The Peripatetic Reviewer

THE Chinese Art Treasures were on exhibition at the Boston Museum of Eine Arts during the Christmas holidays, and a more enchanting and welcome gift could hardly be imagined. These two hundred and thirty masterpieces — paintings, scrolls, calligraphy, pottery, and jade — were selected from the famous court collection which was begun at the very outset of the Southern Sung dynasty (1127—1279), which survived the invasion of the Mongols and of the Manchus, the fall of Peking in China’s humiliating foreign wars of 1860 and 1900, the pillar-to-post transfer during World War II. and after that, the Communist take-over. They come to us from Taiwan, and it is a miracle that they are in such an exquisite state of preservation.
On my first two visits, I had eyes only for the paintings. WANG SHIH-CHIEH, who has written the preface to the catalogue, CHINESE ART TREASURES (Skira, $5.00), says that the essence of ancient Chinese art is “its ability to impart a high sense of tranquillity and peacefulness. The serene world the ancient Chinese artist labored to depict was, however, not a world void of passions; it was rather a world where passions had found sublimation.” This feeling of tranquillity is pervasive, and you see its immediate effect on the faces of the spectators: they are relaxed and smiling, and they arc evidently finding a surprising pleasure in looking for the small, half-hidden figures, the little touches of humor, poignancy, and sheer beauty which you will find if you wait. The children. and I among them, were attracted to the animals. Magpies and Hare by Ts’ui Po (dated 1061) makes one laugh aloud nine hundred years after it was painted. Against the wet contour of an earth bank leans a small gnarled oak. The wind is blowing through its leaves and is strong enough to keep one of the magpies poised overhead. The nearer bird, beak open, is jeering down from the branch, and the hare, as he looks up with his “Who, me?” expression, is a masterpiece of innocence and guile.
I came back repeatedly to study another of my favorites, Herdboys and Buffaloes in the Rainstorm by Li Ti. Here the wind is lashing an old willowtree, and one can almost feel the onslaught of the rain. The herdboys, each mounted on his broadbeamed buffalo, arc getting the hell out of there, and the younger has just had his straw hat blown away and is about to jump off the rump to retrieve it. Hat or buffalo? How can realism be made more engaging?
We notice how well-fed these animals are: the cats and the monkeys are fat; the horses, those from the imperial stables, so rounded that it is just as much fun for the artist to paint them from the rear view as in profile. The Khitan hunters, on the other hand, are mounted on shortlegged, stubby little ponies branded on the left thigh. There are two paintings of them, one showing the hunters with their greyhounds (rather like salukis with their long fluffy tails), one hound to each horse, either sitting the rump or carried in the lap of the rider. In the second painting, the boys are armed with their trained eagles. The manes and tails have been fuzzed out with strokes as fine as a hair, and, my. how bleak-looking are those endless steppe landscapes!
For the intricacy of the composition and the delicate shading of color, there is nothing to match the two panel paintings of what may once have been a screen. Deer Among Red Maples and Deer in Autumn Forest. In one the herd is resting and feeding in the wood; in the other there has been some disturbance in the forest. The hart has his fine head up as he listens, and his harem is turning to him for protection. The subtle handling of the deer and the beautiful feeling for the foliage are the work of one who was in love with nature a thousand years ago.
I enjoy pictures that tell stories, and the finest in this collection do just that. Breaking the Balustrade is the most dramatic picture of the lot. A courtier has been sentenced to be beheaded for daring to speak out against the obsequious favorite of the Emperor. Soldiers arc leading him away, but he grasps the balustrade and in passion demands that he be killed on the spot. The Emperor’s poise and his change of face as he recognizes the man’s courage are a story now made immortal by the anonymous artist. The artist’s use of open spaces and of few details lets the light fall, as it should, on the three main characters, the Emperor, the favorite, and the brave one.
A second and tantalizing story is that which tells of Wen-chi’s Return to China, by Ch’cn Chiichung. Lady Wen-chi was the daughter of a famous scholar of the second century. On her way to Kansu she was taken prisoner by Hsiung-nu raiders and whisked off to Mongolia, where she lived for twelve years before being ransomed. Captivity was not without its consolation, for she found a happy Tartar husband and bore him two sons, and now here at last is the Chinese envoy, come to bring her home. The children cling to her and refuse to obey the nurse who would lead them away. Hut the packhorses and the camel are already loaded, and one can see that they will soon be on their way. Did Wen-chi have no say in the matter? Could she not have stayed or been hidden if she wished? No. For this was a man’s world.
For quiet comedy Secluded Fishermen on an Autumn River, by T’ang Yin, is a scroll to delight the heart of any angler. The thatched lodge is already alight, and within, the early arrivals are chatting and, one assumes, drinking. Paddling toward the landing comes a lone fisherman so thirsty and back-weary he can hardly wait. Two others are sitting in the sterns of their boats, one playing a flute, with his feet in the water, and out in the deep pool is one last bitter-ender still hoping for the big one that shows only after dark. The red leaves have been falling all afternoon, and they dance on the water and add their warmth to the lovely painting.
The earliest figure painting in the exhibit is that of the Foreign Envoy with Tribute Bearers, attributed to an artist of the seventh century. The envoy himself is riding a white horse, and before and behind him come his attendants, carrying a birdcage, elephant tusks, coral — gifts which a barbarian would think of. It is a motley crew, some with strong Semitic features, one African, and one who looks to be European. The mockery here is easy to detect.
The landscapes, whose titles are like short poems, should be taken in slowly. It is distracting to have so many beauties contending for one’s attention. My preference is for the earlier ones. It seemed to me remarkable that so many of them were devoted to the autumn and winter, the seasons of cool blood and contemplation. The majestic heights in Clearing After Snow on the Mountain Peaks; the exquisite scroll Pure and Remote View of Stream and Hills; Fishing on a Snowy River, which delights me because of its solitariness; and Spring in Kiangnan — these are paintings I should like to live with.
The aftereffect of a loan exhibit as dramatic as this is to make us more appreciative of what we have at home. The Boston Museum’s collection of Oriental art is one of the finest in the Western world. Now we can look with fresh insight at the Portraits of Emperors, attributed to Yen Li-pen of the hilarious tribute bearers; the twelfth-century version of the adventures of Lady Wen-chi among the Tartars; and the beautiful tenth-century Tartars Traveling on Horseback. This long scroll of mustard-colored silk, no wider than a good-sized book, is completely occupied by a procession of gingery, bouncy, businesslike little horses, lovingly drawn in delicate black, touched up with white and a resonant claret wash, and ridden by a grave gentleman and his marvelously varied and raffish following.


Those who have lived in Peking never forget it. The open sky, the palaces in the sunshine, the dust and laughter, the gaiety and courage of the people leave an unforgettable impression. It is a happy coincidence that LIN YUTANG should recently have published IMPERIAL PEKING: SEVEN CENTURIES OF CHINA, with an essay on Chinese art by Peter Swann (Crown, $10.00); here are the genesis of the grandmother of cities and the color prints and photography to show us the entity that still survives.
At the outset, the author is intent on the spirit of the place, the ethos of the common people and how they respond to the four seasons; we watch the trading, hear the street cries, realize how important is the brazier for its heat, how short the spring, how long the autumn and winter (now we appreciate why those seasons predominate in the painting). Then we approach the Temple of Heaven. In contrast to the subdued tint and terse detail of Chinese painting, the imperial architecture is characterized by a rainbow riot of color and a positive terror of blank surfaces. It is also, one gathers, fairly short-lived. The temples, pagodas, and ceremonial gates, of marble and tile, can weather the centuries, but for residence the Chinese built in wood and mud brick covered with a marvelous frosting of gilt, paint, lacquer, and glaze. Since such palaces are so vulnerable to fire or decay, much of the surviving Forbidden City is junior to Versailles. The flowing complex of semi-independent units is designed more for privacy than for ostentation; the eyes of the building look inward; the vistas and gardens are softly surprising; even the beautiful blue roof of the Temple of Heaven settles gently into the landscape rather than rising up to dominate it, much as the human figures in Chinese landscape melt into the rocks and pine trees.
One wonders if the Chinese Communists are restoring their national shrines with the skill now being expended in (he Soviet Union. One wonders about the last of the Manchu Emperors, a boy of twenty when Lin Yutang was in Peking; driven out of the palace by the “Christian" General Feng, kidnaped by the Japanese to be the puppet emperor of Manchukuo, then by the Russians when they marched into Manchuria after Hiroshima, he was last heard of in 1960, working as a factory hand in Mukden.


ELIZABETH JENKINS is the first well-qualified historian to write about Elizabeth the Great of England as a woman and. secondly, as a monarch. She came to her study of the Queen following her admirable biography of Jane Austen, and as her friend Elizabeth Bowen says, the two women have something in common—“smiling irony, delight in social occasions and a strength gained by emotional self-control.”In Elizabeth the Great, which some rate the finest biography of 1959, she told of the Queen’s remarkable education under Roger Ascham; of her unerring choice of counselors, Cecil chief among them: and of the intuition and sagacity with which she bound the nation to her and, using her virginity as pawn, kept the religious peace at home and the balance of power abroad while her island, without a King, rose to its firstclass power. Now, in ELIZABETH AND LEICESTER (Coward-McCann, $5.75), Miss Jenkins writes of the Englishman Robert Dudley, whom the Queen loved above all others (“1 cannot live without seeing you every day,”she once said to him publicly, and added. “You are like my little dog”), of the intimacy she permitted him, and of how and why she kept him dangling. The two books are complementary: in style and detail, a glorious tapestry; in perception, unsurpassed.
Miss Jenkins explores the delicate question of whether Elizabeth could have had sexual union with any man, of w hether, indeed, she could have produced the heir her countrymen so wanted for a safe succession. Her own physicians were divided on this point; the biographer (and Dr. Freud) would say no. The cruelty which Elizabeth suffered in her youth left deep scars. As a child of two and a half, held up in the arms of her mother, Ann Boleyn, in a despairing, futile effort to appease Henry VIII; at eight a witness to the hideous condemnation of her beloved stepmother, Katherine Howard; shamefully courted by Lord Thomas Seymour when she was but fourteen, and prostrated by his execution; then herself condemned to the Tower, is it any wonder that marriage became for her the black pit? Yet she craved all that led to the very verge of the pit - the vanity of courtship, the close attention of virile men, the caress just short of possession; she was a deliberate temptress, contemplating a foreign marriage for the sense of power and for the temporary protection the negotiation gave to England, and everlastingly teasing Lord Robert for the physical excitement that was in it. Naturally, she created more scandalous rumors than even her archrival, Mary Queen of Scots.
She told Robert Dudley when they were children of eight that she would never marry, but from the moment she appointed him Master of the Queen’s Horse, the first of many favors, she allowed him privileges no other man enjoyed. He was robust and passionate, with remarkable powers of reserve; he was greedy for the kingship, and again and again thought he was to have it — at which point he would presume, and be slapped down in anger. This alternating attraction and repulsion sets up a repetitive pattern over nineteen years, which occasionally makes tiresome reading; and we can only pity him when he turns for relief to other beauties at the court, and finally to his secret marriage.
The two are drawn in antithesis, and of the two it is the Queen we will best remember: her eloquent directness in speech, her anger when aroused, her cleanliness and sense of smell, her instinct for religious tolerance, her skill with Parliament. and her utter loyalty to those few — Kat Ashley, Cecil, Sussex, Leicester, and Howard — on whom she depended; above all, her dedication.


In her graceful narrative poem ST. JEROME AND THE LION (Viking, $2.50), RUMER GOODEN retells the legend of the grave saint and his embarrassing convert in pleasantly conversational verse, supported by helpful footnotes, designed for young readers. The poem itself is for any age, provided one brings to it the credulity, at once simple, humorous, and practical, of the medieval imagination. Miss Godden has reproduced this kind of fancy, which saw nothing incongruous in combining a celebration of the power of the Christian faith with sly satire on the limited wit of Christian clerics, extremely well; and the drawings by Jean Primrose make it a pretty little book.