“Oh, that those lips had language!” cried Cowper. “Oh, that those lovely figures would combine anew—change their light—do anything, anything!” cries the aesthete after awhile. “Oh, that the wind would rise upon that glorious sea; the summer green would fade to autumn yellow; that night would turn to day, clouds to sunshine, or sunshine to clouds.” But the littera scripta manet—the stroke of the brush is everlasting. Apollo always bends the bow in marble. One may read a poem till it is known by heart, and in another second the familiar words strike fresh upon the ear. Painters lay a canvas aside, and presently come to it, as they say, with a new eye; but a purchaser once seized with this desperate malady has no such refuge. After putting his treasure away for years, at the first glance all his satiety returns. I myself have diagnosed a case where a fine drawing by Gerome grew to be a veritable incubus. It is understood that the market for pictures is falling yearly. I believe that the growth of this dislike to the eternal stillness of a painted scene is a chief cause of the disaster. It operates among the best class of patrons.
For such men orchids are a blessed relief. Fancy has not conceived such loveliness, complete all round, as theirs—form, colour, grace, distribution, detail, and broad effect. Somewhere, years ago—in Italy perhaps, but I think at the Taylor Institution, Oxford—I saw the drawings made by Rafaelle for Leo X. of furniture and decoration in his new palace; be it observed in parenthesis, that one who has not beheld the master’s work in this utilitarian style of art has but a limited understanding of his supremacy. Among them were idealizations of flowers, beautiful and marvellous as fairyland, but compared with the glory divine that dwells in a garland of Odontoglossum Alexandrae, artificial, earthy. Illustrations of my meaning are needless to experts, and to others words convey no idea. But on the table before me now stands a wreath of Oncidium crispum which I cannot pass by. What colourist would dare to mingle these lustrous browns with pale gold, what master of form could shape the bold yet dainty waves and crisps and curls in its broad petals, what human imagination could bend the graceful curve, arrange the clustering masses of its bloom? All beauty that the mind can hold is there—the quintessence of all charm and fancy. Were I acquainted with an atheist who, by possibility, had brain and feeling, I would set that spray before him and await reply. If Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like a lily of the field, the angels of heaven have no vesture more ethereal than the flower of the orchid. Let us take breath.