Linton- Life in the Collections
20) On the State of Fine Arts in England, in: The Monthly Repository for 1833, New Series Vol. VII,
The volume starts with the debut of an author who would prove to be one of the most colourful characters of British radicalism. William Bridges Adams was the son of a manufacturer of coaches and a son-in-law of Francis Place, a leading member of the legendary London Corresponding Society and co-founder of the Chartist movement. Besides his activities as an employer and inventive locomotive engineer, Adams became one of the most prolific authors of the Craven Hill circle. He signed his numerous articles for The Monthly Repository with the pen name Junius Redivivus. Altogether he contributed somewhat over three hundred pages to Fox’ magazine on a wide variety of topics: political and technical matters, poetry, social and dramatic criticism. Linton had met him in the late Thirties, when he was a frequent visitor in Fox’ house. In his Memories he calls Adams a most „intimate and dearest“ friend and refers to him as a man who had been held „in high esteem in his profession, and also for his most unselfish and wide philanthropy.“ In 1847 he joined Mazzini’s The People’s International League.
His debut article “On the State of the Fine Arts in England,” which appeared in January 1833, was obviously of major significance for the young Linton. It phrases the philosophical radicals’ point of view regarding the fine and applied arts in a concise and decisive manner, and thus was able to provide an apprentice of the xylographic business with an advanced kind of self-confidence and a moral sense of mission, which helped him to shape his self conception as an artist of The Cause. Adams bemoans „the lamentable condition“ of the fine arts in England and accuses especially the painters of being driven by incestuous professional jealousy and gross ignorance. According to him, especially the crowning genre of historical painting suffered from a lack of education. To improve the situation he recommends the establishment of national galleries in all cities for educational purposes. With this suggestion he followed the footsteps of the godfather of British radicalism, John Wilkes, who had strongly avocated for a popular accessibility of the works of arts. A friend of Diderot, he was the first British politician to have pleaded, in a famous parliamentary speech of 1777, for the establishment of a National Gallery. But whereas Wilkes argued that the improvement of the fine arts and the national taste for painting in England would also benefit the commerce, especially the engraving business, Adams, under the leading sign of Utilitarianism, went a decisive step further as he preferred the improvement of the commerial craft of engraving as the virtual epitome of a democratic mode of art and a most effective means of popular pictorial education to those of the elitist painting schools.
Historical painters, he argued, „were they highly educated, they would not at this time be painters ; they would become writers, if their object were the desire of fame and profit. For one person who looks upon a successful painting, perhaps one thousand look upon a successful book. The painting cannot be multiplied; the book may, and may be sent to the ends of the earth, riveting the link of connexion, perhaps, amongst millions of minds, all dwelling with pleasure on their mutual thoughts of the author. It is not in human nature to resist a temptation like unto this; (...) A man will not waste his life for posthumous fame in one branch of art, who has it in his power to discount it for ready enjoyment in another. There is another branch of design in which this is practicable. John Martin found that his paintings, beautiful as they were, were not a profitable trade, and he became an engraver. This is to paintings what printing is to manuscripts. For one man who can or will give a thousand guineas for a painting, there are thousands who will give a guinea for an engraving. By the method of steel rollers, engravings on a small scale may be multiplied almost without limit; and the smaller engravings, by their extensive circulation, are becoming already a most powerful instrument in civilization. (....) Time was that engravings were mere daubs, wretched wooden- looking things (...). I could wish that the art of painter and engraver were always combined, as those of physician and chemist should ever be. The editor of the Black Dwarf [the radical Thomas Wooler] used to set his types direct from his brain, without the intervention of a MS.; and engravers, being endowed with the genius of poetry, starting into design, might strike out many felicitous things by those flashes of the spirit, designated sudden inspiration ; and, at any rate, their hands would thus acquire greater freedom of execution.“ This new generation of expressive engravers, that Adams envisioned, working both with a socio-political ethos and a poetic spirit, was exactly the kind Linton eagerly sought to belong to, and very soon he would become their prime example and only survivor.
„In vain shall we be preached to of the decline of the arts in England,“ while such artistic and affordable mode of engraving is done. „May they increase till they cease to be numbered, and not a poor man’s cottage or chamber be devoid of them! They are amongst the silent workers of civilization, and will, in due time, bring forth good fruit. We can afford to let the higher walks of painting lie in abeyance, till these admirable instructors shall have prepared a public to appreciate them.“ The strong self-confidence that Linton had always displayed regarding academically trained painter acquaintances like William Bell Scott or Dante Gabriel Rossetti apparently owes a lot to those Republican views on the fine arts