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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

John Addington Symonds writes much


looks as if he did--that "the

destruction of beauty is a sacrilege and a sin." This is undoubtedly a fair account of what Mr. Ruskin means in certain portions of his writings, and he is not the only one who has suffered "anguish," little short of despair, at certain "works of profanation." Mr. Bayne quotes Mr. Ruskin's passionate words about the befouling and desecration of the "pools and streams" around Carshalton. Now, it would not be easy, perhaps, to prove that God made those "pools and streams," still lovely in their degradation, in a sense in which he did _not_ make the human beings who have "insolently defiled" them; but we may at least say that the human will was concerned not only in the "defiling" but in the production of the defilers, while it was _not_ concerned in the production of those "pools and streams." And we may conjecture that if Mr. Ruskin had been asked to decide whether the "pools and streams" should retain their original clearness and beauty, and the human beings remain unproduced, or whether the latter should come into existence and the "pools and streams" be defiled--he would have stood for the first alternative. But if he afterwards followed out his decision to its consequence, it would make an end of what Mr. Bayne rightly calls the "communistic" element in his writings. It is painfully certain that if Mr. and Mrs. Wordsworth had been disgusted by "people from Birthwaite" before the "Excursion" was written, that poem would have been very different here and there.

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Mr. John Addington Symonds writes much, and he writes with absorbing pains. When he called his new book _Sketches and Studies in Italy_ (Smith, Elder, & Co.), had he forgotten a previous title of his, _Sketches in Italy and Greece_? In any case there is a wide difference between the two volumes; in the former we had more of the traveller, in the latter we have more of the scholar, though the traveller is still present; for instance, in the Essay, "Amalfi, Paestum, Capri," and in the "Lombard Vignettes." In the Essay on the "Orfeo" of Poliziano, and that on the "Popular Italian Poetry of the Renaissance," we are again glad to recognize the author's masterly power in certain kinds of translation; and those the kinds in which the labourers are few, though the harvest is so large. In about seventy pages, close pages it is true, Mr. Symonds presents us with a sketch of Florentine history, the like of which, for compactness and minuteness of information, one knows not where to seek. Mr. Symonds is a striking example of the modern school of "culture"--using that word in its more special sense. Unwearied in the pursuit of detail, it occasionally tires the reader. There is a want of emphasis--not to say a shamefaced avoidance of it; there is the want of grasp which comes of the absence of hearty controlling emotion, or of any purpose beyond what may belong to the monograph before you. There is too much colour, and too little motion--the reader would even be glad of a jolt now and then; almost anything rather than this eternally grave gliding manner, in which the end is like the beginning, the beginning like the middle, and the _quorsum haec?_ seldom answered with anything like energy. If we take an Essay like that on "Lucretius," we become conscious, indeed, of an effort, but it seems rather an effort to lift a weight, than the effort of a living mind in free movement over a large subject. Inevitably we have much that is true, very much of refinement and accomplishment, and of course a good apercu now and then; but such interest as there is appears a little forced, as if the author only half-believed in his own points, and too often endeavoured to give an air of breadth to literary stippling by mere largeness of phrase. These hints apply (in our opinion) with peculiar force to the paper on "Lucretius;" but they are not wholly inapplicable to that entitled "Antinous," which does not fall far short of being tedious. But no apology was necessary for reprinting the essays on blank verse, &c., which are contained in the Appendix, though in those also there seems an excessive tendency to make small "points," and force large meanings on trifles. The volume has a finely-executed steel engraving of the Ildefonso group (Antinous) in the museum at Madrid.


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