Notes on the Royal Academy Exhibition, 1868/Introduction

A PERSON who undertakes to express to the public his opinion of any such Exhibition as that of the Royal Academy is not unreasonably liable to the imputation of presumption. For that imputation I am prepared; I admit it to be, within certain limits, just; and must bear it as I may.

But there are two forms of possible and probable censure which I should respectfully decline to accept as well bestowed.

The first is censure of a signed critical pamphlet, rather than an unsigned newspaper or review article. The pamphlet expresses the opinion of an individual: the article does or ought to do the same. So far they stand on the same ground; anything which may be presumption in the first is presumption in the second also. The difference is that the first does, while the second does not, lay bare the writer to the retorts of any person who may hold himself aggrieved; that may be more open, more equitable, and more bold, but it is not more presumptuous.

The second form of misleading censure is that which makes a point of reprobating omissions. The limits of this pamphlet, as to dimensions and as to the time and facilities available for its preparation and composition, are manifestly narrow. All that the writer professes is to say straightforwardly whatever he does say: he by no means implies that nothing else remains to be noted concerning the works of art commented upon, nor that the works wholly omitted are undeserving of mention. If anybody, therefore, tells me that the picture of A, of which this pamphlet says nothing, merits criticism, or that the picture of B, praised for colour, claims praise on the score of drawing also, I shall have no difficulty in admitting the probable correctness of these remarks; but, if he adds that I am blameable for the omissions, I shall feel entitled to reply that A's picture and B's draughtsmanship were not in the bond. What is in the bond is liberty of selection and candour of statement on my part: if my selection is stupid, or my statement unfair or erroneous, be that the charge. Let the censure concern itself with something wrong that is done; not with something right that might have been done.

W. M. R.