Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, No. CCCXXVIII. February, 1843. Vol. LIII.
Part 2 out of 6
By whom the prize is won!
"Yes, war will still devour the best!--
Brother, remember'd in this hour!
His shade should be in feasts a guest,
Whose form was in the strife a tower!
What time our ships the Trojan fired,
Thine arm to Greece the safety gave--
The prize to which thy soul aspired,
The crafty wrested from the brave.
Peace to thine ever-holy rest--
Not thine to fall before the foe!
Ajax alone laid Ajax low:
Ah--wrath destroys the best!"
To his dead sire--(the Dorian king)--
The bright-hair'd Pyrrhus pours the wine:--
"Of every lot that life can bring,
My soul, great Father, prizes thine.
Whate'er the goods of earth, of all,
The highest and the holiest--FAME!
For when the Form in dust shall fall,
O'er dust triumphant lives the Name!
Brave Man, thy light of glory never
Shall fade, while song to man shall last;
The Living, soon from earth are pass'd,
'THE DEAD--ENDURE FOR EVER!'"
"While silent in their grief and shame,
The conquer'd hear the conqueror's praise,"
Quoth Tydeus' son, "let Hector's fame,
In me, his foe, its witness raise!
Who, battling for the altar-hearth,
A brave defender, bravely fell--
It takes not from the victor's worth,
If honour with the vanquish'd dwell.
Who falleth for the altar-hearth,
A rock and a defence laid low,
Shall leave behind him, in the foe,
The lips that speak his worth!"
Lo, Nestor now, whose stately age
Through threefold lives of mortals lives!--
The laurel'd bowl, the kingly sage
To Hector's tearful mother gives.
"Drink--in the draught new strength is glowing,
The grief it bathes forgets the smart!
O Bacchus! wond'rous boons bestowing,
Oh how thy balsam heals the heart!
Drink--in the draught new vigour gloweth,
The grief it bathes forgets the smart--
And balsam to the breaking heart,
The healing god bestoweth.
"As Niobe, when weeping mute,
To angry gods the scorn and prey,
But tasted of the charmed fruit,
And cast despair itself away;
So, while unto thy lips, its shore,
This stream of life enchanted flows,
Remember'd grief, that stung before,
Sinks down to Lethe's calm repose.
So, while unto thy lips, its shore,
The stream of life enchanted flows--
Drown'd deep in Lethe's calm repose,
The grief that stung before!"
Seized by the god--behold the dark
And dreaming Prophetess arise!
She gazes from the lofty bark,
Where Home's dim vapour wraps the skies--
"A vapour, all of human birth!
As mists ascending, seen and gone,
So fade earth's great ones from the earth,
And leave the changeless gods alone!
Behind the steed that skirs away,
Or on the galley's deck--sits Care!
To-morrow comes--and Life is where?
At least--we'll live to-day!"
 Need we say to the general reader, that Oileus here alludes
to the strife between Ajax and Ulysses, which has furnished a
subject to the Greek tragic poet, who has depicted, more
strikingly than any historian, that intense emulation for
glory, and that mortal agony in defeat, which made the main
secret of the prodigious energy of the Greek character? The
poet, in taking his hero from the Homeric age, endowed him with
the feelings of the Athenian republicans he addressed.
 Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles.
* * * * *
RUDOLPH OF HAPSBURG.--A BALLAD.
[Hinrichs properly classes this striking ballad (together with the yet
grander one of the "Fight with the Dragon") amongst those designed to
depict and exalt the virtue of Humility. The source of the story is in
AEgidius Tschudi--a Swiss chronicler--and Schiller (who, as Hinrichs
suggests,) probably met with it in the researches connected with the
compositions of his drama, "William Tell," appears to have adhered, with
much fidelity, to the original narrative.]
At Aachen, in imperial state,
In that time-hallow'd hall renown'd,
At solemn feast King Rudolf sate,
The day that saw the hero crown'd!
Bohemia and thy Palgrave, Rhine,
Give this the feast, and that the wine;
The Arch Electoral Seven,
Like choral stars around the sun,
Gird him whose hand a world has won,
The anointed choice of Heaven.
In galleries raised above the pomp,
Press'd crowd on crowd, their panting way;
And with the joy-resounding tromp,
Rang out the million's loud hurra!
For closed at last the age of slaughter,
When human blood was pour'd as water--
LAW dawns upon the world!
Sharp Force no more shall right the wrong,
And grind the weak to crown the strong--
War's carnage-flag is furl'd!
In Rudolf's hand the goblet shines--
And gaily round the board look'd he;
"And proud the feast, and bright the wines,
My kingly heart feels glad to me!
Yet where the lord of sweet desire,
Who moves the heart beneath the lyre,
And dulcet Sound Divine?
Dear from my youth the craft of song,
And what as knight I loved so long,
As Kaisar, still be mine."
Lo, from the circle bending there,
With sweeping robe the Bard appears,
As silver, white his gleaming hair,
Bleach'd by the many winds of years:
"And music sleeps in golden strings--
The minstrel's hire, the LOVE he sings;
Well known to him the ALL
High thoughts and ardent souls desire!--
What would the Kaisar from the lyre
Amidst the banquet-hall?"
The Great One smiled--"Not mine the sway--
The minstrel owns a loftier power--
A mightier king inspires the lay--
Its hest--THE IMPULSE OF THE HOUR!
As through wide air the tempests sweep,
As gush the springs from mystic deep,
Or lone untrodden glen;
So from dark hidden fount within,
Comes SONG, its own wild world to win
Amidst the souls of men!"
Swift with the fire the minstrel glow'd,
And loud the music swept the ear:--
"Forth to the chase a Hero rode,
To hunt the bounding chamois-deer:
With shaft and horn the squire behind:--
Through greensward meads the riders wind--
A small sweet bell they hear.
Lo, with the HOST, a holy man,--
Before him strides the sacristan,
And the bell sounds near and near.
The noble hunter down-inclined
His reverent head and soften'd eye,
And honour'd with a Christian's mind
The Christ who loves humility!
Loud through the pasture, brawls and raves
A brook--the rains had fed the waves,
And torrents from the hill.
His sandal shoon the priest unbound,
And laid the Host upon the ground,
And near'd the swollen rill!
"What wouldst thou, priest?" the Count began,
As, marvelling much, he halted there.
"Sir Count, I seek a dying man,
Sore hungering for the heavenly fare.
The bridge that once its safety gave,
Rent by the anger of the wave,
Drifts down the tide below.
Yet barefoot now, I will not fear
(The soul that seeks its God, to cheer)
Through the wild wave to go!"
He gave that priest the knightly steed,
He reach'd that priest the lordly reins,
That he might serve the sick man's need,
Nor slight the task that heaven ordains.
He took the horse the squire bestrode;
On to the chase the hunter rode,
On to the sick the priest!
And when the morrow's sun was red,
The servant of the Saviour led
Back to its lord the beast.
"Now Heaven forefend," the hero cried,
"That e'er to chase or battle more
These limbs the sacred steed bestride,
That once my Maker's image bore!
But not for sale or barter given;
Henceforth its Master is the Heaven--
My tribute to that King,
From whom I hold as fiefs, since birth,
Honour, renown, the goods of earth,
Life, and each living thing."
"So may the God who faileth never
To hear the weak and guide the dim,
To thee give honour here and ever,
As thou hast duly honour'd Him!
Far-famed ev'n now through Switzerland
Thy generous heart and dauntless hand;
And fair from thine embrace
Six daughters bloom--six crowns to bring--
Blest as the Daughters of a KING--
The Mothers of a RACE!"
The mighty Kaisar heard amazed;
His heart was in the days of old:
Into the minstrel's eyes he gazed--
That tale the Kaisar's own had told.
Yes, in the bard, the priest he knew,
And in the purple veil'd from view
The gush of holy tears.
A thrill through that vast audience ran,
And every heart the godlike man,
Revering God, reveres!
 Literally, "_A judge (ein richter)_ was again upon the
earth." The word substituted in the translation, is introduced
in order to recall to the reader the sublime name given, not
without justice, to Rudolf of Hapsburg, viz., "THE LIVING LAW."
* * * * *
THE WORDS OF ERROR.
Three errors there are, that for ever are found
On the lips of the good, on the lips of the best;
But empty their meaning and hollow their sound--
And slight is the comfort they bring to the breast.
The fruits of existence escape from the clasp
Of the seeker who strives but these shadows to grasp--
So long as Man dreams of some Age in _this_ life
When the Right and the Good will all evil subdue;
For the Right and the Good lead us ever to strife,
And wherever they lead us, the Fiend will pursue.
And (till from the earth borne, and stifled at length)
The earth that he touches still gifts him with strength!
So long as Man fancies that Fortune will live,
Like a bride with her lover, united with Worth;
For her favours, alas! to the mean she will give--
And Virtue possesses no title to earth!
That Foreigner wanders to regions afar,
Where the lands of her birthright immortally are!
So long as Man dreams that, to mortals a gift,
The Truth in her fulness of splendour will shine;
The veil of the goddess no earth-born may lift,
And all we can learn is--to guess and divine!
Dost thou seek, in a dogma, to prison her form?
The spirit flies forth on the wings of the storm!
O, Noble Soul! fly from delusions like these,
More heavenly belief be it thine to adore;
Where the Ear never hearkens, the Eye never sees,
Meet the rivers of Beauty and Truth evermore!
Not _without_ thee the streams--there the Dull seek them;--No!
Look _within_ thee--behold both the fount and the flow!
 This simile is nobly conceived, but expressed somewhat
obscurely. As Hercules contended in vain against Antaeus, the
Son of Earth,--so long as the Earth gave her giant offspring
new strength in every fall,--so the soul contends in vain with
evil--the natural earth-born enemy, while the very contact of
the earth invigorates the enemy for the struggle. And as Antaeus
was slain at last, when Hercules lifted him from the earth and
strangled him while raised aloft, so can the soul slay the
enemy, (the desire, the passion, the evil, the earth's
offspring,) when bearing it from earth itself, and stifling it
in the higher air.
* * * * *
THE WORDS OF BELIEF.
Three Words will I name thee--around and about,
From the lip to the lip, full of meaning, they flee;
But they had not their birth in the being without,
And the heart, not the lip, must their oracle be!
And all worth in the man shall for ever be o'er
When in those Three Words he believes no more.
Man is made FREE!--Man, by birthright, is free,
Though the tyrant may deem him but born for his tool.
Whatever the shout of the rabble may be--
Whatever the ranting misuse of the fool--
Still fear not the Slave, when he breaks from his chain,
For the Man made a Freeman grows safe in his gain.
And VIRTUE is more than a shade or a sound,
And Man may her voice, in this being, obey;
And though ever he slip on the stony ground,
Yet ever again to the godlike way.
Though _her_ wisdom _our_ wisdom may not perceive,
Yet the childlike spirit can still believe.
And a GOD there is!--over Space, over Time,
While the Human Will rocks, like a reed, to and fro,
Lives the Will of the Holy--A Purpose Sublime,
A Thought woven over creation below;
Changing and shifting the All we inherit,
But changeless through all One Immutable Spirit!
Hold fast the Three Words of Belief--though about
From the lip to the lip, full of meaning they flee;
Yet they take not their birth from the being without--
But a voice from within must their oracle be;
And never all worth in the Man can be o'er,
Till in those Three Words he believes no more.
* * * * *
THE MIGHT OF SONG.
A rain-flood from the mountain-riven,
It leaps, in thunder, forth to Day,
Before its rush the crags are driven--
The oaks uprooted, whirl'd away--
Aw'd, yet in awe all wildly glad'ning,
The startled wanderer halts below;
He hears the rock-born waters mad'ning,
Nor wits the source from whence they go,--
So, from their high, mysterious Founts along,
Stream on the silenc'd world the Waves of Song!
Knit with the threads of life, for ever,
By those dread Powers that weave the woof,--
Whose art the singer's spell can sever?
Whose breast has mail to music proof?
Lo, to the Bard, a wand of wonder
The Herald of the Gods has given:
He sinks the soul the death-realm under,
Or lifts it breathless up to heaven--
Half sport, half earnest, rocking its devotion
Upon the tremulous ladder of emotion.
As, when the halls of Mirth are crowded,
Portentous, on the wanton scene--
Some Fate, before from wisdom shrouded,
Awakes and awes the souls of Men--
Before that Stranger from ANOTHER,
Behold how THIS world's great ones bow--
Mean joys their idle clamour smother,
The mask is vanish'd from the brow--
And from Truth's sudden, solemn flag unfurl'd,
Fly all the craven Falsehoods of the World!
So, rapt from every care and folly,
When spreads abroad the lofty lay,
The Human kindles to the Holy,
And into Spirit soars the Clay!
One with the Gods the Bard: before him
All things unclean and earthly fly--
Hush'd are all meaner powers, and o'er him
The dark fate swoops unharming by;
And while the Soother's magic measures flow,
Smooth'd every wrinkle on the brows of Woe!
Even as a child that, after pining
For the sweet absent mother--hears
Her voice--and, round her neck entwining
Young arms, vents all his soul in tears;--
So, by harsh custom far estranged,
Along the glad and guileless track,
To childhood's happy home, unchanged,
The swift song wafts the wanderer back--
Snatch'd from the coldness of unloving Art
To Nature's mother arms--to Nature's glowing heart!
* * * * *
HONOUR TO WOMAN.
Honour to Woman! To her it is given
To garden the earth with the roses of Heaven!
All blessed, she linketh the Loves in their choir--
In the veil of the Graces her beauty concealing,
She tends on each altar that's hallow'd to Feeling,
And keeps ever-living the fire!
From the bounds of Truth careering,
Man's strong spirit wildly sweeps,
With each hasty impulse veering,
Down to Passion's troubled deeps.
And his heart, contented never,
Greeds to grapple with the Far,
Chasing his own dream for ever,
On through many a distant Star!
But Woman with looks that can charm and enchain,
Lureth back at her beck the wild truant again,
By the spell of her presence beguil'd--
In the home of the Mother her modest abode,
And modest the manners by Nature bestow'd
On Nature's most exquisite child!
Bruised and worn, but fiercely breasting,
Foe to foe, the angry strife;
Man the Wild One, never resting,
Roams along the troubled life;
What he planneth, still pursuing;
Vainly as the Hydra bleeds,
Crest the sever'd crest renewing--
Wish to wither'd wish succeeds.
But Woman at peace with all being, reposes,
And seeks from the Moment to gather the roses--
Whose sweets to her culture belong.
Ah! richer than he, though his soul reigneth o'er
The mighty dominion of Genius and Lore,
And the infinite Circle of Song.
Strong, and proud, and self-depending,
Man's cold bosom beats alone;
Heart with heart divinely blending,
In the love that Gods have known,
Souls' sweet interchange of feeling,
Melting tears--he never knows,
Each hard sense the hard one steeling,
Arms against a world of foes.
Alive, as the wind-harp, how lightly soever
If woo'd by the Zephyr, to music will quiver,
Is Woman to Hope and to Fear;
Ah, tender one! still at the shadow of grieving,
How quiver the chords--how thy bosom is heaving--
How trembles thy glance through the tear!
Man's dominion, war and labour;
Might to right the Statute gave;
Laws are in the Scythian's sabre;
Where the Mede reign'd--see the Slave!
Peace and Meekness grimly routing,
Prowls the War-lust, rude and wild;
Eris rages, hoarsely shouting,
Where the vanish'd Graces smil'd.
But Woman, the Soft One, persuasively prayeth--
Of the Senses she charmeth, the sceptre she swayeth;
She lulls, as she looks from above,
The Discord whose Hell for its victims is gaping,
And blending awhile the for-ever escaping,
Whispers Hate to the Image of Love!
* * * * *
THE FIGHT WITH THE DRAGON.
Who comes?--why rushes fast and loud,
Through lane and street the hurtling crowd,
Is Rhodes on fire?--Hurrah!--along
Faster and fast storms the throng!
High towers a shape in knightly garb--
Behold the Rider and the Barb!
Behind is dragg'd a wondrous load;
Beneath what monster groans the road?
The horrid jaws--the Crocodile,
The shape the mightier Dragon, shows--
From Man to Monster all the while--
The alternate wonder glancing goes.
Shout thousands, with a single voice,
"Behold the Dragon, and rejoice,
Safe roves the herd, and safe the swain!
Lo!--there the Slayer--here the Slain!
Full many a breast, a gallant life,
Has waged against the ghastly strife,
And ne'er return'd to mortal sight--
Hurrah, then, for the Hero Knight!"
So to the Cloister, where the vow'd
And peerless Brethren of St John
In conclave sit--that sea-like crowd,
Wave upon wave, goes thundering on.
High o'er the rest, the chief is seen--
There wends the Knight with modest mien;
Pours through the galleries raised for all
Above that Hero-council Hall,
The crowd--And thus the Victor One:--
"Prince--the knight's duty I have done.
The Dragon that devour'd the land
Lies slain beneath thy servant's hand;
Free, o'er the pasture, rove the flocks--
And free the idler's steps may stray--
And freely o'er the lonely rocks,
The holier pilgrim wends his way!"
A lofty look the Master gave,
"Certes," he said; "thy deed is brave;
Dread was the danger, dread the fight--
Bold deeds bring fame to vulgar knight;
But say, what sways with holier laws
The knight who sees in Christ his cause,
And wears the cross?"--Then every cheek
Grew pale to hear the Master speak;
But nobler was the blush that spread
His face--the Victor's of the day--
As bending lowly--"Prince," he said;
"His noblest duty--TO OBEY!"
"And yet that duty, son," replied
The chief, "methinks thou hast denied;
And dared thy sacred sword to wield
For fame in a forbidden field."
"Master, thy judgment, howsoe'er
It lean, till all is told, forbear--
Thy law in spirit and in will,
I had no thought but to fulfil.
Not rash, as some, did I depart
A Christian's blood in vain to shed;
But hoped by skill, and strove by art,
To make my life avenge the dead.
"Five of our Order, in renown
The war-gems of our saintly crown,
The martyr's glory bought with life;
'Twas then thy law forbade the strife.
Yet in my heart there gnaw'd, like fire,
Proud sorrow, fed with stern desire:
In the still visions of the night,
Panting, I fought the fancied fight;
And when the morrow glimmering came,
With tales of ravage freshly done,
The dream remember'd, turn'd to shame,
That night should dare what day should shun.
"And thus my fiery musings ran--
'What youth has learn'd should nerve the man;
How lived the great in days of old,
Whose Fame to time by bards is told--
Who, heathens though they were, became
As gods--upborne to heaven by fame?
How proved they best the hero's worth?
They chased the monster from the earth--
They sought the lion in his den--
They pierced the Cretan's deadly maze--
Their noble blood gave humble men
Their happy birthright--peaceful days.
"'What! sacred, but against the horde
Of Mahound, is the Christian's sword?
All strife, save one, should he forbear?
No! earth itself the Christian's care--
From every ill and every harm,
Man's shield should be the Christian's arm.
Yet art o'er strength will oft prevail,
And mind must aid where heart may fail!'
Thus musing, oft I roam'd alone,
Where wont the Hell-born Beast to lie;
Till sudden light upon me shone,
And on my hope broke victory!
"Then, Prince, I sought thee with the prayer
To breathe once more my native air;
The license given--the ocean past--
I reach'd the shores of home at last.
Scarce hail'd the old beloved land,
Than huge, beneath the artist's hand,
To every hideous feature true,
The Dragon's monster-model grew.
The dwarf'd, deformed limbs upbore
The lengthen'd body's ponderous load;
The scales the impervious surface wore,
Like links of burnish'd harness, glow'd.
"Life-like, the huge neck seem'd to swell,
And widely, as some porch to hell
You might the horrent jaws survey,
Griesly, and greeding for their prey.
Grim fangs an added terror gave,
Like crags that whiten through a cave.
The very tongue a sword in seeming--
The deep-sunk eyes in sparkles gleaming.
Where the vast body ends, succeed
The serpent spires around it roll'd--
Woe--woe to rider, woe to steed,
Whom coils as fearful e'er enfold!
"All to the awful life was done--
The very hue, so ghastly, won--
The grey, dull tint:--the labour ceased,
It stood--half reptile and half beast!
And now began the mimic chase;
Two dogs I sought, of noblest race,
Fierce, nimble, fleet, and wont to scorn
The wild bull's wrath and levell'd horn;
These, docile to my cheering cry,
I train'd to bound, and rend, and spring,
Now round the Monster-shape to fly,
Now to the Monster-shape to cling!
"And where their gripe the best assails,
The belly left unsheath'd in scales,
I taught the dexterous hounds to hang
And find the spot to fix the fang;
Whilst I, with lance and mailed garb,
Launch'd on the beast mine Arab barb.
From purest race that Arab came,
And steeds, like men, are fired by fame.
Beneath the spur he chafes to rage;
Onwards we ride in full career--
I seem, in truth, the war to wage--
The monster reels beneath my spear!
"Albeit, when first the _destrier_ eyed
The laidly thing, it swerved aside,
Snorted and rear'd--and even they,
The fierce hounds, shrank with startled bay;
I ceased not, till, by custom bold,
After three tedious moons were told,
Both barb and hounds were train'd--nay, more,
Fierce for the fight--then left the shore!
Three days have fleeted since I prest
(Return'd at length) this welcome soil,
Nor once would lay my limbs to rest,
Till wrought the glorious crowning toil.
"For much it moved my soul to know
The unslack'ning curse of that grim foe.
Fresh rent, mens' bones lay bleach'd and bare
Around the hell-worm's swampy lair;
And pity nerved me into steel:--
Advice?--I had a heart to feel,
And strength to dare! So, to the deed.--
I call'd my squires--bestrode my steed,
And with my stalwart hounds, and by
Lone secret paths, we gaily go
Unseen--at least by human eye--
Against a worse than human foe!
"Thou know'st the sharp rock--steep and hoar?--
The abyss?--the chapel glimmering o'er?
Built by the Fearless Master's hand,
The fane looks down on all the land.
Humble and mean that house of prayer--
Yet God hath shrined a wonder there:--
Mother and Child, to whom of old
The Three Kings knelt with gifts, behold!
By three times thirty steps, the shrine
The pilgrim gains--and faint, and dim,
And dizzy with the height, divine
Strength on the sudden springs to him!
"Yawns wide within that holy steep
A mighty cavern dark and deep--
By blessed sunbeam never lit--
Rank foetid swamps engirdle it;
And there by night, and there by day,
Ever at watch, the fiend-worm lay,
Holding the Hell of its abode
Fast by the hallow'd House of God.
And when the pilgrim gladly ween'd
His feet had found the healing way,
Forth from its ambush rush'd the fiend,
And down to darkness dragg'd the prey.
"With solemn soul, that solemn height
I clomb, ere yet I sought the fight--
Kneeling before the cross within,
My heart, confessing, clear'd its sin.
Then, as befits the Christian knight,
I donn'd the spotless surplice white,
And, by the altar, grasp'd the spear:--
So down I strode with conscience clear--
Bade my leal squires afar the deed,
By death or conquest crown'd, await--
Leapt lightly on my lithesome steed,
And gave to God his soldier's fate!
"Before me wide the marshes lay--
Started the hounds with sudden bay--
Aghast the swerving charger slanting
Snorted--then stood abrupt and panting--
For curling there, in coiled fold,
The Unutterable Beast behold!
Lazily basking in the sun.
Forth sprang the dogs. The fight's begun!
But lo! the hounds in cowering fly
Before the mighty poison-breath--
A yell, most like the jackall's cry,
Howl'd, mingling with that wind of death!
"No halt--I gave one cheering sound;
Lustily springs each dauntless hound--
Swift as the dauntless hounds advance,
Whirringly skirrs my stalwart lance--
Whirringly skirrs; and from the scale
Bounds, as a reed aslant the mail.
Onward--but no!--the craven steed
Shrinks from his lord in that dread need--
Smitten and scared before that eye
Of basilisk horror, and that blast
Of death, it only seeks to fly--
And half the mighty hope is past!
"A moment, and to earth I leapt;
Swift from its sheath the falchion swept;
Swift on that rock-like mail it plied--
The rock-like mail the sword defied:
The monster lash'd its mighty coil--
Down hurl'd--behold me on the soil!
Behold the hell-jaws gaping wide--
When lo! they bound--the flesh is found;
Upon the scaleless parts they spring!
Springs either hound;--the flesh is found--
It roars; the blood-dogs cleave and cling!
"No time to foil its fast'ning foes--
Light, as it writhed, I sprang, and rose;
The all-unguarded place explored,
Up to the hilt I plunged the sword--
Buried one instant in the blood--
The next, upsprang the bubbling flood!
The next, one Vastness spread the plain--
Crush'd down--the victor with the slain;
And all was dark--and on the ground
My life, suspended, lost the sun,
Till waking--lo my squires around--
And the dead foe!--my tale is done."
Then burst, as from a common breast,
The eager laud so long supprest--
A thousand voices, choral-blending,
Up to the vaulted dome ascending--
From groined roof and banner'd wall,
Invisible echoes answering all--
The very Brethren, grave and high,
Forget their state, and join the cry.
"With laurel wreaths his brows be crown'd,
Let throng to throng his triumph tell;
Hail him all Rhodes!"--the Master frown'd,
And raised his hand--and silence fell.
"Well," said that solemn voice, "thy hand
From the wild-beast hath freed the land.
An idol to the People be!
A foe our Order frowns on thee!
For in thy heart, superb and vain,
A hell-worm laidlier than the slain,
To discord which engenders death,
Poisons each thought with baleful breath!
That hell-worm is the stubborn Will--
Oh! What were man and nations worth
If each his own desire fulfil,
And law be banish'd from the earth?
"_Valour_ the Heathen gives to story--
_Obedience_ is the Christian's glory;
And on that soil our Saviour-God
As the meek low-born mortal trod.
We the Apostle-knights were sworn
To laws thy daring laughs to scorn--
Not _fame_, but _duty_ to fulfil--
Our noblest offering--man's wild will.
Vain-glory doth thy soul betray--
Begone--thy conquest is thy loss:
No breast too haughty to obey,
Is worthy of the Christian's cross!"
From their cold awe the crowds awaken,
As with some storm the halls are shaken;
The noble brethren plead for grace--
Mute stands the doom'd, with downward face;
And mutely loosen'd from its band
The badge, and kiss'd the Master's hand,
And meekly turn'd him to depart:
A moist eye follow'd, "To my heart
Come back, my son!"--the Master cries:
"Thy grace a harder fight obtains;
When Valour risks the Christian's prize,
Lo, how Humility regains!"
[In the ballad just presented to the reader, Schiller designed, as he
wrote to Goethe, to depict the old Christian chivalry--half-knightly,
half-monastic. The attempt is strikingly successful; and, even in so
humble a translation, the unadorned simplicity and earnest vigour of a
great poet, enamoured of his subject, may be sufficiently visible to a
discerning critic. "The Fight of the Dragon" appears to us the most
spirited and nervous of all Schiller's ballads, with the single
exception of "The Diver;" and if its interest is less intense than that
of the matchless "Diver," and its descriptions less poetically striking
and effective, its interior meaning or philosophical conception is at
once more profound and more elevated. The main distinction, indeed,
between the ancient ballad and the modern, as revived and recreated by
Goethe and Schiller, is, that the former is a simple narrative, and the
latter a narrative which conveys some intellectual idea--some dim, but
important truth. The one has but the good faith of the minstrel, the
other the high wisdom of the poet. In "The Fight of the Dragon,"
is expressed the moral of that humility which consists in
self-conquest--even merit may lead to vain-glory--and, after vanquishing
the fiercest enemies without, Man has still to contend with his worst
foe,--the pride or disobedience of his own heart. "Every one," as a
recent and acute, but somewhat over-refining critic has remarked, "has
more or less--his own 'fight with the Dragon,'--his own double victory
(without and within) to achieve." The origin of this poem is to be found
in the Annals of the Order of Malta--and the details may be seen in
Vertot's History. The date assigned to the conquest of the Dragon is
1342. Helion de Villeneuve was the name of the Grand Master--that of the
Knight, Dieu-Donne de Gozon. Thevenot declares, that the head of the
monster, (to whatever species it really belonged,) or its effigies, was
still placed over one of the gates of the city in his time.]
* * * * *
REYNOLDS'S DISCOURSES. PART II.
Having shown that the standard of Taste is in the Truth of Nature, and
that this truth is in the mind, Sir Joshua, in the Eighth Discourse,
proceeds to a further development of the principles of art. These
principles, whether poetry or painting, have their foundation in the
mind; which by its sensitive faculties and intellectual requirements,
remodels all that it receives from the external world, vivifying and
characterizing all with itself, and thus bringing forth into light the
more beautiful but latent creations of nature. The "activity and
restlessness" of the mind seek satisfaction from curiosity, novelty,
variety, and contrast. Curiosity, "the anxiety for the future, the
keeping the event suspended," he considers to be exclusively the
province of poetry, and that "the painter's art is more confined, and
has nothing that corresponds with, or perhaps is equivalent to, this
power and advantage of leading the mind on, till attention is totally
engaged. What is done by painting must be done at one blow; curiosity
has received at once all the satisfaction it can have." Novelty,
variety, and contrast, however, belong to the painter. That poetry has
this power, and operates by more extensively raising our curiosity,
cannot be denied; but we hesitate in altogether excluding this power
from painting. A momentary action may be so represented, as to elicit a
desire for, and even an intimation of its event. It is true _that_
curiosity cannot be satisfied, but it works and conjectures; and we
suspect there is something of it in most good pictures. Take such a
subject as the "Judgment of Solomon:" is not the "event suspended," and
a breathless anxiety portrayed in the characters, and freely
acknowledged by the sympathy of the spectator? Is there no mark of this
"curiosity" in the "Cartoon of Pisa?" The trumpet has sounded, the
soldiers are some half-dressed, some out of the water, others bathing;
one is anxiously looking for the rising of his companion, who has just
plunged in, and we see but his hands above the water; the very range of
rocks, behind which the danger is shown to come, tends to excite our
curiosity; we form conjectures of the enemy, their number, nearness of
approach, and from among the manly warriors before us form episodes of
heroism in the great intimated epic: and have we not seen pictures by
Rembrandt, where "curiosity" delights to search unsatisfied and
unsatiated into the mysteries of colour and chiaro-scuro, receding
further as we look into an atmosphere pregnant with all uncertain
things? We think we have not mistaken the President's meaning. Mr Burnet
appears to agree with us: though he makes no remark upon the power of
raising curiosity, yet it surely is raised in the very picture to which
we presume he alludes, Raffaelle's "Death of Ananias;" the event, in
Sapphira, is intimated and suspended. "Though," says Mr Burnet, "the
painter has but one page to represent his story, he generally chooses
that part which combines the most illustrative incidents with the most
effective denouement of the event. In Raffaelle we often find not only
those circumstances which precede it, _but its effects upon the_
personages introduced after the catastrophe."
There is, however, a natural indolence of our disposition, which seeks
pleasure in repose, and the resting in old habits, which must not be too
violently opposed by "variety," "reanimating the attention, which is apt
to languish under a continual sameness;" nor by "novelty," making "more
forcible impression on the mind than can be made by the representation
of what we have often seen before;" nor by "contrasts," that "rouse the
power of comparison by opposition."
The mind, then, though an active principle, having likewise a
disposition to indolence, (might we have said repose?) limits the
quantity of variety, novelty, and contrast which it will bear;--these
are, therefore, liable to excesses. Hence arise certain rules of art,
that in a composition objects must not be too scattered and divided into
many equal parts, that perplex and fatigue the eye, at a loss where to
find the principal action. Nor must there be that "absolute unity,"
"which, consisting of one group or mass of light only, would be as
defective as an heroic poem without episode, or any collateral incidents
to recreate the mind with that variety which it always requires." Sir
Joshua instances Rembrandt and Poussin, the former as having the defect
of "absolute unity," the latter the defect of the dispersion and
scattering his figures without attention to their grouping. Hence there
must be "the same just moderation observed in regard to ornaments;" for
a certain repose must never be destroyed. Ornament in profusion, whether
of objects or colours, does destroy it; and, "on the other hand, a work
without ornament, instead of simplicity, to which it makes pretensions,
has rather the appearance of poverty." "We may be sure of this truth,
that the most ornamental style requires repose to set off even its
ornaments to advantage." He instances, in the dialogue between Duncan
and Banquo, Shakspeare's purpose of repose--the mention of the martlets'
nests, and that "where those birds most breed and haunt, the air is
delicate;" and the practice of Homer, "who, from the midst of battles
and horrors, relieves and refreshes the mind of the reader, by
introducing some quiet rural image, or picture of familiar domestic
life. The writers of every age and country, where taste has begun to
decline, paint and adorn every object they touch; are always on the
stretch; never deviate or sink a moment from the pompous and the
 Could Sir Joshua now be permitted to visit his own
Academy, and our exhibitions in general, he would be startled
at the excess of ornament, in defiance of his rule of repose,
succeeding the slovenliness of his own day. Whatever be the
subject, history, landscape, or familiar life, it superabounds
both in objects and colour. In established academies, the
faults of genius are more readily adopted than their
excellences; they are more vulgarly perceptible, and more easy
of imitation. We have, therefore, less hesitation in referring
the more ambitious of our artists to this prohibition in Sir
Joshua's Discourse. The greater the authority the more
injurious the delinquency. We therefore adduce as examples,
works of our most inventive and able artist, his "Macbeth" and
his "Hamlet"--they are greatly overloaded with the faults of
superabundance of ornament, and want unity; yet are they works
of great power, and such as none but a painter of high genius
could conceive or execute. In a more fanciful subject, and
where ornament was more admissible, he has been more fortunate,
and even in the multiplicity of his figures and ornaments, by
their grouping and management, he has preserved a seeming
moderation, and has so ordered his composition that the
wholeness, the simplicity, of his subject is not destroyed. The
story is told, and admirably--as Sir Joshua says, "at one
blow." We speak of his "Sleeping Beauty." We see at once that
the prince and princess are the principal, and they are united
by that light and fainter fairy chain intimating, yet not too
prominently, the magic under whose working and whose light the
whole scene is; nothing can be better conceived than the
prince--there is a largeness in the manner, a breadth in the
execution of the figure that considerably dignifies the story,
and makes him, the principal, a proper index of it. The many
groups are all episodes, beautiful in themselves, and in no way
injure the simplicity. There is novelty, variety, and contrast
in not undue proportion, because that simplicity is preserved.
Even the colouring, (though there is too much white,) and
chiaro-scuro, with its gorgeousness, is in the stillness of
repose, and a sunny repose, too, befitting the "Sleeping
Beauty." Mr Maclise has succeeded best where his difficulty and
danger were greatest, and so it ever is with genius. It is not
in such subjects alone that our artists transgress Sir Joshua's
rule; we too often see portraits where the dress and
accessaries obtrude--there is too much lace and too little
expression--and our painters of views follow the fashion most
unaccountably--ornament is every where; we have not a town
where the houses are not "turned out of windows," and all the
furniture of every kind piled up in the streets; and as if to
show a pretty general bankruptcy, together with the artist's
own poverty, you would imagine an auction going on in every
other house, by the Turkey carpets and odds and ends hanging
from the windows. We have even seen a "Rag Fair" in a turnpike
Novelty, Variety, and Contrast are required in Art, because they are the
natural springs that move the mind to attention from its indolent
quiescence; but having moved, their duty is performed--the mind of
itself will do the rest; they must not act prominent parts. In every
work there must be a simplicity which binds the whole together, as a
whole; and whatever comes not within that girdle of the graces, is worse
than superfluous--it draws off and distracts the attention which should
be concentrated. Besides that simplicity which we have spoken of--and we
have used the word in its technical sense, as that which keeps together
and makes one thing of many parts--there is a simplicity which is best
known by its opposite, affectation; upon this Sir Joshua enlarges.
"Simplicity, being a negative virtue, cannot be described or defined."
But it is possible, even in avoiding affectation, to convert simplicity
into the very thing we strive to avoid. N. Poussin--whom, with regard to
this virtue, he contrasts with others of the French school--Sir Joshua
considers, in his abhorrence of the affectation of his countrymen,
somewhat to approach it, by "what in writing would be called pedantry."
Du Piles is justly censured for his recipe of grace and dignity. "If,"
says he, "you draw persons of high character and dignity, they ought to
be drawn in such an attitude that the portraits must seem to speak to
us of themselves, and as it were to say to us, 'Stop, take notice of
me--I am the invincible king, surrounded by majesty.' 'I am the valiant
commander who struck terror every where,' 'I am that great minister, who
knew all the springs of politics.' 'I am that magistrate of consummate
wisdom and probity.'" This is indeed affectation, and a very vulgar
notion of greatness. We are reminded of Partridge, and his admiration of
the overacting king. All the characters in thus seeming to say, would be
little indeed. Not so Raffaelle and Titian understood grace and dignity.
Simplicity he holds to be "our barrier against that great enemy to truth
and nature, affectation, which is ever clinging to the pencil, and ready
to drop and poison every thing it touches." Yet that, "when so very
inartificial as to seem to evade the difficulties of art, is a very
suspicious virtue." Sir Joshua dwells much upon this, because he thinks
there is a perpetual tendency in young artists to run into affectation,
and that from the very terms of the precepts offered them. "When a young
artist is first told that his composition and his attitudes must be
contrasted; that he must turn the head contrary to the position of the
body, in order to produce grace and animation; that his outline must be
undulating and swelling, to give grandeur; and that the eye must be
gratified with a variety of colours; when he is told this with certain
animating words of spirit, dignity, energy, greatness of style, and
brilliancy of tints, he becomes suddenly vain of his newly-acquired
knowledge, and never thinks he can carry those rules too far. It is then
that the aid of simplicity ought to be called in to correct the
exuberance of youthful ardour." We may add that hereby, too, is shown
the danger of particular and practical rules; very few of the kind are
to be found in the "Discourses." Indeed the President points out, by
examples from Raffaelle, the good effect of setting aside these
academical rules. We suspect that they are never less wanted than when
they give direction to attitudes and forms of action. He admits that, in
order "to excite attention to the more manly, noble, and dignified
manner," he had perhaps left "an impression too contemptuous of the
ornamental parts of our art." He had, to use his own expression, bent
the bow the contrary way to make it straight. "For this purpose, then,
and to correct excess or neglect of any kind, we may here add, that it
is not enough that a work be learned--it must be pleasing." Pretty much
as Horace had said of poetry,
"Non satis est pulchra esse poemata, _dulcia_ sunto."
To which maxim the Latin poet has unconsciously given the grace of
"Et quocunque volent animum auditoris agunto."
He again shows the danger of particular practical rules.--"It is given
as a rule by Fresnoy, that '_the principal figure of a subject must
appear in the midst of the picture, under the principal light, to
distinguish it from the rest._' A painter who should think himself
obliged strictly to follow this rule, would encumber himself with
needless difficulties; he would be confined to great uniformity of
composition, and be deprived of many beauties which are incompatible
with its observance. The meaning of this rule extends, or ought to
extend, no further than this: that the principal figure should be
immediately distinguished at the first glance of the eye; but there is
no necessity that the principal light should fall on the principal
figure, or that the principal figure should be in the middle of the
picture." He might have added that it is the very place where generally
it ought not to be. Many examples are given; we could have wished he had
given a plate from any one in preference to that from Le Brun. Felebein,
in praising this picture, according to preconceived recipe, gives
Alexander, who is in shade, the principal light. "Another instance
occurs to me where equal liberty may be taken in regard to the
management of light. Though the general practice is to make a large mass
about the middle of the picture surrounded by shadow, the reverse may be
practised, and _the spirit of the rule be preserved_." We have marked in
italics the latter part of the sentence, because it shows that the rule
itself must be ill-defined or too particular. Indeed, we receive with
caution all such rules as belong to the practical and mechanical of the
art. He instances Paul Veronese. "In the great composition of Paul
Veronese, the 'Marriage of Cana,' the figures are for the most part in
half shadow. The great light is in the sky; and indeed the general
effect of this picture, which is so striking, is no more than what we
often see in landscapes, in small pictures of fairs and country feasts:
but those principles of light and shadow, being transferred to a large
scale, to a space containing near a hundred figures as large as life,
and conducted, to all appearance, with as much facility, and with
attention as steadily fixed upon _the whole together_, as if it were a
small picture immediately under the eye, the work justly excites our
admiration, the difficulty being increased as the extent is enlarged."
We suspect that _the rule_, when it attempts to direct beyond the words
Sir Joshua has marked in italics, refutes itself, and shackles the
student. Infinite must be the modes of composition, and as infinite the
modes of treating them in light and shadow and colour. "Whatever mode of
composition is adopted, every variety and license is allowable." All
that is absolutely necessary is, that there be no confusion or
distraction, no conflicting masses--in fact, that the picture tell its
tale at once and effectually. A very good plate is given by Mr Burnet of
the "Marriage of Cana," by Paul Veronese. Sir Joshua avoids entering
upon rules that belong to "the detail of the art." He meets with
combatants, as might have been expected, where he is thus particular. We
will extract the passage which has been controverted, and to oppose the
doctrine of which, Gainsborough painted his celebrated "Blue Boy."
"Though it is not my _business_ to enter into the detail of our art, yet
I must take this opportunity of mentioning one of the means of producing
that great effect which we observe in the works of the Venetian
painters, as I think it is not generally known or observed, that the
masses of light in a picture be always of a warm mellow colour, yellow
red or yellowish white; and that the blue, the grey, or the green
colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to
support and set off these warm colours; and for this purpose a small
proportion of cold colours will be sufficient. Let this conduct be
reversed; let the light be cold, and the surrounding colours warm, as we
often see in the works of the Roman and Florentine painters, and it will
be out of the power of art, even in the hands of Rubens or Titian, to
make a picture splendid and harmonious." Le Brun and Carlo Maratti are
censured as being "deficient in this management of colours." The
"Bacchus and Ariadne," now in our National Gallery, has ever been
celebrated for its harmony of colour. Sir Joshua supports his theory or
rule by the example of this picture: the red of Ariadne's scarf, which,
according to critics, was purposely given to relieve the figure from the
sea, has a better object. "The figure of Ariadne is separated from the
great group, and is dressed in blue, which, added to the colour of the
sea, makes that quantity of cold colour which Titian thought necessary
for the support and brilliancy of the great group; which group is
composed, with very little exception, entirely of mellow colours. But as
the picture in this case would be divided into two distinct parts, one
half cold and the other warm, it was necessary to carry some of the
mellow colours of the great group into the cold part of the picture, and
a part of the cold into the great group; accordingly Titian gave Ariadne
a red scarf, and to one of the Bacchantes a little blue drapery." As
there is no picture more splendid, it is well to weigh and consider
again and again remarks upon the cause of the brilliancy, given by such
an authority as Sir Joshua Reynolds. With regard to his rule, even among
artists, "adhuc sub judice lis est." He combats the common notion of
relief, as belonging only to the infancy of the art, and shows the
advance made by Coreggio and Rembrandt; though the first manner of
Coreggio, as well as of Leonardo da Vinci and Georgione, was dry and
hard. "But these three were among the first who began to correct
themselves in dryness of style, by no longer considering relief as a
principal object. As these two qualities, relief and fulness of effect,
can hardly exist together, it is not very difficult to determine to
which we ought to give the preference." "Those painters who have best
understood the art of producing a good effect, have adopted one
principle that seems perfectly conformable to reason--that a part may be
sacrificed for the good of the whole. Thus, whether the masses consist
of light or shadow, it is necessary that they should be compact, and of
a pleasing shape; to this end some parts may be made darker and some
lighter, and reflections stronger than nature would warrant." He
instances a "Moonlight" by Rubens, now, we believe, in the possession of
Mr Rogers, in which Rubens had given more light and more glowing colours
than we recognize in nature,--"it might easily be mistaken, if he had
not likewise added stars, for a fainter setting sun." We stop not to
enquire if that harmony so praised, might not have been preserved had
the resemblance to nature been closer. Brilliancy is produced. The fact
is, the _practice_ of art is a system of compensation. We cannot exactly
in all cases represent nature,--we have not the means, but our means
will achieve what, though _particularly_ unlike, may, by itself or in
opposition, produce similar effects. Nature does not present a varnished
polished surface, nor that very transparency that our colours can give;
but it is found that this transparency, in all its degrees, in
conjunction and in opposition to opaque body of colour, represents the
force of light and shade of nature, which is the principal object to
attain. _The_ richness of nature is not the exact richness of the
palette. The painter's success is in the means of compensation.
This Discourse concludes with observations on the Prize pictures. The
subject seems to have been the Sacrifice of Iphigenia. All had copied
the invention of Timanthes, in hiding the face of Agamemnon. Sir Joshua
seems to agree with Mr Falconet, in a note in his translation of Pliny,
who would condemn the painter, but that he copied the idea from the
authority of Euripides; Sir Joshua considers it at best a trick, that
can only with success be practised once. Mr Fuseli criticises the
passage, and assumes that the painter had better reason than that given
by Mr Falconet. Mr Burnet has added but two or three notes to this
Discourse--they are unimportant, with the exception of the last, wherein
he combats Sir Joshua's theory of the cold and warm colours. He candidly
prints an extract of a letter from Sir Thomas Lawrence, who differs with
him. It is so elegantly written that we quote the passage. Sir Thomas
says,--"Agreeing with you in so many points, I will venture to differ
from you in your question with Sir Joshua. Infinitely various as nature
is, there are still two or three truths that limit her variety, or,
rather, that limit art in the imitation of her. I should instance for
one the ascendency of white objects, which can never be departed from
with impunity, and again, the union of colour with light. Masterly as
the execution of that picture is (viz. the Boy in a blue dress,) I
always feel a never-changing impression on my eye, that the "Blue Boy"
of Gainsborough is a difficulty boldly combated, not conquered. The
light blue drapery of the Virgin in the centre of the "Notte" is
another instance; a check to the harmony of the celestial radiance round
it." "Opposed to Sir Thomas's opinion," says Mr Burnet, "I might quote
that of Sir David Wilkie, often expressed, and carried out in his
picture of the 'Chelsea Pensioners' and other works." It strikes us,
from our recollection of the "Chelsea Pensioners," that it is not at all
a case in point; the blue there not being light but dark, and serving as
dark, forcibly contrasting with warmer light in sky and other objects;
the _colour_ of blue is scarcely given, and is too dark to be allowed to
enter into the question. He adds, "A very simple method may be adopted
to enable the student to perceive where the warm and red colours are
placed by the great colourists, by his making a sketch of light and
shade of the picture, and then touching in the warm colours with red
chalk; or by looking on his palette at twilight, he will see what
colours absorb the light, and those that give it out, and thus select
for his shadows, colours that have the property of giving depth and
richness." Unless the pictures are intended to be seen at twilight, we
do not see how this can bear upon the question; if it does, we would
notice what we have often observed, that at twilight blue almost
entirely disappears, to such a degree that in a landscape where the blue
has even been deep, and the sky by no means the lightest part of the
picture, at twilight the whole landscape comes out too hard upon the
sky, which with its colour has lost its tone, and become, with relation
to the rest, by far too light. It is said that of all the pictures in
the National Gallery, when seen at twilight, the Coreggios retire
last--we speak of the two, the "Ecce Homo" and the "Venus, Mercury, and
Cupid." In these there is no blue but in the drapery of the fainting
mother, and that is so dark as to serve for black or mere shadow; the
lighter blue close upon the neck is too small to affect the power of the
picture. It certainly is a fact, that blue fades more than any colour at
twilight, and, relatively speaking, leaves the image that contains it
lighter. We should almost be inclined to ask the question, though with
great deference to authority, is blue, when very light, necessarily
cold; and if so, has it not an activity which, being the great quality
of light, assimilates it with light, and thus takes in to itself the
surrounding "radiance?" A very little positive warm colour, as it were
set in blue, from whatever cause, gives it a surprising glow. We desire
to see the theory of colours treated, not with regard to their
corresponding harmony in their power one upon the other, nor in their
light and shadow, but, if we may so express it, in their
sentimentality--the effect they are capable of in moving the passions.
We alluded to this in our last paper, and the more we consider the
subject, the more we convinced that it is worth deeper investigation.
* * * * *
The NINTH DISCOURSE is short, and general in its character; it was
delivered at the opening of the Royal Academy in Somerset Place, October
16, 1780. It is an elegant address; raises the aim of the artist; and
gives a summary of the origin of arts and their use. "Let us for a
moment take a short survey of the progress of the mind towards what is,
or ought to be, its true object of attention. Man in his lowest state
has no pleasures but those of sense, and no wants but those of appetite;
afterwards, when society is divided into different ranks, and some are
appointed to labour for the support of others, those whom their
superiority sets free from labour begin to look for intellectual
entertainments. Thus, while the shepherds were attending their flocks,
their masters made the first astronomical observations; so music is said
to have had its origin from a man at leisure listening to the strokes of
a hammer. As the senses in the lowest state of nature are necessary to
direct us to our support, when that support is once secure, there is
danger in following them further; to him who has no rule of action but
the gratification of the senses, plenty is always dangerous. It is
therefore necessary to the happiness of individuals, and still more
necessary to the security of society, that the mind should be elevated
to the idea of general beauty, and the contemplation of general truth;
by this pursuit the mind is always carried forward in search of
something more excellent than it finds, and obtains its proper
superiority over the common sense of life, by learning to feel itself
capable of higher aims and nobler enjoyments." This is well said.
Again.--"Our art, like all arts which address the imagination, is
applied to a somewhat lower faculty of the mind, which approaches nearer
to sensuality, but through sense and fancy it must make its way to
reason. For such is the progress of thought, that we perceive by sense,
we combine by fancy, and distinguish by reason; and without carrying our
art out of its natural and true character, the more we purify it from
every thing that is gross in sense, in that proportion we advance its
use and dignity, and in proportion as we lower it to mere sensuality, we
pervert its nature, and degrade it from the rank of a liberal art; and
this is what every artist ought well to remember. Let him remember,
also, that he deserves just so much encouragement in the state as he
makes himself a member of it virtuously useful, and contributes in his
sphere to the general purpose and perfection of society." Sir Joshua has
been blamed by those who have taken lower views of art, in that he has
exclusively treated of the Great Style, which neither he nor the
academicians of his day practised; but he would have been unworthy the
presidential chair had he taken any other line. His was a noble effort,
to assume for art the highest position, to dignify it in its aim, and
thus to honour and improve first his country, then all human kind. We
rise from such passages as these elevated above all that is little.
Those only can feel depressed who would find excuses for the lowness of
* * * * *
The TENTH DISCOURSE.--Sir Joshua here treats of Sculpture, a less
extensive field than Painting. The leading principles of both are the
same; he considers wherein they agree, and wherein they differ.
Sculpture cannot, "with propriety and best effect, be applied to many
subjects." Its object is "form and character." It has "one style
only,"--that one style has relation only to one style of painting, the
Great Style, but that so close as to differ only as operating upon
different materials. He blames the sculptors of the last age, who
thought they were improving by borrowing from the ornamental,
incompatible with its essential character. Contrasts, and the
littlenesses of picturesque effects, are injurious to the formality its
austere character requires. As in painting, so more particularly in
sculpture, that imitation of nature which we call illusion, is in no
respect its excellence, nor indeed its aim. Were it so, the Venus di
Medici would be improved by colour. It contemplates a higher, a more
perfect beauty, more an intellectual than sensual enjoyment. The
boundaries of the art have been long fixed. To convey "sentiment and
character, as exhibited by attitude, and expression of the passions," is
not within its province. Beauty of form alone, the object of sculpture,
"makes of itself a great work." In proof of which are the designs of
Michael Angelo in both arts. As a stronger instance:--"What artist,"
says he, "ever looked at the Torso without feeling a warmth of
enthusiasm as from the highest efforts of poetry? From whence does this
proceed? What is there in this fragment that produces this effect, but
the perfection of this science of abstract form?" Mr Burnet has given a
plate of the Torso. The expectation of deception, of which few divest
themselves, is an impediment to the judgment, consequently to the
enjoyment of sculpture. "Its essence is correctness." It fully
accomplishes its purpose when it adds the "ornament of grace, dignity of
character, and appropriated expression, as in the Apollo, the Venus, the
Laocoon, the Moses of Michael Angelo, and many others." Sir Joshua uses
expression as will be afterwards seen, in a very limited sense. It is
necessary to lay down perfect correctness as its essential character;
because, as in the case of the Apollo, many have asserted the beauty to
arise from a certain incorrectness in anatomy and proportion. He denies
that there is this incorrectness, and asserts that there never ought to
be; and that even in painting these are not the beauties, but defects,
in the works of Coreggio and Parmegiano. "A supposition of such a
monster as Grace begot by Deformity, is poison to the mind of a young
artist." The Apollo and the Discobolus are engaged in the same
purpose--the one watching the effect of his arrow, the other of his
discus. "The graceful, negligent, though animated air of the one, and
the vulgar eagerness of the other, furnish a signal instance of the
skill of the ancient sculptors in their nice discrimination of
character. They are both equally true to nature, and equally admirable."
Grace, character, and expression, are rather in form and attitude than
in features; the general figure more presents itself; "it is there we
must principally look for expression or character; _patuit in corpore
vultus_." The expression in the countenances of the Laocoon and his two
sons, though greater than in any other antique statues, is of pain only;
and that is more expressed "by the writhing and contortion of the body
than by the features." The ancient sculptors paid but little regard to
features for their expression, their object being solely beauty of form.
"Take away from Apollo his lyre, from Bacchus his thyrsus and
vine-leaves, and from Meleager the boar's head, and there will remain
little or no difference in their characters." John di Bologna, he tells
us, after he had finished a group, called his friends together to tell
him what name to give it: they called it the "Rape of the Sabines." A
similar anecdote is told of Sir Joshua himself, that he had painted the
head of the old man who attended him in his studio. Some one observed
that it would make a Ugolino. The sons were added, and it became the
well-known historical picture from Dante. He comments upon the
ineffectual attempts of modern sculptors to detach drapery from the
figure, to give it the appearance of flying in the air; to make
different plans on the same bas-relievos; to represent the effects of
perspective; to clothe in a modern dress. For the first attempt he
reprehends Bernini, who, from want of a right conception of the province
of sculpture, never fulfilled the promise given in his early work of
Apollo and Daphne. He was ever attempting to make drapery flutter in the
air, which the very massiveness of the material, stone, should seem to
forbid. Sir Joshua does not notice the very high authority for such an
attempt--though it must be confessed the material was not stone, still
it was sculpture, and multitudinous are the graces of ornament, and most
minutely described--the shield of Hercules, by Hesiod; even the noise of
the furies' wings is affected. The drapery of the Apollo he considers to
have been intended more for support than ornament; but the mantle from
the arm he thinks "answers a much higher purpose, by preventing that
dryness of effect which would inevitably attend a naked arm, extended
almost at full length; to which we may add, the disagreeable effect
which would proceed from the body and arm making a right angle." He
conjectures that Carlo Maratti, in his love for drapery, must have
influenced the sculptors of the Apostles in the church of St John
Lateran. "The weight and solidity of stone was not to be overcome."
To place figures on different plans is absurd, because they must still
appear all equally near the eye; the sculptor has not adequate means of
throwing them back; and, besides, the thus cutting up into minute parts,
destroys grandeur. "Perhaps the only circumstance in which the modern
have excelled the ancient sculptors, is the management of a single group
in basso-relievo." This, he thinks, may have been suggested by the
practice of modern painters. The attempt at perspective must, for the
same reason, be absurd; the sculptor has not the means for this "humble
ambition." The ancients represented only the elevation of whatever
architecture they introduced into their bas-reliefs, "which is composed
of little more than horizontal and perpendicular lines." Upon the
attempt at modern dress in sculpture, he is severe in his censure.
"Working in stone is a very serious business, and it seems to be scarce
worth while to employ such durable materials in conveying to posterity a
fashion, of which the longest existence scarcely exceeds a year;" and
which, he might have added, the succeeding year makes ridiculous. We not
only change our dresses, but laugh at the sight of those we have
discarded. The gravity of sculpture should not be subject to contempt.
"The uniformity and simplicity of the materials on which the sculptor
labours, (which are only white marble,) prescribe bounds to his art, and
teach him to confine himself to proportionable simplicity of design." Mr
Burnet has not given a better note than that upon Sir Joshua's remark,
that sculpture has but one style. He shows how strongly the ancient
sculptors marked those points wherein the human figure differs from that
of other animals. "Let us take, for example, the human foot; on
examining, in the first instance, those of many animals, we perceive the
toes either very long or very short in proportion; of an equal size
nearly, and the claws often long and hooked inwards: now, in rude
sculpture, and even in some of the best of the Egyptians, we find little
attempt at giving a character of decided variation; but, on the
contrary, we see the foot split up with toes of an equal length and
thickness; while, in Greek sculpture, these points characteristic of man
are increased, that the affinity to animals may be diminished. In the
Greek marbles, the great toe is large and apart from the others, where
the strap of the sandal came; while the others gradually diminish and
sweep round to the outside of the foot, with the greatest regularity of
curve; the nails are short, and the toes broad at the points, indicative
of pressure on the ground." Rigidity he considers to have been the
character of the first epochs, changing ultimately as in the Elgin
marbles, "from the hard characteristics of stone to the vivified
character of flesh." He thinks Reynolds "would have acknowledged the
supremacy of beautiful nature, uncontrolled by the severe line of
mathematical exactness," had he lived to see the Elgin marbles. "The
outline of life, which changes under every respiration, seems to have
undulated under the plastic mould of Phidias." This is well expressed.
He justly animadverts upon the silly fashion of the day, in lauding the
vulgar imitation of the worsted stockings by Thom. The subjects chosen
were most unfit for sculpture,--their only immortality must be in Burns.
We do not understand his extreme admiration of Wilkie; in a note on
parallel perspective in sculpture, he adduces Raffaelle as an example of
the practice, and closes by comparing him with Sir David Wilkie,--"known
by the appellation of the Raffaelle of familiar life,"--men perfect
antipodes to each other! There is a proper eulogy on Chantrey,
particularly for his busts, in which he commonly represented the eye. We
are most anxious for the arrival of the ancient sculpture from Lycia,
collected and packed for Government by the indefatigable and able
traveller, Mr Fellowes.
* * * * *
The ELEVENTH DISCOURSE is upon Genius, the particular genius of the
painter in his power of seizing and representing nature, or his subject
as a whole. He calls it the "genius of mechanical performance." This,
with little difference, is enforcing what has been laid down in former
Discourses. Indeed, as far as precepts may be required, Sir Joshua had
already performed his task; hence, there is necessary repetition. Yet
all is said well, and conviction perpetuates the impressions previously
made. Character is something independent of minute detail; genius alone
knows what constitutes this character, and practically to represent it,
is to be a painter of genius. Though it be true that he "who does not at
all express particulars expresses nothing; yet it is certain that a nice
discrimination of minute circumstances, and a punctilious delineation of
them, whatever excellence it may have, (and I do not mean to detract
from it,) never did confer on the artist the character of genius." The
impression left upon the mind is not of particulars, when it would seem
to be so; such particulars are taken out of the subject, and are each a
whole of themselves. Practically speaking, as we before observed, genius
will be exerted in ascertaining how to paint the "_nothing_" in every
picture, to satisfy with regard to detail, that neither its absence nor
its presence shall be noticeable.
Our pleasure is not in minute imitation; for, in fact, that is not true
imitation, for it forces upon our notice that which naturally we do not
see. We are not pleased with wax-work, which may be nearer reality; "we
are pleased, on the contrary, by seeing ends accomplished by seemingly
inadequate means." If this be sound, we ought to be sensible of the
inadequacy of the means, which sets aside at once the common notion that
art is illusion. "The properties of all objects, as far as the painter
is concerned with them, are outline or drawing, the colour, and the
light and shade. The drawing gives the form, the colour its visible
quality, and the light and shade its solidity:" in every one of these
the habit of seeing as a whole must be acquired. From this habit arises
the power of imitating by "dexterous methods." He proceeds to show that
the fame of the greatest painters does not rest upon their high finish.
Raffaelle and Titian, one in drawing the other in colour, by no means
finished highly; but acquired by their genius an expressive execution.
Most of his subsequent remarks are upon practice in execution and
colour, in contradistinction to elaborate finish. Vasari calls Titian,
"giudicioso, bello, e stupendo," with regard to this power. He
generalized by colour, and by execution. "In his colouring, he was large
and general." By these epithets, we think Sir Joshua has admitted that
the great style comprehends colouring. "Whether it is the human figure,
an animal, or even inanimate objects, there is nothing, however
unpromising in appearance, but may be raised into dignity, convey
sentiment, and produce emotion, in the hands of a painter of genius." He
condemns that high finish which softens off. "This extreme softening,
instead of producing the effect of softness, gives the appearance of
ivory, or some other hard substance, highly polished. The value set upon
drawings, such as of Coreggio and Parmegiano, which are but slight, show
how much satisfaction can be given without high finishing, or minute
attention to particulars. "I wish you to bear in mind, that when I speak
of a whole, I do not mean simply _a whole_ as belonging to composition,
but _a whole_ with respect to the general style of colouring; _a whole_
with regard to light and shade; and _a whole_ of every thing which may
separately become the main object of a painter. He speaks of a landscape
painter in Rome, who endeavoured to represent every individual leaf upon
a tree; a few happy touches would have given a more true resemblance.
There is always a largeness and a freedom in happy execution, that
finish can never attain. Sir Joshua says above, that even "unpromising"
subjects may be thus treated. There is a painter commonly thought to
have finished highly, by those who do not look into his manner, whose
dexterous, happy execution was perhaps never surpassed; the consequence
is, that there is "a largeness," in all his pictures. We mean Teniers.
The effect of the elaborate work that has been added to his class of
subjects, is to make them heavy and fatiguing to the eye. He praises
Titian for the same large manner which he had given to his history and
portraits, applied to his landscapes, and instances the back-ground to
the "Peter Martyr." He recommends the same practice in portrait
painting--the first thing to be attained, is largeness and general
effect. The following puts the truth clearly. "Perhaps nothing that we
can say will so clearly show the advantage and excellence of this
faculty, as that it confers the character of genius on works that
pretend to no other merit, in which is neither expression, character,
nor dignity, and where none are interested in the subject. We cannot
refuse the character of genius to the 'Marriage' of Paolo Veronese,
without opposing the general sense of mankind, (great authorities have
called it the triumph of painting,) or to the Altar of St Augustine at
Antwerp, by Rubens, which equally deserves that title, and for the same
reason. Neither of these pictures have any interesting story to support
them. That of Paolo Veronese is only a representation of a great
concourse of people at a dinner; and the subject of Rubens, if it may be
called a subject where nothing is doing, is an assembly of various
saints that lived in different ages. The whole excellence of those
pictures consists in mechanical dexterity, working, however, under the
influence of that comprehensive faculty which I have so often
The power of _a whole_ is exemplified by the anecdote of a child going
through a gallery of old portraits. She paid very little attention to
the finishing, or naturalness of drapery, but put herself at once to
mimic the awkward attitudes. "The censure of nature uninformed, fastened
upon the greatest fault that could be in a picture, because it related
to the character and management of the whole." What he would condemn is
that substitute for deep and proper study, which is to enable the
painter to conceive and execute every subject as a whole, and a finish
which Cowley calls "laborious effects of idleness." He concludes this
Discourse with some hints on method of study. Many go to Italy to copy
pictures, and derive little advantage. "The great business of study is,
to form a mind adapted and adequate to all times and all occasions, to
which all nature is then laid open, and which may be said to possess the
key of her inexhaustible riches."
Mr Burnet has supplied a plate of the Monk flying from the scene of
murder, in Titian's "Peter Martyr," showing how that great painter could
occasionally adopt the style of Michael Angelo in his forms. In the same
note he observes, that Sir Joshua had forgotten the detail of this
picture, which detail is noticed and praised by Algarotti, for its
minute discrimination of leaves and plants, "even to excite the
admiration of a botanist."--Sir Joshua said they were not there. Mr
Burnet examined the picture at Paris, and found, indeed, the detail, but
adds, that "they are made out with the same hue as the general tint of
the ground, which is a dull brown," an exemplification of the rule, "Ars
est celare artem." Mr Burnet remarks, that there is the same minute
detail in Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne."--He is right--we have noticed
it, and suspected that it had lost the glazing which had subdued it. As
it is, however, it is not important. Mr Burnet is fearful lest the
authority of Sir Joshua should induce a habit of generalizing too much.
He expresses this fear in another note. He says, "the great eagerness to
acquire what the poet calls
'That voluntary style,
Which careless plays, and seems to mock at toil,'
and which Reynolds describes as so captivating, has led many a student
to commence his career at the wrong end. They ought to remember, that
even Rubens founded this excellence upon years of laborious and careful
study. His picture of himself and his first wife, though the size of
life, exhibits all the detail and finish of Holbein." Sir Joshua nowhere
recommends _careless_ style; on the contrary, he every where urges the
student to laborious toil, in order that he may acquire that facility
which Sir Joshua so justly calls captivating, and which afterwards
Rubens himself did acquire, by studying it in the works of Titian and
Paul Veronese; and singularly, in contradiction to his fears and all he
would imply, Mr Burnet terminates his passage thus:--"Nor did he
(Rubens) quit the dry manner of Otho Venius, till a contemplation of the
works of Titian and Paul Veronese enabled him to display with rapidity
those materials which industry had collected." It is strange to argue
upon the abuse of a precept, by taking it at the wrong end.
* * * * *
The TWELFTH DISCOURSE recurs likewise to much that had been before laid
down. It treats of methods of study, upon which he had been consulted by
artists about to visit Italy. Particular methods of study he considers
of little consequence; study must not be shackled by too much method. If
the painter loves his art, he will not require prescribed tasks;--to go
about which sluggishly, which he will do if he have another impulse, can
be of little advantage. Hence would follow, as he admirably expresses
it, "a reluctant understanding," and a "servile hand." He supposes,
however, the student to be somewhat advanced. The boy, like other
school-boys, must be under restraint, and learn the "Grammar and
Rudiments" laboriously. It is not such who travel for knowledge. The
student, he thinks, may be pretty much left to himself; if he undertake
things above his strength, it is better he should run the risk of
discouragement thereby, than acquire "a slow proficiency" by "too easy
tasks." He has little confidence in the efficacy of method, "in
acquiring excellence in any art whatever." Methodical studies, with all
their apparatus, enquiry, and mechanical labour, tend too often but "to
evade and shuffle off real labour--the real labour of thinking." He has
ever avoided giving particular directions. He has found students who
have imagined they could make "prodigious progress under some particular
eminent master." Such would lean on any but themselves. "After the
Rudiments are past, very little of our art can be taught by others." A
student ought to have a just and manly confidence in himself, "or rather
in the persevering industry which he is resolved to possess." Raffaelle
had done nothing, and was quite young, when fixed upon to adorn the
Vatican with his works; he had even to direct the best artists of his
age. He had a meek and gentle disposition, but it was not inconsistent
with that manly confidence that insured him success--a confidence in
himself arising from a consciousness of power, and a determination to
exert it. The result is "in perpetuum."--There are, however, artists who
have too much self-confidence, that is ill-founded confidence, founded
rather upon a certain dexterity than upon a habit of thought; they are
like the improvisatori in poetry; and most commonly, as Metastasio
acknowledged of himself, had much to unlearn, to acquire a habit of
thinking with selection. To be able to draw and to design with rapidity,
is, indeed, to be master of the grammar of art; but in the completion,
and in the final settlement of the design, the portfolio must again and
again have been turned over, and the nicest judgment exercised. This
judgment is the result of deep study and intenseness of thought--thought
not only upon the artist's own inventions, but those of others. Luca
Giordano and La Fage are brought as examples of great dexterity and
readiness of invention--but of little selection; for they borrowed very
little from others: and still less will any artist, that can distinguish
between excellence and insipidity, ever borrow from them. Raffaelle, who
had no lack of invention, took the greatest pains to select; and when
designing "his greatest as well as latest works, the Cartoons," he had
before him studies he had made from Masaccio. He borrowed from him "two
noble figures of St Paul." The only alteration he made was in the
showing both hands, which he thought in a principal figure should never
be omitted. Masaccio's work was well known; Raffaelle was not ashamed to
have borrowed. "Such men, surely, need not be ashamed of that friendly
intercourse which ought to exist among artists, of receiving from the
dead, and giving to the living, and perhaps to those who are yet unborn.
The daily food and nourishment of the mind of an artist is found in the
great works of his predecessors. 'Serpens nisi serpentem comederit, non
fit draco.'" The fact is, the most self-sufficient of men are greater
borrowers than they will admit, or perhaps know; their very novelties,
if they have any, commence upon the thoughts of others, which are laid
down as a foundation in their own minds. The common sense, which is
called "common property," is that stock which all that have gone before
us have left behind them; and we are but admitted to the heirship of
what they have acquired. Masaccio Sir Joshua considers to have been "one
of the great fathers of modern art." He was the first who gave
largeness, and "discovered the path that leads to every excellence to
which the art afterwards arrived." It is enough to say of him, that
Michael Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Pietro Perugino, Raffaelle,
Bartolomeo, Andrea del Sarto, Il Rosso, and Pierino del Vaga, formed
their taste by studying his works. "An artist-like mind" is best formed
by studying the works of great artists. It is a good practice to
consider figures in works of great masters as statues which we may take
in any view. This did Raffaelle, in his "Sergius Paulus," from Masaccio.
Lest there should be any misunderstanding of this sort of borrowing,
which he justifies, he again refers to the practice of Raffaelle in this
his borrowing from Masaccio. The two figures of St Paul, he doubted if
Raffaelle could have improved; but "he had the address to change in some
measure without diminishing the grandeur of their character." For a
serene composed dignity, he has given animation suited to their
employment. "In the same manner, he has given more animation to the
figure of Sergius Paulus, and to that which is introduced in the picture
of Paul preaching, of which little more than hints are given by
Masaccio, which Raffaelle has finished. The closing the eyes of this
figure, which in Masaccio might be easily mistaken for sleeping, is not
in the least ambiguous in the Cartoon. His eyes, indeed are closed, but
they are closed with such vehemence, that the agitation of a mind
_perplexed in the extreme_ is seen at the first glance; but what is most
extraordinary, and I think particularly to be admired, is, that the same
idea is continued through the whole figure, even to the drapery, which
is so closely muffled about him, that even his hands are not seen: By
this happy correspondence between the expression of the countenance and
the disposition of the parts, the figure appears to think from head to
foot. Men of superior talents alone are capable of thus using and
adapting other men's minds to their own purposes, or are able to make
out and finish what was only in the original a hint or imperfect
conception. A readiness in taking such hints, which escape the dull and
ignorant, makes, in my opinion, no inconsiderable part of that faculty
of mind which is called genius." He urges the student not even to think
himself qualified to invent, till he is well acquainted with the stores
of invention the world possesses; and insists that, without such study,
he will not have learned to select from nature. He has more than once
enforced this doctrine, because it is new. He recommends, even in
borrowing, however, an immediate recurrence to the model, that every
thing may be finished from nature. Hence he proceeds to give some
directions for placing the model and the drapery--first to impress upon
the model the purpose of the attitude required--next, to be careful not
to alter drapery with the hand, rather trusting, if defective, to a new
cast. There is much in being in the way of accident. To obtain the
freedom of accident Rembrandt put on his colours with his palette-knife;
a very common practice at the present day. "Works produced in an
accidental manner will have the same free unrestrained air as the works
of nature, whose particular combinations seem to depend upon accident."
He concludes this Discourse by more strenuously insisting upon the
necessity of ever having nature in view--and warns students by the
example of Boucher, Director of the French Academy, whom he saw working
upon a large picture, "without drawings or models of any kind." He had
left off the use of models many years. Though a man of ability, his
pictures showed the mischief of his practice. Mr Burnet's notes to this
Discourse add little to the material of criticism; they do but reiterate
in substance what Sir Joshua had himself sufficiently repeated. His
object seems rather to seize an opportunity of expressing his admiration
of Wilkie, whom he adduces as a parallel example with Raffaelle of
successful borrowing. It appears from the account given of Wilkie's
process, that he carried the practice much beyond Raffaelle. We cannot
conceive any thing _very_ good coming from so very methodical a manner
of setting to work. Would not the fire of genius be extinguished by the
coolness of the process? "When he had fixed upon his subject, he thought
upon _all_ pictures of that class already in existence." The after
process was most elaborate. Now, this we should think a practice quite
contrary to Raffaelle's, who more probably trusted to his own conception
for the character of his picture as a whole, and whose borrowing was
more of single figures; but, if of the whole manner of treating his
subject, it is not likely that he would have thought of more than one
work for his imitation. The fact is, Sir David Wilkie's pictures show
that he did carry this practice too far--for there is scarcely a picture
of his that does not show patches of imitations, that are not always
congruous with each other; there is too often in one piece, a bit of
Rembrandt, a bit of Velasquez, a bit of Ostade, or others. The most
perfect, as a whole, is his "Chelsea Pensioners." We do not quite
understand the brew of study fermenting an accumulation of knowledge,
and imagination exalting it. "An accumulation of knowledge impregnated
his mind, fermented by study, and exalted by imagination;" this is very
ambitious, but not very intelligible. He speaks of Wilkie attracting the
attention of admirers and detractors. It is very absurd to consider
criticism that is not always favourable, detraction. The following
passage is well put. "We constantly hear the ignorant advising a student
to study the great book of nature, without being biassed by what has
been done by other painters; it is as absurd as if they would recommend
a youth to learn astronomy by lying in the fields, and looking on the
stars, without reference to the works of Kepler, Tycho Brahe, or of
Newton." There is indeed a world of cant in the present day, that a man
must do all to his own unprejudiced reason, contemning all that has been
done before him. We have just now been looking at a pamphlet on
Materialism (a pamphlet of most ambitious verbiage,) in which, with
reference to all former education, we are "the slaves of prejudice;" yet
the author modestly requires that minds--we beg his pardon, we have _no
minds_--intellects must be _trained_ to his mode of thinking, ere they
can arrive at the truth and the perfection of human nature. If this
training is prejudice in one set of teachers, may it not be in another?
We continually hear artists recommend nature without "a prejudice in
favour of old masters." Such artists are not likely to eclipse the fame
of those great men, the study of whose works has so long _prejudiced_
* * * * *
The THIRTEENTH DISCOURSE shows that art is not imitation, but is under
the influence and direction of the imagination, and in what manner
poetry, painting, acting, gardening, and architecture, depart from
nature. However good it is to study the beauties of artists, this is
only to know art through them. The principles of painting remain to be
compared with those of other arts, all of them with human nature. All
arts address themselves only to two faculties of the mind, its
imagination and its sensibility. We have feeling, and an instantaneous
judgment, the result of the experience of life, and reasonings which we
cannot trace. It is safer to trust to this feeling and judgment, than
endeavour to control and direct art upon a supposition of what ought in
reason to be the end or means. We should, therefore, most carefully
store first impressions. They are true, though we know not the process
by which the first conviction is formed. Partial and after reasoning
often serves to destroy that character, the truth of which came upon us
as with an instinctive knowledge. We often reason ourselves into narrow
and partial theories, not aware that "_real_ principles of _sound
reason_, and of so much more weight and importance, are involved, and
as it were lie hid, under the appearance of a sort of vulgar sentiment.
Reason, without doubt, must ultimately determine every thing; at this
minute it is required to inform us when that very reason is to give way
to feeling." Sir Joshua again refers to the mistaken views of art, and
taken too by not the poorest minds, "that it entirely or mainly depends
on imitation." Plato, even in this respect, misleads by a partial
theory. It is with "such a false view that Cardinal Bembo has chosen to
distinguish even Raffaelle himself, whom our enthusiasm honours with the
name divine. The same sentiment is adopted by Pope in his epitaph on Sir
Godfrey Kneller; and he turns the panegyric solely on imitation as it is
a sort of deception." It is, undoubtedly, most important that the world
should be taught to honour art for its highest qualities; until this is
done, the profession will be a degradation. So far from painting being
imitation, he proceeds to show that "it is, and ought to be, in many
points of view, and strictly speaking, no imitation at all of external
nature." Civilization is not the gross state of nature; imagination is
the result of cultivation, of civilization; it is to this state of
nature art must be more closely allied. We must not appeal for judgment
upon art to those who have not acquired the faculty to admire. The
lowest style of all arts please the uncultivated. But, to speak of the
unnaturalness of art--let it be illustrated by poetry, which speaks in
language highly artificial, and "a construction of measured words, such
as never is nor ever was used by man." Now, as there is in the human
mind "a sense of congruity, coherence, and consistency," which must be
gratified; so, having once assumed a language and style not adopted in
common discourse, "it is required that the sentiments also should be in
the same proportion raised above common nature." There must be an
agreement of all the parts with the whole. He recognizes the chorus of
the ancient drama, and the recitative of the Italian opera as natural,
under this view. "And though the most violent passions, the highest
distress, even death itself, are expressed in singing or recitative, I
would not admit as sound criticism the condemnation of such exhibitions
on account of their being unnatural." "Shall reason stand in the way,
and tell us that we ought not to like what we know we do like, and
prevent us from feeling the full effect of this complicated exertion of
art? It appears to us that imagination is that gift to man, to be
attained by cultivation, that enables him to rise above and out of his
apparent nature; it is the source of every thing good and great, we had
almost said of every virtue. The parent of all arts, it is of a higher
devotion; it builds and adorns temples more worthy of the great Maker of
all, and praises Him in sounds too noble for the common intercourse and
business of life, which demand of the most cultivated that they put
themselves upon a lower level than they are capable of assuming. So
far, therefore, is a servile imitation from being necessary, that
whatever is familiar, or in any way reminds us of what we see and hear
every day, perhaps does not belong to the higher provinces of art,
either in poetry or painting. The mind is to be transported, as
Shakspeare expresses it, _beyond the ignorant present_, to ages past.
Another and a higher order of beings is supposed, and to those beings
every thing which is introduced into the work must correspond." He
speaks of a picture by Jan Steen, the "Sacrifice of Iphigenia," wherein
the common nature, with the silks and velvets, would make one think the
painter had intended to burlesque his subject. "Ill taught reason" would
lead us to prefer a portrait by Denner to one by Titian or Vandyke.
There is an eloquent passage, showing that landscape painting should in
like manner appeal to the imagination; we are only surprised that the
author of this description should have omitted, throughout these
Discourses, the greatest of all landscape painters, whose excellence he
should seem to refer to by his language. "Like the poet, he makes the
elements sympathize with his subject, whether the clouds roll in
volumes, like those of Titian or Salvator Rosa--or, like those of
Claude, are gilded with the setting sun; whether the mountains have
hidden and bold projections, or are gently sloped; whether the branches
of his trees shoot out abruptly in right angles from their trunks, or
follow each other with only a gentle inclination. All these
circumstances contribute to the general character of the work, whether
it be of the elegant or of the more sublime kind. If we add to this the
powerful materials of lightness and darkness, over which the artist has
complete dominion, to vary and dispose them as he pleases--to diminish
or increase them, as will best suit his purpose, and correspond to the
general idea of his work; a landscape, thus conducted, under the
influence of a poetical mind, will have the same superiority over the
more ordinary and common views, as Milton's "Allegro" and "Penseroso"
have over a cold prosaic narration or description; and such a picture
would make a more forcible impression on the mind than the real scenes,
were they presented before us." We have quoted the above passage,
because it is wanted--we are making great mistakes in that delightful,
and (may we not say?) that high branch of art. He pursues the same
argument with regard to acting, and condemns the _ignorant_ praise
bestowed by Fielding on Garrick. Not an idea of deception enters the
mind of actor or author. On the stage, even the expression of strong
passion must be without the natural distortion and screaming voice.
Transfer, he observes, acting to a private room, and it would be
ridiculous. "Quid enim deformius, quum scenam in vitam transferre?" Yet
he gives here a caution, "that no art can be grafted with success on
another art." "If a painter should endeavour to copy the theatrical pomp
and parade of dress and attitude, instead of that simplicity which is
not a greater beauty in life than it is in painting, we should condemn
such pictures, as painted in the meanest style." What will our
academician, Mr Maclise, say of this remark? He then adduces gardening
in support of his theory,--"nature to advantage dressed," "beautiful and
commodious for the recreation of man." We cannot, however, go with Sir
Joshua, who adds, that "so dressed, it is no longer a subject for the
pencil of a landscape painter, as all landscape painters know." It is
certainly unlike the great landscape he has described, but not very
unlike Claude's, nor out of the way of his pencil. We have in our mind's
eye a garden scene by Vander Heyden, most delightful, most elegant. It
is some royal garden, with its proper architecture, the arch, the steps,
and balustrades, and marble walks. The queen of the artificial paradise
is entering, and in the shade with her attendants, but she will soon
place her foot upon the prepared sunshine. Courtiers are here and there
walking about, or leaning over the balustrades. All is elegance--a scene
prepared for the recreation of pure and cultivated beings. We cannot
say the picture is not landscape. We are sure it gave us ten times more
pleasure than ever we felt from any of our landscape views, with which
modern landscape painting has covered the walls of our exhibitions, and
brought into disrepute our "annuals." He proceeds to architecture, and
praises Vanburgh for his poetical imagination; though he, with Perrault,
was a mark for the wits of the day. Sir Joshua points to the facade
of the Louvre, Blenheim, and Castle Howard, as "the fairest ornaments."
He finishes this admirable discourse with the following eloquent
passage:--"It is allowed on all hands, that facts and events, however
they may bind the historian, have no dominion over the poet or the
painter. With us history is made to bend and conform to this great idea
of art. And why? Because these arts, in their highest province, are not
addressed to the gross senses; but to the desires of the mind, to that
spark of divinity which we have within, impatient of being circumscribed
and pent up by the world which is about us. Just so much as our art has
of this, just so much of dignity, I had almost said of divinity, it
exhibits; and those of our artists who possessed this mark of
distinction in the highest degree, acquired from thence the glorious
appellation of divine.
 The reader will remember the supposed epitaph,
"Lie heavy on him, earth, for he
Laid many a heavy load on thee."
Mr Burnet's notes to this Discourse are not important to art. There is
an amusing one on acting, that discusses the question of naturalness on
the stage, and with some pleasant anecdotes.
* * * * *
The FOURTEENTH DISCOURSE is chiefly occupied with the character of
Gainsborough, and landscape painting. It has brought about him, and his
name, a hornet's nest of critics, in consequence of some remarks upon a
picture of Wilson's. Gainsborough and Sir Joshua, and perhaps in some
degree Wilson, had been rivals. It has been said that Wilson and
Gainsborough never liked each other. It is a well-known anecdote that
Sir Joshua, at a dinner, gave the health of Gainsborough, adding "the
greatest landscape painter of the age," to which Wilson, at whom the
words were supposed to be aimed, dryly added, "and the greatest portrait
painter too." We can, especially under circumstances, for there had been
a coolness between the President and Gainsborough, pardon the too
favourable view taken of Gainsborough's landscape pictures. He was
unquestionably much greater as a portrait painter. The following account
of the interview with Gainsborough upon his death-bed, is touching, and
speaks well of both:--"A few days before he died he wrote me a letter,
to express his acknowledgments for the good opinion I entertained of his
abilities, and the manner in which (he had been informed) I always spoke
of him; and desired that he might see me once before he died. I am aware
how flattering it is to myself to be thus connected with the dying
testimony which this excellent painter bore to his art. But I cannot
prevail upon myself to suppress that I was not connected with him by any
habits of familiarity. If any little jealousies had subsisted between
us, they were forgotten in these moments of sincerity; and he turned
towards me as one who was engrossed by the same pursuits, and who
deserved his good opinion by being sensible of his excellence. Without
entering into a detail of what passed at this last interview, the
impression of it upon my mind was, that his regret at losing life was
principally the regret of leaving his art; and more especially as he now
began, he said, to see what his deficiencies were; which, he said, he
flattered himself in his last works were in some measure supplied." When
the Discourse was delivered, Raffaelle Mengs and Pompeo Batoni were
great names. Sir Joshua foretells their fall from that high estimation.
Andrea Sacchi, and "_perhaps_" Carlo Maratti, he considers the "ultimi
Romanorum." He prefers "the humble attempts of Gainsborough to the works
of those regular graduates in the great historical style." He gives some
account of the "customs and habits of this extraordinary man."
Gainsborough's love for his art was remarkable. He was ever remarking to
those about him any peculiarity of countenance, accidental combination
of figures, effects of light and shade, in skies, in streets, and in
company. If he met a character he liked, he would send him home to his
house. He brought into his painting-room stumps of trees, weeds, &c. He
even formed models of landscapes on his table, composed of broken
stones, dried herbs, and pieces of looking-glass, which, magnified,
became rocks, trees, and water. Most of this is the common routine of
every artist's life; the modelling his landscapes in the manner
mentioned, Sir Joshua himself seems to speak doubtingly about. It in
fact shows, that in Gainsborough there was a poverty of invention; his
scenes are of the commonest kind, such as few would stop to admire in
nature; and, when we consider the wonderful variety that nature did
present to him, it is strange that his sketches and compositions should
have been so devoid of beauty. He was in the habit of painting by night,
a practice which Reynolds recommends, and thought it must have been the
practice of Titian and Coreggio. He might have mentioned the portrait of
Michael Angelo with the candle in his cap and a mallet in his hand.
Gainsborough was ambitious of attaining excellence, regardless of
riches. The style chosen by Gainsborough did not require that he should
go out of his own country. No argument is to be drawn from thence, that
travelling is not desirable for those who choose other walks of
art--knowing that "the language of the art must be learned somewhere,"
he applied himself to the Flemish school, and certainly with advantage,
and occasionally made copies from Rubens, Teniers, and Vandyke. Granting
him as a painter great merit, Sir Joshua doubts whether he excelled most
in portraits, landscapes, or fancy pictures. Few now will doubt upon the
subject--next to Sir Joshua, he was the greatest portrait painter we
have had, so as to be justly entitled to the fame of being one of the
founders of the English School. He did not attempt historical painting;
and here Sir Joshua contrasts him with Hogarth; who did so
injudiciously. It is strange that Sir Joshua should have characterised
Hogarth as having given his attention to "the Ridicule of Life." We
could never see any thing ridiculous in his deep tragedies. Gainsborough
is praised in that he never introduced "mythological learning" into his
pictures. "Our late ingenious academician, Wilson, has, I fear, been
guilty, like many of his predecessors, of introducing gods and
goddesses, ideal beings, into scenes which were by no means prepared to
receive such personages. His landscapes were in reality too near common
nature to admit supernatural objects. In consequence of this mistake, in
a very admirable picture of a storm, which I have seen of his hand, many
figures are introduced in the foreground, some in apparent distress, and
some struck dead, as a spectator would naturally suppose, by lightning:
had not the painter injudiciously, (as I think,) rather chosen that
their death should be imputed to a little Apollo, who appears in the sky
with his bent bow, and that those figures should be considered as the
children of Niobe." This is the passage that gave so much offence;
foolish admirers will fly into flame at the slightest spark--the
question should have been, is the criticism just, not whether Sir Joshua
had been guilty of the same error--but we like critics, the only true
critics, who give their reason: and so did Sir Joshua. "To manage a
subject of this kind a peculiar style of art is required; and it can
only be done without impropriety, or even without ridicule, when we
adopt the character of the landscape, and that too in all its parts, to
the historical or poetical representation. This is a very difficult
adventure, and requires a mind thrown back two thousand years, like that
of Nicolo Poussin, to achieve it. In the picture alluded to, the first
idea that presents itself is that of wonder, at seeing a figure in so
uncommon a situation as that in which Apollo is placed: for the clouds
on which he kneels have not the appearance of being able to support
him--they have neither the substance nor the form fit for the receptacle
of a human figure, and they do not possess, in any respect, that
romantic character which is appropriated to such an object, and which
alone can harmonize with poetical stories." We presume Reynolds alludes
to the best of the two Niobes by Wilson--that in the National Gallery.
The other is villanously faulty as a composition, where loaf is piled
upon loaf for rock and castle, and the tree is common and hedge-grown,
for the purpose of making gates; but the other would have been a fine
picture, not of the historical class--the parts are all common, the
little blown about underwood is totally deficient in all form and
character--rocks and trees, and they do not, as in a former
discourse--Reynolds had laid down that they should--sympathize with the
subject; then, as to the substance of the cloud, he is right--it is not
voluminous, it is mere vapour. In the received adoption of clouds as
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