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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Aphorisms Written on the Walls of His Studio

By Washington Allston (1779–1843)

[From Lectures on Art, and Poems, by Washington Allston. Edited by R. H. Dana, Jr. 1850.]

IF an artist love his art for its own sake, he will delight in excellence wherever he meets it, as well in the work of another as in his own. This is the test of a true love.

Nor is this genuine love compatible with a craving for distinction; where the latter predominates, it is sure to betray itself before contemporary excellence, either by silence, or (as a bribe to the conscience) by a modicum of praise.

The enthusiasm of a mind so influenced is confined to itself.

Distinction is the consequence, never the object, of a great mind.

The love of gain never made a painter; but it has marred many.

The most common disguise of envy is in the praise of what is subordinate.

Selfishness in art, as in other things, is sensibility kept at home.

In the same degree that we overrate ourselves, we shall underrate others; for injustice allowed at home is not likely to be corrected abroad. Never, therefore, expect justice from a vain man; if he has the negative magnanimity not to disparage you, it is the most you can expect.

A witch’s skiff cannot more easily sail in the teeth of the wind than the human eye lie against fact; but the truth will oftener quiver through lips with a lie upon them.

There is an essential meanness in the wish to get the better of any one. The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself.

Some men make their ignorance the measure of excellence; these are, of course, very fastidious critics; for, knowing little, they can find but little to like.

Popular excellence in one age is but the mechanism of what was good in the preceding; in art, the technic.

An original mind is rarely understood, until it has been reflected from some half-dozen congenial with it, so averse are men to admitting the true in an unusual form; whilst any novelty, however fantastic, however false, is greedily swallowed. Nor is this to be wondered at; for all truth demands a response, and few people care to think, yet they must have something to supply the place of thought. Every mind would appear original, if every man had the power of projecting his own into the mind of others.

All effort at originality must end either in the quaint or the monstrous. For no man knows himself as an original; he can only believe it on the report of others to whom he is made known, as he is by the projecting power before spoken of.

There is one thing which no man, however generously disposed, can give, but which every one, however poor, is bound to pay. This is Praise. He cannot give it, because it is not his own,—since what is dependent for its very existence on something in another can never become to him a possession; nor can he justly withhold it, when the presence of merit claims it as a consequence.