Letters From a Landscape Painter . . .

LETTERS FROM A LANDSCAPE PAINTER, BY THE AUTHOR OF “Essays for Summer Hours.” Boston: James Monroe and Company. 1845.

  THIS is a very pleasing book, and, if the “Essays for Summer Hours” resemble it, we are not surprised at the favor with which they have been received, not only in this country but in England.

  The writer, Mr. Lanman, is by profession a Landscape Painter, by pastime a fisherman of the speckled trout that serve as decoy to the most beautiful inland scenes, or of the larger fish that serve as excuse for passing the day on the boldest crags of the sea-shore. Thus business and pleasure have combined to lead him, during the months of fine weather, to many of the finest scenes, and these are described with grace, force, and a youthful glow of feeling, that make us very willing to be his companions, even where the mind least needs companionship.

  This is a genuine sort of writing, as the record, in the evenings or rainy days, of what one has seen and enjoyed in the bright full hours. Nor are these the fancy-sketches of those hunters after the picturesque and poetic, of whose far-sought delights, and far-fetched analogies we are so weary. They are familiar, free, showing a power of manly discrimination and manly thought, yet agreeably varied by touches of boyish fun.

  We do not make extracts, because, though there is material for many good ones, they will all be seen to more advantage in connection with the whole, as the charm of the book lies in the stamp of living character upon it, as a whole.

  We are interested in the criticisms passed by Mr. Lanman on painters, which express his own ideas of this art, and by some sketches of persons such as of the Lilly, and his friends, the “Lions of Burlington.” It is very pleasing to read the account of Mr. Marsh’s mind, as given by the catalogue of his possessions. When Fonthill Abbey was sold, the public got a better transcript of the mind of Beckford, in the inventory of the treasures there accumulated, than from any thing he ever wrote. That inventory was a poem. And it pleases us to see a poem, not so splendid but altogether surprising for this scene and time, in the inventory of Mr. Marsh’s possessions. It must be a large piece of clear amber that could exercise such attraction.

  If Professor Torrey has translated Schelling on the “Relation of the Arts of Design to Nature,” has he published the translation? We have never seen it; yet surely, so valuable an addition to this department of literature should not be slow to find its way into print.

  Mr. Lanman is, we believe, very young, and, as these essays have awakened in us a friendly expectation, which he has time and talent to fulfil, we will, at this early hour, proffer our counsel on two points.

  1st. Avoid details so directly personal, as to emotion. A young and generous mind, seeing the deceit and cold reserve which so often palsy men who write, no less than those who act, may run into the opposite extreme. But frankness must be tempered by delicacy, or elevated into the region of poetry. You may tell the world at large what you please, if you make it of universal importance by transporting it into the field of general human interest. But your private griefs, merely as yours, belong to yourself, your nearest friends, to Heaven and to nature. There is a limit set by good taste, or the sense of beauty, on such subjects, which each, who seeks, may find for himself.

  2d. Be more sparing of your praise; above all of its highest terms. We should have a sense of mental, as well as moral honor, which, while it makes us feel the baseness of uttering hasty and ignorant censure, will also forbid the hasty and extravagant praise, by which we cannot abide. A man of honor wishes to utter no word by which he cannot abide. The offices of poet, of hero-worship, are sacred, and he who has a heart to appreciate the excellent, should call nothing excellent which falls short of being so. Leave yourself some incense worthy of the best; do not lavish it on the merely good. It is better to be too cool, than extravagant in praise; and, though mediocrity may be elated, if it can draw to itself undue honors, true greatness shrinks from the least exaggeration of its claims. The truly great are too well aware how difficult is the attainment of excellence, what labors and sacrifices it requires, even from genius, either to flatter themselves as to their works, or be other than grieved at idolatry from others; and so with best wishes, and a wish to meet again, we bid farewell to the Landscape Painter.*

“Letters From a Landscape Painter . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 18 January 1845, p. 1.