Read LECTURE II of Aratra Pentelici‚ Seven Lectures on the Elements of Sculpture, free online book, by John Ruskin, on


November, 1870.

28. Beginning with the simple conception of sculpture as the art of fiction in solid substance, we are now to consider what its subject should be. What having the gift of imagery should we by preference endeavor to image? A question which is, indeed, subordinate to the deeper one why we should wish to image anything at all.

29. Some years ago, having been always desirous that the education of women should begin in learning how to cook, I got leave, one day, for a little girl of eleven years old to exchange, much to her satisfaction, her schoolroom for the kitchen. But as ill-fortune would have it, there was some pastry toward, and she was left unadvisedly in command of some delicately rolled paste; whereof she made no pies, but an unlimited quantity of cats and mice.

Now you may read the works of the gravest critics of art from end to end; but you will find, at last, they can give you no other true account of the spirit of sculpture than that it is an irresistible human instinct for the making of cats and mice, and other imitable living creatures, in such permanent form that one may play with the images at leisure.

Play with them, or love them, or fear them, or worship them. The cat may become the goddess Pasht, and the mouse, in the hand of a sculptured king, enforce his enduring words “”; but the great mimetic instinct underlies all such purpose; and is zooplastic, life-shaping, alike in the reverent and the impious.

30. Is, I say, and has been, hitherto; none of us dare say that it will be. I shall have to show you hereafter that the greater part of the technic energy of men, as yet, has indicated a kind of childhood; and that the race becomes, if not more wise, at least more manly, with every gained century. I can fancy that all this sculpturing and painting of ours may be looked back upon, in some distant time, as a kind of doll-making, and that the words of Sir Isaac Newton may be smiled at no more: only it will not be for stars that we desert our stone dolls, but for men. When the day comes, as come it must, in which we no more deface and defile God’s image in living clay, I am not sure that we shall any of us care so much for the images made of Him, in burnt clay.

31. But, hitherto, the energy of growth in any people may be almost directly measured by their passion for imitative art; namely, for sculpture, or for the drama, which is living and speaking sculpture, or, as in Greece, for both; and in national as in actual childhood, it is not merely the making, but the making-believe; not merely the acting for the sake of the scene, but acting for the sake of acting, that is delightful. And, of the two mimetic arts, the drama, being more passionate, and involving conditions of greater excitement and luxury, is usually in its excellence the sign of culminating strength in the people; while fine sculpture, requiring always submission to severe law, is an unfailing proof of their being in early and active progress. There is no instance of fine sculpture being produced by a nation either torpid, weak, or in decadence. Their drama may gain in grace and wit; but their sculpture, in days of decline, is always base.

32. If my little lady in the kitchen had been put in command of colors, as well as of dough, and if the paste would have taken the colors, we may be sure her mice would have been painted brown, and her cats tortoiseshell; and this, partly indeed for the added delight and prettiness of color itself, but more for the sake of absolute realization to her eyes and mind. Now all the early sculpture of the most accomplished nations has been thus colored, rudely or finely; and therefore you see at once how necessary it is that we should keep the term ‘graphic’ for imitative art generally; since no separation can at first be made between carving and painting, with reference to the mental powers exerted in, or addressed by, them. In the earliest known art of the world, a reindeer hunt may be scratched in outline on the flat side of a clean-picked bone, and a reindeer’s head carved out of the end of it; both these are flint-knife work, and, strictly speaking, sculpture: but the scratched outline is the beginning of drawing, and the carved head of sculpture proper. When the spaces inclosed by the scratched outline are filled with color, the coloring soon becomes a principal means of effect; so that, in the engraving of an Egyptian-color bas-relief, Rosellini has been content to miss the outlining incisions altogether, and represent it as a painting only. Its proper definition is, ‘painting accented by sculpture;’ on the other hand, in solid colored statues, Dresden china figures, for example, we have pretty sculpture accented by painting; the mental purpose in both kinds of art being to obtain the utmost degree of realization possible, and the ocular impression being the same, whether the delineation is obtained by engraving or painting. For, as I pointed out to you in my Fifth Lecture, everything is seen by the eye as patches of color, and of color only; a fact which the Greeks knew well; so that when it becomes a question in the dialogue of Minos, “,” the answer is “.” “What kind of power is the sight with which we see things? It is that sense which, through the eyes, can reveal colors to us.”

33. And now observe that, while the graphic arts begin in the mere mimetic effort, they proceed, as they obtain more perfect realization, to act under the influence of a stronger and higher instinct. They begin by scratching the reindeer, the most interesting object of sight. But presently, as the human creature rises in scale of intellect, it proceeds to scratch, not the most interesting object of sight only, but the most interesting object of imagination; not the reindeer, but the Maker and Giver of the reindeer. And the second great condition for the advance of the art of sculpture is that the race should possess, in addition to the mimetic instinct, the realistic or idolizing instinct; the desire to see as substantial the powers that are unseen, and bring near those that are far off, and to possess and cherish those that are strange. To make in some way tangible and visible the nature of the gods to illustrate and explain it by symbols; to bring the immortals out of the recesses of the clouds, and make them Penates; to bring back the dead from darkness, and make them Lares.

34. Our conception of this tremendous and universal human passion has been altogether narrowed by the current idea that Pagan religious art consisted only, or chiefly, in giving personality to the gods. The personality was never doubted; it was visibility, interpretation, and possession that the hearts of men sought. Possession, first of all the getting hold of some hewn log of wild olive-wood that would fall on its knees if it was pulled from its pedestal and, afterwards, slowly clearing manifestation; the exactly right expression is used in Lucian’s dream,; Showed Zeus; manifested him; nay, in a certain sense, brought forth, or created, as you have it, in Anacreons ode to the Rose, of the birth of Athena herself,

But I will translate the passage from Lucian to you at length it is in every way profitable.

35. “There came to me, in the healing night, a divine dream, so clear that it missed nothing of the truth itself; yes, and still after all this time, the shapes of what I saw remain in my sight, and the sound of what I heard dwells in my ears” (note the lovely sense of the sound being as of a stream passing always by in the same channel) “so distinct was everything to me. Two women laid hold of my hands and pulled me, each towards herself, so violently, that I had like to have been pulled asunder; and they cried out against one another, the one, that she resolved to have me to herself, being indeed her own; and the other, that it was vain for her to claim what belonged to others; and the one who first claimed me for her own was like a hard worker, and had strength as a mans; and her hair was dusty, and her hand full of horny places, and her dress fastened tight about her, and the folds of it loaded with white marble-dust, so that she looked just as my uncle used to look when he was filing stones: but the other was pleasant in features, and delicate in form, and orderly in her dress; and so, in the end, they left it to me to decide, after hearing what they had to say, with which of them I would go; and first the hard-featured and masculine one spoke:

36. “’Dear child, I am the Art of Image-sculpture, which yesterday you began to learn; and I am as one of your own people, and of your house, for your grandfather’ (and she named my mother’s father) ’was a stone-cutter; and both your uncles had good name through me: and if you will keep yourself well clear of the sillinesses and fluent follies that come from this creature,’ (and she pointed to the other woman,) ’and will follow me, and live with me, first of all, you shall be brought up as a man should be, and have strong shoulders; and, besides that, you shall be kept well quit of all restless desires, and you shall never be obliged to go away into any foreign places, leaving your own country and the people of your house; neither shall all men praise you for your talk. And you must not despise this rude serviceableness of my body, neither this meanness of my dusty dress; for, pushing on in their strength from such things as these, that great Phidias revealed Zeus, and Polyclitus wrought out Hera, and Myron was praised, and Praxiteles marveled at: therefore are these men worshiped with the gods.’”

37. There is a beautiful ambiguity in the use of the preposition with the genitive in this last sentence. “Pushing on from these things” means indeed, justly, that the sculptors rose from a mean state to a noble one; but not as leaving the mean state, not as, from a hard life, attaining to a soft one, but as being helped and strengthened by the rough life to do what was greatest. Again, “worshiped with the gods” does not mean that they are thought of as in any sense equal to, or like to, the gods, but as being on the side of the gods against what is base and ungodly; and that the kind of worth which is in them is therefore indeed worshipful, as having its source with the gods. Finally, observe that every one of the expressions used of the four sculptors is definitely the best that Lucian could have chosen. Phidias carved like one who had seen Zeus, and had only to reveal him; Polyclitus, in labor of intellect, completed his sculpture by just law, and wrought out Hera; Myron was of all most praised, because he did best what pleased the vulgar; and Praxiteles the most wondered at, or admired, because he bestowed utmost exquisiteness of beauty.

38. I am sorry not to go on with the dream: the more refined lady, as you may remember, is liberal or gentlemanly Education, and prevails at last; so that Lucian becomes an author instead of a sculptor, I think to his own regret, though to our present benefit. One more passage of his I must refer you to, as illustrative of the point before us; the description of the temple of the Syrian Hieropolis, where he explains the absence of the images of the sun and moon. “In the temple itself,” he says, “on the left hand as one goes in, there is set first the throne of the sun; but no form of him is thereon, for of these two powers alone, the sun and the moon, they show no carved images. And I also learned why this is their law, for they say that it is permissible, indeed, to make of the other gods, graven images, since the forms of them are not visible to all men. But Helios and Selenaia are everywhere clear-bright, and all men behold them; what need is there therefore for sculptured work of these, who appear in the air?”

39. This, then, is the second instinct necessary to sculpture; the desire for the manifestation, description, and companionship of unknown powers; and for possession of a bodily substance the ’bronze Strasbourg,’ which you can embrace, and hang immortelles on the head of instead of an abstract idea. But if you get nothing more in the depth of the national mind than these two feelings, the mimetic and idolizing instincts, there may be still no progress possible for the arts except in delicacy of manipulation and accumulative caprice of design. You must have not only the idolizing instinct, but an which chooses the right thing to idolize! Else, you will get states of art like those in China or India, non-progressive, and in great part diseased and frightful, being wrought under the influence of foolish terror, or foolish admiration. So that a third condition, completing and confirming both the others, must exist in order to the development of the creative power.

40. This third condition is that the heart of the nation shall be set on the discovery of just or equal law, and shall be from day to day developing that law more perfectly. The Greek school of sculpture is formed during, and in consequence of, the national effort to discover the nature of justice; the Tuscan, during, and in consequence of, the national effort to discover the nature of justification. I assert to you at present briefly, what will, I hope, be the subject of prolonged illustration hereafter.

41. Now when a nation with mimetic instinct and imaginative longing is also thus occupied earnestly in the discovery of Ethic law, that effort gradually brings precision and truth into all its manual acts; and the physical progress of sculpture, as in the Greek, so in the Tuscan, school, consists in gradually limiting what was before indefinite, in verifying what was inaccurate, and in humanizing what was monstrous. I might perhaps content you by showing these external phenomena, and by dwelling simply on the increasing desire of naturalness, which compels, in every successive decade of years, literally, in the sculptured images, the mimicked bones to come together, bone to his bone; and the flesh to come up upon them, until from a flattened and pinched handful of clay, respecting which you may gravely question whether it was intended for a human form at all; by slow degrees, and added touch to touch, in increasing consciousness of the bodily truth, at last the Aphrodite of Melos stands before you, a perfect woman. But all that search for physical accuracy is merely the external operation, in the arts, of the seeking for truth in the inner soul; it is impossible without that higher effort, and the demonstration of it would be worse than useless to you, unless I made you aware at the same time of its spiritual cause.

42. Observe farther; the increasing truth in representation is correlative with increasing beauty in the thing to be represented. The pursuit of justice which regulates the imitative effort, regulates also the development of the race into dignity of person, as of mind; and their culminating art-skill attains the grasp of entire truth at the moment when the truth becomes most lovely. And then, ideal sculpture may go on safely into portraiture. But I shall not touch on the subject of portrait sculpture to-day; it introduces many questions of detail, and must be a matter for subsequent consideration.

43. These, then, are the three great passions which are concerned in true sculpture. I cannot find better, or, at least, more easily remembered, names for them than ’the Instincts of Mimicry, Idolatry, and Discipline;’ meaning, by the last, the desire of equity and wholesome restraint, in all acts and works of life. Now of these, there is no question but that the love of Mimicry is natural and right, and the love of Discipline is natural and right. But it looks a grave question whether the yearning for Idolatry (the desire of companionship with images) is right. Whether, indeed, if such an instinct be essential to good sculpture, the art founded on it can possibly be ‘fine’ art.

44. I must now beg for your close attention, because I have to point out distinctions in modes of conception which will appear trivial to you, unless accurately understood; but of an importance in the history of art which cannot be overrated.

When the populace of Paris adorned the statue of Strasbourg with immortelles, none, even the simplest of the pious decorators, would suppose that the city of Strasbourg itself, or any spirit or ghost of the city, was actually there, sitting in the Place de la Concorde. The figure was delightful to them as a visible nucleus for their fond thoughts about Strasbourg; but never for a moment supposed to be Strasbourg.

Similarly, they might have taken delight in a statue purporting to represent a river instead of a city, the Rhine, or Garonne, suppose, and have been touched with strong emotion in looking at it, if the real river were dear to them, and yet never think for an instant that the statue was the river.

And yet again, similarly, but much more distinctly, they might take delight in the beautiful image of a god, because it gathered and perpetuated their thoughts about that god; and yet never suppose, nor be capable of being deceived by any arguments into supposing, that the statue was the god.

On the other hand, if a meteoric stone fell from the sky in the sight of a savage, and he picked it up hot, he would most probably lay it aside in some, to him, sacred place, and believe the stone itself to be a kind of god, and offer prayer and sacrifice to it.

In like manner, any other strange or terrifying object, such, for instance, as a powerfully noxious animal or plant, he would be apt to regard in the same way; and very possibly also construct for himself frightful idols of some kind, calculated to produce upon him a vague impression of their being alive; whose imaginary anger he might deprecate or avert with sacrifice, although incapable of conceiving in them any one attribute of exalted intellectual or moral nature.

45. If you will now refer to Sec.Se-9 of my Introductory Lectures, you will find this distinction between a resolute conception, recognized for such, and an involuntary apprehension of spiritual existence, already insisted on at some length. And you will see more and more clearly as we proceed, that the deliberate and intellectually commanded conception is not idolatrous in any evil sense whatever, but is one of the grandest and wholesomest functions of the human soul; and that the essence of evil idolatry begins only in the idea or belief of a real presence of any kind, in a thing in which there is no such presence.

46. I need not say that the harm of the idolatry must depend on the certainty of the negative. If there be a real presence in a pillar of cloud, in an unconsuming flame, or in a still small voice, it is no sin to bow down before these.

But, as matter of historical fact, the idea of such presence has generally been both ignoble and false, and confined to nations of inferior race, who are often condemned to remain for ages in conditions of vile terror, destitute of thought. Nearly all Indian architecture and Chinese design arise out of such a state: so also, though in a less gross degree, Ninevite and Phoenician art, early Irish, and Scandinavian; the latter, however, with vital elements of high intellect mingled in it from the first.

But the greatest races are never grossly subject to such terror, even in their childhood, and the course of their minds is broadly divisible into three distinct stages.

47. (I.) In their infancy they begin to imitate the real animals about them, as my little girl made the cats and mice, but with an under-current of partial superstition a sense that there must be more in the creatures than they can see; also they catch up vividly any of the fancies of the baser nations round them, and repeat these more or less apishly, yet rapidly naturalizing and beautifying them. They then connect all kinds of shapes together, compounding meanings out of the old chimeras, and inventing new ones with the speed of a running wildfire; but always getting more of man into their images, and admitting less of monster or brute; their own characters, meanwhile, expanding and purging themselves, and shaking off the feverish fancy, as springing flowers shake the earth off their stalks.

48. (II.) In the second stage, being now themselves perfect men and women, they reach the conception of true and great gods as existent in the universe; and absolutely cease to think of them as in any wise present in statues or images; but they have now learned to make these statues beautifully human, and to surround them with attributes that may concentrate their thoughts of the gods. This is, in Greece, accurately the Pindaric time, just a little preceding the Phidian; the Phidian is already dimmed with a faint shadow of infidelity; still, the Olympic Zeus may be taken as a sufficiently central type of a statue which was no more supposed to be Zeus, than the gold or elephants’ tusks it was made of; but in which the most splendid powers of human art were exhausted in representing a believed and honored God to the happy and holy imagination of a sincerely religious people.

49. (III.) The third stage of national existence follows, in which, the imagination having now done its utmost, and being partly restrained by the sanctities of tradition, which permit no farther change in the conceptions previously created, begins to be superseded by logical deduction and scientific investigation. At the same moment, the elder artists having done all that is possible in realizing the national conceptions of the gods, the younger ones, forbidden to change the scheme of existing representations, and incapable of doing anything better in that kind, betake themselves to refine and decorate the old ideas with more attractive skill. Their aims are thus more and more limited to manual dexterity, and their fancy paralyzed. Also in the course of centuries, the methods of every art continually improving, and being made subjects of popular inquiry, praise is now to be got, for eminence in these, from the whole mob of the nation; whereas intellectual design can never be discerned but by the few. So that in this third era we find every kind of imitative and vulgar dexterity more and more cultivated; while design and imagination are every day less cared for, and less possible.

50. Meanwhile, as I have just said, the leading minds in literature and science become continually more logical and investigative; and once that they are established in the habit of testing facts accurately, a very few years are enough to convince all the strongest thinkers that the old imaginative religion is untenable, and cannot any longer be honestly taught in its fixed traditional form, except by ignorant persons. And at this point the fate of the people absolutely depends on the degree of moral strength into which their hearts have been already trained. If it be a strong, industrious, chaste, and honest race, the taking its old gods, or at least the old forms of them, away from it, will indeed make it deeply sorrowful and amazed; but will in no whit shake its will, nor alter its practice. Exceptional persons, naturally disposed to become drunkards, harlots, and cheats, but who had been previously restrained from indulging these dispositions by their fear of God, will, of course, break out into open vice, when that fear is removed. But the heads of the families of the people, instructed in the pure habits and perfect delights of an honest life, and to whom the thought of a Father in heaven had been a comfort, not a restraint, will assuredly not seek relief from the discomfort of their orphanage by becoming uncharitable and vile. Also the high leaders of their thought gather their whole strength together in the gloom; and at the first entrance to this Valley of the Shadow of Death, look their new enemy full in the eyeless face of him, and subdue him, and his terror, under their feet. “Metus omnes, et inexorabile fatum,... strepitumque Acherontis avari.” This is the condition of national soul expressed by the art, and the words, of Holbein, Duerer, Shakspeare, Pope, and Goethe.

51. But if the people, at the moment when the trial of darkness approaches, be not confirmed in moral character, but are only maintaining a superficial virtue by the aid of a spectral religion; the moment the staff of their faith is broken, the character of the race falls like a climbing plant cut from its hold: then all the earthliest vices attack it as it lies in the dust; every form of sensual and insane sin is developed; and half a century is sometimes enough to close in hopeless shame the career of the nation in literature, art, and war.

52. Notably, within the last hundred years, all religion has perished from the practically active national mind of France and England. No statesman in the senate of either country would dare to use a sentence out of their acceptedly divine Revelation, as having now a literal authority over them for their guidance, or even a suggestive wisdom for their contemplation. England, especially, has cast her Bible full in the face of her former God; and proclaimed, with open challenge to Him, her resolved worship of His declared enemy, Mammon. All the arts, therefore, founded on religion and sculpture chiefly, are here in England effete and corrupt, to a degree which arts never were hitherto in the history of mankind; and it is possible to show you the condition of sculpture living, and sculpture dead, in accurate opposition, by simply comparing the nascent Pisan school in Italy with the existing school in England.

53. You were perhaps surprised at my placing in your educational series, as a type of original Italian sculpture, the pulpit by Niccola Pisano in the Duomo of Siena. I would rather, had it been possible, have given the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano in the Duomo of Pisa; but that pulpit is dispersed in fragments through the upper galleries of the Duomo, and the cloister of the Campo Santo; and the casts of its fragments now put together at Kensington are too coarse to be of use to you. You may partly judge, however, of the method of their execution by the eagles head, which I have sketched from the marble in the Campo Santo and the lioness with her cubs and I will get you other illustrations in due time. Meanwhile, I want you to compare the main purpose of the Cathedral of Pisa, and its associated Bell Tower, Baptistery, and Holy Field, with the main purpose of the principal building lately raised for the people of London. In these days, we indeed desire no cathedrals; but we have constructed an enormous and costly edifice, which, in claiming educational influence over the whole London populace, and middle class, is verily the Metropolitan cathedral of this century, the Crystal Palace.

54. It was proclaimed, at its erection, an example of a newly discovered style of architecture, greater than any hitherto known, our best popular writers, in their enthusiasm, describing it as an edifice of Fairyland. You are nevertheless to observe that this novel production of fairy enchantment is destitute of every kind of sculpture, except the bosses produced by the heads of nails and rivets; while the Duomo of Pisa, in the wreathen work of its doors, in the foliage of its capitals, inlaid color designs of its façade, embossed panels of its Baptistery font, and figure sculpture of its two pulpits, contained the germ of a school of sculpture which was to maintain, through a subsequent period of four hundred years, the greatest power yet reached by the arts of the world, in description of Form, and expression of Thought.

55. Now it is easy to show you the essential cause of the vast discrepancy in the character of these two buildings.

In the vault of the apse of the Duomo of Pisa was a colossal image of Christ, in colored mosaic, bearing to the temple, as nearly as possible, the relation which the statue of Athena bore to the Parthenon; and in the same manner, concentrating the imagination of the Pisan on the attributes of the God in whom he believed.

In precisely the same position with respect to the nave of the building, but of larger size, as proportioned to the three or four times greater scale of the whole, a colossal piece of sculpture was placed by English designers, at the extremity of the Crystal Palace, in preparation for their solemnities in honor of the birthday of Christ, in December 1867 or 1868.

That piece of sculpture was the face of the clown in a pantomime, some twelve feet high from brow to chin, which face, being moved by the mechanism which is our pride, every half-minute opened its mouth from ear to ear, showed its teeth, and revolved its eyes, the force of these periodical seasons of expression being increased and explained by the illuminated inscription underneath, “Here we are again.”

56. When it is assumed, and with too good reason, that the mind of the English populace is to be addressed, in the principal Sacred Festival of its year, by sculpture such as this, I need scarcely point out to you that the hope is absolutely futile of advancing their intelligence by collecting within this building (itself devoid absolutely of every kind of art, and so vilely constructed that those who traverse it are continually in danger of falling over the cross-bars that bind it together,) examples of sculpture filched indiscriminately from the past work, bad and good, of Turks, Greeks, Romans, Moors, and Christians, miscolored, misplaced, and misinterpreted; here thrust into unseemly corners, and there mortised together into mere confusion of heterogeneous obstacle; pronouncing itself hourly more intolerable in weariness, until any kind of relief is sought from it in steam wheelbarrows or cheap toyshops; and most of all in beer and meat, the corks and the bones being dropped through the chinks in the damp deal flooring of the English Fairy Palace.

57. But you will probably think me unjust in assuming that a building prepared only for the amusement of the people can typically represent the architecture or sculpture of modern England. You may urge that I ought rather to describe the qualities of the refined sculpture which is executed in large quantities for private persons belonging to the upper classes, and for sepulchral and memorial purposes. But I could not now criticise that sculpture with any power of conviction to you, because I have not yet stated to you the principles of good sculpture in general. I will, however, in some points, tell you the facts by anticipation.

58. We have much excellent portrait sculpture; but portrait sculpture, which is nothing more, is always third-rate work, even when produced by men of genius; nor does it in the least require men of genius to produce it. To paint a portrait, indeed, implies the very highest gifts of painting; but any man, of ordinary patience and artistic feeling, can carve a satisfactory bust.

59. Of our powers in historical sculpture, I am, without question, just, in taking for sufficient evidence the monuments we have erected to our two greatest heroes by sea and land; namely, the Nelson Column, and the statue of the Duke of Wellington opposite Apsley House. Nor will you, I hope, think me severe, certainly, whatever you may think me, I am using only the most temperate language, in saying of both these monuments, that they are absolutely devoid of high sculptural merit. But consider how much is involved in the fact thus dispassionately stated, respecting the two monuments in the principal places of our capital, to our two greatest heroes.

60. Remember that we have before our eyes, as subjects of perpetual study and thought, the art of all the world for three thousand years past; especially, we have the best sculpture of Greece, for example of bodily perfection; the best of Rome, for example of character in portraiture; the best of Florence, for example of romantic passion; we have unlimited access to books and other sources of instruction; we have the most perfect scientific illustrations of anatomy, both human and comparative; and we have bribes for the reward of success, large in the proportion of at least twenty to one, as compared with those offered to the artists of any other period. And with all these advantages, and the stimulus also of fame carried instantly by the press to the remotest corners of Europe, the best efforts we can make, on the grandest of occasions, result in work which it is impossible in any one particular to praise.

Now consider for yourselves what an intensity of the negation of the faculty of sculpture this implies in the national mind! What measure can be assigned to the gulf of incapacity, which can deliberately swallow up in the gorge of it the teaching and example of three thousand years, and produce, as the result of that instruction, what it is courteous to call ‘nothing’?

61. That is the conclusion at which we arrive on the evidence presented by our historical sculpture. To complete the measure of ourselves, we must endeavor to estimate the rank of the two opposite schools of sculpture employed by us in the nominal service of religion, and in the actual service of vice.

I am aware of no statue of Christ, nor of any apostle of Christ, nor of any scene related in the New Testament, produced by us within the last three hundred years, which has possessed even superficial merit enough to attract public attention.

Whereas the steadily immoral effect of the formative art which we learn, more or less apishly, from the French schools, and employ, but too gladly, in manufacturing articles for the amusement of the luxurious classes, must be ranked as one of the chief instruments used by joyful fiends and angry fates for the ruin of our civilization.

If, after I have set before you the nature and principles of true sculpture, in Athens, Pisa, and Florence, you consider these facts, (which you will then at once recognize as such), you will find that they absolutely justify my assertion that the state of sculpture in modern England, as compared with that of the great Ancients, is literally one of corrupt and dishonorable death, as opposed to bright and fameful life.

62. And now, will you bear with me while I tell you finally why this is so?

The cause with which you are personally concerned is your own frivolity; though essentially this is not your fault, but that of the system of your early training. But the fact remains the same, that here, in Oxford, you, a chosen body of English youth, in nowise care for the history of your country, for its present dangers, or its present duties. You still, like children of seven or eight years old, are interested only in bats, balls, and oars: nay, including with you the students of Germany and France, it is certain that the general body of modern European youth have their minds occupied more seriously by the sculpture and painting of the bowls of their tobacco-pipes, than by all the divinest workmanship and passionate imagination of Greece, Rome, and Mediaeval Christendom.

63. But the elementary causes, both of this frivolity in you, and of worse than frivolity in older persons, are the two forms of deadly Idolatry which are now all but universal in England.

The first of these is the worship of the Eidolon, or Fantasm of Wealth; worship of which you will find the nature partly examined in the thirty-seventh paragraph of my ‘Munera Pulveris’; but which is briefly to be defined as the servile apprehension of an active power in Money, and the submission to it as the God of our life.

64. The second elementary cause of the loss of our nobly imaginative faculty, is the worship of the Letter, instead of the Spirit, in what we chiefly accept as the ordinance and teaching of Deity; and the apprehension of a healing sacredness in the act of reading the Book whose primal commands we refuse to obey.

No feather idol of Polynesia was ever a sign of a more shameful idolatry than the modern notion in the minds of certainly the majority of English religious persons, that the Word of God, by which the heavens were of old, and the earth, standing out of the water and in the water, the Word of God which came to the prophets, and comes still forever to all who will hear it (and to many who will forbear); and which, called Faithful and True, is to lead forth, in the judgment, the armies of heaven, that this ‘Word of God’ may yet be bound at our pleasure in morocco, and carried about in a young lady’s pocket, with tasseled ribbons to mark the passages she most approves of.

65. Gentlemen, there has hitherto been seen no instance, and England is little likely to give the unexampled spectacle, of a country successful in the noble arts, yet in which the youths were frivolous, the maidens falsely religious; the men, slaves of money, and the matrons, of vanity. Not from all the marble of the hills of Luini will such a people ever shape one statue that may stand nobly against the sky; not from all the treasures bequeathed to them by the great dead, will they gather, for their own descendants, any inheritance but shame.