The Progress of Art

O HAPPY time! Art's early days!
When o'er each deed, with sweet self-praise,
Narcissus-like I hung!
When great Rembrandt but little seem'd,
And such Old Masters all were deem'd
As nothing to the young!

Some scratchy strokes — abrupt and few,
So easily and swift I drew,
Sufficed for my design;
My sketchy, superficial hand,
Drew solids at a dash — and spann'd
A surface with a line.

Not long my eye was thus content,
But grew more critical — my bent
Essay'd a higher walk;
I copied leaden eyes in lead —
Rheumatic hands in white and red,
And gouty feet — in chalk.

Anon my studious art for days
Kept making faces — happy phrase,
For faces such as mine!
Accomplish'd in the details then,
I left the minor parts of men,
And drew the form divine.

Old Gods and Heroes — Trojan — Greek,
Figures — long after the antique,
Great Ajax justly fear'd;
Hectors, of whom at night I dreamt,
And Nestor, fringed enough to tempt
Bird-nesters to his beard.

A Bacchus, leering on a bowl,
A Pallas, that out-stared her owl,
A Vulcan — very lame;
A Dian stuck about with stars,
With my right hand I murder'd Mars —
(One Williams did the same.)

But tired of this dry work at last,
Crayon and chalk aside I cast,
And gave my brush a drink?
Dipping — " as when a painter dips
In gloom of earthquake and eclipse, " —
That is — in Indian ink.

Oh then, what black Mont Blancs arose,
Crested with soot, and not with snows:
What clouds of dingy hue!
In spite of what the bard has penn'd,
I fear the distance did not " lend
Enchantment to the view. "

Not Radclyffe's brush did e'er design
Black Forests, half so black as mine,
Or lakes so like a pall;
The Chinese cake dispersed a ray
Of darkness, like the light of Day
And Martin over all.

Yet urchin pride sustain'd me still,
I gazed on all with right good will,
And spread the dingy tint;
" No holy Luke help'd me to paint,
The Devil surely, not a Saint,
Had any finger in 't! "

But colours came! — like morning light,
With gorgeous hues displacing night,
Or Spring's enliven'd scene:
At once the sable shades withdrew;
My skies got very, very blue;
My trees extremely green.

And wash'd by my cosmetic brush,
How Beauty's cheek began to blush;
With lock of auburn stain —
(Not Goldsmith's Auburn) — nut-brown hair,
That made her loveliest of the fair;
Not " loveliest of the plain! "

Her lips were of vermilion hue;
Love in her eyes, and Prussian blue,
Set all my heart in flame!
A young Pygmalion, I adored
The maids I made — but time was stored
With evil — and it came!

Perspective dawn'd — and soon I saw
My houses stand against its law;
And " keeping " all unkept!
My beauties were no longer things
For love and fond imaginings;
But horrors to be wept!

Ah! why did knowledge ope my eyes?
Why did I get more artist-wise?
It only serves to hint,
What grave defects and wants are mine;
That I 'm no Hilton in design —
In nature no Dewint!

Thrice happy time! — Art's early days!
When o'er each deed with sweet self-praise,
Narcissus-like I hung!
When great Rembrandt but little seem'd,
And such Old Masters all were deem'd
As nothing to the young!
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