knowledge we now possess, to deny to animals some measure both of reason and of the moral sense.
Most crimes spring not from anything wrong in the original and primal desire but from the imperfection of this higher, distinct or superadded element in our nature. The crimes of dishonesty and envy, when duly analysed, have at their basis simply a desire for the desirable—a natural and inevitable feeling. What is absent is the restraint which makes men refrain from taking or trying to take desirable things that belong to another. Sensual faults spring from a perfectly natural impulse, but the restraint which confines the action of that impulse to defined circumstances is wanting. Much, too, of the insensibility and hardness of the world is due to a simple want of imagination which prevents us from adequately realising the sufferings of others.
Immoderate and uncontrolled desires are the root of most human crimes, but at the same time the self-restraint that limits desire, or self-seeking, by the rights of others, seems to be mainly, though not wholly, the prerogative of man.
Some of the very worst acts of which man can be guilty are acts which are commonly untouched by law and only faintly censured by opinion. Political crimes which a false and sickly sentiment so readily condones are conspicuous among them. Men who have been gambling for wealth and power with the lives and fortunes of multitudes; men who for their own personal ambition are prepared to sacrifice the most vital interests of their country; men who in time of great national danger and excitement deliberately launch falsehood after falsehood in the public press in the well-founded conviction that they will do their evil work before they can be contradicted, may be met shameless, and almost uncensured, in Parliaments and drawing-rooms. The amount of false statement in the world which cannot be attributed to mere carelessness, inaccuracy, or exaggeration, but which is plainly both deliberate and malevolent, can hardly be overrated. Sometimes it is due to a mere desire to create a lucrative sensation, or to gratify a personal dislike, or even to an unprovoked malevolence which takes pleasure in inflicting pain.
In truth, while it is a gross libel upon human nature to deny the vast amount of genuine kindness, self-sacrifice and even heroism that exists in the world, it is equally idle to deny the deplorable weakness of self-restraint, the great force and the widespread influence of purely evil passions in the affairs of men.
(Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Map of Life, by William Edward Hartpole Lecky, E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau, Martin Pettit, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team)


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

LUMINISM



© 2001-2004 Smithsonian Institution
All rights reserved


Albert Bierstadt (January 8, 1830 – February 18, 1902) was a German-American painter best known for his large landscapes of the American West. In obtaining the subject matter for these works, Bierstadt joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion. Though not the first artist to record these sites, Bierstadt was the foremost painter of these scenes for the remainder of the 19th century.
Bierstadt was part of the Hudson River School, not an institution but rather an informal group of like-minded painters. The Hudson River School style involved carefully detailed paintings with romantic, almost glowing lighting, sometimes called luminism.
Bierstadt was born in Solingen, Germany. His family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1833. He studied painting with the members of the Düsseldorf School in Düsseldorf, Germany from 1853 to 1857. He taught drawing and painting briefly before devoting himself to painting.
Bierstadt began making paintings in New England and upstate New York. In 1859, he traveled westward in the company of Frederick W. Lander, a land surveyor for the U.S. government, returning with sketches that would result in numerous finished paintings. In 1863 he returned west again, in the company of the author Fitz Hugh Ludlow, whose wife he would later marry. He continued to visit the American West throughout his career.
Though his paintings sold for princely sums, Bierstadt was not held in particularly high esteem by critics of his day. His use of uncommonly large canvases was thought to be an egotistical indulgence, as his paintings would invariably dwarf those of his contemporaries when they were displayed together. The romanticism evident in his choices of subject and in his use of light was felt to be excessive by contemporary critics. His paintings emphasized atmospheric elements like fog, clouds and mist to accentuate and complement the feel of his work. Bierstadt sometimes changed details of the landscape to inspire awe. The colors he used are also not always true. He painted what he believed was the way things should be: water is ultramarine, vegetation is lush and green, etc. The shift from foreground to background was very dramatic and there was almost no middle distance.[citation needed]
Nonetheless, his paintings remain popular. He was a prolific artist, having completed over 500 possibly as many as 4000) paintings during his lifetime, most of which have survived. Many are scattered through museums around the United States.
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Beginning in 1859, he made three trips west, each time making oil sketches on paper. When he returned to his studio, he used these sketches and oil studies to paint huge, detailed panoramic views (some 6 feet by 10 feet) of Western scenery. His paintings emphasized the spectacular landscapes, sometimes exaggerating what he had seen and changing a few details to make the scene more interesting.
At the height of his career, he lived in a mansion on the Hudson; but his work fell out of favor, the mansion burned, and he died in New York City flat broke - Glenda Moore at xmission.com


The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak
1863
Oil on canvas
1867 x 306.7 cm (73 1/2 x 120 3/4 in)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From artchive.com


Looking Up the Yosemite Valley
c. 1865-67
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 148.6 cm (36 x 58 1/2 in)
The Haggin Museum, Stockton, California
From artchive.com


A Storm in the Rocky Mountains - Mount Rosalie
1866
Oil on canvas
210.8 x 361.3 cm (83 x 142 1/4 in)
The Brooklyn Museum, New York
From artchive.com
(Image enhanced by
Artchive Patron George Phillips)

Once thought to be lost, A Storm, the masterpiece of Bierstadt's early career, was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in 1976. Although the space-box format is used, the composition is quite unusual. Generally, Bierstadt balanced his large paintings by setting a central valley or body of water between flanking units of equal strength. But in A Storm, the mountains to the right obviously tower over those on the left, and in place of the standard valley floor and rising mountains, he created a complex sequence of elevations by adding an intermediate level in the foreground. To control the contrasts between solid mountains and open spaces, and between near and far distances, Bierstadt imposed a severe two-dimensional system of patterns that can be traced by following the connecting contours of objects, regardless of their position in depth. For instance, the left edges of the distant mountain in the center are visually continued along the edges of the clump of trees in the center foreground.
Landscape features and plant life are carefully studied in a manner quite different from the earlier The Rocky Mountains. Bierstadt added highlights in several colors to the large masses and varied the color scheme of the mountains much more subtly and intricately than before. But he also succumbed to his penchant for elaborating fantastic cloud formations hovering over the distant mountains, their rococo flourishes not always cohering visually with the generally descriptive style of painting. Nor do these clouds necessarily allow space to appear continuous from the foreground to infinity as in, for example, View of Donner Lake, California .
Bierstadt preferred keeping episodic elements to a minimum, but, consonant with the extravagant nature of A Storm, the results of an Indian hunt can be seen, horses are being chased, and an Indian encampment fills part of the valley. Never again would he paint such a complex and crowded work. A Storm is an attempt to show all at once the incredible beauty of the mountains; the vast western spaces; the phenomenal cloud formations; the variety of trees, bushes, and flowers; and a hint of the life-styles of the original inhabitants. The painting is truly a grand-scale celebration of the American West
(From Matthew Biagell's book "Albert Bierstadt," published by Watson at tfaoi.com)


The Great Trees, Mariposa Grove, California
1876
Oil on canvas
300.7 x 150.5 cm (118 3/8 x 59 1/4 in)
Private collection
From artchive.com


Surveyor's Wagon in the Rockies
Oil on paper mounted on masonite, c.1859
7 3/4 x 12 3/4 inches (19.7 x 32.7 cm)
The Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

AIthough it is a small sketch, this work should be recognized as one of the talismanic paintings of the West. It probably records the shocking spatial disorientation triggered by seeing the endless plains and mountain ranges of the West for the first time. The wagon, the horses, and the rider are suspended in space somewhere in the open-ended plains.
Except for the continuous mountains, there are no markers by which to measure anything--no wagon tracks, hoofprints, bushes, compositional diagonals, or zigzags. The travelers move through a land without leaving a trace and are unable to measure easily the miles they have traversed. There is no possibility of determining the yardage to the grazing animals except by means of atmospheric color; proximity and distance are based on clarity of contour and color alone. Ironically, this, too, is disorienting, since one can see both more and farther in the clear air of wilderness than in the polluted air of towns and cities.
For Bierstadt, the plains were probably impossible to organize into compositional units, a factor that might explain his preference for mountain-valley themes. A generation ago, this type of landscape might have been termed "alienated," since the artist refused to organize and control it. Today we are more interested in process and mechanistic explanations and might call it a "nonstructured" or "nonspatialized" space. This kind of open composition was used later, in the late 1860s and after, in western paintings by Worthington Whittredge and John Kensett; Whittredge traveled west in 1866 and 1870, and Kensett in about 1856-57, 1868, and 1870
(From Matthew Biagell's book "Albert Bierstadt," published by Watson at tfaoi.com)


The Oregon Trail, 1869
Oil on canvas, 31 X 49" (78.74 x 124.46 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Gift of Joseph G. Butler, III
The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Albert Bierstadt went west for the first time in 1859, a young, ambitious painter in the party of Colonel Frederick W. Lander, who had been charged by the Interior Department to survey a new wagon route to California which would go north of Salt Lake and thus prevent further friction between emigrants and Mormons. Lander was also to placate the Native Americans whose trading would be disrupted by relocating the California and Oregon wagon trails that
had been in use for years. The expedition offered the artist an opportunity to see America's fabled mountains, known to a fascinated public through written descriptions and photographs in black and white, and to encounter Native Americans in their natural setting. If the Rockies were as grand as the Alps, paintings of them would find buyers already enthusiastic at the prospects of westward expansion, especially merchants and boosters of the railroads.
When Bierstadt set out he was a better landscape painter than previous artists who had gone west, having studied for three years in Dusseldorf and painted in Italy. In Boston and his hometown of New Bedford, he was enjoying success with his paintings of landscape and European genre, due in no small measure to a talent for self-promotion.
Lander's expedition crossed Nebraska, and continued northwest following the North Fork of the Platte River into western Wyoming. Along the way Bierstadt sketched and took photographs of Native Americans and emigrants, some bound for Pike's Peak but others returning discouraged, like those he encountered near Fort Kearny with their 150 wagons. Yet three sketches published in 1859 as woodcuts in Harper's Weekly are among the very few Bierstadt images which include what was a common sight along the trail and the subject of The Oregon Trail: emigrants, animals, and wagons under way. By late June Bierstadt had left Lander, who continued on to California. Bierstadt stayed three weeks in the Wind River Mountains, sketching and photographing Native Americans and scenery. It was here, after exploring the mountains, that Bierstadt wrote a letter to The Crayon, an artistic journal, declaring the Rockies true rivals of the Alps and marking the beginning of his occupation with the subject which was to bring him fame and enormous fortune.
The Oregon Trail is identical in subject to the Oklahoma City painting but only one-half its size. It could have been painted during Bierstadt's European sojourn from 1867 to 1869 when he took studios in London, Rome, and Paris, showed Rocky Mountain pictures to Queen Victoria, and made pictures of the American West popular in Europe and Britain. The Butler Institute picture, probably painted after the artist's return to America, was bought in Washington, D.C. from the artist and descended in the same family until 1946.
Except for the Harper's Weekly woodcuts and a wood engraving after a Bierstadt drawing of an Overland mail stagecoach in Ludlow's 1870 account of the 1863 trip, there are no images by Bierstadt of any coach or wagon actually en route west. This seems even more curious when we read a description by Bierstadt from 1865: "The wagons are covered with white cloth; each is drawn by four to six pairs of mules or oxen; and the trains of them stretch frequently from one-quarter to one-third of a mile each. As they move along in the distance, they remind one of the caravans described in the Bible and other Eastern books."
The Oregon Trail turns what to Ludlow was a jolly encounter with a colorful band of emigrants into a spectacular allegory of westward expansion. Under a dramatic orange-red sky the travelers trek into the western sun, which tinges the high cliffs as it sets beyond a grove of ancient trees. They pass animal bones and a broken stove which testify to previous unlucky travelers. Native American tepees in the distance are reminders of a constant menace. No matter that by sundown camp should have been made, accuracy of fact is no more a goal here than in any other historical allegory of America's westward migration. This subject first appeared soon after the end of the Civil War when America, with heightened interest in the West, turned its attention to peaceful rather than military matters. The Butler Institute version was painted in 1869, the completion year of the transcontinental railroad which would soon make history of the emigrant wagon. There may have been, even in 1869, on the part of Bierstadt or his patrons, a degree of nostalgia for this particular aspect of the pioneer experience soon to disappear in fact, but to persist in myth for over a century as one of the iconic images of Americas expansion westward.
(WILLIAM S. TALBOT at butlerart.com)


Niagara
Oil on paper mounted on canvas, c.1869
19 x 27 inches (48.3 x 68.6 cm)
Private collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Albert Bierstadt, well known for his Hudson River scenes and his New World landscapes, painted one of the finest pictures in the Simmons Collection, Niagara in 1869.
One of many views of Niagara Falls, considered America's Greatest Wonder, this picture shows the Canadian Falls. It was painted from an imaginary viewpoint, perhaps inspired by a photograph taken by Bierstadt's brother, just below Goat Island, which separates the American from the Canadian Falls.
Bierstadt emphasized aspects of the Falls dear to Romantic painters: the plunging water, dramatic rocks, and the mist from the gorge,
For years, this painting hung in the Magnolia Room, where generations of students ate their lunch and, perhaps, contemplated the energy of the falls and the sheer beauty of the painting.
(From wake Forest University Art Collections at wfu.edu)


Among the Sierra Nevada, California
oil on canvas
overall: 72 x 120 1/8 in. (183 x 305 cm)
frame: 96 1/4 x 144 3/8 x 7 1
1977
Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing
(From Smithsonian Institution)

Among the Sierra Nevada, California, bequest of Helen Huntington Hull, granddaughter of William Brown Dinsmore, who acquired the painting in 1873 for "The Locusts," the family estate in Dutchess County, New York
Albert Bierstadt's beautifully crafted paintings played to a hot market in the 1860s for spectacular views of the nation's frontiers. Bierstadt was an immigrant and hardworking entrepreneur who had grown rich pairing his skill as a painter with a talent for self-promotion. He unveiled his canvases as theatrical events, selling tickets and planting news stories—strategies that one critic described as the "vast machinery of advertisement and puffery." A Bierstadt canvas was elaborately framed, installed in a darkened room, and hidden behind luxurious drapes. At the appointed time, the work was revealed to thunderous applause.
This painting was made in London and toured through Europe to St. Petersburg, fueling Europeans' interest in emigration. Buoyed by glowing reviews, Bierstadt then offered the painting to American audiences who could take pride in an American artist's skill and in the natural splendors of their young nation.
(From Smithsonian Institution)



Tuesday, March 10, 2009

THINKING LITTLE OF WHAT IS BEYOND


One of the worst moral evils that grow up in democratic countries is the excessive tendency to time-serving and popularity hunting, and the danger is all the greater because in a certain sense both of these things are a necessity and even a duty. Their moral quality depends mainly on their motive. The question to be asked is whether a politician is acting from personal or merely party objects or from honourable public ones. Every statesman must form in his own mind a conception whether a prevailing tendency is favourable or opposed to the real interests of the country. It will depend upon this judgment whether he will endeavour to accelerate or retard it; whether he will yield slowly or readily to its pressure, and there are cases in which, at all hazards of popularity and influence, he should inexorably oppose it. But in the long run, under free governments, political systems and measures must be adjusted to the wishes of the various sections of the people, and this adjustment is the great work of statesmanship. In judging a proposed measure a statesman must continually ask himself whether the country is ripe for it—whether its introduction, however desirable it might be, would not be premature, as public opinion is not yet prepared for it?—whether, even though it be a bad measure, it is not on the whole better to vote for it, as the nation manifestly desires it?
In aristocratic governments such as existed in England during the eighteenth century, temptations to corruption were especially strong. To build up a vast system of parliamentary influence by rotten boroughs, and, by systematically bestowing honours on those who could control them, to win the support of great corporations and professions by furthering their interests and abstaining from all efforts to reform them, was a chief part of the statecraft of the time. Class privileges in many forms were created, extended and maintained, and in some countries—though much less in England than on the Continent—the burden of taxation was most inequitably distributed, falling mainly on the poor.
In democratic governments the temptations are of a different kind. Popularity is there the chief source of power, and the supreme tribunal consists of numbers counted by the head. The well-being of the great mass of the people is the true end of politics, but it does not necessarily follow that the opinion of the least instructed majority is the best guide to obtaining it. Party leaders measure legislation mainly by its immediate popularity, and its consequent success in adding to his voting strength. In some countries this tendency shows itself in lavish expenditure on public works which provide employment for great masses of workmen and give a great immediate popularity in a constituency, leaving to posterity a heavy burden of accumulated debt. Much of the financial embarrassment of Europe is due to this source, and in most countries extravagance in government expenditure is more popular than economy. Sometimes it shows itself in a legislation which regards only proximate or immediate effects, and wholly neglects those which are distant and obscure. A far-sighted policy sacrificing the present to a distant future becomes more difficult; measures involving new principles, but meeting present embarrassments or securing immediate popularity, are started with little consideration for the precedents they are establishing and for the more extensive changes that may follow in their train. The conditions of labour are altered for the benefit of the existing workmen, perhaps at the cost of diverting capital from some great form of industry, making it impossible to resist foreign competition, and thus in the long run restricting employment and seriously injuring the very class who were to have been benefited.
When one party has introduced a measure of this kind the other is under the strongest temptation to outbid it, and under the stress of competition and through the fear of being distanced in the race of popularity both parties often end by going much further than either had originally intended. When the rights of the few are opposed to the interests of the many there is a constant tendency to prefer the latter. It may be that the few are those who have built up an industry; who have borne all the risk and cost, who have by far the largest interest in its success. The mere fact that they are the few determines the bias of the legislators. There is a constant disposition to tamper with even clearly defined and guaranteed rights if by doing so some large class of voters can be conciliated.
Parliamentary life has many merits, but it has a manifest tendency to encourage short views. The immediate party interest becomes so absorbing that men find it difficult to look greatly beyond it. The desire of a skilful debater to use the topics that will most influence the audience before him, or the desire of a party leader to pursue the course most likely to be successful in an immediately impending contest, will often override all other considerations, and the whole tendency of parliamentary life is to concentrate attention on landmarks which are not very distant, thinking little of what is beyond.
There are other temptations of a different kind with which party leaders have to deal. One of the most serious is the tendency to force questions for which there is no genuine desire, in order to restore the unity or the zeal of a divided or dispirited party. As all politicians know, the desire for an attractive programme and a popular election cry is one of the strongest in politics, and, as they also know well, there is such a thing as manufactured public opinion and artificially stimulated agitation. Questions are raised and pushed, not because they are for the advantage of the country, but simply for the purposes of party. The leaders have often little or no power of resistance. The pressure of their followers, or of a section of their followers, becomes irresistible; ill-considered hopes are held out; rash pledges are extorted, and the party as a whole is committed. Much premature and mischievous legislation may be traced to such causes.
Another very difficult question is the manner in which governments should deal with the acts of public servants which are intended for the public service, but which in some of their parts are morally indefensible. Very few of the great acquisitions of nations have been made by means that were absolutely blameless, and in a great empire which has to deal with uncivilised or semi-civilised populations acts of violence are certain to be not infrequent. Neither in our judgments of history nor in our judgments of contemporaries is it possible to apply the full stringency of private morals to the cases of men acting in posts of great responsibility and danger amid the storms of revolution, or panic, or civil war. With the vast interests confided to their care, and the terrible dangers that surround them, measures must often be taken which cannot be wholly or at least legally justified. On the other hand, men in such circumstances are only too ready to accept the principle of Macchiavelli and of Napoleon, and to treat politics as if they had absolutely no connection with morals.
the primary duty of every statesman is to his own country. His task is to secure for many millions of the human race the highest possible amount of peace and prosperity, and a selfishness is at least not a narrow one which, while abstaining from injuring others, restricts itself to promoting the happiness of a vast section of the human race. Sacrifices and dangers which a good man would think it his clear duty to accept if they fell on himself alone wear another aspect if he is acting as trustee for a great nation and for the interests of generations who are yet unborn. Nothing is more calamitous than the divorce of politics from morals, but in practical politics public and private morals will never absolutely correspond. The public opinion of the nation will inevitably inspire and control its statesmen. It creates in all countries an ethical code which with greater or less perfection marks out for them the path of duty, and though a great statesman may do something to raise its level, he can never wholly escape its influence. In different nations it is higher or lower—in truthfulness and sincerity of diplomacy the variations are very great—but it will never be the exact code on which men act in private life. It is certainly widely different from the Sermon on the Mount.
In domestic as in foreign politics the maintenance of a high moral standard in statesmanship is impossible unless the public opinion of the country is in harmony with it. Moral declension in a nation is very swiftly followed by a corresponding decadence among its public men, and it will indeed be generally found that the standard of public men is apt to be somewhat lower than that of the better section of the public outside. They are exposed to very special temptations.
The constant habit of regarding questions with a view to party advantage, to proximate issues, to immediate popularity, which is inseparable from parliamentary government, can hardly fail to give some ply to the most honest intellect. Most questions have to be treated more or less in the way of compromise; and alliances and coalitions not very conducive to a severe standard of political morals are frequent.
every parliament contains its notorious agitators, intriguers and self-seekers, men who have been connected with acts which may or may not have been brought within the reach of the criminal law, but have at least been sufficient to stamp their character in the eyes of honest men. Such men cannot be neglected in party combinations. Political leaders must co-operate with them in the daily intercourse and business of parliamentary life—must sometimes ask them favours—must treat them with deference and respect. Men who on some subjects and at some times have acted with glaring profligacy, on others act with judgment, moderation and even patriotism, and become useful supporters or formidable opponents. Combinations are in this way formed which are in no degree wrong, but which tend to dull the edge of moral perception and imperceptibly to lower the standard of moral judgment. In the swift changes of the party kaleidoscope the bygone is soon forgotten. The enemy of yesterday is the ally of to-day; the services of the present soon obscure the misdeeds of the past; and men insensibly grow very tolerant not only of diversities of opinion, but also of gross aberrations of conduct. The constant watchfulness of external opinion is very necessary to keep up a high standard of political morality.
Public opinion, it is true, is by no means impeccable. The tendency to believe that crimes cease to be crimes when they have a political object, and that a popular vote can absolve the worst crimes, is only too common; there are few political misdeeds which wealth, rank, genius or success will not induce large sections our society to pardon, and nations even in their best moments will not judge acts which are greatly for their own advantage with the severity of judgment that they would apply to similar acts of other nations. But when all this is admitted, it still remains true that there is a large body of public opinion which carries into all politics a sound moral sense and which places a just and righteous policy higher than any mere party interest. It is on the power and pressure of this opinion that the high character of our government must ultimately depend.
(Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Map of Life, by William Edward Hartpole Lecky, E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau, Martin Pettit,
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team)


Monday, March 9, 2009

CHARACTERS


In judging wisely the characters of men, one of the first things to be done is to understand their ideals. Try to find out what kind of men or of life; what qualities, what positions seem to them the most desirable. Men do not always fully recognise their own ideals, for education and the conventionalities of Society oblige them to assert a preference for that which may really have no root in their minds. But by a careful examination it is usually possible to ascertain what persons or qualities or circumstances or gifts exercise a genuine, spontaneous, magnetic power over them—whether they really value supremely rank or position, or money, or beauty, or intellect, or superiority of character. If you know the ideal of a man you have obtained a true key to his nature. The broad lines of his character, the permanent tendencies of his imagination, his essential nobility or meanness, are thus disclosed more effectually than by any other means. A man with high ideals, who admires wisely and nobly, is never wholly base though he may fall into great vices. A man who worships the baser elements is in truth an idolater though he may have never bowed before an image of stone.
The human mind has much more power of distinguishing between right and wrong, and between true and false, than of estimating with accuracy the comparative gravity of opposite evils. It is nearly always right in judging between right and wrong. It is generally wrong in estimating degrees of guilt, and the root of its error lies in the extreme difficulty of putting ourselves into the place of those whose characters or circumstances are radically different from our own. This want of imagination acts widely on our judgment of what is good as well as of what is bad. Few men have enough imagination to realise types of excellence altogether differing from their own. It is this, much more than vanity, that leads them to esteem the types of excellence to which they themselves approximate as the best, and tastes and habits that are altogether incongruous with their own as futile and contemptible. It is, perhaps, most difficult of all to realise the difference of character and especially of moral sensibility produced by a profound difference of circumstances. This difficulty largely falsifies our judgments of the past, and it is the reason why a powerful imagination enabling us to realise very various characters and very remote circumstances is one of the first necessities of a great historian. Historians rarely make sufficient allowance for the degree in which the judgments and dispositions even of the best men are coloured by the moral tone of the time, society and profession in which they lived. Men who have been themselves brought up amid all the comforts and all the moralising and restraining influences of a refined society, will often judge the crimes of the wretched pariahs of civilisation as if their acts were in no degree palliated by their position. They say to themselves 'How guilty should I have been if I had done this thing,' and their verdict is quite just according to this statement of the case. They realise the nature of the act. They utterly fail to realise the character and circumstances of the actor.
And yet it is scarcely possible to exaggerate the difference between the position of such a critic and that of the children of drunken, ignorant and profligate parents, born to abject poverty in the slums of our great cities. From their earliest childhood drunkenness, blasphemy, dishonesty, prostitution, indecency of every form are their most familiar experiences. All the social influences, such as they are, are influences of vice. As they grow up Life seems to them to present little more than the alternative of hard, ill-paid, and at the same time precarious labour, probably ending in the poor-house, or crime with its larger and swifter gains, and its intervals of coarse pleasure probably, though not certainly, followed by the prison or an early death. They see indeed, like figures in a dream, or like beings of another world, the wealthy and the luxurious spending their wealth and their time in many kinds of enjoyment, but to the very poor pleasure scarcely comes except in the form of the gin palace or perhaps the low music hall. And in many cases they have come into this reeking atmosphere of temptation and vice with natures debased and enfeebled by a long succession of vicious hereditary influences, with weak wills, with no faculties of mind or character that can respond to any healthy ambition; with powerful inborn predispositions to evil. The very mould of their features, the very shape of their skulls, marks them out as destined members of the criminal class. Even here, no doubt, there is a difference between right and wrong; there is scope for the action of free will; there are just causes of praise and blame, and Society rightly protects itself by severe penalties against the crimes that are most natural; but what human judge can duly measure the scale of moral guilt? or what comparison can there be between the crimes that are engendered by such circumstances and those which spring up in the homes of refined and well-regulated comfort?
Men are born into the world with both wills and passions of varying strength, though in mature life the strength or weakness of each is largely due to their own conduct. With different characters the same temptation, operating under the same external circumstances, has enormously different strength, and very few men can fully realise the strength of a passion which they have never themselves experienced. To repeat an illustration I have already used, how difficult is it for a constitutionally sober man to form in his own mind an adequate conception of the force of the temptation of drink to a dipsomaniac, or for a passionless man to conceive rightly the temptations of a profoundly sensual nature! I have spoken in a former chapter of the force with which bodily conditions act upon happiness. Their influence on morals is not less terrible. There are diseases well known to physicians which make the most placid temper habitually irritable; give a morbid turn to the healthiest disposition; fill the purest mind with unholy thoughts. There are others which destroy the force of the strongest will and take from character all balance and self-control.[23] It often happens that we have long been blaming a man for manifest faults of character till at last suicide, or the disclosure of some grave bodily or mental disease which has long been working unperceived, explains his faults and turns our blame into pity.
The true lesson is the extreme fallibility of our moral judgments whenever we attempt to measure degrees of guilt. Sometimes men are even unjust to their own past from their incapacity in age of realising the force of the temptations they had experienced in youth. On the other hand, increased knowledge of the world tends to make us more sensible of the vast differences between the moral circumstances of men, and therefore less confident and more indulgent in our judgments of others. There are men whose cards in life are so bad, whose temptations to vice, either from circumstances or inborn character, seem so overwhelming, that, though we may punish, and in a certain sense blame, we can scarcely look on them as more responsible than some noxious wild beast. Among the terrible facts of life none is indeed more terrible than this. Every believer in the wise government of the world must have sometimes realised with a crushing or at least a staggering force the appalling injustices of life as shown in the enormous differences in the distribution of unmerited happiness and misery. But the disparity of moral circumstances is not less. It has shaken the faith of many. It has even led some to dream of a possible Heaven for the vicious where those who are born into the world with a physical constitution rendering them fierce or cruel, or sensual, or cowardly, may be freed from the nature which was the cause of their vice and their suffering upon earth; where due allowance may be made for the differences of circumstances which have plunged one man deeper and ever deeper into crime, and enabled another, who was not really better or worse, to pass through life with no serious blemish, and to rise higher and higher in the moral scale.
Imperfect, however, as is our power of judging others, it is a power we are all obliged to exercise. It is impossible to exclude the considerations of moral guilt and of palliating or aggravating circumstances from the penal code, and from the administration of justice, though it cannot be too clearly maintained that the criminal code is not coextensive with the moral code, and that many things which are profoundly immoral lie beyond its scope. On the whole it should be as much as possible confined to acts by which men directly injure others. In the case of adult men, private vices, vices by which no one is directly affected, except by his own free will, and in which the elements of force or fraud are not present, should not be brought within its range. This ideal, it is true, cannot be fully attained. The legislator must take into account the strong pressure of public opinion. It is sometimes true that a penal law may arrest, restrict, or prevent the revival of some private vice without producing any countervailing evil. But the presumption is against all laws which punish the voluntary acts of adult men when those acts injure no one except themselves. The social censure, or the judgment of opinion, rightly extends much further, though it is often based on very imperfect knowledge or realisation. It is probable that, on the whole, opinion judges too severely the crimes of passion and of drink, as well as those which spring from the pressure of great poverty and are accompanied by great ignorance. The causes of domestic anarchy are usually of such an intimate nature and involve so many unknown or imperfectly realised elements of aggravation or palliation that in most cases the less men attempt to judge them the better. On the other hand, public opinion is usually far too lenient in judging crimes of ambition, cupidity, envy, malevolence, and callous selfishness; the crimes of ill-gotten and ill-used wealth, especially in the many cases in which those crimes are unpunished by law.
It is a mere commonplace of morals that in the path of evil it is the first step that costs the most. The shame, the repugnance, and the remorse which attend the first crime speedily fade, and on every repetition the habit of evil grows stronger. A process of the same kind passes over our judgments. Few things are more curious than to observe how the eye accommodates itself to a new fashion of dress, however unbecoming; how speedily men, or at least women, will adopt a new and artificial standard and instinctively and unconsciously admire or blame according to this standard and not according to any genuine sense of beauty or the reverse. Few persons, however pure may be their natural taste, can live long amid vulgar and vulgarising surroundings without losing something of the delicacy of their taste and learning to accept—if not with pleasure, at least with acquiescence—things from which under other circumstances they would have recoiled. In the same way, both individuals and societies accommodate themselves but too readily to lower moral levels, and a constant vigilance is needed to detect the forms or directions in which individual and national character insensibly deteriorate.
(Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Map of Life, by William Edward Hartpole Lecky, E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau, Martin Pettit, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team)


HAPPINESS


The circumstances of our lives and the dispositions of our characters mainly determine the measure of happiness we enjoy, and mere argument about the causes of happiness and unhappiness can do little to affect them. Man comes into the world with mental and moral characteristics which he can only very imperfectly influence, and a large proportion of the external circumstances of his life lie wholly or mainly beyond his control.
The illusion of free will is only due to the conflict of our motives. The will is nothing more than the last and strongest desire; or it is like a piece of iron surrounded by magnets and necessarily drawn by the most powerful; or (as has been ingeniously imagined) like a weathercock, conscious of its own motion, but not conscious of the winds that are moving it. The law of compulsory causation applies to the world of mind as truly as to the world of matter. Heredity and Circumstance make us what we are. Our actions are the inevitable result of the mental and moral constitutions with which we came into the world, operated on by external influences. The conflict between the will and the desires, the reality of self-restraint and the power of Will to modify character, are among the most familiar facts of moral life. In the words of Burke, 'It is the prerogative of man to be in a great degree a creature of his own making.' There are men whose whole lives are spent in willing one thing and desiring the opposite, and all morality depends upon the supposition that we have at least some freedom of choice between good and evil. 'I ought,' as Kant says, necessarily implies 'I can.' The feeling of moral responsibility is an essential part of healthy and developed human nature, and it inevitably presupposes free will.
Men continually forget that Happiness is a condition of Mind and not a disposition of circumstances, and one of the most common of errors is that of confusing happiness with the means of happiness, sacrificing the first for the attainment of the second. It is the error of the miser, who begins by seeking money for the enjoyment it procures and ends by making the mere acquisition of money his sole object, pursuing it to the sacrifice of all rational ends and pleasures.
These are but a few obvious instances of the manner in which the body acts upon happiness. They do not mean that the will is powerless in the face of bodily conditions, but that in the management of character it has certain very definite predispositions to encounter. In reasonings on life, even more than on other things, a good reasoner will consider not only the force of the opposing arguments, but also the bias to which his own mind is subject. To raise the level of national health is one of the surest ways of raising the level of national happiness, and in estimating the value of different pleasures many which, considered in themselves, might appear to rank low upon the scale, will rank high, if in addition to the immediate and transient enjoyment they procure, they contribute to form a strong and healthy body. No branch of legislation is more really valuable than that which is occupied with the health of the people, whether it takes the form of encouraging the means by which remedies may be discovered and diffused, or of extirpating by combined efforts particular diseases, or of securing that the mass of labour in the community should as far as possible be carried on under sound sanitary conditions. Fashion also can do much, both for good and ill. It exercises over great multitudes an almost absolute empire, regulating their dress, their education, their hours, their amusements, their food, their scale of expenditure; determining the qualities to which they principally aspire, the work in which they may engage, and even the form of beauty which they most cultivate. It is happy for a nation when this mighty influence is employed in encouraging habits of life which are beneficial or at least not gravely prejudicial to health. Nor is any form of individual education more really valuable than that which teaches the main conditions of a healthy life and forms those habits of temperance and self-restraint that are most likely to attain it.
With its great recuperative powers Youth can do with apparent impunity many things which in later life bring a speedy Nemesis; but on the other hand Youth is pre-eminently the period when habits and tastes are formed, and the yoke which is then lightly, willingly, wantonly assumed will in after years acquire a crushing weight. Few things are more striking than the levity of the motives, the feebleness of the impulses under which in youth fatal steps are taken which bring with them a weakened life and often an early grave. Smoking in manhood, when practised in moderation, is a very innocent and probably beneficent practice, but it is well known how deleterious it is to young boys, and how many of them have taken to it through no other motive than a desire to appear older than they are—that surest of all signs that we are very young. How often have the far more pernicious habits of drinking, or gambling, or frequenting corrupt society been acquired through a similar motive, or through the mere desire to enjoy the charm of a forbidden pleasure or to stand well with some dissipated companions! How large a proportion of lifelong female debility is due to an early habit of tight lacing, springing only from the silliest vanity! How many lives have been sacrificed through the careless recklessness which refused to take the trouble of changing wet clothes! How many have been shattered and shortened by excess in things which in moderation are harmless, useful, or praiseworthy,—by the broken blood-vessel, due to excess in some healthy athletic exercise or game; by the ruined brain overstrained in order to win some paltry prize! It is melancholy to observe how many lives have been broken down, ruined or corrupted in attempts to realise some supreme and unattainable desire; through the impulse of overmastering passion, of powerful and perhaps irresistible temptation. It is still sadder to observe how large a proportion of the failures of life may be ultimately traced to the most insignificant causes and might have been avoided without any serious effort either of intellect or will.
The success with which medicine and sanitary science have laboured to prolong life, to extirpate or diminish different forms of disease and to alleviate their consequences is abundantly proved. In all civilised countries the average of life has been raised, and there is good reason to believe that not only old age but also active, useful, enjoyable old age has become much more frequent. It is true that the gain to human happiness is not quite as great as might at first sight be imagined. Death is least sad when it comes in infancy or in extreme old age, and the increased average of life is largely due to the great diminution in infant mortality, which is in truth a very doubtful blessing. If extreme old age is a thing to be desired, it is perhaps chiefly because it usually implies a constitution which gives many earlier years of robust and healthy life. But with all deductions the triumphs of sanitary reform as well as of medical science are perhaps the brightest page in the history of our century. Some of the measures which have proved most useful can only be effected at some sacrifice of individual freedom and by widespread coercive sanitary regulations, and are thus more akin to despotism than to free government. How different would have been the condition of the world, and how far greater would have been the popularity of strong monarchy if at the time when such a form of government generally prevailed rulers had had the intelligence to put before them the improvement of the health and the prolongation of the lives of their subjects as the main object of their policy rather than military glory or the acquisition of territory or mere ostentatious and selfish display!
One of the first and most clearly recognised rules to be observed is that happiness is most likely to be attained when it is not the direct object of pursuit. In early youth we are accustomed to divide life broadly into work and play, regarding the first as duty or necessity and the second as pleasure. One of the great differences between childhood and manhood is that we come to like our work more than our play. It becomes to us, if not the chief pleasure, at least the chief interest of our lives, and even when it is not this, an essential condition of our happiness. Few lives produce so little happiness as those that are aimless and unoccupied. Apart from all considerations of right and wrong, one of the first conditions of a happy life is that it should be a full and busy one, directed to the attainment of aims outside ourselves.
If a life of luxurious idleness and selfish ease in some measure saves men from the first danger, it seldom fails to bring with it the second. No change of scene, no multiplicity of selfish pleasures will in the long run enable them to escape it.
It needs but a few years of life experience to realise the profound truth of this passage. An ideal life would be furnished with abundant work of a kind that is congenial both to our intellects and our characters and that brings with it much interest and little anxiety. Few of us can command this. Most men's work is largely determined for them by circumstances, though in the guidance of life there are many alternatives and much room for skilful pilotage. But the first great rule is that we must do something—that life must have a purpose and an aim—that work should be not merely occasional and spasmodic, but steady and continuous. Pleasure is a jewel which will only retain its lustre when it is in a setting of work, and a vacant life is one of the worst of pains, though the islands of leisure that stud a crowded, well-occupied life may be among the things to which we look back with the greatest delight.
Another great truth is conveyed in the saying of Aristotle that a wise man will make it his aim rather to avoid suffering than to attain pleasure. Men can in reality do very little to mitigate the force of the great bereavements and the other graver calamities of life. All our systems of philosophy and reasoning are vain when confronted with them. Innate temperament which we cannot greatly change determines whether we sink crushed beneath the blow or possess the buoyancy that can restore health to our natures. The conscious and deliberate pursuit of pleasure is attended by many deceptions and illusions, and rarely leads to lasting happiness. But we can do very much by prudence, self-restraint and intelligent regulation so to manage life as to avoid a large proportion of its calamities and at the same time, by preserving the affections pure and undimmed, by diversifying interests and forming active habits, to combat its tedium and despondency.
Another truth is that both the greatest pleasures and the keenest pains of life lie much more in those humbler spheres which are accessible to all than on the rare pinnacles to which only the most gifted or the most fortunate can attain. It would probably be found upon examination that most men who have devoted their lives successfully to great labours and ambitions, and who have received the most splendid gifts from Fortune, have nevertheless found their chief pleasure in things unconnected with their main pursuits and generally within the reach of common men. Domestic pleasures, pleasures of scenery, pleasures of reading, pleasures of travel or of sport have been the highest enjoyment of men of great ambition, intellect, wealth and position.
It is one of the paradoxes of human nature that the things that are most struggled for and the things that are most envied are not those which give either the most intense or the most unmixed joy. Ambition is the luxury of the happy. It is sometimes, but more rarely, the consolation and distraction of the wretched; but most of those who have trodden its paths, if they deal honestly with themselves, will acknowledge that the gravest disappointments of public life dwindle into insignificance compared with the poignancy of suffering endured at the deathbed of a wife or of a child, and that within the small circle of a family life they have found more real happiness than the applause of nations could ever give.
Another consideration in the cultivation of happiness is the importance of acquiring the habit of realising our blessings while they last. It is one of the saddest facts of human nature that we commonly only learn their value by their loss. This is very evidently the case with health. By the laws of our being we are almost unconscious of the action of our bodily organs as long as they are working well. It is only when they are deranged, obstructed or impaired that our attention becomes concentrated upon them. In consequence of this a state of perfect health is rarely fully appreciated until it is lost and during a short period after it has been regained.
And what is true of health is true of other things. It is only when some calamity breaks the calm tenor of our ways and deprives us of some gift of fortune we have long enjoyed that we feel how great was the value of what we have lost. There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed. Sometimes, indeed, our perception of this contrast brings with it a lasting and salutary result. In the medicine of Nature a chronic and abiding disquietude or morbidness of temperament is often cured by some keen though more transient sorrow which violently changes the current of our thoughts and imaginations.
Every human mind contains great masses of inert, passive, undisputed knowledge which exercise no real influence on thought or character till something occurs which touches our imagination and quickens this knowledge into activity. Very few things contribute so much to the happiness of life as a constant realisation of the blessings we enjoy. The difference between a naturally contented and a naturally discontented nature is one of the marked differences of innate temperament, but we can do much to cultivate that habit of dwelling on the benefits of our lot which converts acquiescence into a more positive enjoyment.
A discontent with existing circumstances is the chief source of a desire to improve them, and this desire is the mainspring of progress. In this theory of life, happiness is sought, not in content, but in improved circumstances, in the development of new capacities of enjoyment, in the pleasure which active existence naturally gives. To maintain in their due proportion in our nature the spirit of content and the desire to improve, to combine a realised appreciation of the blessings we enjoy with a healthy and well-regulated ambition, is no easy thing, but it is the problem which all who aspire to a perfect life should set before themselves. In medio tutissimus ibis is eminently true of the cultivation of character, and some of its best elements become pernicious in their extremes. Thus prudent forethought, which is one of the first conditions of a successful life, may easily degenerate into that most miserable state of mind in which men are perpetually anticipating and dwelling upon the uncertain dangers and evils of an uncertain future. How much indeed of the happiness and misery of men may be included under those two words, realisation and anticipation!
Our nature accommodates itself speedily to improved circumstances, and they cease to give positive pleasure while their loss is acutely painful. Advanced civilisation brings with it countless and inestimable benefits, but it also brings with it many forms of suffering from which a ruder existence is exempt. There is some reason to believe that it is usually accompanied with a lower range of animal spirits, and it is certainly accompanied with an increased sensitiveness to pain. Some philosophers have contended that this is the best of all possible worlds. It is difficult to believe so, as the whole object of human effort is to make it a better one. But the success of that effort is more apparent in the many terrible forms of human suffering which it has abolished or diminished than in the higher level of positive happiness that has been attained.
Such a proverb as 'Honesty is the best policy' represents no doubt a great truth, though it has been well said that no man is really honest who is only honest through this motive, and though it is very evident that it is by no means an universal truth but depends largely upon changing and precarious conditions of laws, police, public opinion, and individual circumstances. But in the higher realms of morals the coincidence of happiness and virtue is far more doubtful. It is certainly not true that the highest nature is necessarily or even naturally the happiest. The conscience of Mankind has ever recognised self-sacrifice as the supreme element of virtue, and self-sacrifice is never real when it is only the exchange of a less happiness for a greater one.
(Excerpts from The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Map of Life, by William Edward Hartpole Lecky, E-text prepared by Delphine Lettau, Martin Pettit, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team)