14 March 2012

Into the Greek Mind

Mary Watts describes G. F. Watts' self-education in George Frederick Watts; The Annals of an Artist's Life, Vol. I (New York: George H. Doran, 1913), pp. 14-5:
His health preventing him from attending, with any sort of regularity, any classes or school, he was taught, or taught himself as best he could, at home. He learnt to read fairly early, his father giving a good direction to his boy's choice of books. Later in life he could not hear without something like indignation of boys who were indifferent to and wasteful of advantages which had been withheld from him; perhaps above all that of robust health. But Poverty may also bring her gift of compensation; want of means made the books few, yet, as they were choice, the limitation had this advantage that he read them over and over again till they became a part of his world and of his being. Without the imposition of dreary tasks of grammar, he entered freely and of his own choice into the Greek mind, through such translations as were accessible to him. The Iliad perhaps the first and best beloved of all, he read and re-read until gods and heroes were his friends and acquaintances; he thought of them as such, judged critically of their words and actions, and was deeply moved by all that was noble and beautiful and restrained; he knew this to be a very living school, and every fibre of his being answered to the splendour of the great epic. And so, while ill-health held him back from all pleasures of the more active sort, there was given instead this leisure, in which his imaginative mind could roam the windy plains of Troy, or climb the heights of Olympus. Moving through the dim light of a London atmosphere, in his dull little room he saw "the bright-eyed Athene in the midst bearing the holy aegis, that knoweth neither age nor death," and dreamed that he too might be an aegis-bearer of that which cannot grow old, the utterance of the human mind in the language of an art.
An earlier post on G.F. Watts: Found Drowned