Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/11

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It would be hard to overestimate the debt which the world owes to the wood engraver. For upwards of a thousand years he has done for the great Turanian races what the type-founder and compositor have done for Europe during the last five centuries; and, throughout the civilised world, he has brought art as a means of pleasure and instruction before the eyes and understanding of millions of all sorts and conditions of men. It is sad to think that his labours at last are nearly ended, superseded by processes that modern science has placed within our reach and in which his trained eye and clever hands can take no part; but his share in our past progress will always be remembered with gratitude, and his works will be guarded amongst the choicest treasures of the museums and libraries of the future.

The art of the wood engraver had its birth in China, spreading thence to the nations which owe their ancient civilisation to the great Middle Kingdom; and it was not until centuries after the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese had mastered the technique of xylography that we in Europe adapted the art to our own needs.

Any history of wood engraving that excludes the development of the processes in the Far East is more incomplete than a history of glyptic art that ignores Egyptian and Assyrian sculpture, because the sculpture of Egypt and Assyria is a thing of the remote past, while Chinese and Japanese wood engraving still remains to us, for a little while at least, as a living art. And yet although few branches of art have been the object of more painstaking and appreciative research in Europe than