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there is no danger; since the Council has determined to supply the Academy with a variety of subjects; and indeed those laws which they have drawn up, and which the Secretary will presently read for your confirmation, have in some measure precluded me from saying more upon this occasion. Instead, therefore, of offering my advice, permit me to indulge my wishes, and express my hope, that this institution may answer the expectation of its ROYAL FOUN
DER ; that the present age ‘may vie in Arts V with that of LEO the Tenth ; and that the
dignity of the dying Art (to make use of an expression of Pliny) may be revived under the Reign of GEORGE THE THIRD.
DELIVERED TO THE STUDENTS OF
THE ROYAL ACADEMY,
DISTRIBUTION OF THE PRIZES,
DECEMBER 11, 1769.
These are the different stages of the Art. But as I now address myself particularly to those Students who have been this day rewarded for their happy passage through the first period, I can with no propriety suppose they want any help in the initiatory studies. My present design is to direct your view. to distant excellence, and to show you the readiest path that leads to it. Of this I shall speak with such latitude, as may leave the province of the professor uninvaded; and shall not anticipate those precepts,
which it is his business to give, and your duty to understand.
It is indisputably evident that a great part of every man's life must be employed in collecting materials for the exercise of genius. Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory : nothing can come of nothing: he who has laid up no materials, can produce no combinations.
A Student unacquainted with the attempts
of former adventurers, is always apt to over-rate his own abilities; to mistake the most trifling excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him, for a new-found country. If by chance he passes beyond his usual limits, he congratulates his own arrival at those regions which they who have steered a better course have long left behind them.
The productions of such minds are seldom distinguished by an air of originality: they are anticipated in their happiest efforts ; and if they are found to differ in any thing from their predecessors, it is only in irregu. lar sallies, and trifling conceits. The more extensive therefore your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled, the more extensive will be your powers of invention; and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions. But the difficulty on this occasion is to determine what ought to be proposed as models of excellence, and who ought to be considered as the properest guides.
To a young man just arrived in Italy, many of the present painters of that country are ready enough to obtrude their precepts, and to offer their own performances as examples of that perfection which they affect to recommend. The Modern, however, who recommends himself as a standard, may justly be suspected as ignorant of the true end, and unacquainted with the
object, of the art which he professes. To follow such a guide, will not only retard the Student, but mislead him.
On whom then can he rely, or who shall show him the path that leads to excellence? the answer is obvious: those great masters who have travelled the same road with success are the most likely to conduct others. The works of those who have stood the test of ages, have a claim to that respect and veneration to which no modern can pretend. The duration and stability of their fame, is sufficient to eyince that it has not been suspended upon the slender thread of fashion and caprice, but bound to the