Lectures on Art
Washington Allston

Part 2 out of 3

cannot change its character, much less impart its own; the one will
still be awful, the other, of itself, never.

When at Rome, we once asked a foreigner, who seemed to be talking
somewhat vaguely on the subject, what he understood by the Sublime.
His answer was, "Le plus beau"; making it only a matter of degree. Now
let us only imagine (if we can) a beautiful earthquake, or a beautiful
hurricane. And yet the foreigner is not alone in this. D'Azzara,
the biographer of Mengs, speaking of Beauty, talks of "this sublime
quality," and in another place, for certain reasons assigned, he says,
"The grand style is beautiful." Nay, many writers, otherwise of high
authority, seem to have taken the same view; while others who could
have had no such notion, having used the words Beauty and the
Beautiful in an allegorical or metaphorical sense, have sometimes been
misinterpreted literally. Hence Winckelmann reproaches Michael Angelo
for his continual talk about Beauty, when he showed nothing of it
in his works. But it is very evident that the _Bella_ and
_Bellezza_ of Michael Angelo were never used by him in a literal
sense, nor intended to be so understood by others: he adopted the
terms solely to express abstract Perfection, which he allegorized as
the mistress of his mind, to whose exclusive worship his whole life
was devoted. Whether it was the most appropriate term he could have
chosen, we shall not inquire. It is certain, however, that the literal
adoption of it by subsequent writers has been the cause of much
confusion, as well as vagueness.

For ourselves, we are quite at a loss to imagine how a notion so
obviously groundless has ever had a single supporter; for, if a
distinct effect implies a distinct cause, we do not see why distinct
terms should not be employed to express the difference, or how the
legitimate term for one can in any way be applied to signify a
particular degree of the other. Like the two Dromios, they sometimes
require a conjurer to tell which is which. If only Perfection, which
is a generic term implying the summit of all things, be meant,
there is surely nothing to be gained (if we except _intended_
obscurity) by substituting a specific term which is limited to a few.
We speak not here of allegorical or metaphorical propriety, which is
not now the question, but of the literal and didactic; and we may
add, that we have never known but one result from this arbitrary
union,--which is, to procreate words.

In further illustration of our position, it may be well here to notice
one mistaken source of the Sublime, which seems to have been sometimes
resorted to, both in poems and pictures; namely, in the sympathy
excited by excruciating bodily suffering. Suppose a man on the rack
to be placed before us,--perhaps some miserable victim of the
Inquisition; the cracking of his joints is made frightfully audible;
his calamitous "Ah!" goes to our marrow; then the cruel precision
of the mechanical familiar, as he lays bare to the sight his whole
anatomy of horrors. And suppose, too, the executioner _compelled_
to his task,--consequently an irresponsible agent, whom we cannot
curse; and, finally, that these two objects compose the whole scene.
What could we feel but an agony even like that of the sufferer, the
only difference being that one is physical, the other mental? And this
is all that mere sympathy has any power to effect; it has led us to
its extreme point,--our flesh creeps, and we turn away with almost
bodily sickness. But let another actor be added to the drama in the
presiding Inquisitor, the cool methodizer of this process of torture;
in an instant the scene is changed, and, strange to say, our feelings
become less painful,--nay, we feel a momentary interest,--from an
instant revulsion of our moral nature: we are lost in wonder at the
excess of human wickedness, and the hateful wonder, as if partaking of
the infinite, now distends the faculties to their utmost tension; for
who can set bounds to passion when it seizes the whole soul? It is as
the soul itself, without form or limit. We may not think even of the
after judgment; we become ourselves _justice_, and we award a
hatred commensurate with the sin, so indefinite and monstrous that we
stand aghast at our own judgment.

_Why_ this extreme tension of the mind, when thus outwardly
occasioned, should create in us an interest, we know not; but such is
the fact, and we are not only content to endure it for a time, but
even crave it, and give to the feeling the epithet _sublime_.

We do not deny that much bodily suffering may be admitted with effect
as a subordinate agent, when, as in the example last added, it is made
to serve as a necessary expositor of moral deformity. Then, indeed,
in the hands of a great artist, it becomes one of the most powerful
auxiliaries to a sublime end. All that we contend for is that sympathy
alone is insufficient as a cause of sublimity.

There are yet other sources of the false sublime, (if we may so call
it,) which are sometimes resorted to also by poets and painters; such
as the horrible, the loathsome, the hideous, and the monstrous: these
form the impassable boundaries to the true Sublime. Indeed, there
appears to be in almost every emotion a certain point beyond which we
cannot pass without recoiling,--as if we instinctively shrunk from
what is forbidden to our nature.

It would seem, then, that, in relation to man, Beauty is the extreme
point, or last summit, of the natural world, since it is in that that
we recognize the highest emotion of which we are susceptible from the
purely physical. If we ascend thence into the moral, we shall find its
influence diminish in the same ratio with our upward progress. In the
continuous chain of creation of which it forms a part, the link above
it where the moral modification begins seems scarcely changed, yet the
difference, though slight, demands another name, and the nomenclator
within us calls it Elegance; in the next connecting link, the moral
adjunct becomes more predominant, and we call it Majesty; in the next,
the physical becomes still fainter, and we call the union Grandeur; in
the next, it seems almost to vanish, and a new form rises before us,
so mysterious, so undefined and elusive to the senses, that we turn,
as if for its more distinct image, within ourselves, and there, with
wonder, amazement, awe, we see it filling, distending, stretching
every faculty, till, like the Giant of Otranto, it seems almost to
burst the imagination: under this strange confluence of opposite
emotions, this terrible pleasure, we call the awful form Sublimity.
This was the still, small voice that shook the Prophet on
Horeb;--though small to his ear, it was more than his imagination
could contain; he could not hear it again and live.

It is not to be supposed that we have enumerated all the forms of
gradation between the Beautiful and the Sublime; such was not our
purpose; it is sufficient to have noted the most prominent, leaving
the intermediate modifications to be supplied (as they can readily be)
by the reader. If we descend from the Beautiful, we shall pass in like
manner through an equal variety of forms gradually modified by the
grosser material influences, as the Handsome, the Pretty, the Comely,
the Plain, &c., till we fall to the Ugly.

There ends the chain of pleasurable excitement; but not the chain of
Forms; which, taking now as if a literal curve, again bends upward,
till, meeting the descending extreme of the moral, it seems to
complete the mighty circle. And in this dark segment will be found the
startling union of deepening discords,--still deepening, as it rises
from the Ugly to the Loathsome, the Horrible, the Frightful,[1] the

As we follow the chain through this last region of disease, misery,
and sin, of embodied Discord, and feel, as we must, in the mutilated
affinities of its revolting forms, their fearful relation to this
fair, harmonious creation,--how does the awful fact, in these its
breathing fragments, speak to us of a fallen world!

As the living centre of this stupendous circle stands the Soul of Man;
the _conscious Reality_, to which the vast inclosure is but the
symbol. How vast, then, his being! If space could measure it, the
remotest star would fall within its limits. Well, then, may he tremble
to essay it even in thought; for where must it carry him,--that winged
messenger, fleeter than light? Where but to the confines of the
Infinite; even to the presence of the unutterable _Life_, on
which nothing finite can look and live?

Finally, we shall conclude our Discourse with a few words on the
master Principle, which we have supposed to be, by the will of the
Creator, the realizing life to all things fair and true and good: and
more especially would we revert to its spiritual purity, emphatically
manifested through all its manifold operations,--so impossible
of alliance with any thing sordid, or false, or wicked,--so
unapprehensible, even, except for its own most sinless sake. Indeed,
we cannot look upon it as other than the universal and eternal witness
of God's goodness and love, to draw man to himself, and to testify
to the meanest, most obliquitous mind,--at least once in life, be it
though in childhood,--that there _is_ such a thing as _good
without self_. It will be remembered, that, in all the various
examples adduced, in which we have endeavoured to illustrate the
operation of Harmony, there was but one character to all its effects,
whatever the difference in the objects that occasioned them; that it
was ever untinged with any personal taint: and we concluded thence
its supernal source. We may now advance another evidence still more
conclusive of its spiritual origin, namely, in the fact, that it
cannot be realized in the Human Being _quoad_ himself. With the
fullest consciousness of the possession of this principle, and with
the power to realize it in other objects, he has still no power in
relation to himself,--that is, to become the object to himself.

Now, as the condition of Harmony, so far as we can know it through its
effect, is that of _impletion_, where nothing can be added or
taken away, it is evident that such a condition can never be realized
by the mind in itself. And yet the desire to this end is as evidently
implied in that incessant, yet unsatisfying activity, which, under all
circumstances, is an imperative, universal law of our nature.

It might seem needless to enlarge on what must be generally felt as an
obvious truth; still, it may not be amiss to offer a few remarks, by
way of bringing it, though a truism, more distinctly before us. In all
ages the majority of mankind have been more or less compelled to some
kind of exertion for their mere subsistence. Like all compulsion, this
has no doubt been considered a hardship. Yet we never find, when by
their own industry, or any fortunate circumstance, they have been
relieved from this exigency, that any one individual has been
contented with doing nothing. Some, indeed, before their liberation,
have conceived of idleness as a kind of synonyme with happiness; but a
short experience has never failed to prove it no less remote from that
desirable state. The most offensive employments, for the want of
a better, have often been resumed, to relieve the mind from the
intolerable load of _nothing_,--the heaviest of all weights,--as
it needs must be to an immortal spirit: for the mind cannot stop,
except it be in a mad-house; there, indeed, it may rest, or rather
stagnate, on one thought,--its little circle, perhaps of misery. From
the very moment of consciousness, the active Principle begins to
busy itself with the things about it: it shows itself in the infant,
stretching its little hands towards the candle; in the schoolboy,
filling up, if alone, his play-hour with the mimic toils of after age;
and so on, through every stage and condition of life; from the wealthy
spend-thrift, beggaring himself at the gaming-table for employment, to
the poor prisoner in the Bastile, who, for the want of something to
occupy his thoughts, overcame the antipathy of his nature, and found
his companion in a spider. Nay, were there need, we might draw out the
catalogue till it darkened with suicide. But enough has been said to
show, that, aside from guilt, a more terrible fiend has hardly been
imagined than the little word Nothing, when embodied and realized as
the master of the mind. And well for the world that it is so; since to
this wise law of our nature, to say nothing of conveniences, we owe
the endless sources of innocent enjoyment with which the industry and
ingenuity of man have supplied us.

But the wisdom of the law in question is not merely that it is a
preventive to the mind preying on itself; we see in it a higher
purpose,--no less than what involves the developement of the human
being; and, if we look to its final bearing, it is of the deepest
import. It might seem at first a paradox, that, the natural condition
of the mind being averse to inactivity, it should still have so
strong a desire for rest; but a little reflection will show that this
involves no real contradiction. The mind only mistakes the _name_
of its object, neither rest nor action being its real aim; for in a
state of rest it desires action, and in a state of action, rest. Now
all action supposes a purpose, which purpose can consist of but one
of two things; either the attainment of some immediate object as its
completion, or the causing of one or more future acts, that shall
follow as a consequence. But whether the action terminates in an
immediate object, or serves as the procreating cause of an indefinite
series of acts, it must have some ultimate object in which it
ends,--or is to end. Even supposing such a series of acts to be
continued through a whole life, and yet remain incomplete, it would
not alter the case. It is well known that many such series have
employed the minds of mathematicians and astronomers to their last
hour; nay, that those acts have been taken up by others, and continued
through successive generations: still, whether the point be arrived at
or no, there must have been an end in contemplation. Now no one can
believe that, in similar cases, any man would voluntarily devote all
his days to the adding link after link to an endless chain, for
the mere pleasure of labor. It is true he may be aware of the
wholesomeness of such labor as one of the means of cheerfulness; but,
if he have no further aim, his being aware of this result makes an
equable flow of spirits a positive object. Without _hope_,
uncompelled labor is an impossibility; and hope implies an object. Nor
would the veriest idler, who passes a whole day in whittling a stick,
if he could be brought to look into himself, deny it. So far from
having no object, he would and must acknowledge that he was in
fact hoping to relieve himself of an oppressive portion of time by
whittling away its minutes and hours. Here we have an extreme instance
of that which constitutes the real business of life, from the most
idle to the most industrious; namely, to attain to a _satisfying

But no one will assert that such a state was ever a consequence of the
attainment of any object, however exalted. And why? Because the motive
of action is left behind, and we have nothing before us.

Something to desire, something to look forward to, we _must_
have, or we perish,--even of suicidal rest. If we find it not here in
the world about us, it must be sought for in another; to which, as we
conceive, that secret ruler of the soul, the inscrutable, ever-present
spirit of Harmony, for ever points. Nor is it essential that the
thought of harmony should even cross the mind; for a want may be
felt without any distinct consciousness of the form of that which is
desired. And, for the most part, it is only in this negative way that
its influence is acknowledged. But this is sufficient to account
for the universal longing, whether definite or indefinite, and the
consequent universal disappointment.

We have said that man cannot to himself become the object of
Harmony,--that is, find its proper correlative in himself; and we have
seen that, in his present state, the position is true. How is it,
then, in the world of spirit? Who can answer? And yet, perhaps,--if
without irreverence we might hazard the conjecture,--as a finite
creature, having no centre in himself on which to revolve, may it not
be that his true correlative will there be revealed (if, indeed, it be
not before) to the disembodied man, in the Being that made him? And
may it not also follow, that the Principle we speak of will cease to
be potential, and flow out, as it were, and harmonize with the
eternal form of Hope,--even that Hope whose living end is in the
unapproachable Infinite?

Let us suppose this form of hope to be taken away from an immortal
being who has no self-satisfying power within him, what would be
his condition? A conscious, interminable vacuum, were such a thing
possible, would but faintly image it. Hope, then, though in its nature
unrealizable, is not a mere _notion_; for so long as it continues
hope, it is to the mind an object and an object _to be_ realized;
so, where its form is eternal, it cannot but be to it an ever-during
object. Hence we may conceive of a never-ending approximation to what
can never be realized.

From this it would appear, that, while we cannot to ourselves become
the object of Harmony, it is nevertheless certain, from the universal
desire _so_ to realize it, that we cannot suppress the continual
impulse of this paramount Principle; which, therefore, as it seems to
us, must have a double purpose; first, by its outward manifestation,
which we all recognize, to confirm its reality, and secondly, to
convince the mind that its true object is not merely out of, but
above, itself,--and only to be found in the Infinite Creator.


In treating on Art, which, in its highest sense, and more especially
in relation to Painting and Sculpture, is the subject proposed for
our present examination, the first question that occurs is, In
what consists its peculiar character? or rather, What are the
characteristics that distinguish it from Nature, which it professes to

To this we reply, that Art is characterized,--

First, by Originality.

Secondly, by what we shall call Human or Poetic Truth; which is the
verifying principle by which we recognize the first.

Thirdly, by Invention; the product of the Imagination, as grounded on
the first, and verified by the second. And,

Fourthly, by Unity, the synthesis of all.

As the first step to the right understanding of any discourse is a
clear apprehension of the terms used, we add, that by Originality we
mean any thing (admitted by the mind as _true_) which is peculiar
to the Author, and which distinguishes his production from that of
all others; by Human or Poetic Truth, that which may be said to exist
exclusively in and for the mind, and as contradistinguished from the
truth of things in the natural or external world; by Invention, any
unpractised mode of presenting a subject, whether by the combination
of entire objects already known, or by the union and modification
of known but fragmentary parts into new and consistent forms; and,
lastly, by Unity, such an agreement and interdependence of all the
parts, as shall constitute a whole.

It will be our attempt to show, that, by the presence or absence of
any one of these characteristics, we shall be able to affirm or deny
in respect to the pretension of any object as a work of Art; and also
that we shall find within ourselves the corresponding law, or by
whatever word we choose to designate it, by which each will be
recognized; that is, in the degree proportioned to the developement,
or active force, of the law so judging.

Supposing the reader to have gone along with us in what has been said of
the _Universal_, in our Preliminary Discourse, and as assenting to the
position, that any faculty, law, or principle, which can be shown to be
_essential_ to _any one_ mind, must necessarily be also predicated of
every other sound mind, even where the particular faculty or law is so
feebly developed as apparently to amount to its absence, in which case
it is inferred potentially,--we shall now assume, on the same grounds,
that the originating _cause_, notwithstanding its apparent absence in
the majority of men, is an essential reality in the condition of the
Human Being; its potential existence in all being of necessity affirmed
from its existence in one.

Assuming, then, its reality,--or rather leaving it to be evidenced
from its known effects,--we proceed to inquire _in what_ consists
this originating power.

And, first, as to its most simple form. If it be true, (as we hope to
set forth more at large in a future discourse,) that no two minds were
ever found to be identical, there must then in every individual mind
be _something_ which is not in any other. And, if this unknown
something is also found to give its peculiar hue, so to speak,
to every impression from outward objects, it seems but a natural
inference, that, whatever it be, it _must_ possess a pervading
force over the entire mind,--at least, in relation to what is
external. But, though this may truly be affirmed of man generally,
from its evidence in any one person, we shall be far from the fact,
should we therefore affirm, that, otherwise than potentially, the
power of outwardly manifesting it is also universal. We know that it
is not,--and our daily experience proves that the power of reproducing
or giving out the individualized impressions is widely different in
different men. With some it is so feeble as apparently never to act;
and, so far as our subject is concerned, it may practically be said
not to exist; of which we have abundant examples in other mental
phenomena, where an imperfect activity often renders the existence of
some essential faculty a virtual nullity. When it acts in the higher
decrees, so as to make another see or feel _as_ the Individual
saw or felt,--this, in relation to Art, is what we mean, in its
strictest sense, by Originality. He, therefore, who possesses the
power of presenting to another the _precise_ images or emotions
as they existed in himself, presents that which can be found nowhere
else, and was first found by and within himself; and, however light or
trifling, where these are true as to his own mind, their author is so
far an originator.

But let us take an example, and suppose two _portraits_; simple
heads, without accessories, that is, with blank backgrounds, such as
we often see, where no attempt is made at composition; and both by
artists of equal talent, employing the same materials, and conducting
their work according to the same technical process. We will also
suppose ourselves acquainted with the person represented, with whom
to compare them. Who, that has ever made a similar comparison, will
expect to find them identical? On the contrary, though in all respects
equal, in execution, likeness, &c., we shall still perceive a certain
_exclusive something_ that will instantly distinguish the one
from the other, and both from the original. And yet they shall both
seem to us true. But they will be true to us also in a double sense;
namely, as to the living original and as to the individuality of
the different painters. Where such is the result, both artists must
originate, inasmuch as they both outwardly realize the individual
image of their distinctive minds.

Nor can the truth they present be ascribed to the technic process,
which we have supposed the same with each; as, on such a supposition,
with their equal skill, the result must have been identical. No;
by whatever it is that one man's mental impression, or his mode of
thought, is made to differ from another's, it is that something, which
our imaginary artists have here transferred to their pencil, that
makes them different, yet both original.

Now, whether the medium through which the impressions, conceptions, or
emotions of the mind are thus externally realized be that of colors,
words, or any thing else, this mysterious though certain principle is,
as we believe, the true and only source of all originality.

In the power of assimilating what is foreign, or external, to our own
particular nature consists the individualizing law, and in the power
of reproducing what is thus modified consists the originating cause.

Let us turn now to an opposite example,--to a mere mechanical copy of
some natural object, where the marks in question are wholly wanting.
Will any one be truly affected by it? We think not; we do not say that
he will not praise it,--this he may do from various motives; but his
_feeling_--if we may so name the index of the law within--will
not be called forth to any spontaneous correspondence with the object
before him.

But why talk of feeling, says the pseudo-connoisseur, where we should
only, or at least first, bring knowledge? This is the common cant of
those who become critics for the sake of distinction. Let the Artist
avoid them, if he would not disfranchise himself in the suppression
of that uncompromising _test_ within him, which is the only sure
guide to the truth without.

It is a poor ambition to desire the office of a judge merely for
the sake of passing sentence. But such an ambition is not likely to
possess a person of true sensibility. There are some, however, in
whom there is no deficiency of sensibility, yet who, either from
self-distrust, or from some mistaken notion of Art, are easily
persuaded to give up a right feeling, in exchange for what they may
suppose to be knowledge,--the barren knowledge of faults; as if there
could be a human production without them! Nevertheless, there is
little to be apprehended from any conventional theory, by one who is
forewarned of its mere negative power,--that it can, at best, only
suppress feeling; for no one ever was, or ever can be, argued into
a real liking for what he has once felt to be false. But, where the
feeling is genuine, and not the mere reflex of a popular notion, so
far as it goes it must be true. Let no one, therefore, distrust it, to
take counsel of his head, when he finds himself standing before a work
of Art. Does he feel its truth? is the only question,--if, indeed, the
impertinence of the understanding should then propound one; which we
think it will not, where the feeling is powerful. To such a one, the
characteristic of Art upon which we are now discoursing will force
its way with the power of light; nor will he ever be in danger of
mistaking a mechanical copy for a living imitation.

But we sometimes hear of "faithful transcripts," nay, of fac-similes.
If by these be implied neither more nor less than exists in their
originals, they must still, in that case, find their true place in
the dead category of Copy. Yet we need not be detained by any inquiry
concerning the merits of a fac-simile, since we firmly deny that a
fac-simile, in the true sense of the term, is a thing possible.

That an absolute identity between any natural object and its represented
image is a thing impossible, will hardly be questioned by any one who
thinks, and will give the subject a moment's reflection; and the
difficulty lies in the nature of things, the one being the work of the
Creator, and the other of the creature. We shall therefore assume as a
fact, the eternal and insuperable difference between Art and Nature. That
our pleasure from Art is nevertheless similar, not to say equal, to that
which we derive from Nature, is also a fact established by experience; to
account for which we are necessarily led to the admission of another fact,
namely, that there exists in Art a _peculiar something_ which we receive
as equivalent to the admitted difference. Now, whether we call this
equivalent, individualized truth, or human or poetic truth, it matters
not; we know by its _effects_, that some such principle does exist, and
that it acts upon us, and in a way corresponding to the operation of that
which we call Truth and Life in the natural world. Of the various laws
growing out of this principle, which take the name of Rules when applied
to Art, we shall have occasion to speak in a future discourse. At present
we shall confine ourselves to the inquiry, how far the difference alluded
to may be safely allowed in any work professing to be an imitation of

The fact, that truth may subsist with a very considerable admixture
of falsehood, is too well known to require an argument. However
reprehensible such an admixture may be in morals, it becomes in Art,
from the limited nature of our powers, a matter of necessity.

For the same reason, even the realizing of a thought, or that which
is properly and exclusively human, must ever be imperfect. If Truth,
then, form but the greater proportion, it is quite as much as we may
reasonably look for in a work of Art. But why, it may be asked, where
the false predominates, do we still derive pleasure? Simply because of
the Truth that remains. If it be further demanded, What is the minimum
of truth in order to a pleasurable effect? we reply, So much only as
will cause us to feel that the truth _exists_. It is this feeling
alone that determines, not only the true, but the degrees of truth,
and consequently the degrees of pleasure.

Where no such feeling is awakened, and supposing no deficiency in the
recipient, he may safely, from its absence, pronounce the work false;
nor could any ingenious theory of the understanding convince him to
the contrary. He may, indeed, as some are wont to do, make a random
guess, and _call_ the work true; but he can never so _feel_
it by any effort of reasoning. But may not men differ as to their
impressions of truth? Certainly as to the degrees of it, and in this
according to their sensibility, in which we know that men are not
equal. By sensibility here we mean the power or capacity of receiving
impressions. All men, indeed, with equal organs, may be said in a
certain sense to see alike. But will the same natural object,
conveyed through these organs, leave the same impression? The fact is
otherwise. What, then, causes the difference, if it be not (as before
observed) a peculiar something in the individual mind, that modifies
the image? If so, there must of necessity be in every true work of
Art--if we may venture the expression--another, or distinctive, truth.
To recognize this, therefore,--as we have elsewhere endeavoured to
show,--supposes in the recipient something akin to it. And, though it
be in reality but a _sign_ of life, it is still a sign of which
we no sooner receive the impress, than, by a law of our mind, we feel
it to be acting upon our thoughts and sympathies, without our knowing
how or wherefore. Admitting, therefore, the corresponding instinct,
or whatever else it may be called, to vary in men,--which there is no
reason to doubt,--the solution of their unequal impression appears at
once. Hence it would be no extravagant metaphor, should we affirm that
some persons see more with their minds than others with their eyes.
Nay, it must be obvious to all who are conversant with Art, that
much, if not the greater part, in its higher branches is especially
addressed to this mental vision. And it is very certain, if there were
no truth beyond the reach of the senses, that little would remain to
us of what we now consider our highest and most refined pleasure.

But it must not be inferred that originality consists in any
contradiction to Nature; for, were this allowed and carried out, it
would bring us to the conclusion, that, the greater the contradiction,
the higher the Art. We insist only on the modification of the natural
by the personal; for Nature is, and ever must be, at least the
sensuous ground of all Art: and where the outward and inward are
so united that we cannot separate them, there shall we find the
perfection of Art. So complete a union has, perhaps, never been
accomplished, and _may_ be impossible; it is certain, however,
that no approach to excellence can ever be made, if the _idea_ of
such a union be not constantly looked to by the artist as his ultimate
aim. Nor can the idea be admitted without supposing a _third_ as
the product of the two,--which we call Art; between which and Nature,
in its strictest sense, there must ever be a difference; indeed, a
_difference with resemblance_ is that which constitutes its
essential condition.

It has doubtless been observed, that, in this inquiry concerning the
nature and operation of the first characteristic, the presence of the
second, or verifying principle, has been all along implied; nor could
it be otherwise, because of their mutual dependence. Still more will
its active agency be supposed in our examination of the third, namely,
Invention. But before we proceed to that, the paramount index of the
highest art, it may not be amiss to obtain, if possible, some distinct
apprehension of what we have termed Poetic Truth; to which, it will be
remembered, was also prefixed the epithet Human, our object therein
being to prepare the mind, by a single word, for its peculiar sphere;
and we think it applicable also for a more important reason,
namely, that this kind of Truth is the _true ground of the
poetical_,--for in what consists the poetry of the natural world,
if not in the sentiment and reacting life it receives from the human
fancy and affections? And, until it can be shown that sentiment and
fancy are also shared by the brute creation, this seeming effluence
from the beautiful in nature must rightfully revert to man. What, for
instance, can we suppose to be the effect of the purple haze of a
summer sunset on the cows and sheep, or even on the more delicate
inhabitants of the air? From what we know of their habits, we
cannot suppose more than the mere physical enjoyment of its genial
temperature. But how is it with the poet, whom we shall suppose
an object in the same scene, stretched on the same bank with the
ruminating cattle, and basking in the same light that flickers from
the skimming birds. Does he feel nothing more than the genial warmth?
Ask him, and he perhaps will say,--"This is my soul's hour; this
purpled air the heart's atmosphere, melting by its breath the sealed
fountains of love, which the cold commonplace of the world had frozen:
I feel them gushing forth on every thing around me; and how worthy of
love now appear to me these innocent animals, nay, these whispering
leaves, that seem to kiss the passing air, and blush the while at
their own fondness! Surely they are happy, and grateful too that they
are so; for hark! how the little birds send up their song of praise!
and see how the waving trees and waving grass, in mute accordance,
keep time with the hymn!"

This is but one of the thousand forms in which the human spirit is
wont to effuse itself on the things without, making to the mind a
new and fairer world,--even the shadowing of that which its immortal
craving will sometimes dream of in the unknown future. Nay, there
is scarcely an object so familiar or humble, that its magical touch
cannot invest it with some poetic charm. Let us take an extreme
instance,--a pig in his sty. The painter, Morland, was able to convert
even this disgusting object into a source of pleasure,--and a pleasure
as real as any that is known to the palate.

Leaving this to have the weight it may be found to deserve, we turn
to the original question; namely, What do we mean by Human or Poetic

When, in respect to certain objects, the effects are found to be
uniformly of the same kind, not only upon ourselves, but also upon
others, we may reasonably infer that the efficient cause is of one
nature, and that its uniformity is a necessary result. And, when we also
find that these effects, though differing in degree, are yet uniform in
their character, while they seem to proceed from objects which in
themselves are indefinitely variant, both in kind and degree, we are
still more forcibly drawn to the conclusion, that the _cause_ is not
only _one_, but not inherent in the object.[2] The question now arises,
What, then, is that which seems to us so like an _alter et idem_,--which
appears to act upon, and is recognized by us, through an animal, a bird,
a tree, and a thousand different, nay, opposing objects, in the same
way, and to the same end? The inference follows of necessity, that the
mysterious cause must be in some general law, which is absolute and
_imperative_ in relation to every such object under certain conditions.
And we receive the solution as true,--because we cannot help it. The
reality, then, of such a law becomes a fixture in the mind.

But we do not stop here: we would know something concerning the
conditions supposed. And in order to this, we go back to the effect.
And the answer is returned in the form of a question,--May it not
be something _from ourselves_, which is reflected back by the
object,--something with which, as it were, we imbue the object, making
it correspond to a _reality_ within us? Now we recognize the
reality within; we recognize it also in the object,--and the affirming
light flashes upon us, not in the form of _deduction_, but of
inherent Truth, which we cannot get rid of; and we _call_ it
Truth,--for it will take no other name.

It now remains to discover, so to speak, its location. In what part,
then, of man may this self-evidenced, yet elusive, Truth or power be
said to reside? It cannot be in the senses; for the senses can impart
no more than they receive. Is it, then, in the mind? Here we are
compelled to ask, What is understood by the mind? Do we mean the
understanding? We can trace no relation between the Truth we would
class and the reflective faculties. Or in the moral principle? Surely
not; for we can predicate neither good nor evil by the Truth in
question. Finally, do we find it identified with the truth of
the Spirit? But what is the truth of the Spirit but the Spirit
itself,--the conscious _I_? which is never even thought of in
connection with it. In what form, then, shall we recognize it? In
its own,--the form of Life,--the life of the Human Being; that
self-projecting, realizing power, which is ever present, ever acting
and giving judgment on the instant on all things corresponding with
its inscrutable self. We now assign it a distinctive epithet, and call
it Human.

It is a common saying, that there is more in a name than we are apt
to imagine. And the saying is not without reason; for when the name
happens to be the true one, being proved in its application, it
becomes no unimportant indicator as to the particular offices for
which the thing named was designed. So we find it with respect to the
Truth of which we speak; its distinctive epithet marking out to us, as
its sphere of action, the mysterious intercourse between man and man;
whether the medium consist in words or colors, in thought or form, or
in any thing else on which the human agent may impress, be it in a
sign only, his own marvellous life. As to the process or _modus
operandi_, it were a vain endeavour to seek it out: that divine
secret must ever to man be an humbling darkness. It is enough for him
to know that there is that within him which is ever answering to that
without, as life to life,--which must be life, and which must be true.

We proceed now to the third characteristic. It has already been
stated, in the general definition, what we would be understood to mean
by the term Invention, in its particular relation to Art; namely, any
unpractised mode of presenting a subject, whether by the combination
of forms already known, or by the union and modification of known
but fragmentary parts into a new and consistent whole: in both cases
tested by the two preceding characteristics.

We shall consider first that division of the subject which stands first
in order,--the Invention which consists in the new combination of known
forms. This may be said to be governed by its exclusive relation either
to _what is_, or _has been_, or, when limited by the _probable_, to what
strictly may be. It may therefore be distinguished by the term Natural.
But though we so name it, inasmuch as all its forms have their
prototypes in the Actual, it must still be remembered that these
existing forms do substantially constitute no more than mere _parts_ to
be combined into a _whole_, for which Nature has provided no original.
For examples in this, the most comprehensive class, we need not refer
to any particular school; they are to be found in all and in every
gallery: from the histories of Raffaelle, the landscapes of Claude and
Poussin and others, to the familiar scenes of Jan Steen, Ostade, and
Brower. In each of these an adherence to the actual, if not strictly
observed, is at least supposed in all its parts; not so in the whole, as
that relates to the probable; by which we mean such a result as _would
be_ true, were the same combination to occur in nature. Nor must we be
understood to mean, by adherence to the actual, that one part is to be
taken for an exact portrait; we mean only such an imitation as precludes
an intentional deviation from already existing and known forms.

It must be very obvious, that, in classing together any of the
productions of the artists above named, it cannot be intended to
reduce them to a level; such an attempt (did our argument require it)
must instantly revolt the common sense and feeling of every one at all
acquainted with Art. And therefore, perhaps, it may be thought that
their striking difference, both in kind and degree, might justly call
for some further division. But admitting, as all must, a wide, nay,
almost impassable, interval between the familiar subjects of the lower
Dutch and Flemish painters, and the higher intellectual works of the
great Italian masters, we see no reason why they may not be left to
draw their own line of demarcation as to their respective provinces,
even as is every day done by actual objects; which are all equally
natural, though widely differenced as well in kind as in quality. It
is no degradation to the greatest genius to say of him and of the most
unlettered boor, that they are both men.

Besides, as a more minute division would be wholly irrelevant to the
present purpose, we shall defer the examination of their individual
differences to another occasion. In order, however, more distinctly to
exhibit their common ground of Invention, we will briefly examine a
picture by Ostade, and then compare it with one by Raffaelle, than
whom no two artists could well be imagined having less in common.

The interior of a Dutch cottage forms the scene of Ostade's work,
presenting something between a kitchen and a stable. Its principal
object is the carcass of a hog, newly washed and hung up to dry;
subordinate to which is a woman nursing an infant; the accessories,
various garments, pots, kettles, and other culinary utensils.

The bare enumeration of these coarse materials would naturally
predispose the mind of one, unacquainted with the Dutch school, to
expect any thing but pleasure; indifference, not to say disgust, would
seem to be the only possible impression from a picture composed of
such ingredients. And such, indeed, would be their effect under the
hand of any but a real Artist. Let us look into the picture and follow
Ostade's _mind_, as it leaves its impress on the several objects.
Observe how he spreads his principal light, from the suspended carcass
to the surrounding objects, moulding it, so to speak, into agreeable
shapes, here by extending it to a bit of drapery, there to an earthen
pot; then connecting it, by the flash from a brass kettle, with his
second light, the woman and child; and again turning the eye into
the dark recesses through a labyrinth of broken chairs, old baskets,
roosting fowls, and bits of straw, till a glimpse of sunshine, from
a half-open window, gleams on the eye, as it were, like an echo, and
sending it back to the principal object, which now seems to act on the
mind as the luminous source of all these diverging lights. But the
magical whole is not yet completed; the mystery of color has been
called in to the aid of light, and so subtly blends that we can hardly
separate them; at least, until their united effect has first been
felt, and after we have begun the process of cold analysis. Yet even
then we cannot long proceed before we find the charm returning; as we
pass from the blaze of light on the carcass, where all the tints of
the prism seem to be faintly subdued, we are met on its borders by the
dark harslet, glowing like rubies; then we repose awhile on the white
cap and kerchief of the nursing mother; then we are roused again by
the flickering strife of the antagonist colors on a blue jacket and
red petticoat; then the strife is softened by the low yellow of a
straw-bottomed chair; and thus with alternating excitement and repose
do we travel through the picture, till the scientific explorer loses
the analyst in the unresisting passiveness of a poetic dream. Now
all this will no doubt appear to many, if not absurd, at least
exaggerated: but not so to those who have ever felt the sorcery of
color. They, we are sure, will be the last to question the character
of the feeling because of the ingredients which worked the spell,
and, if true to themselves, they must call it poetry. Nor will they
consider it any disparagement to the all-accomplished Raffaelle to say
of Ostade that he also was an Artist.

We turn now to a work of the great Italian,--the Death of Ananias.
The scene is laid in a plain apartment, which is wholly devoid of
ornament, as became the hall of audience of the primitive Christians.
The Apostles (then eleven in number) have assembled to transact the
temporal business of the Church, and are standing together on a
slightly elevated platform, about which, in various attitudes, some
standing, others kneeling, is gathered a promiscuous assemblage of
their new converts, male and female. This quiet assembly (for we still
feel its quietness in the midst of the awful judgment) is suddenly
roused by the sudden fall of one of their brethren; some of them turn
and see him struggling in the agonies of death. A moment before he was
in the vigor of life,--as his muscular limbs still bear evidence;
but he had uttered a falsehood, and an instant after his frame is
convulsed from head to foot. Nor do we doubt for a moment as to the
awful cause: it is almost expressed in voice by those nearest to
him, and, though varied by their different temperaments, by terror,
astonishment, and submissive faith, this voice has yet but one
meaning,--"Ananias has lied to the Holy Ghost." The terrible words, as
if audible to the mind, now direct us to him who pronounced his doom,
and the singly-raised finger of the Apostle marks him the judge; yet
not of himself,--for neither his attitude, air, nor expression has
any thing in unison with the impetuous Peter,--he is now the simple,
passive, yet awful instrument of the Almighty: while another on the
right, with equal calmness, though with more severity, by his elevated
arm, as beckoning to judgment, anticipates the fate of the entering
Sapphira. Yet all is not done; lest a question remain, the Apostle on
the left confirms the judgment. No one can mistake what passes within
him; like one transfixed in adoration, his uplifted eyes seem to ray
out his soul, as if in recognition of the divine tribunal. But the
overpowering thought of Omnipotence is now tempered by the human
sympathy of his companion, whose open hands, connecting the past with
the present, seem almost to articulate, "Alas, my brother!" By this
exquisite turn, we are next brought to John, the gentle almoner of the
Church, who is dealing out their portions to the needy brethren. And
here, as most remote from the judged Ananias, whose suffering seems
not yet to have reached it, we find a spot of repose,--not to pass by,
but to linger upon, till we feel its quiet influence diffusing itself
over the whole mind; nay, till, connecting it with the beloved
Disciple, we find it leading us back through the exciting scene,
modifying even our deepest emotions with a kindred tranquillity.

This is Invention; we have not moved a step through the picture but at
the will of the Artist. He invented the chain which we have followed,
link by link, through every emotion, assimilating many into one; and
this is the secret by which he prepared us, without exciting horror,
to contemplate the struggle of mortal agony.

This too is Art; and the highest art, when thus the awful power,
without losing its character, is tempered, as it were, to our
mysterious desires. In the work of Ostade, we see the same inventive
power, no less effective, though acting through the medium of the
humblest materials.

We have now exhibited two pictures, and by two painters who may be
said to stand at opposite poles. And yet, widely apart as are their
apparent stations, they are nevertheless tenants of the same ground,
namely, actual nature; the only difference being, that one is
the sovereign of the purely physical, the other of the moral and
intellectual, while their common medium is the catholic ground of the

We do not fear either skeptical demur or direct contradiction, when
we assert that the imagination is as much the medium of the homely
Ostade, as of the refined Raffaelle. For what is that, which has just
wrapped us as in a spell when we entered his humble cottage,--which,
as we wandered through it, invested the coarsest object with a
strange charm? Was it the _truth_ of these objects that we there
acknowledged? In part, certainly, but not simply the truth that
belongs to their originals; it was the truth of his own individual
mind superadded to that of nature, nay, clothed upon besides by his
imagination, imbuing it with all the poetic hues which float in the
opposite regions of night and day, and which only a poet can mingle
and make visible in one pervading atmosphere. To all this our own
minds, our own imaginations, respond, and we pronounce it true to
both. We have no other rule, and well may the artists of every age and
country thank the great Lawgiver that there _is no other_. The
despised _feeling_ which the schools have scouted is yet the
mother of that science of which they vainly boast. But of this we may
have more to say in another place.

We shall now ascend from the _probable_ to the _possible_,
to that branch of Invention whose proper office is from the known but
fragmentary to realize the unknown; in other words, to embody the
possible, having its sphere of action in the world of Ideas. To this
class, therefore, may properly be assigned the term _Ideal_.

And here, as being its most important scene, it will be necessary to
take a more particular view of the verifying principle, the agent, so
to speak, that gives reality to the inward, when outwardly manifested.

Now, whether we call this Human or Poetic Truth, or _inward
life_, it matters not; we know by _its effects_, (as we have
already said, and we now repeat,) that some such principle does exist,
and that it acts upon us, and in a way analogous to the operation of
that which we call truth and life in the world about us. And that the
cause of this analogy is a real affinity between the two powers seems
to us confirmed, not only _positively_ by this acknowledged
fact, but also _negatively_ by the absence of the effect above
mentioned in all those productions of the mind which we pronounce
unnatural. It is therefore in effect, or _quoad_ ourselves, both
truth and life, addressed, if we may use the expression, to that
inscrutable _instinct_ of the imagination which conducts us to
the knowledge of all invisible realities.

A distinct apprehension of the reality and of the office of this
important principle, we cannot but think, will enable us to ascertain
with some degree of precision, at least so far as relates to art,
the true limits of the Possible,--the sphere, as premised, of Ideal

As to what some have called our _creative_ powers, we take it
for granted that no correct thinker has ever applied such expressions
literally. Strictly speaking, we can _make_ nothing: we can
only construct. But how vast a theatre is here laid open to the
constructive powers of the finite creature; where the physical eye is
permitted to travel for millions and millions of miles, while that of
the mind may, swifter than light, follow out the journey, from star to
star, till it falls back on itself with the humbling conviction that
the measureless journey is then but begun! It is needless to dwell on
the immeasurable mass of materials which a world like this may supply
to the Artist.

The very thought of its vastness darkens into wonder. Yet how much
deeper the wonder, when the created mind looks into itself, and
contemplates the power of impressing its thoughts on all things
visible; nay, of giving the likeness of life to things inanimate; and,
still more marvellous, by the mere combination of words or colors, of
evolving into shape its own Idea, till some unknown form, having no
type in the actual, is made to seem to us an organized being. When
such is the result of any unknown combination, then it is that we
achieve the Possible. And here the Realizing Principle may strictly be
said to prove itself.

That such an effect should follow a cause which we know to be purely
imaginary, supposes, as we have said, something in ourselves which
holds, of necessity, a predetermined relation to every object either
outwardly existing or projected from the mind, which we thus recognize
as true. If so, then the Possible and the Ideal are convertible terms;
having their existence, _ab initio_, in the nature of the mind.
The soundness of this inference is also supported negatively, as just
observed, by the opposite result, as in the case of those fantastic
combinations, which we sometimes meet with both in Poetry and
Painting, and which we do not hesitate to pronounce unnatural, that
is, false.

And here we would not be understood as implying the preexistence of
all possible forms, as so many _patterns_, but only of that
constructive Power which imparts its own Truth to the unseen
_real_, and, under certain conditions, reflects the image or
semblance of its truth on all things imagined; and which must be
assumed in order to account for the phenomena presented in the
frequent coincident effect between the real and the feigned. Nor does
the absence of consciousness in particular individuals, as to this
Power in themselves, fairly affect its universality, at least
potentially: since by the same rule there would be equal ground for
denying the existence of any faculty of the mind which is of slow or
gradual developement; all that we may reasonably infer in such cases
is, that the whole mind is not yet revealed to itself. In some of the
greatest artists, the inventive powers have been of late developement;
as in Claude, and the sculptor Falconet. And can any one believe that,
while the latter was hewing his master's marble, and the former making
pastry, either of them was conscious of the sublime Ideas which
afterwards took form for the admiration of the world? When Raffaelle,
then a youth, was selected to execute the noble works which now live
on the walls of the Vatican, "he had done little or nothing," says
Reynolds, "to justify so high a trust." Nor could he have been
certain, from what he knew of himself, that he was equal to the task.
He could only hope to succeed; and his hope was no doubt founded on
his experience of the progressive developement of his mind in former
efforts; rationally concluding, that the originally seeming blank
from which had arisen so many admirable forms was still teeming with
others, that only wanted the occasion, or excitement, to come forth at
his bidding.

To return to that which, as the interpreting medium of his thoughts
and conceptions, connects the artist with his fellow-men, we remark,
that only on the ground of some self-realizing power, like what
we have termed Poetic Truth, could what we call the Ideal ever be

That some such power is inherent and fundamental in our nature, though
differenced in individuals by more or less activity, seems more
especially confirmed in this latter branch of the subject, where the
phenomena presented are exclusively of the Possible. Indeed, we cannot
conceive how without it there could ever be such a thing as true Art;
for what might be received as such in one age might also be overruled
in the next: as we know to be the case with most things depending on
opinion. But, happily for Art, if once established on this immutable
base, there it must rest: and rest unchanged, amidst the endless
fluctuations of manners, habits, and opinions; for its truth of
a thousand years is as the truth of yesterday. Hence the beings
described by Homer, Shakspeare, and Milton are as true to us now, as
the recent characters of Scott. Nor is it the least characteristic
of this important Truth, that the only thing needed for its full
reception is simply its presence,--being its own evidence.

How otherwise could such a being as Caliban ever be true to us? We have
never seen his race; nay, we knew not that such a creature _could_
exist, until he started upon us from the mind of Shakspeare. Yet who
ever stopped to ask if he were a real being? His existence to the mind
is instantly felt;--not as a matter of faith, but of fact, and a fact,
too, which the imagination cannot get rid of if it would, but which must
ever remain there, verifying itself, from the first to the last moment
of consciousness. From whatever point we view this singular creature,
his reality is felt. His very language, his habits, his feelings,
whenever they recur to us, are all issues from a living thing, acting
upon us, nay, forcing the mind, in some instances, even to speculate on
his nature, till it finds itself classing him in the chain of being as
the intermediate link between man and the brute. And this we do, not by
an ingenious effort, but almost by involuntary induction; for we
perceive speech and intellect, and yet without a soul. What but an
intellectual brute could have uttered the imprecations of Caliban? They
would not be natural in man, whether savage or civilized. Hear him, in
his wrath against Prospero and Miranda:--

"A wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen,
Light on you both!"

The wild malignity of this curse, fierce as it is, yet wants the moral
venom, the devilish leaven, of a consenting spirit: it is all but

To this we may add a similar example, from our own art, in the Puck,
or Robin Goodfellow, of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Who can look at this
exquisite little creature, seated on its toadstool cushion, and not
acknowledge its prerogative of life,--that mysterious influence which
in spite of the stubborn understanding masters the mind,--sending
it back to days long past, when care was but a dream, and its most
serious business a childish frolic? But we no longer think of
childhood as the past, still less as an abstraction; we see it
embodied before us, in all its mirth and fun and glee; and the grave
man becomes again a child, to feel as a child, and to follow the
little enchanter through all his wiles and never-ending labyrinth of
pranks. What can be real, if that is not which so takes us out of
our present selves, that the weight of years falls from us as a
garment,--that the freshness of life seems to begin anew, and the
heart and the fancy, resuming their first joyous consciousness, to
launch again into this moving world, as on a sunny sea, whose pliant
waves yield to the touch, yet, sparkling and buoyant, carry them
onward in their merry gambols? Where all the purposes of reality are
answered, if there be no philosophy in admitting, we see no wisdom in
disputing it.

Of the immutable nature of this peculiar Truth, we have a like
instance in the Farnese Hercules; the work of the Grecian sculptor
Glycon,--we had almost said his immortal offspring. Since the time of
its birth, cities and empires, even whole nations, have disappeared,
giving place to others, more or less barbarous or civilized; yet these
are as nothing to the countless revolutions which have marked
the interval in the manners, habits, and opinions of men. Is it
reasonable, then, to suppose that any thing not immutable in its
nature could possibly have withstood such continual fluctuation?
But how have all these changes affected this _visible image of
Truth_? In no wise; not a jot; and because what is _true_ is
independent of opinion: it is the same to us now as it was to the men
of the dust of antiquity. The unlearned spectator of the present day
may not, indeed, see in it the Demigod of Greece; but he can never
mistake it for a mere exaggeration of the human form; though of mortal
mould, he cannot doubt its possession of more than mortal powers; he
feels its _essential life_, for he feels before it as in the
stirring presence of a superior being.

Perhaps the attempt to give form and substance to a pure Idea was
never so perfectly accomplished as in this wonderful figure. Who has
ever seen the ocean in repose, in its awful sleep, that smooths it
like glass, yet cannot level its unfathomed swell? So seems to us the
repose of this tremendous personification of strength: the laboring
eye heaves on its slumbering sea of muscles, and trembles like a skiff
as it passes over them: but the silent intimations of the spirit
beneath at length become audible; the startled imagination hears it
in its rage, sees it in motion, and sees its resistless might in
the passive wrecks that follow the uproar. And this from a piece of
marble, cold, immovable, lifeless! Surely there is that in man, which
the senses cannot reach, nor the plumb of the understanding sound.

Let us turn now to the Apollo called Belvedere. In this supernal
being, the human form seems to have been assumed as if to make visible
the harmonious confluence of the pure ideas of grace, fleetness, and
majesty; nor do we think it too fanciful to add celestial splendor;
for such, in effect, are the thoughts which crowd, or rather rush,
into the mind on first beholding it. Who that saw it in what may be
called the place of its glory, the Gallery of Napoleon, ever thought
of it as a man, much less as a statue; but did not feel rather as if
the vision before him were of another world,--of one who had just
lighted on the earth, and with a step so ethereal, that the next
instant he would vault into the air? If I may be permitted to recall
the impression which it made on myself, I know not that I could better
describe it than as a sudden intellectual flash, filling the whole
mind with light,--and light in motion. It seemed to the mind what the
first sight of the sun is to the senses, as it emerges from the ocean;
when from a point of light the whole orb at once appears to bound from
the waters, and to dart its rays, as by a visible explosion, through
the profound of space. But, as the deified Sun, how completely is the
conception verified in the thoughts that follow the effulgent original
and its marble counterpart! Perennial youth, perennial brightness,
follow them both. Who can imagine the old age of the sun? As soon
may we think of an old Apollo. Now all this may be ascribed to the
imagination of the beholder. Granted,--yet will it not thus be
explained away. For that is the very faculty addressed by every work
of Genius,--whose nature is _suggestive_; and only when it
excites to or awakens congenial thoughts and emotions, filling the
imagination with corresponding images, does it attain its proper end.
The false and the commonplace can never do this.

It were easy to multiply similar examples; the bare mention of a
single name in modern art might conjure up a host,--the name of
Michael Angelo, the mighty sovereign of the Ideal, than whom no one
ever trod so near, yet so securely, the dizzy brink of the Impossible.

Of Unity, the fourth and last characteristic, we shall say but little;
for we know in truth little or nothing of the law which governs
it: indeed, all that we know but amounts to this,--that, wherever
existing, it presents to the mind the Idea of a Whole,--which is
itself a mystery. For what answer can we give to the question, What
is a Whole? If we reply, That which has neither more nor less than it
ought to have, we do not advance a step towards a definite notion; for
the _rule_ (if there be one) is yet undiscovered, by which
to measure either the too much or the too little. Nevertheless,
incomprehensible as it certainly is, it is what the mind will not
dispense with in a work of Art; nay, it will not concede even a right
to the name to any production where this is wanting. Nor is it a sound
objection, that we also receive pleasure from many things which seem
to us fragmentary; for instance, from actual views in Nature,--as we
shall hope to show in another place. It is sufficient at present,
that, in relation to Art, the law of the imagination demands a whole;
in order to which not a single part must be felt to be wanting; all
must be there, however imperfectly rendered; nay, such is the craving
of this active faculty, that, be they but mere hints, it will often
fill them out to the desired end; the only condition being, that the
part hinted be founded in truth. It is well known to artists, that a
sketch, consisting of little more than hints, will frequently produce
the desired effect, and by the same means,--the hints being true so
far as expressed, and without an hiatus. But let the artist attempt to
_finish_ his sketch, that is, to fill out the parts, and suppose
him deficient in the necessary skill, the consequence must be, that
the true hints, becoming transformed to elaborate falsehoods, will
be all at variance, while the revolted imagination turns away with
disgust. Nor is this a thing of rare occurrence: indeed, he is a most
fortunate artist, who has never had to deplore a well-hinted whole
thus reduced to fragments.

These are facts; from which we may learn, that with less than a whole,
either already wrought, or so indicated that the excited imagination
can of itself complete it, no genuine response will ever be given to
any production of man. And we learn from it also this twofold truth;
first, that the Idea of a Whole contains in itself a preexisting law;
and, secondly, that Art, the peculiar product of the Imagination, is
one of its true and predetermined ends.

As to its practical application, it were fruitless to speculate. It
applies itself, even as truth, both in action and reaction, verifying
itself: and our minds submit, as if it had said, There is nothing
wanting; so, in the converse, its dictum is absolute when it announces
a deficiency.

To return to the objection, that we often receive pleasure from many
things in Nature which seem to us fragmentary, we observe, that nothing in
Nature can be fragmentary, except in the seeming, and then, too, to the
understanding only,--to the feelings never; for a grain of sand, no less
than a planet, being an essential part of that mighty whole which we call
the universe, cannot be separated from the Idea of the world without a
positive act of the reflective faculties, an act of volition; but until
then even a grain of sand cannot cease to imply it. To the mere
understanding, indeed, even the greatest extent of actual objects which
the finite creature can possibly imagine must ever fall short of the vast
works of the Creator. Yet we nevertheless can, and do, apprehend the
existence of the universe. Now we would ask here, whether the influence of
a _real_,--and the epithet here is not unimportant,--whether the influence
of a real Whole is at no time felt without an act of consciousness, that
is, without thinking of a whole. Is this impossible? Is it altogether out
of experience? We have already shown (as we think) that no _unmodified
copy_ of actual objects, whether single or multifarious, ever satisfies
the imagination,--which imperatively demands a something more, or at least
different. And yet we often find that the very objects from which these
copies are made _do_ satisfy us. How and why is this? A question more
easily put than answered. We may suggest, however, what appears to us a
clew, that in abler hands may possibly lead to its solution; namely, the
fact, that, among the innumerable emotions of a pleasurable kind derived
from the actual, there is not one, perhaps, which is strictly confined to
the objects before us, and which we do not, either directly or indirectly,
refer to something beyond and not present. Now have we at all times a
distinct consciousness of the things referred to? Are they not rather more
often vague, and only indicated in some _undefined_ feeling? Nay, is its
source more intelligible where the feeling is more definite, when taking
the form of a sense of harmony, as from something that diffuses, yet
deepens, unbroken in its progress through endless variations, the melody
as it were of the pleasurable object? Who has never felt, under certain
circumstances, an expansion of the heart, an elevation of mind, nay, a
striving of the whole being to pass its limited bounds, for which he could
find no adequate solution in the objects around him,--the apparent cause?
Or who can account for every mood that thralls him,--at times like one
entranced in a dream by airs from Paradise,--at other times steeped in
darkness, when the spirit of discord seems to marshal his every thought,
one against another?

Whether it be that the Living Principle, which permeates all things
throughout the physical world, cannot be touched in a single point
without conducting to its centre, its source, and confluence, thus
giving by a part, though obscurely and indefinitely, a sense of the
whole,--we know not. But this we may venture to assert, and on no
improbable ground,--that a ray of light is not more continuously
linked in its luminous particles than our moral being with the
whole moral universe. If this be so, may it not give us, in a faint
shadowing at least, some intimation of the many real, though unknown
relations, which everywhere surround and bear upon us? In the deeper
emotions, we have, sometimes, what seems to us a fearful proof of it.
But let us look at it negatively; and suppose a case where this chain
is broken,--of a human being who is thus cut off from all possible
sympathies, and shut up, as it were, in the hopeless solitude of
his own mind. What is this horrible avulsion, this impenetrable
self-imprisonment, but the appalling state of _despair?_ And what
if we should see it realized in some forsaken outcast, and hear his
forlorn cry, "Alone! alone!" while to his living spirit that single
word is all that is left him to fill the blank of space? In such a
state, the very proudest autocrat would yearn for the sympathy of the
veriest wretch.

It would seem, then, since this living cement which is diffused
through nature, binding all things in one, so that no part can be
contemplated that does not, of necessity, even though unconsciously to
us, act on the mind with reference to the whole,--since this, as we
find, cannot be transferred to any copy of the actual, it must needs
follow, if we would imitate Nature in its true effects, that recourse
must be had to another, though similar principle, which shall so
pervade our production as to satisfy the mind with an efficient
equivalent. Now, in order to this there are two conditions required:
first, the personal modification, (already discussed) of every
separate part,--which may be considered as its proper life; and,
secondly, the uniting of the parts by such an interdependence that
they shall appear to us as essential, one to another, and all to each.
When this is done, the result is a whole. But how do we obtain
this mutual dependence? We refer the questioner to the law of
Harmony,--that mysterious power, which is only apprehended by its
imperative effect.

But, be the above as it may, we know it to be a fact, that, whilst
nothing in Nature ever affects us as fragmentary, no unmodified copy
of her by man is ever felt by us as otherwise.

We have thus--and, we trust, on no fanciful ground--endeavoured to
establish the real and distinctive character of Art. And, if our
argument be admitted, it will be found to have brought us to the
following conclusions:--first, that the true ground of all originality
lies in the _individualizing law_, that is, in that modifying
power, which causes the difference between man and man as to their
mental impressions; secondly, that only in a _true_ reproduction
consists its evidence; thirdly, that in the involuntary response from
other minds lies the truth of the evidence; fourthly, that in order
to this response there must therefore exist some universal kindred
principle, which is essential to the human mind, though widely
differenced in the degree of its activity in different individuals;
and finally, that this principle, which we have here denominated
Human or Poetic Truth, being independent both of the will and of the
reflective faculties, is in its nature _imperative_, to affirm
or deny, in relation to every production pretending to Art, from the
simple imitation of the actual to the probable, and from the probable
to the possible;--in one word, that the several characteristics,
Originality, Poetic Truth, Invention, each imply a something not
inherent in the objects imitated, but which must emanate alone from
the mind of the Artist.

And here it may be well to notice an apparent objection, that will
probably occur to many, especially among painters. How, then, they may
ask, if the principle in question be universal and imperative, do we
account for the mistakes which even great Artists have sometimes made
as to the realizing of their conceptions? We hope to show, that, so
far from opposing, the very fact on which the objection is grounded
will be found, on the contrary, to confirm our doctrine. Were such
mistakes uniformly permanent, they might, perhaps, have a rational
weight; but that this is not the case is clearly evident from the
additional fact of the change in the Artist's judgment, which almost
invariably follows any considerable interval of time. Nay, should
a case occur where a similar mistake is never rectified,--which is
hardly probable,--we might well consider it as one of those exceptions
that prove the rule,--of which we have abundant examples in other
relations, where a true principle is so feebly developed as to be
virtually excluded from the sphere of consciousness, or, at least,
where its imperfect activity is for all practical purposes a mere
nullity. But, without supposing any mental weakness, the case may
be resolved by the no less formidable obstacle of a too inveterate
memory: and there have been such,--where a thought or an image once
impressed is never erased. In Art it is certainly an advantage to be
able sometimes to forget. Nor is this a new notion; for Horace, it
seems, must have had the same, or he would hardly have recommended so
long a time as nine years for the revision of a poem. That Titian
also was not unaware of the advantage of forgetting is recorded by
Boschini, who relates, that, during the progress of a work, he was
in the habit of occasionally turning it to the wall, until it had
somewhat faded from his memory, so that, on resuming his labor, he
might see with fresh eyes; when (to use his expression) he would
criticize the picture with as much severity as his worst enemy. If,
instead of the picture on the canvas, Boschini had referred to that in
his mind, as what Titian sought to forget, he would have been, as
we think, more correct. This practice is not uncommon with Artists,
though few, perhaps, are aware of its real object.

It has doubtless the appearance of a singular anomaly in the judgment,
that it should not always be as correct in relation to our own works
as to those of another. Yet nothing is more common than perfect truth
in the one case, and complete delusion in the other. Our surprise,
however, would be sensibly diminished, if we considered that the
reasoning or reflective faculties have nothing to do with either case.
It is the Principle of which we have been speaking, the life, or truth
within, answering to the life, or rather its sign, before us, that
here sits in judgment. Still the question remains unanswered; and
again we are asked, Why is it that our own works do not always respond
with equal veracity? Simply because we do not always _see_
them,--that is, as they are,--but, looking as it were _through
them_, see only their originals in the mind; the mind here acting,
instead of being acted upon. And thus it is, that an Artist may
suppose his conception realized, while that which gave life to it in
his mind is outwardly wanting. But let time erase, as we know it often
does, the mental image, and its embodied representative will then
appear to its author as it is,--true or false. There is one case,
however, where the effect cannot deceive; namely, where it comes upon
us as from a foreign source; where our own seems no longer ours. This,
indeed, is rare; and powerful must be the pictured Truth, that, as
soon as embodied, shall thus displace its own original.

Nor does it in any wise affect the essential nature of the Principle
in question, or that of the other Characteristics, that the effect
which follows is not always of a pleasurable kind; it may even be
disagreeable. What we contend for is simply its _reality_; the
character of the perception, like that of every other truth, depending
on the individual character of the percipient. The common truth of
existence in a living person, for instance, may be to us either a
matter of interest or indifference, nay, even of disgust. So also may
it be with what is true in Art. Temperament, ignorance, cultivation,
vulgarity, and refinement have all, in a greater or less degree, an
influence in our impressions; so that any reality may be to us either
an offence or a pleasure, yet still a reality. In Art, as in Nature,
the True is imperative, and must be _felt_, even where a timid, a
proud, or a selfish motive refuses to acknowledge it.

These last remarks very naturally lead us to another subject, and one
of no minor importance; we mean, the education of an Artist; on this,
however, we shall at present add but a few words. We use the word
_education_ in its widest sense, as involving not only the growth
and expansion of the intellect, but a corresponding developement of
the moral being; for the wisdom of the intellect is of little worth,
if it be not in harmony with the higher spiritual truth. Nor will a
moderate, incidental cultivation suffice to him who would become a
great Artist. He must sound no less than the full depths of his being
ere he is fitted for his calling; a calling in its very condition
lofty, demanding an agent by whom, from the actual, living world, is
to be wrought an imagined consistent world of Art,--not fantastic,
or objectless, but having a purpose, and that purpose, in all its
figments, a distinct relation to man's nature, and all that pertains
to it, from the humblest emotion to the highest aspiration; the circle
that bounds it being that only which bounds his spirit,--even the
confines of that higher world, where ideal glimpses of angelic forms
are sometimes permitted to his sublimated vision. Art may, in truth,
be called the _human world_; for it is so far the work of man,
that his beneficent Creator has especially endowed him with the powers
to construct it; and, if so, surely not for his mere amusement, but
as a part (small though it be) of that mighty plan which the Infinite
Wisdom has ordained for the evolution of the human spirit; whereby is
intended, not alone the enlargement of his sphere of pleasure, but of
his higher capacities of adoration;--as if, in the gift, he had said
unto man, Thou shalt know me by the powers I have given thee. The
calling of an Artist, then, is one of no common responsibility; and it
well becomes him to consider at the threshold, whether he shall assume
it for high and noble purposes, or for the low and licentious.


The subject proposed for the following discourse is the Human Form; a
subject, perhaps, of all others connected with Art, the most obscured
by vague theories. It is one, at least, of such acknowledged
difficulty as to constrain the writer to confess, that he enters
upon it with more distrust than hope of success. Should he succeed,
however, in disencumbering this perplexed theme of some of its useless
dogmas, it will be quite as much as he has allowed himself to expect.

The object, therefore, of the present attempt will be to show, first,
that the notion of one or more standard Forms, which shall in all
cases serve as exemplars, is essentially false, and of impracticable
application for any true purpose of Art; secondly, that the only
approach to Science, which the subject admits, is in a few general
rules relating to Stature, and these, too, serving rather as
convenient _expedients_ than exact guides, inasmuch as, in most
cases, they allow of indefinite variations; and, thirdly, that
the only efficient Rule must be found in the Artist's mind,--in
those intuitive Powers, which are above, and beyond, both the senses
and the understanding; which, nevertheless, are so far from precluding
knowledge, as, on the contrary, to require, as their effective
condition, the widest intimacy with the things external,--without
which their very existence must remain unknown to the Artist himself.

Supposing, then, certain standard Forms to have been admitted, it may
not be amiss to take a brief view of the nature of the Being to whom
they are intended to be applied; and to consider them more especially
as auxiliaries to the Artist.

In the first place, we observe, that the purpose of Art is not to
represent any given number of men, but the Human Race; and so that the
representation shall affect us, not indeed as living to the senses,
but as true to the mind. In order to this, there must be _all_ in
the imitation (though it be but hinted) which the mind will recognize
as true to the human being: hence the first business of the Artist is
to become acquainted with his subject in all its properties. He then
naturally inquires, what is its general characteristic; and his own
consciousness informs him, that, besides an animal nature, there is
also a moral intelligence, and that they together form the man. This
important truism (we say important, for it seems to have been
not seldom overlooked) makes the foundation of all his future
observations; nor can he advance a step without continual reference
to this double nature. We find him accordingly in the daily habit of
mentally distinguishing this person from that, as a moral being, and
of assigning to each a separate character; and this not voluntarily,
but simply because he cannot avoid it. Yet, by what does he presume
to judge of strangers? He will probably answer, By their general
exterior. And what is the inference? There can be but one; namely,
that there must be--at least to him--some efficient correspondence
between the physical and the moral. This is so plain, that the wonder
is, how it ever came to be doubted. Nor is it directly denied, except
by those who from habitual disgust reject the guesswork of the various
pretenders to scientific systems; yet even these, no less than others,
do practically admit it in their common intercourse with the world.
And it cannot be otherwise; for what the Creator has joined must have
some affinity, although the palpable signs may elude our cognizance.
And that they do elude it, except perhaps in a very slight degree,
is actually the case, as is well proved by the signal failure of all
attempts to reduce them to a science; for neither diagram nor axiom
has ever yet corrected an instinctive impression. But man does not
live by science; he feels, acts, and judges right in a thousand things
without the consciousness of any rule by which he so feels, acts, or
judges. And, happily for him, he has a surer guide than human science
in that unknown Power within him,--without which he had been without
knowledge. But of this we shall have occasion to speak again in
another part of our discourse.

Though the medium through which the soul acts be, as we have said, elusive
to the senses,--in so far as to be irreducible to any distinct form,--it
is not therefore the less real, as every one may verify by his own
experience; and, though seemingly invisible, it must nevertheless,
constituted as we are, act through the physical, and a physical medium
expressly constructed for its peculiar action; nay, it does this
continually, without our confounding for a moment the soul with its
instrument. Who can look into the human eye, and doubt of an influence not
of the body? The form and color leave but a momentary impression, or, if
we remember them, it is only as we remember the glass through which we
have read the dark problems of the sky. But in this mysterious organ we
see not even the signs of its mystery. We see, in truth, nothing; for what
is there has neither form, nor symbol, nor any thing reducible to a
sensuous distinctness; and yet who can look into it, and not be conscious
of a real though invisible presence? In the eye of a brute, we see only a
part of the animal; it gives us little beyond the palpable outward; at
most, it is but the focal point of its fierce, or gentle, affectionate, or
timorous character,--the character of the species, But in man, neither
gentleness nor fierceness can be more than as relative conditions,--the
outward moods of his unseen spirit; while the spirit itself, that daily
and hourly sends forth its good and evil, to take shape from the body,
still sits in darkness. Yet have we that which can surely reach it; even
our own spirit. By this it is that we can enter into another's soul, sound
its very depths, and bring up his dark thoughts, nay, place them before
him till he starts at himself; and more,--it is by this we _know_ that
even the tangible, audible, visible world is not more real than a
spiritual intercourse. And yet without the physical organ who can hold it?
We can never indeed understand, but we may not doubt, that which has its
power of proof in a single act of consciousness. Nay, we may add that we
cannot even conceive of a soul without a correlative form,--though it be
in the abstract; and _vice versa_.

For, among the many impossibilities, it is not the least to look upon
a living human form as a thing; in its pictured copies, as already
shown in a former discourse, it may be a thing, and a beautiful thing;
but the moment we conceive of it as living, if it show not a soul, we
give it one by a moral necessity; and according to the outward will be
the spirit with which we endow it. No poetic being, supposed of our
species, ever lived to the imagination without some indication of the
moral; it is the breath of its life: and this is also true in the
converse; if there be but a hint of it, it will instantly clothe
itself in a human shape; for the mind cannot separate them. In the
whole range of the poetic creations of the great master of truth,--we
need hardly say Shakspeare,--not an instance can be found where this
condition of life is ever wanting; his men and women all have souls.
So, too, when he peoples the air, though he describe no form, he never
leaves these creatures of the brain without a shape, for he will
sometimes, by a single touch of the moral, enable us to supply one.
Of this we have a striking instance in one of his most unsubstantial
creations, the "delicate Ariel." Not an allusion to its shape or
figure is made throughout the play; yet we assign it a form on its
very first entrance, as soon as Prospero speaks of its refusing to
comply with the" abhorred commands" of the witch, Sycorax. And again,
in the fifth act, when Ariel, after recounting the sufferings of the
wretched usurper and his followers, gently adds,--

"Your charm so strongly works them,
That, if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender."

On which Prospero remarks,--

"Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions?"

Now, whether Shakspeare intended it or not, it is not possible after
this for the reader to think of Ariel but in a human form; for slight
as these hints are, if they do not indicate the moral affections, they
at least imply something akin to them, which in a manner compels us to
invest the gentle Spirit with a general likeness to our own physical
exterior, though, perhaps, as indistinct as the emotion that called
for it.

We have thus considered the human being in his complex condition, of
body and spirit, or physical and moral; showing the impossibility of
even thinking of him in the one, to the exclusion of the other. We
may, indeed, successively think first of the form, and then of
the moral character, as we may think of any one part of either
analytically; but we cannot think of the _human being_ except
as a _whole_. It follows, therefore, as a consequence, that no
imitation of man can be true which is not addressed to us in this
double condition. And here it may be observed, that in Art there is
this additional requirement, that there be no discrepancy between the
form and the character intended,--or rather, that the form _must_
express the character, or it expresses nothing: a necessity which is
far from being general in actual nature. But of this hereafter.

Let us now endeavour to form some general notion of Man in his various
aspects, as presented by the myriads which people the earth. But whose
imagination is equal to the task,--to the setting in array before it
the countless multitudes, each individual in his proper form, his
proper character? Were this possible, we should stand amazed at the
interminable differences, the hideous variety; and that, too, no less
in the moral, than in the physical; nay, so opposite and appalling in
the former as hardly to be figured by a chain of animals, taking for
the extremes the fierce and filthy hyena and the inoffensive lamb.
This is man in the concrete,--to which, according to some, is to be
applied the _abstract Ideal!_

Now let us attempt to conceive of a being that shall represent all the
diversities of mind, affections, and dispositions, that fleck this
heterogeneous mass of humanity, and then to conceive of a Form that
shall be in such perfect affinity with it as to indicate them all. The
bare statement of the proposition shows its absurdity. Yet this must
be the office of a Standard Form; and this it must do, or it will be
a falsehood. Nor should we find it easier with any given number, with
twenty, fifty, nay, an hundred (so called) generic forms. We do not
hesitate to affirm, that, were it possible, it would be quite as easy
with one as with a thousand.

But to this it may be replied, that the Standard Form was never
intended to represent the vicious or degraded, but man in his most
perfect developement of mind, affections, and body. This is certainly
narrowing its office, and, unfortunately, to the representing of but
_one_ man; consequently, of no possible use beyond to the Painter
or Sculptor of Humanity, since every repetition of this perfect form
would be as the reflection of one multiplied by mirrors. But such
repetitions, it may be further answered, were never contemplated, that
Form being given only as an exemplar of the highest, to serve as a
guide in our approach to excellence; as we could not else know to a
certainty to what degree of elevation our conceptions might rise.
Still, in that case its use would be limited to a single object, that
is, to itself, its own perfectness; it would not aid the Artist in the
intermediate ascent to it,--unless it contained within itself all the
gradations of human character; which no one will pretend.

But let us see how far it is possible to _realize_ the Idea of a
_perfect_ Human Form.

We have already seen that the mere physical structure is not man, but
only a part; the Idea of man including also an internal moral being.
The external, then, in an _actually disjoined_ state, cannot,
strictly speaking, be the human form, but only a diagram of it. It is,
in fact, but a partial condition, becoming human only when united with
the internal moral; which, in proof of the union, it must of necessity
indicate. If we would have a true Idea of it, therefore, it must be as
a whole; consequently, the perfect physical exterior must have, as an
essential part, the perfect moral. Now come two important questions.
First, In what consists Moral Perfection? We use the word _moral_
here (from a want in our language) in its most comprehensive sense,
as including the spiritual and the intellectual. With respect to that
part of our moral being which pertains to the affections, in all their
high relations to God and man, we have, it is true, a sure and holy
guide. In a Christian land, the humblest individual may answer as
readily as the most profound scholar, and express its perfection in
the single word, Holiness. But what will be the reply in regard to the
Intellect? For what is a perfect Intellect? Is it the Dialectic, the
Speculative, or the Imaginative? Or, rather, would it not include them

We proceed next to the Physical. What, then, constitutes its
Perfection? Here, it might seem, there can be no difficulty, and the
reply will probably be in naming all the excellent qualities in our
animal nature, such as strength, agility, fleetness, with every other
that can be thought of. The bare enumeration of these few qualities
may serve to show the nature of the task; yet a physically perfect
form requires them all; none must be omitted; it would else be
imperfect; nay, they must not only be there, but all be developed in
their highest degrees. We might here exclaim with Hamlet, though in a
very different sense,

"A combination and a form indeed!"

And yet there is no other way to express physical perfection. But
can it be so expressed? The reader must reply for himself. We will,
however, suppose it possible; still the task is incomplete without the
adjustment of these to the perfect Moral, in the highest known degrees
of its several elements. To those who can imagine _such_ a form
as shall be the sure exponent of _such_ a moral being,--and such
it must be, or it will be nothing,--we leave the task of constructing
this universal exemplar for multitudinous man. We may add, however,
one remark; that, supposing it possible thus to concentrate, and
with equal prominence, all the qualities of the species into one
individual, it can only be done by supplanting Providence, in other
words, by virtually overruling the great principle of subordination
so visibly impressed on all created life. For although, as we have
elswhere observed, there can be no sound mind (and the like may be
affirmed of the whole man), which is deficient in any one essential,
it does not therefore follow, that each of these essentials may not be
almost indefinitely differenced in the degrees of their developement
without impairing the human integrity. And such is the fact in actual
nature; nor does this in any wise affect the individual unity,--as
will be noticed hereafter.

We will now briefly examine the pretensions of what are called the
Generic Forms. And here we are met by another important characteristic
of the human being, namely, his essential individuality.

It is true that the human family, so called, is divided into many
distinct races, having each its peculiar conformation, color, and so
forth, which together constitute essential differences; but it is
to be remembered that these essentials are all physical; and _so
far_ they are properly generic, as implying a difference in kind.
But, though a striking difference is also observable in their moral
being, it is by no means of the same nature with that which marks
their physical condition, the difference in the moral being only of
degree; for, however fierce, brutal, stupid, or cunning, or gentle,
generous, or heroic, the same characteristics may each be paralleled
among ourselves; nay, we could hardly name a vice, a passion, or
a virtue, in Asia, Africa, or America, that has not its echo in
civilized Europe. And what is the inference? That climate and
circumstance, if such are the causes of the physical variety, have no
controlling power, except in degree, over the Moral. Does not this
undeniable fact, then, bring us to the fair conclusion, that the moral
being has no genera? To affirm otherwise would be virtually to
deny its responsible condition; since the law of its genus must be
paramount to all other laws,--to education, government, religion. Nor
can the result be evaded, except by the absurd supposition of generic
responsibilities! To us, therefore, it seems conclusive that a moral
being, as a free agent, cannot be subject to a generic law; nor
could he now be--what every man feels himself to be, in spite of
his theory--the fearful architect of his own destiny. In one sense,
indeed, we may admit a human genus,--such as every man must be in his
individual entireness.

Man has been called a microcosm, or little world. And such, however
mean and contemptible to others, is man to himself; nay, such he must
ever be, whether he wills it or not. He may hate, he may despise, yet
he cannot but cling to that without which he is not; he is the centre
and the circle, be it of pleasure or of pain; nor can he be other.
Touch him with misery, and he becomes paramount to the whole
world,--to a thousand worlds; for the beauty and the glory of the
universe are as nothing to him who is all darkness. Then it is that he
will _feel_, should he have before doubted, that he is not a mere
part, a fraction, of his kind, but indeed a world; and though little
in one sense, yet a world of awful magnitude in its capacity of
suffering. In one word, Man is a whole, _an Individual_.

If the preceding argument be admitted, it will be found to have
relieved the student of two delusive dogmas,--and the more delusive,
as carrying with them a plausible show of science.

As to the flowery declamations about Beauty, they would not here be
noticed, were they not occasionally met with in works of high merit,
and not unfrequently mixed up with philosophic truth. If they have
any definite meaning, it amounts to this,--that the Beautiful is the
summit of every possible excellence! The extravagance, not to say
absurdity, of such a proposition, confounding, as it does, all
received distinctions, both in the moral and the natural world, needs
no comment. It is hardly to be believed, however, that the writers in
question could have deliberately intended this. It is more probable,
that, in so expressing themselves, they were only giving vent to an
enthusiastic feeling, which we all know is generally most vague when
associated with admiration; it is not therefore strange that the
ardent expression of it should partake of its vagueness. Among the
few critical works of authority in which the word is so used, we may
mention the (in many respects admirable) Discourses of Sir Joshua
Reynolds, where we find the following sentence:--"The _beauty_ of
the Hercules is one, of the Gladiator another, of the Apollo another;
which, of course, would present three different Ideas of Beauty." If
this had been said of various animals, differing in _kind_, the
term so applied might, perhaps, have been appropriate. But the same
term is here applied to objects of the same kind, differing not
essentially even in age; we say _age_, inasmuch as in the three
great divisions, or periods, of human life, namely, childhood,
youth, and maturity, the characteristic conditions of each are so
_essentially_ distinct, as virtually to separate them into
positive kinds.

But it is no less idle than invidious to employ our time in
overturning the errors of others; if we establish Truth, they will
fall of themselves. There cannot be two right sides to any question;
and, if we are right, what is opposed to us must of necessity he
wrong. Whether we are so or not must be determined by those who admit
or reject what has already been advanced on the subject of Beauty, in
the first Discourse. It will be remembered, that, in the course of our
argument there, we were brought to the conclusion, that Beauty was
the Idea of a certain physical _condition_, both general and
ultimate; general, as presiding over objects of many kinds, and
ultimate, as being the _perfection_ of that peculiar condition in
each, and therefore not applicable to, or representing, its degrees
in any; which, as approximations only to the one supreme Idea, should
truly be distinguished by other terms. Accordingly, we cannot,
strictly speaking, say of two persons of the same age and sex,
differing from each other, that they are equally beautiful. We hear
this, indeed, almost daily; it is nevertheless not the true expression
of the actual impression made on the speaker, though he may not take
the trouble to examine and compare them. But let him do so, and we
doubt not that he would find the one to rise (in however slight a
degree) above the other; and, if he did not assign a different term
to the lower, it would be only because he was not in the habit of
marking, or did not think it worth his while to note, such nice

If there is a _first_ and a _last_ to any thing, the
intermediates can be neither one nor the other; and, if we so name
them, we speak falsely. It is no less so with Beauty, which, being at
the head, or first in a series, admits no transference of its title.
We mean, if speaking strictly; which, however, we freely acknowledge,
no one can; but that is owing to the insufficiency of language, which
in no dialect could supply a hundredth part of the terms needed to
mark every minute shade of difference. Perhaps no subject requiring a
wider nomenclature has one so contracted; and the consequence is,
that no subject is more obscured by vague expressions. But it is the
business of the Artist, if he cannot form to himself the corresponding
terms, to be prepared at least to perceive and to note these various
shades. We do not say, that an actual acquaintance with all the nice
distinctions is an essential requisite, but only that it will not be
altogether useless to be aware of their existence; at any rate, it
may serve to shield him from the annoyance of false criticism, when
censured for wanting beauty where its presence would have been an

Before we quit the subject, it may not be amiss to observe, that, in
the preceding remarks, our object has been not so much to insist on
correct speaking as correct thinking. The poverty of language,
as already admitted, has made the former impossible; but, though
constrained in this, as in many other cases where a subordinate is put
for its principal, to apply the term Beautiful to its various degrees,
yet a right apprehension of what Beauty _is_ may certainly
prevent its misapplication as to other objects having no relation to
it. Nor is this a small matter where the avoiding of confusion is an
object desirable; and there is clearly some difference between an
approach to precision and utter vagueness.

We have now to consider how far the Correspondence between the
outward form and the inward being, which is assumed by the Artist, is
supported by fact.

In a fair statement, then, of facts, it cannot be denied that with
the mass of men the outward intimation of character is certainly very
faint, with many obscure, and with some ambiguous, while with others
it has often seemed to express the very reverse of the truth. Perhaps
a stronger instance of the latter could hardly occur than that cited
in a former discourse in illustration of the physical relation of
Beauty; where it was shown that the first and natural impression from
a beautiful form was not only displaced, but completely reversed, by
the revolting discovery of a moral discrepancy. But while we admit, on
the threshold, that the Correspondence in question cannot be sustained
as universally obvious, it is, nevertheless, not apprehended that this
admission can affect our argument, which, though in part grounded
on special cases of actual coincidence, is yet supported by other
evidences, which lead us to regard all such discrepancies rather as
exceptions, and as so many deviations from the original law of our
nature, nay, which lead us also rationally to infer at least a future,
potential correspondence in every individual. To the past, indeed, we
cannot appeal; neither can the past be cited against us, since little
is known of the early history of our race but a chronicle of their
actions; of their outward appearance scarcely any thing, certainly not
enough to warrant a decision one way or the other. Should we assume,
then, the Correspondence as a primeval law, who shall gainsay it? It
is not, however, so asserted. We may nevertheless hold it as a matter
of _faith_; and simply as such it is here submitted. But faith of
any kind must have some ground to rest on, either real or supposed,
either that of authority or of inference. Our ground of faith, then,
in the present instance, is in the universal desire amongst men to
_realize_ the Correspondence. Nothing is more common than,
on hearing or reading of any remarkable character, to find this
instinctive craving, if we may so term it, instantly awakened, and
actively employed in picturing to the imagination some corresponding
form; nor is any disappointment more general, than that which follows
the detection of a discrepancy on actual acquaintance. Indeed, we can
hardly deem it rash, should we rest the validity of this universal
desire on the common experience of any individual, taken at
random,--provided only that he has a particle of imagination. Nor
is its action dependent on our caprice or will. Ask any person of
ordinary cultivation, not to say refinement, how it is with him,
when, his imagination has not been forestalled by some definite fact;
whether he has never found himself _involuntarily_ associating
the good with the beautiful, the energetic with the strong, the
dignified with the ample, or the majestic with the lofty; the refined
with the delicate, the modest with the comely; the base with the
ugly, the brutal with the misshapen, the fierce with the coarse and
muscular, and so on; there being scarcely a shade of character to
which the imagination does not affix some corresponding form.

In a still more striking form may we find the evidence of the law
supposed, if we turn to the young, and especially to those of a poetic
temperament,--to the sanguine, the open, and confiding, the creatures
of impulse, who reason best when trusting only to the spontaneous
suggestions of feeling. What is more common than implicit faith in
their youthful day-dreams,--a faith that lives, though dream after
dream vanish into common air when the sorcerer Fact touches their
eyes? And whence this pertinacious faith that _will_ not die, but
from a spring of life, that neither custom nor the dry understanding
can destroy? Look at the same Youth at a more advanced age, when the
refining intellect has mixed with his affections, adding thought and
sentiment to every thing attractive, converting all things fair to
things also of good report. Let us turn, at the same time, to one
still more advanced,--even so far as to have entered into the
conventional valley of dry bones,--one whom the world is preparing,
by its daily practical lessons, to enlighten with unbelief. If we see
them together, perhaps we shall hear the senior scoff at his younger
companion as a poetic dreamer, as a hunter after phantoms that never
were, nor could be, in nature: then may follow a homily on the virtues
of experience, as the only security against disappointment. But there
are some hearts that never suffer the mind to grow old. And such we
may suppose that of the dreamer. If he is one, too, who is accustomed
to look into himself,--not as a reasoner,--but with an abiding faith
in his nature,--we shall, perhaps, hear him reply,--Experience, it is
true, has often brought me disappointment; yet I cannot distrust those
dreams, as you call them, bitterly as I have felt their passing off;
for I feel the truth of the source whence they come. They could not
have been so responded to by my living nature, were they but phantoms;
they could not have taken such forms of truth, but from a possible

By the word _poetic_ here, we do not mean the visionary or
fanciful,--for there may be much fancy where there is no poetic
feeling,--but that sensibility to _harmony_ which marks the
temperament of the Artist, and which is often most active in his
earlier years. And we refer to such natures, not only as being more
peculiarly alive to all existing affinities, but as never satisfied
with those merely which fall within their experience; ever striving,
on the contrary, as if impelled by instinct, to supply the deficiency
wherever it is felt. From such minds proceed what are called romantic
imaginings, but what we would call--without intending a paradox--the
romance of Truth. For it is impossible that the mind should ever have
this perpetual craving for the False.

But the desire in question is not confined to any particular age or
temperament, though it is, doubtless, more ardent in some than in
others. Perhaps it is only denied to the habitually vicious. For who,
not hardened by vice, has ever looked upon a sleeping child in its
first bloom of beauty, and seen its pure, fresh hues, its ever
varying, yet according lines, moulding and suffusing, in their playful
harmony, its delicate features,--who, not callous, has ever looked
upon this exquisite creature, (so like what a poet might fancy of
visible music, or embodied odors,) and has not felt himself carried,
as it were, out of this present world, in quest of its moral
counterpart? It seems to us perfect; we desire no change,--not a line
or a hue but as it is; and yet we have a paradoxical feeling of a
want,--for it is all _physical_; and we supply that want by
endowing the child with some angelic attribute. Why do we this? To
make it a _whole_,--not to the eye, but to the mind.

Nor is this general disposition to find a coincidence between a fair
exterior and moral excellence altogether unsupported by facts of, at
least, a partial realization. For, though a perfect correspondence
cannot be looked for in a state where all else is imperfect, he
is most unfortunate who has never met with many, and very near,
approximations to the desired union. But we have a still stronger
assurance of their predetermined affinity in the peculiar activity of
this desire where there is no such approximation. For example, when we
meet with an instance of the higher virtues in an unattractive form,
how natural the wish that that form were beautiful! So, too, on
beholding a beautiful person, how common the wish that the mind
it clothed were also good! What are these wishes but unconscious
retrospects to our primitive nature? And why have we them, if they be
not the workings of that universal law, which gathers to itself all
scattered affinities, bodying them forth in the never-ending forms of
harmony,--in the flower, in the tree, in the bird, and the animal,--if
they be not the evidence of its continuous, though fruitless, effort
to evolve too in _man_ its last consummate work, by the perfect
confluence of the body and the spirit? In this universal yearning (for
it seems to us no less) to connect the physical with its appropriate
moral,--to say nothing of the mysterious intuition that points to
the appropriate,--is there not something like a clew to what was
originally natural? And, again, in the never-ceasing strivings of the
two great elements of our being, each to supply the deficiencies of
the other, have we not also an intimation of something that _once
was_, that is now lost, and would be recovered? Surely there must
be more in this than a mere concernment of Art;--if, indeed, there be
not in Art more of the prophetic than we are now aware of. To us
it seems that this irrepressible desire to find the good in the
beautiful, and the beautiful in the good, implies an end, both
beyond and above the trifling present; pointing to deep and dark
questions,--to no less than where the mysteries which surround us will
meet their solution. One great mystery we see in part resolving itself
here. We see the deformities of the body sometimes giving place to
its glorious tenant. Some of us may have witnessed this, and felt
the spiritual presence gaining daily upon us, till the outward shape
seemed lost in its brightness, leaving no trace in the memory.

Whether the position we have endeavoured to establish be disputed or
not, the absolute correspondence between the Moral and the Physical
is, at any rate, the essential ground of the Plastic arts; which could
not else exist, since through _Form alone_ they have to convey,
not only thought and emotion, but distinct and permanent character.
For our own part, we cannot but consider their success in this as
having settled the question.

From the view here presented, what is the inference in relation to
Art? That Man, as a compound being, cannot be represented without an
indication as well of Mind as of body; that, by a natural law which we
cannot resist, we do continually require that they be to us as mutual
exponents, the one of the other; and, finally, that, as a responsible
being, and therefore a free agent, he cannot be truly represented,
either to the memory or to the imagination, but as an Individual.

It would seem, also, from the indefinite varieties in men, though
occasioned only by the mere difference of degrees in their common
faculties and powers, that the coincidence of an equal developement of
all was never intended in nature; but that some one or more of them,
becoming dominant, should distinguish the individual. It follows,
therefore, if this be the case, that only through the phase of such
predominance can the human being ever be contemplated. To the Artist,
then, it becomes the only safe ground; the starting-point from
whence to ascend to a true Ideal,--which is no other than a partial
individual truth made whole in the mind: and thus, instead of one
Ideal, and that baseless, he may have a thousand,--nay, as many as
there are marked or apprehensible _individuals_.

But we must not be understood as confining Art to actual portraits.
Within such limits there could not be Art,--certainly not Art in its
highest sense; we should have in its place what would be little better
than a doubtful empiricism; since the most elevated subject, in the
ablest hands, would depend, of necessity, on the chance success of a
search after models. And, supposing that we bring together only the
rarest forms, still those forms, simply as circumscribed portraits,
and therefore insulated parts, would instantly close every avenue
to the imagination; for such is the law of the imagination, that it
cannot admit, or, in other words, recognize as a whole, that which
remains unmodified by some imaginative power, which alone can give
unity to separate and distinct objects. Yet, as it regards man,
all true Art does, and must, find its proper object in the
_Individual_: as without individuality there could not be
character, nor without character, the human being.

But here it may be asked, In what manner, if we resort not to actual
portrait, is the Individual Man to be expressed? We answer, By
carrying out the natural individual predominant _fragment_ which
is visible to us in actual Form, to its full, consistent developement.
The Individual is thus idealized, when, in the complete accordance of
all its parts, it is presented to the mind as a _whole_.

When we apply the term _fragment_ to a human being, we do not
mean in relation to his species, (in regard to which we have already
shown him to be a distinct whole,) but in relation to the Idea, to
which his predominant characteristic suggests itself but as a
partial manifestation, and made partial because counteracted by
some inadequate exponent, or else modified by other, though minor,

How this is effected must be left to the Artist himself. It is
impossible to prescribe a rule that would be to much purpose for any
one who stands in need of such instruction; if his own mind does not
suggest the mode, it would not even be intelligible. Perhaps our
meaning, however, may be made more obvious, if we illustrate it by
example. We would refer, then, to the restoration of a statue, (a
thing often done with success,) where, from a single fragment, the
unknown Form has been completely restored, and so remoulded, that the
parts added are in perfect unity with the suggestive fragment. Now the
parts wanting having never been seen, this cannot be called a mere
act of the memory. Nevertheless, it is not from nothing that man can
produce even the _semblance_ of any thing. The materials of the
Artist are the work of Him who created the Artist himself; but over
these, which his senses and mind are given him to observe and collect,
he has a _delegated power_, for the purpose of combining and
modifying, as unlimited as mysterious. It is by the agency of this
intuitive and assimilating Power, elsewhere spoken of, that he is able
to separate the essential from the accidental, to proceed also from a
part to the whole; thus educing, as it were, an Ideal nature from the
germs of the Actual.

Nor does the necessity of referring to Nature preclude the
Imaginative, or any other class of Art that rests its truth in the
desires of the mind. In an especial manner must the personification
of Sentiment, of the Abstract, which owe their interest to the common
desire of rendering permanent, by embodying, that which has given us
pleasure, take its starting-point from the Actual; from something
which, by universal association or particular expression, shall recall
the Sentiment, Thought, or Time, and serve as their exponents; there
being scarcely an object in Nature which the spirit of man has not, as
it were, impressed with sympathy, and linked with his being. Of this,
perhaps, we could not have a more striking example than in the Aurora
of Michael Angelo: which, if not universal, is not so only because
the faculty addressed is by no means common. For, as the peculiar
characteristic of the Imaginative is its suggestive power, the effect
of this figure must of necessity differ in different minds. As in many
other cases, there must needs be at least some degree of sympathy with
the mind that imagined it, in order to any impression; and the degree
in which that is made will always be in proportion to the congeniality
between the agent and the recipient. Should it appear, then, to any
one as a thing of no meaning, it is not therefore conclusive that the
Artist has failed. For, if there be but one in a thousand to whose
mind it recalls the deep stillness of Night, gradually broken by the
awakening stir of Day, with its myriad forms of life emerging into
motion, while their lengthened shadows, undistinguished from their
objects, seem to people the earth with gigantic beings; then the dim,
gray monotony of color transforming them to stone, yet leaving them
in motion, till the whole scene becomes awful and mysterious as with
moving statues;--if there be but one in ten thousand who shall have
thus imagined, as he stands before this embodied Dawn, then is it, for
every purpose of feeling through the excited imagination, as true and
real as if instinct with life, and possessing the mind by its living
will. Nor is the number so rare of those who have thus felt the
suggestive sorcery of this sublime Statue. But the mind so influenced
must be one to respond to sublime emotions, since such was the
emotion which inspired the Artist. If susceptible only to the gay and
beautiful, it will not answer. For this is not the Aurora of golden
purple, of laughing flowers and jewelled dew-drops; but the dark
Enchantress, enthroned on rocks, or craggy mountains, and whose proper
empire is the shadowy confines of light and darkness.

How all this is done, we shall not attempt to explain. Perhaps the
Artist himself could not answer; as to the _quo modo_ in every
particular, we doubt if it were possible to satisfy another. He may
tell us, indeed, that having imagined certain appearances and effects
peculiar to the Time, he endeavoured to imbue, as it were, some
_human form_ with the sentiment they awakened, so that the
embodied sentiment should associate itself in the spectator's mind
with similar images; and further endeavoured, that the _form_
selected should, by its air, attitude, and gigantic proportions, also
excite the ideas of vastness, solemnity, and repose; adding to this
that indefinite expression, which, while it is felt to act, still
leaves no trace of its indistinct action. So far, it is true, he may
retrace the process; but of the _informing life_ that quickened
his fiction, thus presenting the presiding Spirit of that ominous
Time, he knows nothing but that he felt it, and imparted it to the
insensible marble.

And now the question will naturally occur, Is all that has been done
by the learned in Art, to establish certain canons of Proportion,


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