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True Words for Brave Men By Charles Kingsley Characters: 8957

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Nature is infinitely more wonderful than the highest art; and in the commonest hedgeside leaf lies a mystery and beauty greater than that of the greatest picture, the noblest statue-as infinitely greater as God's work is infinitely greater than man's. But to those who have no leisure to study nature in the green fields (and there are now-a-days too many such, though the time may come when all will have that blessing), to such I say, go to the British Museum, Bloomsbury Square; there at least, if you cannot go to nature's wonders, some of nature's wonders are brought to you.

The British Museum is my glory and joy; because it is one of the only places which is free to English citizens as such-where the poor and the rich may meet together, and before those works of God's Spirit, "who is no respecter of persons," feel that "the Lord is the maker of them all." In the British Museum and the National Gallery, the Englishman may say, "Whatever my coat or my purse, I am an Englishman, and therefore I have a right here. I can glory in these noble halls, as if they were my own house."

English commerce, the joint enterprise and industry of the poor sailor as well as the rich merchant, brought home these treasures from foreign lands; and those glorious statues-though it was the wealth and taste of English noblemen and gentlemen (who in that proved themselves truly noble and gentle) who placed them here, yet it was the genius of English artists-men at once above and below all ranks-men who have worked their way up, not by money or birth, but by worth and genius, which taught the noble and wealthy the value of those antiques, and which proclaimed their beauty to the world. The British Museum is a truly equalising place, in the deepest and most spiritual sense. And it gives the lie, too, to that common slander, "that the English are not worthy of free admission to valuable and curious collections, because they have such a trick of seeing with their fingers; such a trick of scribbling their names, of defiling and disfiguring works of art. On the Continent it may do, but you cannot trust the English."

This has been, like many other untruths, so often repeated, that people now take it for granted; but I believe that it is utterly groundless, and I say so on the experience of the British Museum and the National Gallery. In the only two cases, I believe, in which injury has been done to anything in either place, the destroyers were neither working-men, nor even poor reckless heathen street-boys, but persons who had received what is too often miscalled "a liberal education." But national property will always be respected, because all will be content, while they feel that they have their rights, and all will be careful while they feel that they have a share in the treasure.

Go to the British Museum in Easter week, and see there hundreds of thousands, of every rank and age, wandering past sculptures and paintings, which would be ruined by a blow-past jewels and curiosities, any one of which would buy many a poor soul there a month's food and lodging-only protected by a pane of glass, if by that; and then see not a thing disfigured-much less stolen. Everywhere order, care, attention, honest pride in their country's wealth and science; earnest reverence for the mighty works of God, and of the God-inspired. I say, the people of England prove themselves worthy of free admission to all works of art, and it is therefore the duty of those who can to help them to that free admission.

What a noble, and righteous, and truly brotherly plan it would be, if all classes would join to form a free National Gallery of Art and Science, which might combine the advantages of the present Polytechnic, Society of Arts, and British Institution, gratis. [243] Manufacturers and men of science might send thither specimens of their new inventions. The rich might send, for a few months in the year-as they do now to the British Institution-ancient and modern pictures, and not only pictures, but all sorts of curious works of art and nature, which are now hidden in their drawing-rooms and libraries. There might be free liberty to copy any object, on the copyist's name and residence being registered. And surely artists and men of science might be found, with enough of the spirit of patriotism and love, to explain gratuitously to all comers, whatever their rank or class, the wonders of the Museum. I really believe that if once the spirit

of brotherhood got abroad among us; if men once saw that here was a vast means of educating, and softening and uniting those who have no leisure for study, and few means of enjoyment, except the gin-shop and Cremorne Gardens; if they could but once feel that here was a project, equally blessed for rich and poor, the money for it would be at once forthcoming from many a rich man, who is longing to do good, if he could only be shown the way; and from many a poor journeyman, who would gladly contribute his mite to a truly national museum. All that is wanted is the spirit of self-sacrifice, patriotism and brotherly love-which God alone can give-which I believe He is giving more and more in these very days.

I never felt this more strongly than one day, as I was looking in at the windows of a splendid curiosity-shop in Oxford Street, at a case of humming-birds. I was gloating over the beauty of those feathered jewels, and then wondering what was the meaning, what was the use of it all? why those exquisite little creatures should have been hidden for ages, in all their splendours of ruby, and emerald, and gold in the South American forests, breeding and fluttering and dying, that some dozen out of all those millions might be brought over here to astonish the eyes of men. And as I asked myself, why were all these boundless varieties, these treasures of unseen beauty, created? my brain grew dizzy between pleasure and thought; and, as always happens when one is most innocently delighted, "I turned to share the joy," as Wordsworth says; and next to me stood a huge, brawny coal-heaver, in his shovel hat, and white stockings and high-lows, gazing at the humming-birds as earnestly as myself. As I turned he turned, and I saw a bright manly face, with a broad, soot-grimmed forehead, from under which a pair of keen flashing eyes gleamed wondering, smiling sympathy into mine. In that moment we felt ourselves friends. If we had been Frenchmen, we should, I suppose, have rushed into each other's arms and "fraternised" upon the spot. As we were a pair of dumb, awkward Englishmen, we only gazed a half-minute, staring into each other's eyes, with a delightful feeling of understanding each other, and then burst out both at once with, "Isn't that beautiful?" "Well, that is!" And then both turned back again, to stare at our humming-birds.

I never felt more thoroughly than at that minute (though, thank God, I had often felt it before) that all men were brothers; that this was not a mere political doctrine, but a blessed God-ordained fact; that the party-walls of rank and fashion and money were but a paper prison of our own making, which we might break through any moment by a single hearty and kindly feeling; that the one spirit of God was given without respect of persons; that the beautiful things were beautiful alike to the coal-heaver and the parson; and that before the wondrous works of God and of God's inspired genius, the rich and the poor might meet together, and feel that whatever the coat or the creed may be, "A man's a man for a' that," and one Lord the maker of them all.

For, believe me, my friends, rich and poor-and I beseech you to think deeply over this great truth-that men will never be joined in true brotherhood by mere plans to give them a self-interest in common, as the Socialists have tried to do. No: to feel for each other, they must first feel with each other. To have their sympathies in common, they must have not one object of gain, but an object of admiration in common; to know that they are brothers, they must feel that they have one Father; and one way to feel that they have one common Father, is to see each other wondering, side by side, at His glorious works!


[80a] H.M.S. the Duke of Wellington.

[80b] Form of prayer to be used at sea.

[199] This was written and sent out to the army before Sebastopol in the winter of 1855.

[222] Prescott's "History of the Conquest of Mexico." See Book v., ch. 1.

[230] Mr. Kingsley wrote these papers for London working-men, but his words apply just as much to soldiers in London barracks, as to artizans. He thought much of the good of pictures, and all beautiful things for hard-worked men who could see such things in public galleries, though they could not afford to have them in their own homes.

[243] Since this paper was written in 1848 many such institutions have been opened, at South Kensington, and in several great towns.

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