Question of Monuments

IN the beautiful life which the English-speaking foreigners lead at Rome, the great sensations are purely aesthetic. To people who know one another so familiarly as must the members of a community united in a strange land by the ties of alien race, language, and religion, there cannot, of course, be wanting the little excitements of personal gossip and scandal; but even these have generally an innocent, artistic flavor, and it is ladies’ statues, not reputations, which suffer, —gentlemen’s pictures, not characters, which are called into question ; while the events which interest the whole community are altogether different from those which move us at home. In the Capital of the Past, people meeting at the cafe, or at the tea-tables of lady-acquaintance, speak, before falling upon the works of absent friends, concerning the antique jewel which Castellani lately bought of a peasant, and intends to reproduce, for the delight of all who can afford to love the quaint and exquisite forms of the ancient workers in gems and gold ; or they talk of that famous statue of the young Hercules, dug up by the lucky proprietor, who received from the Pope a marquisate, and forgiveness of all his debts, in return for his gift of the gilded treasure. At the worst these happy children of art, and their cousins the connoisseurs, (every English-speaking foreigner in Rome is of one class or the other,) are only drawn from the debate of such themes by some dramatic aspect of the picturesque Roman politics : a scene between the French commandant and Antonelli, or the arrest of a restaurateur for giving his guests white turnips, red beets, and green beans in the same revolutionary plate ; or the like incident.

At home, here, in the multiplicity of our rude affairs, by what widely different events and topics are we excited to talk ! It must be some occurrence of very terrible, vile, or grotesque effect that can take our minds from our business. We discuss the ghastly particulars of a steamboat explosion, or the evidence in a trial for murder ; or if the chief magistrate addresses his fellowcitizens in his colloquial, yet dignified way, we dispute whether he was not, at the time of the speech, a martyr to those life-long habits of abstinence from which he is known to have once suffered calamities spared the confirmed wine-bibber. Once, indeed, we seemed as a nation to rise to the appreciation of those beautiful interests which occupy our Roman friends, and once, not a great while ago, we may be said to have known an aesthetic sensation. For the first time in our history as a people, we seemed to feel the necessity of art, and to regard it as a living interest, like commerce, or manufacturing, or mining, when, shortly after the close of the war, and succeeding the fall of the last and greatest of its dead, the country expressed a universal desire to commemorate its heroes by the aid of art. Rut we do not husband our sensations as our Roman friends do theirs : the young Hercules lasted them two months, while a divorce case hardly satisfies us as many days, and a railroad accident not longer. We hasten from one event to another, and it would be hard to tell now whether it was a collision on the Saint Jo line, or a hundred and thirty lives lost on the Mississippi, or some pleasantry from our merry Andrew, which distracted the public mind from the subject of monumental honors. It is certain, however, that, at the time alluded to, there was much talk of such things in the newspapers and in the meetings. A popular subscription was opened for the erection of a monument to Abraham Lincoln at his home in Springfield ; each city was about to celebrate him by a statue in its public square ; every village would have his bust or a funeral tablet ; and our soldieis were to be paid the like reverence and homage. Then the whole affair was overwhelmed by some wave of novel excitement, and passed out of the thoughts of the people ; so that we feel, in recurring to it now, like him who, at dinner, turns awkwardly back to a subject from which the conversation has gracefully wandered, saying, “We were speaking just now about” — something the company has already forgotten. So far as we have learned, not an order for any memorial sculpture of Lincoln has been given in the whole country, and we believe that only one design by an American sculptor has been offered for the Springfield monument. There is time, however, to multiply designs ; for the subscription, having reached a scant fifty thousand dollars, rests at that sum, and rises no higher.

But we hope that the people will not altogether relinquish the purpose of monumental commemoration of the war, and we are not wholly inclined to lament that the fever-heat of their first intent exhausted itself in dreams of shafts and obelisks, groups and statues, which would probably have borne as much relation to the real idea of Lincoln’s life, and the war and time which his memory embodies and represents, as the poetry of the war has borne. In the cool moments of our convalescence from civil disorder, may we not think a little more clearly, and choose rather more wisely than would have been possible earlier?

No doubt there is in every epoch a master-feeling which art must obey, if it would flourish, and remain to represent something intelligible after the epoch is past. We know by the Gothic churches of Italy how mightily the whole people of that land were once moved by the impulses of their religion (which might be, and certainly was, a thing very different from purity and goodness) : the Renaissance temples remind us of a studious period passionately enamored of the classic past ; in the rococo architecture and sculpture of a later time, we have the idle swagger, the unmeaning splendor, the lawless luxury, of an age corrupted by its own opulence, and proud of its licentious slavery. Had anything come of the aesthetic sensation immediately following the war, and the spirit of martial pride with which it was so largely mixed, we should probably have had a much greater standing-army in bronze and marble than would have been needed for the suppression of any future rebellion. An excitement, a tumult, not a tendency of our civilization, would thus have been perpetuated, to misrepresent us and our age to posterity ; for we are not a military people, (though we certainly know how to fight upon occasion.) and the pride which we felt in our army as a body, and in the men merely as soldiers, was an exultation which has already in a great part subsided. Indeed, the brave fellows have themselves meantime given us a lesson, in the haste they have made to put off their soldiercostume and resume the free and individual dress of the civilian. The ignorant poets might pipe of the glory and splendor of war, but these men had seen the laurel growing on the battlefield, and knew

“ Di che lagrime grandi e di che sangue ”

its dazzling foliage. They knew that the fighting, in itself horrible, and only sublime in its necessity and purpose, was but a minor part of the struggle ; and they gladly put aside all that proclaimed it as their vocation, and returned to the arts of peace.

The idea of our war seems to have interpreted itself to us all as faith in the justice of our cause, and in our immutable destiny, as God’s agents, to give freedom to mankind ; and the ideas of our peace are gratitude and exultant industry. Somehow, we imagine, these ideas should be represented in every memorial work of the time, though we should be sorry to have this done by the dreary means of conventional allegory. A military despotism of martial statues would be far better than a demagogy of these virtues, posed in their well-known attitudes, to confront perplexed posterity with lifted brows and superhuman simpers. A sublime parable, like Ward’s statue of the Freedman, is the full expression of one idea that should be commemorated, and would better celebrate the great deeds of our soldiers than bass-reliefs of battles, and statues of captains, and groups of privates, or many scantily-draped, improper figures, happily called Liberties.

With the people chosen to keep pure the instinct of the Beautiful, as the Hebrews were chosen to preserve a knowledge of the Divine, it was not felt that commemorative art need be descriptive. He who triumphed the first and second time in the Olympic games was honored with a statue, but not a statue in his own likeness. Neither need the commemorative art of our time be directly descriptive of the actions it celebrates. There is hardly any work of beautiful use which cannot be made to serve the pride we feel in those who fought to enlarge and confirm the freedom of our country, and we need only guard that our monuments shall in no case express funereal sentiment. Their place should be, not in the cemeteries, but in the busy hearts of towns, and they should celebrate not only those who fought and died for us in the war, but also those who fought and lived, for both are equally worthy of gratitude and honor. The ruling sentiment of Our time is triumphant and trustful, and all symbols and images of death are alien to it.

While the commemoration of the late President may chiefly take visible shape at the capital, or at Springfield, near the quiet home from which he was called to his great glory, the era of which he was so grand a part should be remembered by some work of art in every community. The perpetuation of the heroic memories should in all cases, it seems to us, be committed to the plastic arts, and not, as some would advise, to any less tangible witness to our love for them. It is true that a community might endow a charity, to be called forever by some name that would celebrate them, or might worthily record its reverence for them by purchase of scholarship to be given in our heroes’ names to generations of straggling scholars of the place. But the poor we have always with us; while this seems the rare occasion meant for the plastic arts to supply our need of beautiful architecture and sculpture, and to prove their right to citizenship among us, by showing themselves adequate to express something of the spirit of the new order we have created here. Their effort need not, however, be toward novel forms of expression. That small part of our literature which has best answered the want of our national life has been the most jealous in its regard for the gospels of art, and only incoherent mediums and false prophets have disdained revelation. Let the plastic arts, in proving that they have suffered the change which has come upon races, ethics, and ideas in this new world, interpret for us that simple and direct sense of the beautiful which lies hidden in the letter of use. There is the great, overgrown, weary town of Workdays, which inadequately struggled at the time of our national testhetic sensation, in all its newspapers, pulpits, and rostrums, with the idea of a monument to the regiments it sent to the war. The evident and immediate want of Workdays is a park or public garden, in which it can walk about, and cool and restore itself. Why should not the plastic arts suggest that the best monument which Workdays could build would be this park, with a great triumphal gateway inscribed to its soldiers, and adorned with that sculpture and architecture for which Workdays can readily pay ? The flourishing village of Spindles, having outgrown the days of town-pumps and troughs, has not, in spite of its abundant water-power, a drop of water on its public ways to save its operatives from drunkenness or its dogs from madness. O plastic arts! give Spindles a commemorative fountain, which, taking a little music from the mills, shall sing its heroes forever in drops of health, refreshment, and mercy. In the inquiring town of Innovation, successive tides of doubt and revival and spiritualism have left the different religious sects with little more than their names; let Innovation build a votive church to the memory of the Innovators sent to the war, and meet in it for harmonious public worship. At Dulboys and Slouchers, it must be confessed that they sadly need a new union school-house and town-hall, (the old school-house at Dulboys having been at last whittled to pieces, and no town-hall having ever been built in Slouchers,) and there seems no good reason why these edifices should not be given the honor to proclaim the pride of the towns in the deeds of their patriots.

On their part, we hope none of these places will forget that it is bound to the arts and to itself not to build ignobly in memory of its great. A commemorative edifice, to whatever purpose adapted, must first be beautiful, since a shabby or ugly gateway, fountain, or church would dishonor those to whom it was dedicated; a school-house or town-hall built to proclaim pride and reverence cannot be a wooden box; but all must be structures of enduring material and stately architecture. All should, if possible, have some significant piece of statuary within or upon them, or at least some place for it, to be afterwards filled ; and all should be enriched and beautified to the full extent of the people’s money and the artist’s faculty.

For the money, the citizens will, of course, depend upon themselves ; but may we pray them to beware of the silliness of local pride — (we imagine that upon reading this paper the cities and towns named will at once move in the business of monuments, and we would not leave them unadvised in any particular)— in choosing their sculptors and architects ? Home talent is a good thing when educated and developed, but it must be taught in the schools of art, and not suffered to spoil brick and mortar in learning. Our triends, the depraved Italian popes and princes (of whom we can learn much good), understood this, and called to their capitals the best artist living, no matter what the city of his birth. If a famous sculptor or architect happens to be a native of any of the places mentioned, he is the man to make its monument; and if he is a native of any other place in the country, he is equally the man, while home talent must be contented to execute his design.