THE MAN AND THE MESSENGER

Having given in the preceding pages the briefest possible outline of the life of Watts as a man amongst men, we are now able to come to closer quarters. He was essentially a messenger—a teacher, delivering to the world, in such a manner that his genius and temperament made possible, ideas which had found their place in his mind. He would have been the first to admit that without these ideas he would be less than nothing.

If it were possible to bring together all the external acts of the painter's life, his journeyings to and fro, his making and his losing friends, we should have insufficient data to enable us to understand Watts' message; his great ambitions, his constant failures, his intimate experiences, his reflections and determinations—known to none but himself—surely these, the internal life of Watts, are the real sources of his message? True, he was in the midst of the nineteenth century, breathing its atmosphere, familiar with the ideals of its great men, doubting, questioning, and hoping with the rest. To him, as to many a contemporary stoic, the world was in a certain sense an alien ground, and mortal life was to be stoically endured and made the best of. It is impossible to believe, however, that this inspiring and prophetic painter reproduced and handed on merely that which his time and society gave him. His day and his associates truly gave him much; the past and his heredity made their contributions; but we must believe that the purest gold was fired in the crucible of his inner experience, his joys and his sufferings. In him was accomplished that great discovery which the philosophers have called Pessimism; he not only saw in other men (as depicted in his memorable canvas of 1849), but he experienced in himself the transitory life's illusions. To Watts, the serious man of fifty years, Love and Death, Faith and Hope, Aspiration, Suffering, and Remorse, were not, as to the eighteenth-century rhymester, merely Greek ladies draped in flowing raiment; to him they were realities, intensely focussed in himself. Watts was giving of himself, of his knowledge and observation of what Love is and does, and how Death appears so variously; and who but a man who knew the melancholy of despair could paint that picture "Hope"?

Immediately after the central crisis of his personal life appeared the canvas entitled "Fata Morgana," illustrative of a knight in vain pursuit of a phantom maiden; and before long there was from his brush the pictured story of a lost love, "Orpheus and Eurydice," one of the saddest of all myths, but, one feels, no old myth to him.

By a more careful analysis of the artist's work we hope to learn the teaching Watts set himself to give, and to ascertain the means that he adopted; but one point needs to be made clear at this stage, namely, that although Watts was a great teacher, yet he was not a revolutionary. The ideals he held up were not new or strange, but old, well-tried, one might almost say conventional. They represent the ideals which, in the friction and turmoil of ages, have emerged as definite, clear, final. They are not disputed or dubious notions, but accepted truisms forgotten and neglected, waiting for the day when men shall live by them.

Furthermore, Watts was not in any sense a mystic—neither personally or as an artist. "The Dweller in the Innermost" is not the transcendental self known to a few rare souls, but is merely conscience, known to all. The biblical paintings have no secret meaning assigned to them. The inhabitants of Eden, the hero of the Deluge, the Hebrew patriarchs, Samson and Satan—all these are the familiar figures of the evangelical's Bible. "Eve Repentant" is the woman Eve, the mother of the race; "Jacob and Esau" are the brothers come to reconciliation; "Jonah" is the prophet denouncing the Nineveh of his day and the Babylon of this. The teaching—and there is teaching in every one of them—is plain and ethical. So also, with the Greek myths; they teach plainly—they hold no esoteric interpretations. Watts is no Neo-Platonist weaving mystical doctrines from the ancient hero tales; he is rather a stoic, a moralist, a teacher of earthly things.

But we must be careful to guard against the impression of Watts as a lofty philosopher consciously issuing proclamations by means of his art. Really he was not aware of being a philosopher at all; he was simply an artist, an exquisitely delicate and sensitive medium, who, when once before his canvas, suddenly filled with his idea, was compelled to say his word. If there be any synthesis about his finished work—and no one can deny this—it was not because Watts gave days and nights and years to "thinking things out." His paintings are, as he used to call them, "anthems," brought forth by the intuitive man, the musician. This was the fundamental Watts. Whatever unity there be, is due rather to unity of inspiration than to strength or definiteness of character and accomplishment, and this was sometimes referred to by Watts as a golden thread passing through his life—a thread of good intention—which he felt would guide him through the labyrinth of distractions, mistakes, irritations, ill health, and failures.