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   Chapter 26 PICTURE GALLERIES.

True Words for Brave Men By Charles Kingsley Characters: 5908

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Picture-galleries should be the working-man's paradise, [230] a garden of pleasure, to which he goes to refresh his eyes and heart with beautiful shapes and sweet colouring, when they are wearied with dull bricks and mortar, and the ugly colourless things which fill the town, the workshop and the factory. For, believe me, there is many a road into our hearts besides our ears and brains; many a sight, and sound, and scent, even, of which we have never thought at all, sinks into our memory, and helps to shape our characters; and thus children brought up among beautiful sights and sweet sounds will most likely show the fruits of their nursing, by thoughtfulness and affection, and nobleness of mind, even by the expression of the countenance. The poet Wordsworth, talking of training up a beautiful country girl, says:-

"The floating clouds their state shall lend

To her-for her the willow bend;

Nor shall she fail to see,

Even in the motions of the storm,

Grace which shall mould the maiden's form,

By silent sympathy.

* * * * *

And she shall bend her ear

In many a secret place

Where rivulets dance their wayward round,

And beauty, born of murmuring sound,

Shall pass into her face."

Those who live in towns should carefully remember this, for their own sakes, for their wives' sakes, for their children's sakes. Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful. Beauty is God's handwriting-a wayside sacrament; welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower, and thank Him for it, who is the fountain of all loveliness, and drink it in, simply and earnestly, with all your eyes; it is a charmed draught, a cup of blessing.

Therefore I said that picture-galleries should be the townsman's paradise of refreshment. Of course, if he can get the real air, the real trees, even for an hour, let him take it, in God's name; but how many a man who cannot spare time for a daily country walk, may well slip into the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square (or the South Kensington Museum), or any other collection of pictures, for ten minutes. That garden, at least, flowers as gaily in winter as in summer. Those noble faces on the wall are never disfigured by grief or passion. There, in the space of a single room, the townsman may take his country walk-a walk beneath mountain peaks, blushing sunsets, with broad woodlands spreading out below it; a walk through green meadows, under cool mellow shades, and overhanging rocks, by rushing brooks, where he watches and watches till he seems to hear the foam whisper, and to see the fishes leap; and his hard worn heart wanders out free, beyond the grim city-world of stone and iron, smoky chimneys, and roaring wheels, into the world of beautiful things-the world which shall be hereafter-ay, which shall be! Believe it, toil-worn worker, in spite of thy foul alley, thy crowded lodging, thy grimed clothing, thy ill-fed children, thy thin,

pale wife-believe it, thou too and thine, will some day have your share of beauty. God made you love beautiful things only because He intends hereafter to give you your fill of them. That pictured face on the wall is lovely, but lovelier still may the wife of thy bosom be when she meets thee on the resurrection morn! Those baby cherubs in the old Italian painting-how gracefully they flutter and sport among the soft clouds, full of rich young life and baby joy! Yes, beautiful indeed, but just such a one at this very moment is that once pining, deformed child of thine, over whose death-cradle thou wast weeping a month ago; now a child-angel, whom thou shalt meet again never to part! Those landscapes, too, painted by loving, wise old Claude, two hundred years ago, are still as fresh as ever. How still the meadows are! how pure and free that vault of deep blue sky! No wonder that thy worn heart, as thou lookest, sighs aloud, "Oh that I had wings as a dove, then would I flee away and be at rest." Ah, but gayer meadows and bluer skies await thee in the world to come-that fairy-land made real-"the new heavens and the new earth," which God has prepared for the pure and the loving, the just and the brave, who have conquered in this sore fight of life!

These thoughts may seem all too far-fetched to spring up in a man's head from merely looking at pictures; but it is not so in practice. See, now, such thoughts have sprung up in my head; how else did I write them down here? And why should not they, and better ones, too, spring up in your heads, friends? It is delightful to watch in a picture-gallery some street-boy enjoying himself; how first wonder creeps over his rough face, and then a sweeter, more earnest, awestruck look, till his countenance seems to grow handsomer and nobler on the spot, and drink in and reflect unknowingly, the beauty of the picture he is studying. See how some soldier's face will light up before the painting which tells him a noble story of bye-gone days. And why? Because he feels as if he himself had a share in the story at which he looks. They may be noble and glorious men who are painted there; but they are still men of like passions with himself, and his man's heart understands them and glories in them; and he begins, and rightly, to respect himself the more when he finds that he, too, has a fellow-feeling with noble men and noble deeds.

I say, pictures raise blessed thoughts in me-why not in you, my brothers? Your hearts are fresh, thoughtful, kindly; you only want to have these pictures explained to you, that you may know why and how they are beautiful, and what feelings they ought to stir in your minds. Look at the portraits on the walls, and let me explain one or two. Often the portraits are simpler than large pictures, and they speak of real men and women who once lived on this earth of ours-generally of remarkable and noble men-and man should be always interesting to man.

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