|C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the Worlds Best Literature.|
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.
|By Charles Baudelaire (18211867)|
|THUS he goes, he runs, he seeks. What does he seek? Certainly this man, such as I have portrayed him, this solitary, gifted with an active imagination, always traveling through the great desert of mankind, has a higher end than that of a mere observer, an end more general than the fugitive pleasure of the passing event. He seeks this thing which we may call modernness, for no better word to express the idea presents itself. His object is to detach from fashion whatever it may contain of the poetry in history, to draw the eternal from the transitory. If we glance at the exhibitions of modern pictures, we are struck with the general tendency of the artists to dress all their subjects in ancient costumes. That is obviously the sign of great laziness, for it is much easier to declare that everything in the costume of a certain period is ugly than to undertake the work of extracting from it the mysterious beauty which may be contained in it, however slight or light it may be. The modern is the transitory, the fleeting, the contingent, the half of art, whose other half is the unchanging and the eternal. There was a modernness for every ancient painter; most of the beautiful portraits which remain to us from earlier times are dressed in the costumes of their times. They are perfectly harmonious, because the costumes, the hair, even the gesture, the look and the smile (every epoch has its look and its smile), form a whole that is entirely lifelike. You have no right to despise or neglect this transitory, fleeting element, of which the changes are so frequent. In suppressing it you fall by necessity into the void of an abstract and undefinable beauty, like that of the only woman before the fall. If instead of the costume of the epoch, which is a necessary element, you substitute another, you create an anomaly which can have no excuse unless it is a burlesque called for by the vogue of the moment. Thus, the goddesses, the nymphs, the sultans of the eighteenth century are portraits morally accurate.|| 1|