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It is not very easy to find an action or event that can be efficaciously represented by a painter.
He must have an action not successive but instantaneous; for the time of a picture is a single mo
For this reason, the death of Hercules cannot well be painted, though at the first view it flatters the imagination with very glittering ideas : the gloomy mountain, overhanging the sea, and covered with trees, some bending to the wind, and some torn from their roots by the raging hero ; the violence with which he rends from his shoulders the invenomed garment; the propriety with which his muscular nakedness may be displayed ; the death of Lycas whirled from the promontory ; the gigantic presence of Philoctetes; the blaze of the fatal pile, which the deities behold with grief and terror from
All these images fill the mind, but will not compose a picture, because they cannot be united in a single moment. Hercules must have rent his flesh at one time, and tossed Lycas into the air at another; he must first tear up the trees, and then lie down upon the pile.
The action must be circumstantial and distinct. There is a passage in the Iliad which cannot be read without strong emotions. A Trojan prince, seized by Achilles in the battle, falls at his feet, and in moving terms supplicates for life.
“ How can a wretch like thee,” says the haughty Greek, “intreat to live, when thou knowest that the time must come when Achilles is to die ?” This cannot be painted, because no peculiarity of attitude or disposition can
so supply the place of language as to impress the sentiment.
The event painted must be such as excites passion, and different passions in the several actors, or a tumult of contending passions in the chief.
Perhaps the discovery of Ulysses by his nurse is of this kind. The surprise of the nurse mingled with joy; that of Ulysses checked by prudence, and clouded by solicitude; and the distinctness of the action by which the scar is found; all concur to complete the subject. But the picture, having only two figures, will want variety.
A much nobler assemblage may be furnished by the death of Epaminondas. The mixture of gladness and grief in the face of the messenger who brings his dying general an account of the victory; the various passions of the attendants; the sublimity of composure in
in the hero, while the dart is by his own command drawn from his side, and the faint gleam of satisfaction that diffuses itself over the languor of death ; are worthy of that pencil which yet I do not wish to see employed upon them.
If the design were not too multifarious and extensive, I should wish that our painters would attempt the dissolution of the parliament by Cromwell. The point of time may be chosen when Cromwell, looking round the Pandæmonium with contempt, ordered the bauble to be taken away; and Harrison laid hands on the Speaker to drag him from the chair.
The various appearances, which rage, and terror, and astonishment, and guilt, might exhibit in the faces of that hateful assembly, of whom the prin
cipal persons may be faithfully drawn from portraits or prints; the irresolute repugnance of some, the hypocritical submissions of others, the ferocious insolence of Cromwell, the rugged brutality of Harrison, and the general trepidation of fear and wickedness, would, if some proper disposition could be contrived, make a picture of unexampled variety, and irresistible instruction.
NUMB. 46. SATURDAY, March 3, 1759.
MR. IDLER, I AM encouraged, by the notice you have taken of Betty Broom, to represent the miseries which I suffer from a species of tyranny which, I believe, is not very uncommon, though perhaps it may have escaped the observation of those who converse little with fine ladies, or see them only in their publick characters.
To this method of venting my vexation I am the more inclined, because if I do not complain to you, I must burst in silence ; for my mistress has teazed me and teazed me till I can hold no longer, and yet I must not tell her of her tricks. The girls that live in common services can quarrel, and give warning, and find other places ; but we that live with great ladies, if we once offend them, have nothing left but to return into the country,
I am waiting-maid to a lady who keeps the best company, and is seen at every place of fashionable
I am envied by all the maids in the square, for few countesses leave off so many clothes as my mistress, and nobody shares with me: so that I supply two families in the country with finery for the assizes and horse-races, besides what I wear myself. The steward and house-keeper have joined against me to procure my removal, that they may advance a relation of their own; but their designs are found out by my lady, who says I need not fear them, for she will never have dowdies about her.
You will think, Mr. Idler, like others, that I am very happy, and may well be contented with my lot. But I will tell you. My lady has an odd humour. She never orders any thing in direct words, for she loves a sharp girl that can take a hint.
I would not have you suspect that she has any thing to hint which she is ashamed to speak at length; for none can have greater purity of sentiment, or rectitude of intention. She has nothing to hide, yet nothing will she tell. She always gives her directions obliquely and allusively, by the mention of something relative or consequential
, without any other purpose than to exercise my acuteness and her own.
It is impossible to give a notion of this style otherwise than by examples. One night, when she had sat writing letters till it was time to be dressed, Molly, said she, the Ladies are all to be at Court to-night in white aprons. When she means that I should send to order the chair, she says, I think the streets are clean, I may venture to walk. When she would have something put into its place, she bids me lay it on the floor. If she would have me spuff
the candles, she asks whether I think her eyes are like a caťs? If she thinks her chocolate delayed, she talks of the benefit of abstinence. If any needlework is forgotten, she supposes that I have heard of the lady who died by pricking her finger.
She always imagines that I can recall every thing past from a single word. If she wants her head from the milliner, she only says, Molly, you know Mrs. Tape. If she would have the mantua-maker sent for, she remarks that Mr. Taffety, the mercer, was here last week. She ordered, a fortnight ago, that the first time she was abroad all day I should chuse her a new set of coffee-cups at the china-shop : of this she reminded me yesterday, as she was going down stairs, by saying, You can't find your way now to Pall-mall.
All this would never vex me, if, by increasing my trouble, she spared her own; but, dear Mr. Idler, is it not as easy to say coffee-cups, as Pall-mall ? and to tell me in plain words what I am to do, and when it is to be done, as to torment her own head with the labour of finding hints, and mine with that of understanding them ?
When first I came to this lady, I had nothing like the learning that I have now; for she has many books, and I have much time to read; so that of late I seldom have missed her meaning: but when she first took me I was an ignorant girl; and she, who, as is very common, confounded want of knowledge with want of understanding, began once to despair of bringing me to any thing, because, when I came into her chamber at the call of her bell, she