A Book of British Etching: From Francis Barlow to Francis Seymour Haden

By Walter Shaw Sparrow | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
FOREIGN INFLUENCES AND BRITISH QUALITIES

I

MANY foreign etchers have worked in our country, exercising a various authority. The earliest became active at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Many other foreign influences have held sway in British art from the Middle Ages to our own times, drawing attention to an imitative humility among British craftsmen and their patrons. How are we to explain this meek habit of mind in our countrymen? It has perplexed foreign students of British arts and crafts.

There is a very remarkable contrast between it and the British people's long fight for free publication of opinion, and for the need of being indomitably self-reliant towards the various arts of statesmanship, as well as in great adventures by land and sea. What does this contrast mean? Does it ask us all to believe that our country has accepted from abroad a great deal too much colonization in matters of æsthetic tastes and styles, showing weakness towards very common natural gifts, which have been active everywhere among many animate creatures? Remember those constructive habits which ants and other social insects had exercised in elaborate building work millions of years before primitive men invented their palæolithic crafts and arts, not without taking hints from nature's patternings on animals, birds, insects, flowers, stones, shells, and the sky.

If we act weakly towards original design and handicraft, fearing to do what would be right for our own needs, are we not inferior here to those varieties of natural craft which are beautifully purposeful in honeycombs, in spider-webs charmed with variations, and in nests built by

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