INTRODUCTION It is a happy memory that associates the foundation of our Royal Academy with the delivery of these inaugural discourses by Sir Joshua Reynolds, on the opening of the schools, and at the first annual meetings for the distribution of its prizes. They laid down principles of art from the point of view of a man of genius who had made his power felt, and with the clear good sense which is the foundation of all work that looks upward and may hope to live. The truths here expressed concerning Art may, with slight adjustment of the way of thought, be applied to Literature or to any exercise of the best powers of mind for shaping the delights that raise us to the larger sense of life. In his separation of the utterance of whole truths from insistance upon accidents of detail, Reynolds was right, because he guarded the expression of his view with careful definitions of its limits. In the same way Boileau was right, as a critic of Literature, in demanding everywhere good sense, in condemning the paste brilliants of a style then in decay, and fixing attention upon the masterly simplicity of Roman poets in the time of Augustus. Critics by rule of thumb reduced the principles clearly defined by Boileau to a dull convention, against which there came in course of time a strong reaction. In like manner the teaching of Reynolds was applied by dull men to much vague and conventional generalisation in the name of dignity.
TO THE KING The regular progress of cultivated life is from necessaries to accommodations, from accommodations to ornaments. By your illustrious predecessors were established marts for manufactures, and colleges for science; but for the arts of elegance, those arts by which manufactures are embellished and science is refined, to found an academy was reserved for your Majesty.
One advantage, I will venture to affirm, we shall have in our academy, which no other nation can boast. We shall have nothing to unlearn. To this praise the present race of artists have a just claim. As far as they have yet proceeded they are right. With us the exertions of genius will henceforward be directed to their proper objects. It will not be as it has been in other schools, where he that travelled fastest only wandered farthest from the right way.
must apply his strength to that part of the art where the real difficulties lie; to that part which distinguishes it as a liberal art, and not by mistaken industry lose his time in that which is merely ornamental. The students, instead of vying with each other which shall have the readiest band, should be taught to contend who shall have the purest and most correct outline, instead of striving which shall produce the brightest tint, or, curiously trifling endeavour to give the gloss of stuffs so as to appear real, let their ambition be directed to contend which shall dispose his drapery in the most graceful folds, which shall give the most grace and dignity to the human figure.
This first degree of proficiency is, in painting, what grammar is in literature, a general preparation to whatever species of the art the student may afterwards choose for his more particular application. The power of drawing, modelling, and using colours is very properly called the language of the art; and in this language, the honours you have just received prove you to have made no inconsiderable progress.