Chapter IX, continued
"Why don't you sue the sculptors for libel?" asked Phidias.
"You speak with a great deal of feeling, Phidias," said Homer, gravely. "Have they done anything to hurt you?"
"They have," said Phidias. "I have just returned from a tour of the world. I have seen the things they call sculpture in these degenerate days, and I must confess — who shouldn't, perhaps — that I could have done better work with a baseball-bat for a chisel and putty for the raw material."
"I think I could do good work with a baseball-bat too," said Burns; "but as for the raw material, give me the heads of the men who have sculped me to work on. I'd leave them so that they'd look like some of your Parthenon frieze figures with the noses gone."
"You are a vindictive creature," said Homer. "These men you criticise, and whose heads you wish to sculp with a baseball-bat, have done more for you than you ever did for them. Every statue of you these men have made is a standing advertisement of your books, and it hasn't cost you a penny. There isn't a doubt in my mind that if it were not for those statues countless people would go to their graves supposing that the great Scottish Burns were little rivulets, and not a poet. What difference does it make to you if they haven't made an Adonis of you? You never set them an example by making one of yourself. If there's deception anywhere, it isn't you that is deceived; it is the mortals. And who cares about them or their opinions?"
"I never thought of it in that way," said Burns. "I hate caricatures — that is, caricatures of myself. I enjoy caricatures of other people, but — "
"You have a great deal of the mortal left in you, considering that you pose as an immortal," said Homer, interrupting the speaker.
"Well, so have I," said Phidias, resolved to stand by Burns in the argument, "and I'm sorry for the man who hasn't. I was a mortal once, and I'm glad of it. I had a good time, and I don't care who knows it. When I look about me and see Jupiter, the arch-snob of creation, and Mars, a little tin warrior who couldn't have fought a soldier like Napoleon, with all his alleged divinity, I thank the Fates that they enabled me to achieve immortality through mortal effort. Hang hereditary greatness, I say. These men were born immortals. You and I worked for it and got it. We know what it cost. It was ours because we earned it, and not because we were born to it. Eh, Burns?"
The Scotchman nodded assent, and the Greek sculptor went on.
"I am not vindictive myself, Homer," he said. "Nobody has hurt me, and, on the whole, I don't think sculpture is in such a bad way, after all. There's a shoemaker I wot of in the mortal realms who can turn the prettiest last you ever saw; and I encountered a carver in a London eating-house last month who turned out a slice of beef that was cut as artistically as I could have done it myself. What I object to chiefly is the tendency of the times. This is an electrical age, and men in my old profession aren't content to turn out one chef-d'oeuvre in a lifetime. They take orders by the gross. I waited upon inspiration. To-day the sculptor waits upon custom, and an artist will make a bust of anybody in any material desired as long as he is sure of getting his pay afterwards. I saw a life-size statue of the inventor of a new kind of lard the other day, and what do you suppose the material was? Gold? Not by a great deal. Ivory? Marble, even? Not a bit of it. He was done in lard, sir. I have seen a woman's head done in butter, too, and it makes me distinctly weary to think that my art should be brought so low."
"You did your best work in Greece," chuckled Homer.
"A bad joke, my dear Homer," retorted Phidias. "I thought sculpture was getting down to a pretty low ebb when I had to fashion friezes out of marble; but marble is more precious than rubies alongside of butter and lard."
"Each has its uses," said Homer. "I'd rather have butter on my bread than marble, but I must confess that for sculpture it is very poor stuff, as you say."
"It is indeed," said Phidias. "For practice it's all right to use butter, but for exhibition purposes — bah!"
Here Phidias, to show his contempt for butter as raw material in sculpture, seized a wooden toothpick, and with it modelled a beautiful head of Minerva out of the pat that stood upon the small plate at his side, and before Burns could interfere had spread the chaste figure as thinly as he could upon a piece of bread, which he tossed to the shade of a hungry dog that stood yelping on the river-bank.
"Heavens!" cried Burns. "Imperious Caesar dead and turned to bricks is as nothing to a Minerva carved by Phidias used to stay the hunger of a ravening cur."
"Well, it's the way I feel," said Phidias, savagely.
"I think you are a trifle foolish to be so eternally vexed about it," said Homer, soothingly. "Of course you feel badly, but, after all, what's the use? You must know that the mortals would pay more for one of your statues than they would for a specimen of any modern sculptor's art; yes, even if yours were modelled in wine-jelly and the other fellow's in pure gold. So why repine?"
"You'd feel the same way if poets did a similarly vulgar thing," retorted Phidias; "you know you would. If you should hear of a poet to-day writing a poem on a thin layer of lard or butter, you would yourself be the first to call a halt."
"No, I shouldn't," said Homer, quietly; "in fact, I wish the poets would do that. We'd have fewer bad poems to read; and that's the way you should look at it. I venture to say that if this modern plan of making busts and friezes in butter had been adopted at an earlier period, the public places in our great cities and our national Walhallas would seem less like repositories of comic art, since the first critical rays of a warm sun would have reduced the carven atrocities therein to a spot on the pavement. The butter school of sculpture has its advantages, my boy, and you should be crowning the inventor of the system with laurel, and not heaping coals of fire upon his brow."
"That," said Burns, "is, after all, the solid truth, Phidias. Take the brass caricatures of me, for instance. Where would they be now if they had been cast in lard instead of in bronze?"
Phidias was silent a moment.
"Well," he said, finally, as the value of the plan dawned upon his mind, "from that point of view I don't know but what you are right, after all; and, to show that I have spoken in no vindictive spirit, let me propose a toast. Here's to the Butter Sculptors. May their butter never give out."
The toast was drained to the dregs, and Phidias went home feeling a little better.