The Nubian Slave . . .

THE NUBIAN SLAVE, Published by Bela Marsh. Boston, 1845. For sale at 118 and 142 Nassau-st.

  This is a set of lithographs from drawings by Charles C. Green, of Providence, Rhode Island.—They present a story, only too familiar to our thoughts and knowledge, and yet which may, by the power of these outlines, be more distinctly realized by the many than it has ever yet been.

  These designs have many faults in execution, as must be expected from a young artist, new to the drawing of figures. Such outlines require the greatest knowledge of drawing and the anatomy of the human frame, with vigor and exactness of hand, as there is no color or subterfuge of light and shade to hide faults, and the slightest strokes tell. We therefore see the defects of the artist as strongly as we ever shall, and we see also much promise. For there is soul, the power of poetical conception, and a talent at effective grouping.

  The illustrations are seven in number, all of merit, more or less. Such subjects must not be spoken of as containing passages too horrible for Art, since in her greatest era she did not shrink from such as the Massacre of the Innocents, or Martyrdom of St. Agatha. It is only necessary that the pain and dread should be subordinated to some tragic meaning of a permanent dignity, and we think it is so in this instance.

  The expression of the group in “The Flight,” is full of life and sweetness. This picture is thus described in the accompanying poem which is also by Mr. Green:

“Then Zerah’s darkly-beaming eye
Was kindled with unwonted fire;
And to its language came reply,
In flashing light from son and sire:
O, beautiful those glances broke,
As if lost angels in them woke.

“And, as they went, at midnight hour,
They sang low anthems to the moon,
While incense rose from leaf and flower
Upon the balmy breath of June,—
And praised her with the running o’er
Of hearts that must their blessings pour.

“Melodious as a music-strain,
With unchecked glee, loud laughed the boy;
And how divinely sweet again
Each heart beat high with freedom’s joy!
That joy was like a ray of light
Upon the deepest shade of night.”

  The spirit and confidence that fill the figures in this design remind us of the saying of a noble man in Kentucky who had the misfortune to own many slaves, but made what amends he could by taking care of them in the patriarchal manner, with the thoughtful affection of a father. When one of his slaves ran away, (a very rare incident, as they were as happy as men in such a position can be,) he would say he took it for a sign that the man felt able to take care of himself, and would have no pursuit or inquiry made about him.

  In the last of the designs the meaning is very forcibly and fully expressed and with much simplicity. The energy of despair in the man’s figure is very impressive.

  These are verses on the first picture of the Nubian’s life in his home:

“His savage virtues were unpraised;
His savage vices none condemned;
But to his God he dimly raised
His thoughts, with reverence overwhelmed,
And felt that Power who gives the meed
To goodly act, or evil deed.

“He was no prince; no chief was he;
He never wished for brute command;
No trembling subject bent the knee,
Or bowed before his sceptred hand;
But Nubian blood and bearing high
Shone from a dark and manly eye.

“No clattering hoof, or hound, or horn,
Chased the poor trembler through the wild,
No echoing trumpet broke the morn,
Or coward sport his cares beguiled;
The weak his dusky arm would save,
For he was brave and sought the brave.”

  We are well pleased to see powers of expression, both with pen and pencil, combined with full feelings and a high aim. In such plenty would Nature delight to deal her gifts, if men were unperverted.—We especially delight in this power of taking up a story and illustrating it by a series of such sketches, a power which several persons near us possess, though none of them to a high degree of excellence. But having received good part of our education from Flaxman and outline drawings from the antique, we have a high notion of the benefits to be derived from the study of forms in mere outline unassisted by color or even that negree of imitation of life which is given by a finished engraving.—These benefits are peculiar.

  Every attempt that intimates a desire in the pubic to gratify the eye with pictures as well as words is interesting to us. We delight to see the interest shown by children in pictures; we think the public of grown men begins to share it, and be dissatisfied if it has the printed word only. When the public at large feel this, when pictures are not merely an article of expensive furniture for the ignorant rich, or of amateur luxury to the cultivated few, but a want of the people at large. Art will have its genuine birth in this country. It is not to pictures by traveled artists, or annuals full of highly finished engravings, that we look with most hope, but to efforts growing out of our own life, to express what beats in the national heart, to satisfy a want of the national mind. Not only in this view do we hail attempts like this to illustrate by picture a great popular subject, but the lady in the pink gown of whom we caught a glimpse in the street yesterday, and whom we take to be an ideal picture of the nurse of Gen. Jackson. Even the picture of the wreck of the Swallow which was hawked about the streets at the time of the calamity, though its production was blamed by the thoughtful as unfeeling, and the attestation by witnesses to the fidelity of the representation was burlesqued to an uncommon degree, even for that style, had its interest as showing the need felt of a picture for the imagination where men had a feeling in the heart. Such things show the need of and the power for the Fine Arts, just as a love for street ballads and an abundance of them shows the existence of poetical energy in a nation, as polished court or literary verses never can.*

“The Nubian Slave . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 24 June 1845, p. 1.