Friday, 12 May 2017

The Indian Jugglers Part 2


Moving from one sort of Indian Jugglery, Advaitic contortions, to another we note William Hazlitt asking himself:

The hearing a speech in Parliament drawled or stammered out by the Honourable Member or the Noble Lord; the ringing the changes on their common-places, which any one could repeat after them as well as they, stirs me not a jot, shakes not my good opinion of myself; but the seeing the Indian Jugglers does. It makes me ashamed of myself. I ask what there is that I can do as well as this? Nothing. What have I been doing all my life? Have I been idle, or have I nothing to show for all my labour and pains? Or have I passed my time in pouring words like water into empty sieves, rolling a stone up a hill and then down again, trying to prove an argument in the teeth of facts, and looking for causes in the dark and not finding them? 

Is this an irritating display of false modesty or inverse humilty? The skill that he developed as a painter under the instruction of his brother John was marked and if he chose to abandon painting for journalism, even of the higher sort, his justification that he would never be a Titian or a Rembrandt lacks scale. Why not be an excellent William Hazlitt? Looking at his portraits of which there are some examples remaining I consider them to have a firmness of line and the tincture of life and freedom. His refusal to leave out the warts was a hindrance to his professional progress and that characteristic he carried into his writing and life.

The willing submission to what is there issuing from the enforced humility of the copyist endued him with the realisation of the difference between mere mechanical skill which ought to service artistic vision but very often supplants it.

This power is indifferently called genius, imagination, feeling, taste; but the manner in which it acts upon the mind can neither be defined by abstract rules, as is the case in science, nor verified by continual, unvarying experiments, as is the case in mechanical performances. The mechanical excellence of the Dutch painters in colouring and handling is that which comes the nearest in fine art to the perfection of certain manual exhibitions of skill. The truth of the effect and the facility with which it is produced are equally admirable. Up to a certain point everything is faultless. The hand and eye have done their part. There is only a want of taste and genius. It is after we enter upon that enchanted ground that the human mind begins to droop and flag as in a strange road, or in a thick mist, benighted and making little way with many attempts and many failures, and that the best of us only escape with half a triumph. The undefined and the imaginary are the regions that we must pass like Satan, difficult and doubtful, ‘half flying, half on foot.’ The object in sense is a positive thing, and execution comes with practice.

His Satan is of course Milton’s from Paradise Lost Bk.II. together with his own characteristic slight misquote:

That fury stayed —
Quenched in a boggy Syrtis, neither sea,
Nor good dry land — nigh foundered, on he fares,
Treading the crude consistence, half on foot,
Half flying; behoves him now both oar and sail.


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