Under the Skylights by Henry Blake Fuller
Dr. Gowdy and the Squash
When Dr. Gowdy finally yielded to the urgings of Print, Push, and Co.--a new firm whose youthful persistency made refusal impossible--and agreed to steal from his sermon-writing the number of half-hours needed for putting together the book they would and must and did have, he certainly looked for a reward far beyond any recognisable in the liberal check that had started up his pen. For Onward and Upward was to do some good in the world: the years might come and go for an indefinite period, yet throughout their long procession young men--it was for them he was writing--would rise up here, there, and everywhere and call him blessed. To scrimp his sermons in such a cause was surely justifiable; more, it was commendable. "Where it has been dozens it will now be thousands," said the good Doctor. "I will guide their feet into the right path, and the thanks of many earnest strugglers shall be my real recompense."
Onward and Upward was full of the customary things--things that get said and believed (said from mere habit and believed from mere inertia),--things that must be said and believed (said by the few and believed by a fair proportion of the many) if the world is to keep on hanging together and moving along in the exercise of its usual functions. In fact, the book had but one novel feature--a chapter on art.
Dr. Gowdy was very strong on art. Raphael and Phidias were always getting into his pulpit. Truth was beauty, and beauty was truth. He never wearied of maintaining the uplifting quality resident in the Sunday afternoon contemplation of works of painting and sculpture, and nothing, to his mind, was more calculated to ennoble and refine human nature than the practice of art itself. The Doctor was one of the trustees of the Art Academy; he went to every exhibition, and dragged as many of his friends with him as could be induced to listen to his orotund commentaries; and he had almost reached the point where it was a tacit assumption with him that the regeneration and salvation of the human race came to little more than a mere matter of putting paint upon canvas.
These were the notions that coloured the art chapter of Onward and Upward. I hardly know where the good Doctor got them; surely not from the ordinary run of things in the Paris studios, nor from any familiarity with the private lives of the painters of the Italian Renaissance, which show, if anything does, that one may possess a fine and rigorous conscience as an artist, yet lapse into any irregularity or descend to any depravity as a man. But Dr. Gowdy ignored all this. Art--the contemplation of it, the practice of it--worked toward the building up of character, and promoted all that was noblest in human life.
These views of his were spread far and wide. They competed with the novel of adventure on the news-stands, and were tossed into your lap on all the through trains. One copy penetrated to Hayesville, Illinois, and fell into the hands of Jared Stiles.