Judged by the Directory, Dublin is nobly supplied with institutions for the promotion of Literature, Science, and Art; and, judged by its men, there is mind enough here to make these institutions prosper, and instruct and raise the country. Yet their performances are far short of these promises, and the causes for ill-success are easily found. We believe these causes could be almost as easily removed.
In the first place, we have too many of these institutions. Stingy grants from Government and the general poverty of the people render economy a matter of the first consequence; yet we find these societies maintaining a number of separate establishments, at a great expense of rent and salaries.
The consequence, of course, is that none of them flourish as they ought—museums, meetings, lectures, libraries, and exhibitions are all frittered away, and nothing is done so well as it might be. Moreover, from the want of any arrangement and order, the same men are dragged from one society to another—few men do much, because all are forced to attempt so many things.
But ’tis better to examine this in detail, and in doing so we may as well give some leading facts as to the chief of these bodies. Take, for example, as a beginning, the INSTITUTIONS FOR THE PROMOTION OF FINE ARTS.
And first there is the Hibernian Academy. It was founded in 1823, received a present of its house in Abbey Street, and some books and casts, from Francis Johnston, a Dublin architect, and has the miserable income of £300 a year from the Treasury. It has a drawing-school, with a few casts, no pictures, bad accommodation, and professors whose pay is nearly nominal.
It undoubtedly has some men of great ability and attainments, and some who have neither; but what can be done without funds, statues, or pictures? To aggravate its difficulties, the Dublin Society has another art school, still worse off as to casts, and equally deficient in pictures. As a place of instruction in the designing of patterns for manufactures and the like, the Dublin Society school has worked well; and many of the best-paid controllers of design in the English manufactories were educated there; but as a school of fine arts it does little; and no wonder. Another branch of the Hibernian Academy’s operations is its annual exhibition of pictures. These exhibitions attract crowds who would never otherwise see a painting, promote thought on art, and procure patronage for artists. In this, too, the Hibernian Academy has recently found a rival in the Society of Irish Artists, established in 1842, which has an annual exhibition in College Street, and pays the expenses of the exhibition out of the admission fees, as does the Hibernian Academy. We are not attaching blame to the Society of Irish Artists in noticing the fact of its rivalry.
There are three other bodies devoted to the encouragement of art. One of these is the Art Union, founded in 1840, and maintained entirely by subscriptions to its lottery. It distributes fine engravings from Irish pictures among all its members, and pictures and statues, bought in the exhibitions of the Hibernian Academy, and of the Society of Irish Artists, among its prize-holders; and it gives premiums for the works of native or resident artists. Its operation is as a patron of art; and, in order to get funds for this purpose, and also to secure superior works and a higher competition, it extends its purchases to the best foreign works exhibited here. It has no collection, and has merely an office in College Street—in fact, its best permanent possession is its unwearied secretary. The Society of Ancient Art was established last year for the formation of a public gallery of casts from classical and mediæval statues, and ultimately for purposes of direct teaching by lectures, etc. It obtained some funds by subscription; but under the expectation, ’tis said, of a public grant, has done nothing. Lastly, there is the “Institute of Irish Architects,” founded in 1839 “for the general advancement of civil architecture, for promoting and facilitating the acquirement of a knowledge of the various arts and sciences connected therewith, for the formation of a library and museum,” etc.
To us it is very plain that here are too many institutions, and that the efficiency of all suffers materially from their want of connection and arrangement. Some, at least, might be amalgamated with great advantage, or rather all, except the Art Union. That is only a club of purchasers, and any attempt materially to change its nature would peril its funds. Some such plan as the following would accomplish all that is vainly attempted now. Let the Government be pressed to give £2,000 a year, if the public supply £1,000 a year. Let this income go to a new Hibernian Academy—the present Hibernian Academy, Artists’ Society, Society of Ancient Art, the Art Schools of the Dublin Society, and the Institute of Irish Architects being merged in it. This merger could be easily secured through the inducements secured by the charter, and by accommodation, salaries, and utility of the new body. The present property of these bodies, with some moderate grant, would suffice for the purchase of a space of ground ample for the schools, museums, library, lecture-room, and yards of such an institution.
At the head of it should be a small body governing and accounting for its finances, but no person should be a governing member of more than one of its sections. These sections should be for Statuary, Painting, Architecture, and Design Drawing. Each of these sections should have its own Gallery and its own Practice Rooms; but one Library and one public Lecture Room would suffice for the entire. The architectural section would also need some open space for its experiments and its larger specimens. A present of copies of the British Museum casts, along with the fund of the Ancient Art Society, would originate a Cast Gallery, and a few good pictures could be bought as a commencement of a National Gallery of Painting, leaving the economy of the managers and the liberality of the public gradually to fill up. Collections of native works in canvas and marble, and architectural models, could be soon and cheaply procured. The Art Library of the Dublin Society added to that of the Hibernian Academy would need few additions to make it sufficient for the new body.
Such an Institute ought not to employ any but the best teachers and lecturers. It should encourage proficiency by rewards that would instruct the proficient; it should apply itself to cataloguing, preserving, and making known all the works of art in the country; give prizes for artistical works; publish its lectures and transactions; issue engravings of the most instructive works of art; and hold evening meetings, to which ladies would be admitted. It should allow at least £400 a year for the support of free pupils. In connection with its drawing and modelling schools should be a professorship of anatomy, or, what were better, some arrangement might be made with the College of Surgeons, or some such body, for courses of instruction for its pupils. The training for its pupils in sculpture, painting, and design should include the study of ancient and modern costumes, zoology, and of vegetable and geological forms. For this purpose books should not be so much relied on as lectures in gardens, museums, and during student excursions. Of course the architectural pupils should be required to answer at a preliminary examination in mathematics, and should receive special instruction in the building materials, action of climate, etc., in Ireland.
Were the buildings standing, and the society chartered judiciously, the sum we have mentioned would be sufficient. Four professors at from £200 to £300 a year each, four assistants at £100 a year each, a librarian at the same rate, with payments for extra instruction in anatomy, etc., etc., and for porters, premiums, and so forth, would not exceed £2,000 a year. So that if £400 were expended on free pupils, there would remain £600 a year for the purchase of works for the galleries.
At present there is much waste of money, great annoyance and loss of time to the supporters of these institutions, and marvellously little benefit to art. The plan we have proposed would be economical both of time and money; but, what is of more worth, it would give us, what we have not now, a National Gallery of Statuary and Painting—good Exhibition Rooms for works of art—business-like Lecturers and Lectures—great public excitement about art—and, finally, a great National Academy.
If anyone has a better plan, let him say it; we have told ours. At all events, some great change is needed, and there can be no fitter time than this for it.
In any community it is desirable to have Literary Institutions, as well classified as legal offices, and as free from counteraction; but it is especially desirable here now. Our literary class is small, and its duties measureless. The diseased suction of London—the absence of gentry, offices, and Legislature—the heart-sickness that is on every thoughtful man without a country—the want of a large, educated, and therefore book-buying class—and (it must be confessed) the depression and distrust produced by rash experiments and paltry failure, have left us with few men for a great work. Probably the great remedy is the restoration of our Parliament—bringing back, as it would, the aristocracy and the public offices, giving society and support to Writers and Artists, and giving them a country’s praise to move and a country’s glory to reward them.
But one of the very means of attaining nationality is securing some portion of that literary force which would gush abundantly from it; and, therefore, consider it how you will, it is important to increase and economise the exertions of the literary class in Ireland. Yet the reverse is done. Institutions are multiplied instead of those being made efficient which exist; and men talk as proudly of the new “Teach-’em-everything-in-no-time-Society” as if its natty laws were a library, its desk a laboratory and a museum, and its members fresh labourers, when all they have done is to waste the time of persons who had business, and to delude those who had none, into the belief that they were doing good. Ephemeral things! which die not without mischief—they have wasted hours and days of strong men in spinning sand, and leave depression growing from their tombs.
It is a really useful deed to rescue from dissipation, or from idle reading, or from mammon-hunting, one strong, passionate man or boy, and to set him to work investigating, arranging, teaching. It is an honest task to shame the ‘broidered youth from meditation on waistcoats and the display of polka steps into manly pursuits. It is an angel’s mission (oftenest the work of love) to startle a sleeping and unconscious genius into the spring and victory of a roused lion. But it is worse than useless to establish new associations and orders without well considering first whether the same machinery do not already exist and rust for want of the very energy and skill which you need too. There is a bridge in a field near Blarney Castle where water never ran. It was built “at the expense of the county.” These men build their mills close as houses in a capital, taking no thought for the stream to turn them.
We have already censured this in some detail with reference to societies for the promotion of the Fine Arts, and have urged the formation, out of all these fiddling, clashing bodies, of some one great institution for the promotion of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, with a Museum, a Library, a Gallery, and Lecturers, governed by professional minds, great enough to be known and regarded by the people, and popular and strong enough to secure Government support.
Similar defects exist everywhere. Take the Dublin Society for example. Nothing can be more heterogeneous than its objects. We are far from denying its utility. That utility is immense, the institution is native, of old standing (it was founded in 1731), national, and, when it wanted support, our pen was not idle in its behalf.
But we believe its utility greatly diminished by its attempting too many things, and especially by including objects more fitly belonging to other institutions; and on the opposite side it is maimed, by the interference of other bodies, in its natural functions. The Dublin Society was founded for the promotion of husbandry and other useful arts. Its labours to serve agriculture have been repeated and extensive, though not always judicious. It has also endeavoured to promote manufactures. It has gardens and museums fitter for scientific than practical instruction, admirable lecturers, a library most generously opened, a drawing-school of the largest purposes and of equivocal success, and various minor branches.
The Irish Academy has some of this fault. It endeavours to unite antiquarianism and abstract science. Its meetings are alternately entertained with mathematics and history, and its transactions are equally comprehensive. We yield to none in anxiety for the promotion of antiquarian studies; we think the public and the government disgraced by the slight support given to the Academy. We are not a little proud of the honour and strength given to our country by the science of MacCullagh, Hamilton, and Lloyd; but we protest against the attempt to mix the armoury of the ancient Irish, or the Celtic dialects, or the essay on Round Towers, with trigonometry and the calculus, whether in a lecture-room or a book.
Let us just set down, as we find them, some of the Literary and Scientific Institutions. There are the Royal Dublin Society, the Royal Irish Academy (we wish these royalties were dropped—no one minds them), the Irish Archæological Society, the Royal Zoological Society, the Geological Society, the Dublin Natural History Society, the Dublin Philosophical Society, the Royal Agricultural Society, etc., etc. Now, we take it that these bodies might be usefully reduced to three, and if three moderate government grants were made under conditions rewarding such a classification, we doubt not it would instantly be made.
In the first place, we would divorce from the Irish Academy the scientific department, requiring Trinity College to form some voluntary organisation for the purpose. To this non-collegiate philosophers should be admitted, and, thus disencumbered, we would devote the Academy to antiquities and literature—incorporate with it the Archæological Society—transfer to it all the antiques (of which it had not duplicates) in Trinity College, the Dublin Society, etc., and enlarge its museums and meeting-room. Its section of “polite literature” has long been a name—it should be made real. There would be nothing inconvenient or strange in finding in its lecture-rooms or transactions the antiquities and literature of Ireland, diversified by general historical, critical, and æsthetical researches.
The Dublin Society would reasonably divide into two sections. One, for the promotion of husbandry, might be aggrandised by tempting the Agricultural Society to join it, and should have a permanent museum, an extensive farm, premiums, shows, publications, and special lecturers. The second section, for the encouragement of manufactures, should have its museum, workshops, and experiment ground (the last, perhaps, as the agricultural farm), and its special lecturers. The library might well be joint, and managed by a joint committee, having separate funds. The general lecturers on chemistry and other such subjects might be paid in common. The drawing school (save that for pattern and machine drawing) might be transferred to the Art Institution; and the botanic garden and museum of minerals to a third body we propose.
This third body we would form from a union of the Zoological, the Geological, the Natural History, and all other such societies, and endow it with the Botanic and Zoological Gardens—give it rooms for a general and for a specially Irish museum, and for lecture-rooms in town, and supply it with a small fund to pay lecturers, who should go through the provinces.
We are firmly convinced that this re-arrangement of the Institutions of Dublin is quite practicable, would diminish unproductive expenses, economise the time, and condense the purposes of our literary, scientific, and artistical men, and increase enormously the use of the institutions to the public.
Of course the whole plan will be laughed at as fanciful and improbable; we think it easy, and we think it will be done.