But the dream, althoughit may be frustrated, is not lost, and never can be lost. Borglum, the promoter, may have failed, and Borglum, the engineer, may have failed, but Borglum, the artist, has achieved, and nothing can rob him of his achievement. He brought his tremendous fantasy to earth. He proved that what seemed impossible can be done. He has enlarged the dimensions of his art. Never again will a young sculptor anywhere in the world consider himself a master of his business until he has made some study of what Gutzon Borglum tried to do. When Borglum himself was a young man, he studied the colossi of Egypt, not with any idea of carving a colossus, but simply because it is necessary to know something of all branches of the art of sculpture if one is to master any, and the colossi constitute a distinct order. Henceforth there will be another order' the order founded by Borglum, of colossi that are not static, as are those of Egypt, but that are full of life and movement. No youth aspiring to a career as a sculptor will dare omit them from his studies. If this is not achievement, in what does achievement consist ?
It is in a sense presumptuous for any one other than the man himself to attempt to deal with the third phase of the story of Stone Mountain, that is, the artist's problem. It would be altogether presumptuous to attempt to give any detailed account of the technical side of the work, of the manner in which the artist dealt with questions of proportion, perspective, light and shade, plane and mass. But a work of art is masterly only in proportion as its spirit is comprehensible to men other than the artist. No matter how great his capacity to imagine, if the artist can not express his dreams in such terms that others can comprehend at least some part of them, his art is futile in so far as affecting the spiritual life of mankind is concerned. But if the dream be well expressed, it can be interpreted by others, sometimes better than by the artist himself. To that limited extent it is therefore permissible for another than the artist to talk of the problem of the sculptor confronted by Stone Mountain.
The Confederate memorial is still fragmentary. Part of it exists in clay models. Only a small part exists on the mountain itself--the head of Lee, and the unfinished head of Jackson. That is, indeed, the key to the whole, but it is at best only a key. One must do what one can toward assembling the other fragments in order to gain anything approaching an adequate conception of the whole.
"Fear swept over me." That frank confession begins Borglum's own description of his reaction when first he was confronted with the great wall of rock.
"As yet no thought of carving the great Confederate army had come to me. But somehow a great overwhelming awe swept over me, and I was conscious of thinking of life and figures of great historic men moving over and about the mountain. The natives told me that such and such a person had plunged to death from this point and that point, and the mighty wall seemed to rise thousands of feet into space. The thought of drawing upon its face was linked with a terror I think all men must feel who are about to do something which probably will destroy them.
"For days I lingered near this thing, which fascinated, while it frightened. I climbed about its face and over its sides, drew it from all angles, and this familiarity gave me some courage, and then quite suddenly out of the South and West--it was evening--a silver crescent moon hung over it all, a gray uniformed host seemed silently to move northward across the mountain. I was visiting at Mount Rest, the home of Mr. Sam Venable. That night he and I sat late, and I told him of what I planned."
But that night he was gripped by the pageantry of it. Not then, nor for months, nor for years afterward, did he realize fully what his work was to be. He steeped himself in the history of the Confederacy, seeking, not the military record, but the spirit behind it all. He already knew why the men on the opposing side fought. He knew that the man in the ranks brushed aside all that political leaders, and editorial writers, and easy-chair philosophers said. To free the negroes? Not a bit of it. A small faction of abolitionists might be wildly excited over the wrongs of the black man, but it was not the abolitionists who constantly filled the terrible gaps in the ranks. Finally, in 1863, the North did free the negroes, but not until she had been stung to fury by the pain of her wounds. The flower of northern youth went out to die simply in order that the Republic might stand. It was not empty rhetoric that was spoken at Gettysburg; it was literal truth that they died, as they saw it, "that government of the people, for the people, by the people shall not perish from the earth."
But why did the men who met them fight so hard? Borglum could not believe that the rank and file, at least, in the Confederate forces, were any more moved by thin abstractions and fine-spun theories than were their brothers in the North; yet they fought with a fury that amazed the world and with a dogged tenacity that raised the estimation of their courage to the sublime. In error, they might have been; but insincere, they could not have been. No men ever fought so without having a cause so dear to plain men that they can die happily in its defense. Secession was not such a cause, still less slavery. Slowly it dawned on him that what the men in the gray ranks fought for was the sanctity of contract, the inviolability of one's pledged word, without which democratic government is impossible. They thought they saw the Constitution established by the fathers trampled underfoot; and they, too, rose to arms "that government of the people, for the people, by the people shall not perish from the earth."
"For four years," says Borglum, "these brothers, as soldiers, slew each other for what politicians misunderstood, fighting each other for maintaining fundamentally the same principle."
So the spiritual significance of the memorial gradually took shape in his mind. Misled by demagogy, blinded by partisanry, betrayed by calculating greed on both sides, the masses of two great peoples were hurled against each other, and the war was terrific because each fought magnificently, being inspired by the same courage and devotion that inspired the other.
Viewed from one angle, this is among the most appalling concepts within the realm of imagination. Viewed from another, it is such a tremendous farce as is scarcely to be duplicated in all history. One can conceive of angels weeping and devils laughing uproariously over it ; but viewed from either angle there is little that poor humanity can extract from it except despair. There is nothing in either view for the artist, for it is a sterile and worthless art that leads only to despair.
There is, however, a third view-point and the only one that it is possible for art to adopt. In this spectacle is tragedy, here is confusion, frustration, defeat, but here also is magnificence. Here is the element that was the magic of Sophocles, the spectacle of men helpless in the grip of forces that they could neither control nor understand, toys of Destiny, doomed by the very elements that gave them their strength to waste that strength in a futile struggle, and yet such men that when they were summoned to agony and death, they lifted up their heads and went unafraid. It is the very quintessence of Greek tragedy, which all the world admits is great art.
The tale might be told truthfully of either army, but for the artist's purpose, the Confederate is the better choice, because it was the beaten army. The shadows are deepened by that choice, the contrasts are heightened. Not only the Confederate army, but the nation for which it fought, went down in a welter of mire and blood. From the materialistic standpoint, it is a Lost Cause. So much the greater, then, the triumph of that art that can reach down into the blood-drenched ruin and out of it lift a diadem.
Nothing less than this Gutzon Borglum aspired to do. With the artist's impartial eye, he saw the tragic splendor that illuminated both sides. But as his business was with the South, he concentrated his attention on the South. In her leaders he saw the "great, historic men," whom he had imagined moving on the surface of the mountain. He saw them moving. Always, he saw them moving. The whole concept is a concept of movement, of action, for the men of the South were ever men of action. Philosophers, students, writers, come out of the North. Franklin and Samuel Adams were of the North. Out of the South came Washington and Lighthorse Harry Lee. The garlands of the North hang around Lincoln, the statesman ; those of the South, around the soldier, Lee.
"The genius is the man of the times, of course," Borglum wrote once, "because he thinks what the times unconsciously feel." He knew the South felt dumbly that its cause was not lost, never had been lost, never could be lost, and this in spite of the wreckage and the graves which every eye could see. He set himself to give coherent expression to this obscure faith, to bring to the light and to make clear-cut, definite, and plain to the eyes of all the world, this intimation of immortality. He felt that he had made a great stride in advance when it was definitely decided that the coin was to be issued by the United States Government. Hers he thought, was public recognition of his contention that the glory of the war was not in the ideals that men died for, but in the way that they died for their ideals, and that the American who faced death worthily is an addition to the honor of the country, no matter what uniform he wore.
But if the war be regarded as the reenactment of a Greek tragedy in that men, born brothers, were, by the blind caprice of Fate at each other's throats, it is by the sheer size of it more stupendous than any Greek tragedy. Sophocles' old blind king, for all his gigantic stature in the world of art, after all, was an individual. Here, as irresistibly drawn to their doom and facing it with the same magnificent lift of the spirit, were literally millions. The thing was colossal, and colossal must be its representation in art. It is not Lee who towers a hundred and thirty-seven feet on the mountainside. It is two hundred thousand men who died that Lee might conquer. It is not for portraits of a handful of heroic men that the sculptor required a mountain for his block; it is for a representation of the greatness of the human spirit, which is mightier than the hills.