The development of boat-building is well represented, and we are led by interesting steps through a regular course of naval architecture, from the primitive canoes, sailboats, barges, junks, and gondolas to stately merchant vessels and battle-ships. The following motley grouping of the more ancient illustrations is very suggestive of a night in Venice :
In the matter of regalia and decorations, which are of more importance to a Celestial than the rest of his clothes, there is a lavish display which embraces all of the emblems, signs, and banners of the thousand and one societies which infest the Flowery Kingdom. Here are a few of the most ancient insignias known, which, in the feature of ingenious puzzle construction, display considerable ingenuity and raise the question as to whether the signs of the different orders were designed from Tangrams or vice versa. Many of these figures may also be found among ancient Egyptian inscriptions :
The original books of Tangrams were printed upon a fragile kind of rice-paper, and although reproduced at different periods it can be shown in every instance underwent such a considerable change and abbreviation as to mar the work and make it unreliable. The subject had come to be treated solely from the standpoint of a collection of puzzles, ignoring the construction of new illustrations, or the feature of illustrated narrative.
The pastime was evidently designed in its original form for educational purposes, and undoubtedly constituted a marvellous and instructive school of design, calculated to develop the imagination and a love of art. What drawing master does not aim to teach his pupils to produce desired effects by the fewest possible strokes of the pencil, just as we restrict the Tangram scholars to seven pieces with which to illustrate graceful posing or strong action, and that artistic ligne which the French rave about?
In but one solitary instance have I ever discovered an extraneous line added to the seven pieces, and, as the same occurs in the opening chapter as if in appeal to the reader's imagination, it is here used by way of explanation in the same way. A tangramist must be able to picture those foils in his mind's eye, as well as the vexed expression of the lady whose escort is bowing so effusively; or the wearied look on the face of the stout old party with the flirtatious daughter.
Where is the artist who knows the power of black and white, the dark shadows and strong high lights, with the sharp silhouette effects like Gustave Doré, who said that he "loved Tangrams"? What painter, past or present, could produce such effects by so few touches of the magic brush as John Singer Sargent, the greatest portrait painter of the present day? Perhaps he was a student in the Tangram art school, for the two books of Tangrams which I possess came to me from his grandfather, John Singer, of Philadelphia, a brother of my own mother, who it may be said was a devoté of the pastime, who took great delight in solving the puzzles and creating original designs.
In corroboration of a statement ascribed to Professor Frederick Max Müller, that "the science of Tangrams gives evidence of a higher state of civilization than now exists in China, "it may be said, without giving offence by mentioning names, that an eminent Chinese minister to this country held that "the early books of Tangrams had been superseded by improved versions, with the crude designs eleminated." All of which confirms Professor Challenor's opinion that the intent and original spirit of the work is practically unknown in China, and is no longer held in its former high esteem.