« AnteriorContinuar »
FROM this second volume by the celebrated Graduate, which we have perused most carefully, we rise with a feeling of considerable doubt, we will add, of painful doubt, for we have such a high opinion of the talents and of the honest intentions of this remarkable writer, that we are anxious to know whether we shall find him in the ranks of our friends, or of our enemies, whether he is one of the advocates of Progress, or, in the form of a lover of Art, is endeavouring to lead mankind back to mediaeval superstition and priestcraft. Certain expressions which occur here and there have given us considerable uneasiness.
Let it be distinctly understood, that when any great question concerning the social condition of man arises, we are not impartial. “Progress” is the word written on our banner, Progress is the article of our faith, which we cannot resign—the advocacy of Progress is the object of this periodical, from which it may not depart —we assume Progress not as an historical accident, but as an essential attribute of man, without which he does not fulfil the conditions of his being. To all exaltation of the middle ages, with their courage and their piety, with their atrocity and their superstition,--with their virtues and their vices, we are determined opponents, not only when it is openly brought forward, but when it is covertly insinuated. Therefore, when Mr Wordsworth wrote a Sonnet against the destruction of some piece of ground by a Railroad, we felt suspicious, not because we do not think the spoiling of a picturesque spot a very natural cause of lamentation, but because we thought it conveyed a regret at the advance of mankind, from that rude condition which approximates him most to unmodified nature. Therefore do we also feel suspicious, when our Graduate laments (p. 5) that “iron roads are tearing up the surface of Europe, as grape shot do the sea,” that “their great sagene is drawing and twitching the ancient frame and strength of England together, contracting all its various life, its rocky arms and rural heart, into a narrow, finite, calculating metropolis of
* Modern Painters, by a Graduate of Oxford. Vol. II. Smith and Elder: London.
manufacturers.” What a world of feudalism, and anti-cultivation, may lie in that one short expression, “ rural heart ''' There are two points from which human progress may be attacked. We may hold up the beauties of media:val institutions, we may awe the public with mailed knight-, and painted gothic windows, or we may advocate a sort of wor-iip of Nature, and tell mankind that she is destined to be his instructress, not his instrument. Either way may be effective. The crowd below may be hit from the summit of a cathedral, or from that of a rude mountain. But the Nature-doctrine is most insinuating. The laudation of the middle ages implies on the face of it a love of a tyrannical form of rule, and would not be uttered by any one, (without much qualification) who did not set his face against liberality in politics. The other course has been adopted, not only by writers who are the professed advocates of an obsolete toryism, but by some who have desired to found the most extreme republicanism. Itousseau, weary of the chains which the conventionalitics of the 18th century had indoo-ed on mankind –heartsick of petit-maîtres and encyclopædists flew to an adoration of an uncultivated condition, not perceiving that he was plunging man into a deeper state of servitude, than that from which he would have freed him. His “I)issertation against the Arts and Sciences” might have been written to please the men who imprisoned Galileo. Our cause is that of the progress of the human mind; and an independence which would place man in the position of a North American Indian, is as alien from our sympathies, as the dependence which would bring him under an oriental despot. Now, the Graduate, both in this volume and the preceding one, lets fall several phrases, which seem contrary to the grand primciple—on which all Progress must be founded—that man is the highest of created beings. Let us take an instance, in which he speaks of the heathen writers, (p. 16.) “Her (external Nature's) beneficence they sought, and her power they shunned; her teaching through both, they understood never.” What is her “teaching?” It does not here mean natural science. Indeed that is not taught by Nature, but is deduced from her various phenomena. She presents the riddle, and the scientific man solves it. Iłut this is not what is intended by the expression. All who have talked about the “teaching of Nature,” have contemplated a sort of moral instruction, which is given to man by the external world— and with respect to this, our unfaith is most decided.
But may not the contemplation of Nature lead to the recognition of the divine idea, of which she is the manifestation ? Most assuredly, but it is not the teaching of external Nature that gives us this divine idea. We do not sit in docility before the mountain, the tree, the water-fall, to have the divine idea stamped on the tabula rasa of our minds. With much labour do we—we mental beings—penetrate the phenomena, and read or inspect the region of laws, by which the whole is governed, and which Nature, while she gives indications of their working, actually strives to conceal. Nature does not fling her solar system into our eyes, but it is by zealous labour that men have discovered it; and though they see the indications of the system written in the heaven above them, the system itself exists more plainly in their own minds, and in their own books. An immensity of reflection must have passed through the human mind, (unless inspired—and inspiration is from within) before it could have regarded the world as the manifestation of the divine idea; and it is the greatest fallacy to ascribe the perception of the union between that idea and its externality, to the externality alone. The mind discerns the law, and afterwards surveys nature under the operation of that law, every moral that it deduces being its own moral.
Nevertheless, we do not by any means assert with confidence that the peculiar reverence for external Nature to which we so strongly object, is held by the Oxford Graduate. If some expressions say “yes,” there are others that apparently indicate “no.” We find different degrees of value ascribed to different phenomena —that Nature may have happier moods at one time than another —that in one case, she “has not had time to model.” Now, be it remarked, that mere external Nature never tells us when she is happy and when not ; that she more frequently obtrudes upon us the large round clouds, which the Graduate thinks of minor importance, than the small fleecy “cirrus” clouds, which he so highly estimates; that she has, according to his own view, rare secrets, which can only be observed by the man of genius. Why not at once come to the truth, that Nature offers a vast store of materials, some possessing aesthetical value—others not ; and that it is the mind that makes the work of selection, and produces that unity which is essential to the work of art 2 The Graduate is no friend to mere copying, though he has occasional leanings in that direction, or he would not consider the production of a Christian ideal as the summit of painting, but even—suppose for a moment we advocated mere copying—what a work is still left for the mind! Out of the whole mass of surrounding objects, one only is to be selected, and it is the mind alone that direct- the choice. The mere observer of nature, who has no pencil in his hand, choo-es his point of view, and thus participates in the creation of the landscape, though (of course) not in that of the mat, rials that compose the landscape. But when we leave more copying—when we make a work, either of “composition” or “imagination” to use two words of the Graduate's)—what an influence of mind then commences, what a grasp will be shown by the man of real power
The hints which the Graduate has given in his first volume, for the imitation of natural objects—his observations on the phenomena of skies, foliage, water, &c., are evodingly valuable.-t call the attention to objects which are to often unnoticed, and put to flight mere conventionality. Let us distinctly indicate the value we attach to such directions, or we may seem inconsistent. They give the artist new material,—the close observation of nature affords him a larger field for selection—he learns more facts, which he may asthetically apply—but the combining or penetrating power is still his own. When we accuse an artist of conventionalism, we mean that he has reproduced the workings of other minds, rather than exercised his own. He has not gone into the world, and himself discovered what is fitting to his purpose, but has availed himself of the discoveries of other men. If these have committed blunders, they are thus perpetuated, and the treatment of the objects is likely to become feebler and feebler.
The chapters on “Imagination,” in the Graduate's book, are highly instructive, and, if properly studied, will tend to dissipate a foolish popular fallacy about fact and fiction. His difference between Imagination and Fancy seems in a few words to be this : The latter is the power of association by which images, opposite or resemblant of whatever kind wanted, are called up quickly and in multitudes. The former (which has its subdivisions, seizes upon a necessary connection, and penetrates to the essence of things. We will make a short extract:—
“I have just said that Nature is always imaginative, but it does not follow that her imagination is always of high subject, or that the imagination of all the parts is of a like and sympathetic kind. * * * There are few natural scenes whose harmonies are not conceivably improvable either by banishment of some discordant point, or by addition of some sympathetic one ; it constantly happens that there is a perfuseness too great to be comprehended, or an inequality in the pitch, meaning, and intensity of different parts. The imagination will banish all that is extraneous, it will seize out of the many threads of different feeling, which nature has suffered to become entangled, one only, and when that seems thin and likely to break, it will spin it stouter, and in doing this, it never knots, but weaves in the new thread, so that all its work looks as pure and true as nature itself, and cannot be guessed from it, but by its exceeding simplicity, (known from it, it cannot be); so that herein we find another test of the imaginative work, that it looks always as if it had been gathered straight from nature, whereas the unimaginative shows its joints and knots, and is visibly composition.”—P. 154. Admirably put ! The higher work of Art is organised—the lower work is not. In the former, part springs from part, and the whole is continuous. In the latter we see the cement. But our readers—we suspect — will ask, why, when the Graduate writes like this, – gives words that embody our very doctrine — have we, in somewhat a controversial spirit, argued against the “teaching of Nature ?” Simply, however, the Graduate does not always write like this. If he had, we should have entertained no doubt about him. But the impression of one page, often jars inharmoniously with that of another,-and we lack the imaginative faculty, that would penetrate to the spiritual unity of the whole. The definition of what the Graduate calls “Vital Beauty” as “the appearance of felicitous fulfilment of function in living things,” may, we think, be accepted, and conjoined with that of imagination. To obtain that perfect organisation, that every part shall be subservient to a whole, is one of the grand objects of Art. In nature, the relations between various objects cross each other, and it is not easy to detect the unity amid such great variety. The artist, on the contrary, penetrates through the confusion, and in the case of living things, passes by the defects occasioned by disease or decrepitude, and arrives at the felicitous fulfilment of function. Many a single animal does not come up to the perfect conception of its kind. The artist steps in to the aid of the spectator, and for this conception finds a visible expression. A certain sense of the word “true " has been acutely pointed out by Hegel. We not only use this word to signify that a proposition agrees with external facts, but we have such expressions as “he is a true man.” This does not refer to the existence of the party mentioned, but means that he corresponds with the ideal of a man. That which does not correspond with such ideal