Speaking with the Artful Dead in Romantic Periodicals

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In several Romantic periodicals, a first-person narrator witnesses the spirits of the distant past return to reanimate artworks in museum settings.  This essay focuses on two such playful texts, which show how Romantic literary magazines used this rhetorical device to convey their visions of Britain’s recent history and probable future as well as to communicate a sense of their own place in Romantic print culture.

Speaking with the Artful Dead in Romantic Periodicals

Emma Peacocke
Queen’s University


1.        In May 2007, the National Gallery (London) broadcast its seventh podcast, devoted to “the National Gallery After Dark.” It swiftly immerses listeners in the gallery, with the public announcement system crackling into life to inform listeners that “it is closing time [. . .] the Gallery closes at 6pm,” and bringing us into the room with a genial guard asking lingering art-lovers, “Can we make a move please?” The podcast allows us to linger into the night and to meet the unseen people behind the National Gallery’s workings. The next voice, like the public announcement system, comes filtered through broadcasting equipment—but this time without crackle and distortion. It is the voice of the works of art themselves, as imagined by the poet Jacob Sam La-Rose. “We are many, never silent,” the voice begins, and promises that “even in darkness,” there is something to behold; “light sighs from our surfaces like sap from wounded trees.” La-Rose’s words assert the life inherent in museum works: they “demand” attention and fearlessly “meet” the onlooker’s gaze. In the National Gallery podcast, novelist and academic Marina Warner examines why we like to assert a secret life inherent in the artworks. Indeed, the National Gallery podcast reprises many of the themes of a particular subgenre of Romantic writing—the museum visit in which objects (or their long-dead creators) come to life to speak with the narrator.

2.        Gillen D’Arcy Wood notes the profound disquiet that many from the Romantic era felt at spectacles and artifacts that blurred the boundary between “visual” or sculptural “representation” and “the real thing” (3-4), while Sophie Thomas writes that “the fantasy of art speaking or coming to life has had, and still has, a potent appeal” (73). Christopher Rovee explores the Romantic fascination with an earlier text, William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (comp. circa 1610), for its scene of the statue of the maligned Queen Hermione coming to life: “The statue scene itself [. . .] undoes the opposition between original and copy, human and statue” (100). Rovee also notes how depictions of the statue scene were imbricated in print media, as “the print of a painting of a play about a statue of a queen” (100). As Warner notes, from fairy tales to Freudian theory, our preoccupation with the hinterland between inanimate object and living, speaking subject is perennial. Where the National Gallery turns to the auditory through a podcast, the Romantics tended to mediate their experiences through print.

3.        By re-packaging the visual world of the art museum into the auditory experience of the podcast, the form of the old becomes the content of the new medium. “Each new medium represents its precursors,” as Lisa Gitelman writes (4); or, in the words of Celeste Langan, “the invisible . . . [new] medium frames and delivers all the [older medium’s] audiovisual information that is redefined as its ‘content’” (54). This essay examines a moment when two historical media, the literary periodical and the museum, ceased to be transparent and intersected. Romantic literary periodicals contain a genre of prosopopeic writing halfway between the hallucination and the gallery visit. These magazine pieces conform to both of the OED definitions of “prosopopeia”: “A figure of speech by which an inanimate or abstract thing is represented as a person, or as having personal characteristics, esp. the power to think or speak,” and the less common “rhetorical device by which an imaginary, absent, or dead person is represented as speaking or acting” (“Prosopopeia”). In several Romantic periodicals, a first-person narrator witnesses the spirits of the distant past return to reanimate artworks in museum settings. This essay focuses on two texts: one in the London Magazine in which a massive pharaonic statue smiles at the narrator and chants its own history to him, and one in Ackermann’s Repository in which the ghosts of illustrious painters pay a raucous visit to a London art exhibition. Romantic literary magazines combined serious historical work with more self-consciousness and playfulness. As David Stewart argues, successful Romantic periodicals intertwined a serious cultural mission with an equally strong sense of gamesmanship (61-65). Prosopopeia offered an engaging, direct device for periodical writers to provide their readership with artistic and historical information, with a touch of whimsy to lighten the pedagogical agenda.

4.        I focus on prosopopeia within a museum setting; however, prosopopeia was perhaps even more common in Romantic periodicals than my examples suggest. For instance, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, in its February 1822 issue, features “Letters from the Dead to the Living” from the deceased academic, the Rev. Dr. Barrett. The piece concludes with the ringing declaration that “there’s the sorte [sic] of an obituary you ought to have made for me” (211). Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819-1820) twice features elements of museum prosopopeia: in a library belonging to Westminster Abbey (itself half cathedral, half museum), an ancient book admonishes Geoffrey Crayon, who then recounts a dream-vision in which a whole gallery of scholars’ portraits adorning the British Museum’s Reading Room surge into life to chastise contemporary authors who are plagiarising from their works.

5.        The subgenre in Romantic-era periodicals of museum-based prosopopeia provides lasting insights into the senses of taste and of history of the Romantic reading public. “If history is a term that means both what happened in the past and the varied practices of representing that past,” Gitelman argues, so “media are themselves denizens of the past” and are “also historical because they are functionally integral to [conveying] a sense of pastness” (5). By analysing how literary magazines, and the London Magazine in particular, convey that “sense of pastness,” we also gain insight into the magazine medium at a particular historical moment in the 1820s. In declaring an identity for itself and its readers, the London Magazine trumpeted its reliance on a new feature in its print medium: the illustration.

6.        Paul Westover’s Necromanticism (2012) argues persuasively that Romantic literature often understood itself through physical and literary pilgrimages to writers’ graves. Periodicals’ prosopopeia seem to give us the perfect obverse—it is the artwork that undergoes the journey. But Romantic authors’ desire to position themselves in history through dialogue with the dead resonates in both. As Miranda Burgess writes, “transport”—both in the sense of rapture and of carriage—“is everywhere in the intellectual history of the early nineteenth century” (234-235). Attentive to “the communicative medium of print,” Burgess highlights “the intersection of communication and transport—that is [. . .] the geographies of circulating feeling—as the meeting point for Britain’s national and global situation” (241). Museum artifacts mediate two kinds of history in the pages of periodicals: the distant history of the eras when the artworks were created and the recent history of the Napoleonic wars, which brought the objets d’art to Britain. In the eighteenth century, objects relate their own stories; Romantic periodicals’ prosopopeia feature a first-person narrator who is witness to the artifact’s animation. This narrator stands in for the new Romantic readership, acting as mediator between the aesthetic, the historic, the fanciful, and the middle-class reader. As Marjorie Levinson acknowledges, defining the place of the fragment and ruin in English Romantic consciousness has proven to be a surprisingly slippery endeavour (9). Rather than deal with categories of ruin and fragmentation per se, I explore the spaces that they opened on to and particularly how Britain filtered its response to the Napoleonic Wars through its imaginings of past “Golden Ages” in the pages—printed and illustrated—of its literary periodicals.

7.        On the very first page of the February 1821 issue of the London Magazine, a detailed and elegant engraving of an Ancient Egyptian statue faces the table of contents. The caption of the engraving identifies the statue as “MEMNON’S HEAD.” The table of contents lists the customary “Lion’s Head” article by the magazine’s editor, John Scott, then “Memnon’s Head—Oracular and Poetical. WITH A PLATE,” then a “Table Talk” article (William Hazlitt’s “On Reading Old Books”). In his “oracular and poetic” piece, Horace Smith writes in the first person of a visit to the British Museum to sketch the head then called the “young Memnon.” This bust in fact represented Ramses II, the pharaoh also behind Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” (1818) (“Statue of Ramesses II, the ‘Younger Memnon’”). As Stephanie Moser writes, “The significance of this single sculpture for the reception of Egyptian antiquity cannot be overemphasized, for once it was installed in the Townley Gallery [of the British Museum], the aesthetic qualities of Egyptian antiquities finally became more widely recognized” (115).

8.        Smith wrote “Memnon’s Head” before Jean-François Champollion published his decipherment of the Rosetta stone in 1824 (Bianchi). Smith once refers to a blank in “History’s pages” (“Address to the Mummy” 138); that blank concerning Ancient Egypt was only just starting to be filled in thanks to the theater of war, in which the French began to occupy the Mediterranean and Egypt. French soldiers discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799, and it was ceded to the British in 1801 (its inscription having already been copied), along with other ancient artifacts through the Treaty of Alexandria. Part of the significance of both the Rosetta Stone and the bust of Ramses is that they helped Europeans to see Ancient Egypt afresh; another part of their significance is their role as trophies—transported between nations and victors—of inter-continental war (“The Rosetta Stone”).

9.         “Memnon’s Head” curiously mixes genres and tones. It begins as an impersonal, third-person, and highly factual recapitulation of writings from classical antiquity, modulates through Smith’s narrator’s first-person account of visiting Memnon’s Head in the British Museum, and ends as a prosopopeic poem, which the colossal statue addresses to the narrator. I argue that the London Magazine’s frontispiece illustration (Figure 1) is integral to Smith’s construction of “Memnon’s Head” as a representation of both sober classical antiquarianism and hallucinatory poetry.

Figure 1.

Smith begins by declaring that “it is well known” that “there were two statues of Memnon” (“Memnon’s Head” 125). He then differentiates between “the smaller one, commonly called the young Memnon,” and installed in the British Museum, “and a larger and more celebrated one,” still in Egypt, “from which, when touched by the rays of the morning sun, harmonious sounds were reported to have issued.” Smith enters into a page-long learned exegesis of what “ancient writers,” like Strabo, Pausanias, Pliny, and Tacitus have recorded concerning the larger bust (“Memnon’s Head” 125-126). In this, the opening movement of his article, Smith’s tone echoes a piece from the previous issue of the magazine. The January 1821 London Magazine ran an article called “The Apotheosis of Homer,” subtitled “AN EXPLANATION OF AN ANCIENT BAS-RELIEF . . . REPRESENTING THE APOTHEOSIS OF HOMER: COLLECTED FROM THE WRITINGS OF SEVERAL LEARNED AUTHORS AND ANTIQUARIES” (81). Like Smith on “Memnon’s Head,” the brief “The Apotheosis of Homer” draws on “many authors” who “have written on the subject of this beautiful piece of sculpture,” and who “very much differ in their accounts” (81). Both Smith’s article and “The Apotheosis of Homer” are rather interpolative, conjuring up a learned audience of London Magazine readers who are conversant with classical history, mythology, and texts. Smith begins his article by implying that the existence of two statues will be “well known” to his readers (“Memnon’s Head” 125); “The Apotheosis of Homer” tactfully explains that “the following extracts” from “works” on the Apotheosis bas-relief “will clear the matter up,” implying that its readers may be confused by conflicting accounts but are certainly not reading for the first time of such a sculpture’s existence (81). Like “Memnon’s Head,” “The Apotheosis of Homer” leans heavily on the British Museum, placing its readers alongside “the student, and the rational observer,” whom the “forms of admission [. . .] preserve [. . .] from the inconvenience and unpleasantness of ignorant crowds” that would obstruct “contemplation and feeling” (81). As the London Magazine’s editor, Scott wrote in the same issue as Smith’s “Head of Memnon” that “We are happy to find that the Plate of the Bas-relief, in our last Number, gave satisfaction; and we anticipate as much for the head of Memnon, in the present” (Scott 124). A small image of Exmouth wrestlers, taking up less than a third of the page, was the first illustration in the London Magazine in December 1820 (“Exmouth Wrestling” 613); the Ancient Greek “Bas-Relief” was the second, occupying the entire page facing the table of contents; the Ancient Egyptian bust was the third. In the next month’s issue, a male statue from the Elgin Marbles would be the subject of the fourth engraving, also illustrating a prosopopeia by Smith.

10.        Although “the success of all media depends at some level on inattention or ‘blindness’ to the media technologies themselves [. . .] in favor of attention to ‘the content,’” nonetheless there are moments when “forgotten questions about whether and how media do the job bubble to the surface” (Gitelman 6). Periodicals in Romantic Britain were a highly “self-conscious” and changing medium (Stewart 11-12; 1-2), and part of their self-definition sprang from their meditations on museum display. For Scott, articles like “The Apotheosis of Homer” and “Memnon’s Head” defined the London Magazine, and the plates that accompanied them were integral to their message. The plates signaled the magazine’s investment in these pieces and made them the flagship articles whose banners preceded even the table of contents. Scott believed that the success of his magazine was better served by bringing the media technology of engraving to the forefront, rather than permitting readerly blindness or inattention. In February 1821, Scott proudly points out that his magazine is taking a “novel course” in “pretty frequently offering to our readers representations of the most celebrated objects of art in sculpture and painting, as embellishments of our Magazine, accompanied by papers on their peculiar character, and merits” (Scott 124). The visual “representations” and the “papers” reinforce each other’s power. Scott makes a lovely hyperbolic claim for the importance of articles like Smith’s on objects of antique sculpture; he explains that “The LONDON MAGAZINE [. . .] must play its part, as occupying a distinguished place in the noise and bustle,” especially in an era when “we apprehend that Magazines will soon form the only literature of the country!” (124). It therefore behooves them to be edifying.

11.        Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin posit that “we see ourselves [. . .] in and through our available media,” whether those media are at the cutting edge of technology or are “older, verbal” in nature (231). The readers of the London Magazine are certainly invited to see themselves as erudite participants in British cultural institutions through the London Magazine and its illustrated articles on antiquities like the bas-relief or pharaonic sculpture. Writing independently about antiquarian endeavours, Ina Ferris and Maureen N. McLane focus on studies of Britain’s own past. As McLane suggests in “Mediating Antiquarians in Britain,” some of the most significant work that British antiquaries carried out was textual and focused on documents. Ferris observes that the pages of these “antiquarian publications” were “typically broken up with footnotes and marginal notations,” rather accurately reflecting the “work” of the learned authors to “refram[e]” and “reshap[e]” the past (para. 6). Readers were, in Yoon Sun Lee’s terms, obliged to replicate the “foraging” of antiquarians through the past (82). Likewise, the classically-minded readers of the London Magazine had to flip between the text and illustration, thus replicating antiquarian endeavours and collaborating in the experience of putting the magazine and its meanings together.

12.        Having continued the instructive and interpolative work of “The Apotheosis of Homer” in the previous issue, “Memnon’s Head” modulates into whimsy. Throughout the account of ancient authors and histories, Smith writes in the omniscient third person; Smith’s narrator now begins to use the first person and declares that “unless I have been grossly deceived by imagination, I have good grounds for maintaining, that the Head, now in the British Museum, is endued with qualities quite as inexplicable, as any that have been attributed to its more enormous namesake” (126). The narrator then claims to have witnessed something “marvellous” and “supernatural” while drawing the statue late one afternoon at the British Museum (126). The narrator’s is still a highly textual world; when the colossal bust’s features seem to shift and smile to him, the narrator reminds himself that “Belzoni says, that it seemed to smile on him” before he excavated the statue. The narrator thus “endeavour[s] to persuade [him]self that [he] had” simply been “deceived” by his memory of Giovanni Belzoni’s printed Narrative (1820) (126). However, the narrator soon receives more incontrovertible sensory evidence: “the broad granite eyelids slowly” blink, “as if the Giant were striving to awaken himself from his long sleep,” and the narrator hears the mighty statue’s “low whispering voice” chant his own history (126).

13.        Smith’s narrator simultaneously inhabits a highly textual world and some of the conventions of a more bardic Romanticism. While “Memnon’s Head” reaches toward classical texts and recent issues of the London Magazine, it also claims authority on the grounds that “‘I was there, I remember’”—a kind of “poetic authority” inextricable from balladeering and minstrel traditions (McLane, Balladeering 190). “The authoritative editor” of ballad collections “would strive to mediate distinct kinds of sources, oral, manuscript, and print” (McLane, Balladeering 189). McLane comments that “editing offered” Sir Walter Scott “an opportunity to meditate on and discriminate among kinds of sources and kinds of mediation”; in the place of Scott’s “ostentatiously elaborate headnotes” and “scrupulous documenting” (Balladeering 189) of each ballad and each person who transmits it, Smith gives his circumstantial account of visiting the bust in the museum and lingering after other visitors depart, and the London Magazine itself gestures self-consciously toward the visual and textual apparatus that it places around the museum visit. Roland Barthes writes of “a particular form of imaginary projection,” a dubious claim to “objectivity” in which “the historian is claiming to allow the referent to speak all on its own” (11). However, as Bolter and Grusin observe, while sometimes media attempt invisibility, there is also a “pleasure of the act of mediation” and that pleasure in the hypermediated is historically long-standing (14). With its anonymous narrator acting as intermediary, its complex structures of related articles and of illustrations, the London Magazine article is certainly heavily mediated—even hypermediated—in its engagement with a museum object, especially as the “young Memnon” already evokes its own histories, texts, and associations. This quality of hypermediation allows Smith’s brief text to gesture toward both antiquarian precision and toward the power of poetic vision and hallucination, and in doing so it establishes the London Magazine’s own unique appeal to its readers.

14.        The supernatural communication, or hallucination, takes place in the “awful, but not alarming” atmosphere of the museum when the narrator discovers that “every visitor had retired, and that I was left quite alone with the gigantic Head” (126). As the warder puts it in the National Gallery podcast, “night-time is good because [. . .] you can actually sit down and let your mind go and let the paintings take you over [. . .] you see things what [sic] you don’t normally do during the daytime, because during the daytime you’ve got the clutter” and noise of other gallery visitors. The warder here describes both a sense of heightened attention and of drift. He observes details that he “normally” would not “during the daytime” but can simultaneously let go, allowing his mind to roam, as though sharing in Smith’s sense of dream and of night-time hallucination among the relics of bygone ages. Overcoming his desire “to quicken [his] steps to the door,” Smith’s narrator sees “an air of living animation [. . .] spread over [the colossal bust’s] Nubian features, which had obviously arranged themselves into a smile” (126). Langan notes that “reading—especially reading poetry—might be thought to produce an effect that is not merely visual [. . .] but audiovisual hallucination,” an effect which triggers the Romantic “reading public’s desire [. . .] for numerous illustrated editions” (49, 65-66). The engraved frontispiece shows the statue’s faint smile, allowing the reader to share almost literally in Smith’s vision of its regal, beneficent face.

15.        Despite his punctilious circumstantial accounting for himself, Smith acknowledges that he may “have been grossly deceived by imagination” (126), admitting the possibility of hallucination. As Langan points out, Romantic poetry often uses hallucination to signify the power of the page and the printed word as well as how they open up a new and much desired vista (69). Smith’s other writings give a sense of the force of his desire for communion with the ancient world. In “Address to the Mummy at Belzoni’s Exhibition,” Smith pleads with the embalmed man to discuss life on “Thebes’s streets three thousand years ago” (137). The narrator cannot get past his wonder that the mummy belongs to a civilization that so long predates Greece and Rome: “Antiquity appears to have begun / Long after thy primeval race was run” (“Address to the Mummy” 138). This poem is written as a second-person address to a mummy—with a mounting frustration at the ancient corpse’s resounding silence.

16.        In “Memnon’s Head,” Smith’s narrator has far better luck, as the ancient statue spontaneously smiles on him and recounts its own history. The poem opens with the statue describing how it “soar’d aloft, —a man-shaped tower, / O’er hundred-gated Thebes” (126), through the invasion of the Persian Cambyses, and through “[t]wenty-three centuries” (128) of desolation and neglect. Smith is thinking of the fall of empires. The statue dwells on images of ruin, its “[d]eep . . . silence” interrupted only as “some vast / And time-worn fragment thunder[s] to its base” and as wildlife encroaches where “throngs” and “armies” used to pass (127). The statue universalizes its experience, declaring that “Nature o’erwhelms the relics left by time” and warns that “vain is each monarch’s unremitting pains” (127). The frontispiece engraving shows a crack traversing the statue’s chest and the irregular edge where the statue’s left arm is missing, thus facilitating the reader’s imagination of “time-worn fragment[s]” of the statue falling away.

17.        When it recalls its journey “o’er the western wave” to London, the statue anticipates the possible fall of the British Empire from its current glory, too: “Saint Paul’s may” come to “lie—like Memnon’s temple—low,” and “London, like Thebes, may be a wilderness” (128). This reference to what Jonathan Sachs calls “the antiquity of the future” (307), when Regency Britain takes its place with Classical Greece and Ancient Rome, connects Smith with texts like Anna Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, a Poem (1812) and Felicia Hemans’ Modern Greece (1817). Barbauld, Hemans, and Smith all imagine a distant future in which visitors from North America contemplate the antiquity of a disempowered and desolate Great Britain. Smith imagines that the “hand” of some such “Transatlantic” visitor may “bear” the “young Memnon” to a “new seat of empire in the west” (128). The engraving provides a tacit, un-remarked-upon reinforcement of the statue’s sentiment. The statue’s right shoulder is marred by a hole made by French engineers in an abortive attempt to move the colossal statue and to ship it to the Louvre.

18.        To read “Memnon’s Head” in conjunction with the engraving of “Memnon’s Head” is to be reminded of the fall of empires—from Egypt and Persia through Napoleonic France and perhaps, ultimately, to the British Empire’s own downfall. As Mark Parker convincingly argues, John Scott had been “alienated from both sides” of British politics since the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, “oppos[ed] to popular movements [. . .] ang[ry] at ministerial cynicism, and [. . .] disgust[ed] at the opposition’s opportunism” (35-36). Scott’s sense of the “political present” of the early 1820s was that it was an “intolerable” situation (42). “Memnon’s Head” removes readers from this intolerable present, immersing them in classical antiquity and pointing ahead to a world where power has shifted definitively away from its unworthy possessors in Britain. It is only in the last stanza that the statue uses its “melancholy [. . .] but sweet” (126) voice to address Smith’s narrator directly, with a vocative:

Mortal! —since human grandeur ends in dust,
And proudest piles must crumble to decay;
Build up the tower of thy final trust
In those blest realms—where nought shall pass away! (128)
Smith’s poetic communions with Ancient Egypt are ostensibly about capturing and conveying a sense of pastness, to have the mummy’s or the statue’s own eyewitness testimony as to what life was really like, but ultimately his explorations turn to the future.

19.        Our second example of periodical prosopopeia provides us with a perfect instance of poise between the “noise and bustle” and of edifying colloquy with the mighty dead, and it is one that also concludes with a turn to the future, albeit a much closer future, which it embraces with far more optimism. This example is found in an anonymous article from the November 1816 issue of Ackermann’s Repository, set “ON the last day of the celebrated EXHIBITION OF DUTCH and FLEMISH PICTURES at the BRITISH INSTITUTION.” In the National Gallery podcast and in Smith’s reading, the noise and bustle of numerous visitors trammel and hinder the poetic imagination from communing with the artworks; in the Ackermann’s Repository article, however, sociability and the discussion of the artworks on display is integral to the supernatural communication.

20.        The British Institution was founded in 1805; the celebrated exhibition opened in May 1815, about six weeks before the Battle of Waterloo. This exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Paintings was rather a landmark event, the earliest exhibition of loaned Old Master paintings ever recorded (Haskell 63). These particular paintings were certainly not war art. However, the stirringly written preface to the exhibition catalogue made “wide appeals to patriotism” (Haskell 65) and overtly linked the Golden Age of Dutch and Flemish art with the Regency. “Who can doubt,” demanded the catalogue’s preface, “that the genius of a WELLINGTON will create future heroes to achieve the most brilliant exploits for the glory of our country? Let us hope that the genius of Rubens may produce Artists to record them” (qtd. in Haskell 65). The preface emphasizes how “great examples” will inspire the artists of Britain’s Regency to “emulation” and ever-greater “excellence” in the near future (Haskell 65). As we shall see, the anonymous writer in Ackermann’s Repository put his own highly original slant on this optimism.

21.         Just as our final narrator is thinking how “gratifying” their “lasting fame” would be to the “old masters” whose works are on display, “immediately a voice near me exclaimed, in a hollow tone, ‘Mighty gratifying truly!’” (“Nature and Use” 269). The narrator realizes at once that “It was Rembrandt himself”—a “huge figure wrapped in an old black silk mantle” and surrounded by the other major painters (269). This portrayal of Rembrandt as a sublime yet almost formless mass of shadow fits perfectly with Romantic interpretations of the artist. As Johann Fuseli expressed it to the Royal Academy, Rembrandt was “a genius of the first class in whatever relates not to form” (qtd. in Carasso 111). It is only right that Rembrandt be the first and most impressive among Ackermann’s ghosts, for, according to Fuseli, “If ever he had a master, he had no followers,” for none were adequate “to comprehend his power” (111). At his materialization, a “few persons [. . .] still remained in the rooms” and “discovered” the artists’ spirits “at the same moment” as the narrator (“Nature and Use” 269). One rather affected connoisseur flings himself on his knees to Rembrandt and begins a florid speech: the ghosts set up such a raucous “horse-laugh” that the connoisseur flees down the staircase (269).

22.        Remarkably, in the Ackermann’s piece, it is the dead past that yearns for the insights of the living present. The 1816 piece is titled “The Nature and Use of Day-light: A Recent Discovery in the Philosophy of the Fine Arts,” and it is a discovery that the living share with the dead. Just as Smith repeatedly beseeches the mummy to reveal what it has witnessed, so the ghost of David Teniers the Younger needs to ask a polite young gentleman in the gallery twice before the living young man will say “what deficiency” there is in Teniers’ outdoor scenes (270). In return for his eventual explanation, the painter Aelbert Cuyp proposes a sound, practical scheme for the Royal Institution to build up a library of sketches for the benefit of art students (275). Writing of the late-nineteenth century, John Guillory notes how “common” the “use” of the word “medium” was to denote a person “who mediated communications with the dead” (347-348). Although the media technology that shifted “communication” from “face-to-face exchange to one premised on distance” belongs to the later-nineteenth century, such exchanges across time and space are prefigured by the heavily mediated ghostly encounters in the pages of Romantic periodicals (Guillory 348). Cuyp and Teniers act as mediums themselves; they make highly appropriate ambassadors between the living and the dead, for both of them enjoyed popularity both in their own native cities and with a more far-flung audience abroad (Kloek 1, 47; Vlieghe).

23.        The polite young gentleman’s eventual reply is what gives the article its title: a commentary on the nature and use of daylight in painting. He thinks that the Golden Age painters, despite the luminous skies over their landscapes, failed to notice perpendicular sunbeams and the contrast throughout the day of “golden” and “azure” light (“Nature and Use” 270). Teniers is entirely receptive to the criticism. “By heaven! you have hit it,” he cries, and he runs “directly to call his brethren” (270). They are delighted, as Teniers explains, because “the great source of our happiness in this after-life [. . .] [is] to enjoy the delight of seeing that our successors have not only profited by our example, but freed themselves from our prejudices” (270).

24.        Ackermann’s offers us an arresting statement of national confidence, as the nation in the era of Waterloo is quite certain that the Old Masters have just as much to learn from Regency Britain as they do to teach. As James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin observe, the coachmaker, publisher, and artistic entrepreneur Rudolph Ackermann “blurred key distinctions between amateur and genius, commerce and patriotism” (35). The polite young amateur’s ideas about the nature and use of daylight in painting find a far more sympathetic reception with the ghosts of geniuses than they do with even a practicing portraitist who is also in attendance. To have a thriving class of amateur connoisseurs (and purchasers) was to demonstrate strength as a nation and to suggest that political and taste-making power were both in the right hands. Indeed, as Ann Bermingham has noted, “For many, like [. . .] Rudolph Ackermann, [this thriving class] signified that England had arrived at the pinnacle of cultural sophistication and refinement” (“Urbanity” 151).

25.        “Repository of the Arts” referred to both Ackermann’s shop in the Strand, established in 1797, and to the monthly periodical he founded in 1809, and the magazine was, in Ann Bermingham’s words, “what we today might call a commercial spin-off” (Learning to Draw 127). To buy a copy of the monthly periodical was powerfully akin to visiting the enticing shop with its art supplies, painting, home décor, galleries, circulating library, tea room, and weekly conversazioni (Learning to Draw 127). In Ackermann’s print ventures, “the absorption of the arts into the [commercial] life of the city was a sign of human progress” (Bermingham, “Urbanity” 165). To promote the fine arts as accessible and desirable, Ackermann’s Repository does not, like the London Magazine, involve its prosopopeia in a complex of illustration, antiquarian knowledge, and editorial interjection. Rather, it relies on the text to encourage readers to consider “Fine art [. . .] in terms of its instrumentality and sociality, as an aspect of the broader urban culture” (Bermingham, “Urbanity” 165). Where the London Magazine imagines the past warning Britain’s present of ruin yet to come, Ackermann’s Repository posits a triumphant commercial “modernity” for Great Britain in which London has “emerge[d]” as such a “sophisticated European capital” that it can teach even the Golden Ages of other nations a thing or two (Bermingham, “Urbanity” 165).

26.        “Here we seem to be in both worlds at once,” remarks the narrator of the piece from Ackermann’s Repository, as the British Institution is occupied by the living and the dead (275). Periodical narrators are typically in the museum at dusk, right before it closes. Not only do they hover between night and day but also between past, present, and future. This is the moment when the public museum, which makes antiquities and artworks available to all alike, becomes most private. No wonder periodicals took such an interest in museums’ treasures. In exploring this new, special category of Romantic import, magazines staked their claim to deal with timeless artistic concerns and timely historical and political ones in a form that echoes the liminality of the museum. The literary magazine is a highly public forum, yet—like the National Gallery podcast—it is welcome inside private spaces, and it stocks the reader’s own musée imaginaire of ideas and information. Like Memnon’s Head or the work of Golden Age painters, it seemed to speak directly to the lucky reader and, in doing so, posited Britain’s place among history’s great empires. By announcing Britain’s exalted place in the world, the literary magazine could claim a little of that lustre—however ephemeral—for itself.

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Published @ RC

November 2016