WHETHER or not Borglum could ever have interpreted this dream in stone, can only be conjectured. It is to be assumed that he would have failed in part, for the artist never lived who made his work as great as his dream. As long as the spirit is greater than the flesh, every masterpiece must be a partial failure in that it does not, and can not, express all that the artist felt. But when an artist goes further toward expressing his dream than others have succeeded in going, that artist becomes from our point of view a master, although he may be far indeed from mastering his ideal.
But the degree of Borglum's mastery is not pure conjecture. He has at least shown how he proposed to go about translating his dream into reality. The head of Lee is actually on the mountainside, and half a dozen other figures have been completed in clay. The whole of the composition has been finished in model, and only details remain to be sketched in. It is therefore possible to examine with some approach to exactness the quality of his work. The model is a fair expression of the spirit of the piece, and there are at least three figures, those of Lee, Jackson and Davis, that may be studied with care.
The characteristic of the work that strikes the observer at first glance is its tremendous action, but that is immediately followed by the contradictory impression of its astonishing calm. Out of the hundreds of figures, that of Jefferson Davis alone is static. Every one of the others is in motion, most of them in vigorous motion, but nowhere is the movement violent. It is not a battle-piece. It has nothing in common with such a thing as Meissonnier's famous Friedland in which Napoleon is presented taking the salute as the cuirassiers whirl past at the gallop, shouting and brandishing their sabers. The Confederate army is on the march, not going into action. The colors, faintly indicated, slope backward, as do the rifles of the infantry,-a perfect sea of infantry, diminishing in the distance to disappear on the horizon. At the other end of the piece the artillery comes into the picture with a tremendous rush, but it is merely slipping and crashing down a steep slope, not going into position on the firing-line. In the foreground, the general officers crowd forward to the eminence on which the three central figures stand, but they are obviously taking their posts for the review, not leading a charge. Nowhere is there a point of rest, except in Davis, but nowhere is there stress and strain, nowhere is there the least excitement. There is an infinity of movement, but it is easy, nonchalant. There is terrible, grim purpose in that swinging column, there is appalling power in it, but no pomp and glitter. The picture is in no sense a glorification of war. It is merely an acknowledgment of war. It quietly states the fact, without bombast, on the one hand, or apology, on the other.
At the same time, it is conceivable that a ruthless pacifist might find it objectionable on account of its beauty. The long, curving line, swinging down, and up, and down again, carries the eye effortlessly, pleasantly, from one end to the other. There is no arresting harshness, no jangling discord, to interrupt the sweep of the flowing river of men and horses; and if the spectator happens to know anything of horses, he is likely to forget everything else in his admiration of this feature of the sculpture. For if Gutzon Borglum knows anything in the world, he knows horses. In his boyhood home in Idaho he rode them, bareback, when he was so small he had to mount by clinging to the animal's tail and climbing up one of its hind legs ; and all his life since he has worked with them, handling them, drawing them, carving them in stone and casting them in bronze. Here, for the first time in his life, he has had opportunity to work into a single composition everything he had ever known about horses, and he has reveled in the work. It is easy to see the hand of the creator of The Mares of Diomedes in the horses of Lee's army.
But the beauty and harmony of the composition as a whole are means to an end. They serve to bring into sharper prominence the three figures that stand at the center; and these are worthy of study in detail, for upon them hangs the success or failure of the whole work.