THE LAY FIGURE ON SOME
QUESTIONS OF THE HOUR.
" As this is our first meeting in the new
century," said the Critic, rubbing the fog from his
spectacles, I; we ought, I suppose, to make our talk
this evening a confused thing of dismal prophecy
and whining retrospection."
"This London weather is certainly horrible
enough to justify such foolishness," snarled the
Journalist. " Its fogs and its muddy discomforts
have much to answer for. When they and the
new century came upon us at the same time, the
whole town seemed to creep into a jaundice by
being peevish. In January, for several days, even
the sporting papers put on a very dull obituary air
of repressed sanctity, and bewildered me with lay
"Was not that a result of the diseased egotism,
the morbid self-introspection, that passes for virtue
in so many countries to-day?" asked the Art
Historian, trying to look happy. " An age of
newspapers, quite naturally, is tempted to talk a
great deal too much about all its characteristics,
both bad and good, and the more it talks about
them, the more lopsidedly it sees them out of
focus. Everything suffers from this to-day. Indeed,
extravagance of language is now so common that
few notice it or object to it. Courage has grown
into ' surprising heroism'; mere cleverness pro-
duces a great number of 1 masterpieces' ; and all
well-advertised frauds are looked upon by thousands
as probable signs of the decadence of human
nature. This intemperance of speech is enervating ;
it ought to be ridiculed out of being, else it will
estrange us all from the quiet charm of that which
is best in art and literature."
" Another lay sermon !" yawned the Journalist.
" Next, please."
" I have a suggestion to make, not a sermon,"
said the Critic. " I propose that every member of
our circle shall make known his personal bias
in art by wishing for something that he deems
essential to the welfare of art."
' To do that will not be easy," said the Man
with the Clay Pipe, "but I'll have a shot at it.
My wish, then, is frankly democratic. I hope that
the first quarter of this twentieth century will see
many much-needed improvements in ordinary
homes, all brought about by a general recognition
of the following simple fact, that bad taste has
ever been vastly more expensive than good taste.
There is nothing less economical than the present-
day mania for cheapness, that causes millions ot
people to waste their money on bad, ill-constructed
furniture, on aggressive, ornate wall papers, and on
other worthless things. Simple and good new
furniture is now so uncommon that its manu-
facturers are able to fix their own prices. Compe-
tition is needed here. Then, as regards the
wall-papers, few but artists now recognise that the
most comfortable paperhangings to live with are
those which have no pattern on them. To my
mind even whitewash is preferable to most of the
wall-papers now in fashion. And it is worth
noting, in this connection, that designers of wall-
papers do not cover their own walls with monstrous
flowers, with parrots and pomegranates, with
squirrels and leafed branches, or with any other
fatiguing exercise of their skill."
" My wish," said the Art Historian, "is this —
that written criticism may soon be generally looked
upon merely as an expression of personal opinion ;
then reviewers will be able to write in a frank and
fearless manner, knowing that a harmful import-
ance will not be attached to their likes and dis-
likes. At the present time, in most countries,
adverse criticism carries with it all the influence
wielded by a great newspaper or a great magazine ;
and the effect of this is bad in two ways. A man
who is criticised adversely feels that he is pilloried
before the world, and that he has not a chance of
replying to the injurious attack made upon his
work, upon his breadwinner. All critics of heart
not only remember this, but in their anxiety not
to be executioners as well as fallible judges, they
delete many things which are essential to the
honesty of their opinions."
" Good ! " said the Critic. " Your wish has
" For my part," remarked the Journalist, " I
have often wished that every artist worthy of note
were reviewed on the same day, in the same news-
paper or magazine, and with entire frankness, by
three or four critics. How instructive and enter-
taining that would be ! The critics would differ
on a score of points, and the public, brought face
to face with such a variety of frank opinions, would
realise clearly that a work of art is not the same
thing to any two persons that study it."
" I don't suppose that talking about our wishes
can do much good," said the Philosopher, " be-
cause it is a waste of that energy of spirit which
should force us to speak in actions. As a
general rule, those who debate much upon their
hopes, their projects, their intentions, like to be
busy doing nothing."
The Lay Figure.