What cheered these men of genius during their toils and enabled them to finish their glorious works? Was it not the hope that from posterity they would meet with the admiration, the sympathy, denied them by their contemporaries?—as the prisoner in his gloomy dungeon, refused all pity, seeks consolation by tracing a few lines on its dreary walls, in appeal to the sympathy of some future inhabitant who may be doomed to take his place.
I seem to be paying a portion of the debt due by posterity to those who laboured long and painfully for it, when I stand rapt in admiration before the works of the great masters of the olden time, my heart touched with a lively sympathy for their destinies; nor can I look on the glorious faces or glowing landscapes that remain to us, evincing the triumph of genius over even time itself, by preserving on canvass the semblance of all that charmed in nature, without experiencing the sentiment so naturally and beautifully expressed in the celebrated picture, by Nicolas Poussin, of a touching scene in Arcadia, in which is a tomb near to which two shepherds are reading the inscription. “I, too, was an Arcadian.”
Yes, that which delighted the artists of old, they have transmitted to us with a tender confidence that when contemplating these bequests we would remember with sympathy that they, like us, had felt the charms they delineated.
Went to see the Hotel d’Orsay, to-day. Even in its ruin it still retains many of the vestiges of its former splendour. The salle a manger, for the decoration of which its owner bought, and had conveyed from Rome, the columns of the Temple of Nero, is now—hear it, ye who have taste!—converted into a stable; the salons, once filled with the most precious works of art, are now crumbled to decay, and the vast garden where bloomed the rarest exotics, and in which were several of the statues that are now in the gardens of the Tuileries, is now turned into paddocks for horses.
It made me sad to look at this scene of devastation, the result of a revolution which plunged so many noble families from almost boundless wealth into comparative poverty, and scattered collections of the works of art that whole lives were passed in forming. I remember Mr. Millingen, the antiquary, telling me in Italy that when yet little more than a boy he was taken to view the Hotel d’Orsay, then one of the most magnificent houses in Paris, and containing the finest collection of pictures and statues, and that its splendour made such an impression on his mind that he had never forgotten it.
With an admirable taste and a princely fortune, Count d’Orsay spared neither trouble nor expense to render his house the focus of all that was rich and rare; and, with a spirit that does not always animate the possessor of rare works of art, he opened it to the young artists of the day, who were permitted to study in its gallery and salons.