As I look back upon my long life, as I think of the early years in Paris at the time when Gros killed himself, when Delacroix, that audacious young innovator, excited the anger and contempt of Ingres, when the landscapes of Corot were refused at the Salon, when my old and dear friend Couture was considered a revolutionary spirit not to be encouraged by the authorities, I can but smile — a little sadly, perhaps — at the violence of the young men of our day, who in their turn will be looked upon as old fogies by the youths of thirty or forty years hence. And so the world goes on! Fashion changes; the beautiful of yesterday is the grotesque of to-day. What matters it? Each generation as it comes to life does its best, struggles, suffers, hopes, or despairs; it adds its little stone to the big edifice which is ever being built; the little stone is lost among others, forgotten, overlooked; but it has helped nevertheless to make the wall solid and beautiful. And that surely is something.
I enjoyed this book — full of interesting anecdotes, nothing contrived or mean. I am adding Healy to my list of candidates for the “If you were to share a meal with a famous person…” parlour game.
As I have already said, and it is something one cannot say too often, landscapes are an artistic degradation; the category never existed in the golden age of painting, and yet Raphael, Correggio, Titian, Veronese, Rubens, Rembrandt, Velasquez (and others still) were the greatest landscape painters in the world. Poussin should not be considered a landscape painter, but a philosophical painter, and that is what makes his style inimitable. Claude Lorrain is not a landscape painter, but a painter of light and boundlessness, and that is what makes his style inimitable. And so the landscape artist’s role begins with a certain mental inferiority.
I disagree with Couture, but enjoy reading his diatribes.
The question that concerns me is, What shall a man do, how shall he act, when he finds himself in the hush of a great library, — opens the door upon it, stands and waits in the midst of it, with his poor outstretched soul all by himself before it, — and feels the books pulling on him? I always feel as if it were a sort of infinite crossroads. The last thing I want to know in a library is exactly what I want there. I am tired of knowing what I want. I am always knowing what I want. I can know what I want almost anywhere. If there is a place left on God’s earth where a modern man can go and go regularly and not know what he wants awhile, in Heaven’s name why not let him? I am as fond as the next man, I think, of knowing what I am about, but when I find myself ushered into a great library I do not know what I am about any sooner than I can help. I shall know soon enough — God forgive me! When it is given to a man to stand in the Assembly Room of Nations, to feel the ages, all the ages, gathering around him, flowing past his life; to listen to the immortal stir of Thought, to the doings of The Dead, why should a man interrupt — interrupt a whole world — to know what he is about? I stand at the junction of all Time and Space. I am the three tenses. I read the newspaper of the universe.