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The History of Industrial Development and Toolmaking in US

  The Industrial Arts - Historical Sketches, 1876      

These sketches are intended to supply, and especially for the use of those who know but little, some general information with regard to the history of the chief classes or divisions of art-workmanship.

We know that many valuable books, and papers or articles in cyclopedias and serial publications, have been already written upon the same subjects: but they are not readily to be referred to when examining the collections hemselves, and are often too expensive to be within the reach of the majority of people. The present little volume will meet, we hope, both these difficulties.

The South Kensington museum, including the time when the collections were first exhibited at Marlborough House, has now been open to the public for very nearly a quarter of a century. It is scarcely possible to estimate the amount of influence for good which has been already exercised over the
art productions of English workmen: and this has been widely owned, not only at home but abroad.

Thousands upon thousands have every year passed through the galleries and courts; and even those who have come solely from an idle curiosity must have carried away with them the knowledge of very much about which they had hitherto been utterly ignorant. In many cases also an interest has been created which did not before exist, and naturally that interest would be followed by a desire to see the collections again and to learn more about them.

Many a man, ignorant of what is in him, may be strolling through the museum simply to fill up a vacant half-hour; and his eye falling upon some object of particular importance to himself he will have reason to look back with gratitude to the results of that accidental visit. A thought may strike him, in the way of some improvement in a mechanical process, or of some application of artistic decoration not yet attempted, and new ideas may be roused, or energy given to dormant powers, of the nature of which he was perhaps not even aware.

The main benefit to be expected from the public exhibition of such collections as that at South Kensington is a higher average of knowledge among people generally. We must not look for too much ; nor must we be disappointed if year after year pass by, and we are still unable to name an English rival of Michael Angelo, or delta Robbia, Cellini, or Bernard Palissy.

We might as well complain that the enormous increase of schools in the last thirty years has not produced a Dante, Shakespeare, or Bacon. Capability to attain eminent excellence springs from genius, and genius is rare. Men who are not of their own time only but of all time, and whose names are household words in every quarter of the world, are very few in number : and they must be born with power to reach the topmost rank. This is true of every kind of art or workmanship; and may be illustrated by the example, seen every day, of those who amuse themselves with common games.

No amount of practice, no observation of the skill of others, will enable any one to go beyond a certain limit: and Deschapelles at whist or Philidor at chess were as unapproachable in their own way as the great artists of antiquity or the middle ages in sculpture or painting or enamelling. Mental endowments, or what we usually call talent, belong in various degrees to all men : and rightly to teach, to guide, and, above all, to stimulate these is the great object of art collections. For talent requires to be stimulated, excited, and spurred on to work : genius, on the contrary, may call for guidance, may gain from exercise, but cannot, if it would, be idle.

The collections at South Kensington include large numbers of objects in each class, giving not only examples but in some cases almost the history also of the particular art itself; among them are not a few of the very best and finest specimens known to exist. In more than one series the collection rivals any other either in England or abroad : and the student may trace their progress for example, of Ivories from the first century, of Textiles from the middle ages, of Pottery from the sixteenth century down to our own day.

Large sums have been well expended in procuring the best specimens. The eye requires education, and a degree of teaching which inferior things fail to supply. Ignorant or ill-informed people commonly admire and express approval of objects which are i( second class" or even lower. Experience and observation will alone enable any man and this only slowly and by patient steps to judge rightly what is best and in the truest taste or style.

Already we may observe a great change in public opinion and judgment as to what is really good. We no longer hear approval of the coarse and ugly works of art (so called) which were admired some fifty or sixty years ago. It must be in some very remote district that even poor people would now buy for the shelves of a cottage the hideous "ornaments" which were at that time the only decorations within their reach. The compiler of this little book for it is scarcely more than a mere compilation felt grave doubts as to undertaking it at all: nor are these diminished now that it is finished.

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