Lectures on Art
Washington Allston

Part 3 out of 3

utterly useless? By no means. If rightly applied, and properly
considered,--as it seems to us they must have been by the great
artists of Antiquity,--as _expedient fictions_, they undoubtedly
deserve at least a careful examination. And, inasmuch as they are the
result of a comparison of the finest actual forms through successive
ages, and as they indicate the general limits which Nature has been
observed to assign to her noblest works, they are so far to be valued.
But it must not be forgotten, that, while a race, or class, may be
generally marked by a certain average height and breadth, or curve and
angle, still is every class and race composed of _Individuals_,
who must needs, as such, differ from each other; and though the
difference be slight, yet is it "the little more, or the little less,"
which often separates the great from the mean, the wise from the
foolish, in human character;--nay, the widest chasms are sometimes
made by a few lines: so that, in every individual case, the limits in
question are rather to be departed from, than strictly adhered to.

The canon of the Schools is easily mastered by every student who has
only memory; yet of the hundreds who apply it, how few do so to any
purpose! Some ten or twenty, perhaps, call up life from the quarry,
and flesh and blood from the canvas; the rest conjure in vain with
their canon; they call up nothing but the dead measures. Whence the
difference? The answer is obvious,--In the different minds they each
carry to their labors.

But let us trace, with the Artist, the beginning and progress of a
successful work; a picture, for instance. His method of proceeding may
enable us to ascertain how far he is assisted by the science, so called,
of which we are speaking. He adjusts the height and breadth of his figures
according to the canon, either by the division of heads or faces, as most
convenient. By these means, he gets the general divisions in the easiest
and most expeditious way. But could he not obtain them without such aid?
He would answer, Yes, by the eye alone; but it would be a waste of time
were he so to proceed, since he would have to do, and undo, perhaps twenty
times, before he could erect this simple scaffolding; whereas, by applying
these rules, whose general truth is already admitted, he accomplishes his
object in a few minutes. Here we admit the use of the canon, and admire
the facility with which it enables his hand, almost without the aid of a
thought, thus to lay out his work. But here ends the science; and here
begins what may seem to many the work of mutilation: a leg, an arm, a
trunk, is increased, or diminished; line after line is erased, or
retrenched, or extended, again and again, till not a trace remains of the
original draught. If he is asked now by what he is guided in these
innumerable changes, he can only answer, By the feeling within me. Nor can
he better tell _how_ he knows when he has _hit the mark_. The same feeling
responds to its truth; and he repeats his attempts until that is

It would appear, then, that in the Mind alone is to be found the true
or ultimate Rule,--if, indeed, that can be called a rule which
changes its measure with every change of character. It is therefore
all-important that every aid be sought which may in any way contribute
to the due developement of the mental powers; and no one will doubt
the efficiency here of a good general education. As to the course of
study, that must be left in a great measure to be determined by the
student; it will be best indicated by his own natural wants. We
may observe, however, that no species of knowledge can ever be
_oppressive_ to real genius, whose peculiar privilege is that of
subordinating all things to the paramount desire. But it is not likely
that a mind so endowed will be long diverted by any studies that do
not either strengthen its powers by exercise, or have a direct bearing
on some particular need.

If the student be a painter, or a sculptor, he will not need to be
told that a knowledge of the human being, in all his complicated
springs of action, is not more essential to the poet than to him. Nor
will a true Artist require to be reminded, that, though _himself_
must be his ultimate dictator and judge, the allegiance of the world
is not to be commanded either by a dreamer or a dogmatist. And
nothing, perhaps, would be more likely to secure him from either
character, than the habit of keeping his eyes open,--nay, his very
heart; nor need he fear to open it to the whole world, since nothing
not kindred will enter there to abide; for

"Evil into the mind ...
May come and go, so unapproved, and leave
No spot or blame behind."

And he may also be sure that a pure heart will shed a refining light
on his intellect, which it may not receive from any other source.

It cannot be supposed that an Artist, so disciplined, will overlook
the works of his predecessors,--especially those exquisite remains of
Antiquity which time has spared to us. But to his own discretion must
be left the separating of the factitious from the true,--a task of
some moment; for it cannot be denied that a mere antiquarian respect
for whatever is ancient has preserved, with the good, much that is
worthless. Indeed, it is to little purpose that the finest forms are
set before us, if we _feel_ not their truth. And here it may be
well to remark, that an injudicious _word_ has often given a
wrong direction to the student, from which he has found it difficult
to recover when his maturer mind has perceived the error. It is a
common thing to hear such and such statues, or pictures, recommended
as _models_. If the advice is followed,--as it too often is
_literally_,--the consequence must be an offensive mannerism;
for, if repeating himself makes an artist a mannerist, he is still
more likely to become one if he repeat another. There is but one model
that will not lead him astray,--which is Nature: we do not mean what
is merely obvious to the senses, but whatever is so acknowledged by
the mind. So far, then, as the ancient statues are found to represent
her,--and the student's own feeling must be the judge of that,--they
are undoubtedly both true and important objects of study, as
presenting not only a wider, but a higher view of Nature, than might
else be commanded, were they buried with their authors; since, with
the finest forms of the fairest portion of the earth, we have also in
them the realized Ideas of some of the greatest minds. In like manner
may we extend our sphere of knowledge by the study of all those
productions of later ages which have stood this test. There is no
school from which something may not be learned. But chiefly to the
Italian should the student be directed, who would enlarge his views
on the present subject, and especially to the works of Raffaelle and
Michael Angelo; in whose highest efforts we have, so to speak,
certain revelations of Nature which could only have been made by her
privileged seers. And we refer to them more particularly, as to the
two great sovereigns of the two distinct empires of Truth,--the
Actual and the Imaginative; in which their claims are acknowledged
by _that_ within us, of which we know nothing but that it
_must_ respond to all things true. We refer to them, also, as
important examples in their mode of study; in which it is evident
that, whatever the source of instruction, it was never considered as a
law of servitude, but rather as the means of giving visible shape to
their own conceptions.

From the celebrated antique fragment, called the Torso, Michael Angelo
is said to have constructed his forms. If this be true,--and we have
no reason to doubt it,--it could nevertheless have been to him little
more than a hint. But that is enough to a man of genius, who stands
in need, no less than others, of a point to start from. There was
something in this fragment which he seems to have felt, as if of a
kindred nature to the unembodied creatures in his own mind; and he
pondered over it until he mastered the spell of its author. He then
turned to his own, to the germs of life that still awaited birth,
to knit their joints, to attach the tendons, to mould the
muscles,--finally, to sway the limbs by a mighty will. Then emerged
into being that gigantic race of the Sistina,--giants in mind no less
than in body, that appear to have descended as from another planet.
His Prophets and Sibyls seem to carry in their persons the commanding
evidence of their mission. They neither look nor move like beings to
be affected by the ordinary concerns of life; but as if they could
only be moved by the vast of human events, the fall of empires, the
extinction of nations; as if the awful secrets of the future had
overwhelmed in them all present sympathies. As we have stood before
these lofty apparitions of the painter's mind, it has seemed to us
impossible that the most vulgar spectator could have remained there

With many critics it seems to have been doubted whether much that
we now admire in Raffaelle would ever have been but for his great
contemporary. Be this as it may, it is a fact of history, that, after
seeing the works of Michael Angelo, both his form and his style
assumed a breadth and grandeur which they possessed not before.
And yet these great artists had little, if any thing, in common;
a sufficient proof that an original mind may owe, and even freely
acknowledge, its impetus to another without any self-sacrifice.

As Michael Angelo adopted from others only what accorded with his
own peculiar genius, so did Raffaelle; and, wherever collected, the
materials of both could not but enter their respective minds as their
natural aliment.

The genius of Michael Angelo was essentially _Imaginative_. It
seems rarely to have been excited by the objects with which we are
daily familiar; and when he did treat them, it was rather as things
past, as they appear to us through the atmosphere of the hallowing
memory. We have a striking instance of this in his statue of Lorenzo
de' Medici; where, retaining of the original only enough to mark the
individual, and investing the rest with an air of grandeur that should
accord with his actions, he has left to his country, not a mere
effigy of the person, but an embodiment of the mind; a portrait
for posterity, in which the unborn might recognize Lorenzo the

But the mind of Raffaelle was an ever-flowing fountain of human
sympathies; and in all that concerns man, in his vast varieties and
complicated relations, from the highest forms of majesty to the
humblest condition of humanity, even to the maimed and misshapen, he
may well be called a master. His Apostles, his philosophers, and most
ordinary subordinates, are all to us as living beings; nor do we feel
any doubt that they all had mothers, and brothers, and kindred. In
the assemblage of the Apostles (already referred to) at the Death of
Ananias, we look upon men whom the effusion of the Spirit has equally
sublimated above every unholy thought; a common power seems to have
invested them all with a preternatural majesty. Yet not an iota of the
_individual_ is lost in any one; the gentle bearing and amenity
of John still follow him in his office of almoner; nor in Peter does
the deep repose of the erect attitude of the Apostle, as he deals the
death-stroke to the offender by a simple bend of his finger, subdue
the energetic, sanguine temperament of the Disciple.

If any man may be said to have reigned over the hearts of his fellows,
it was Raffaelle Sanzio. Not that he knew better what was in the
hearts and minds of men than many others, but that he better
understood their relations to the external. In this the greatest names
in Art fall before him; in this he has no rival; and, however derived,
or in whatever degree improved by study, in him it seems to have risen
to intuition. We know not how he touches and enthralls us; as if he
had wrought with the simplicity of Nature, we see no effort; and we
yield as to a living influence, sure, yet inscrutable.

It is not to be supposed that these two celebrated Artists were at all
times successful. Like other men, they had their moments of weakness,
when they fell into manner, and gave us diagrams, instead of life.
Perhaps no one, however, had fewer lapses of this nature than
Raffaelle; and yet they are to be found in some of his best works. We
shall notice now only one instance,--the figure of St. Catherine in
the admirable picture of the Madonna di Sisto; in which we see an
evident rescript from the Antique, with all the received lines of
beauty, as laid down by the analyst,--apparently faultless, yet
without a single inflection which the mind can recognize as allied to
our sympathies; and we turn from it coldly, as from the work of an
artificer, not of an Artist. But not so can we turn from the intense
life, that seems almost to breathe upon us from the celestial group of
the Virgin and her Child, and from the Angels below: in these we have
the evidence of the divine afflatus,--of inspired Art.

In the works of Michael Angelo it were easy to point out numerous
examples of a similar failure, though from a different cause; not from
mechanically following the Antique, but rather from erecting into
a model the exaggerated _shadow_ of his own practice; from
repeating lines and masses that might have impressed us with grandeur
but for the utter absence of the informing soul. And that such is the
character--or rather want of character--of many of the figures in his
Last Judgment cannot be gainsaid by his warmest admirers,--among whom
there is no one more sincere than the present writer. But the failures
of great men are our most profitable lessons,--provided only, that we
have hearts and heads to respond to their success.

In conclusion. We have now arrived at what appears to us the
turning-point, that, by a natural reflux, must carry us back to our
original Position; in other words, it seems to us clear, that the
result of the argument is that which was anticipated in our main
Proposition; namely, that no given number of Standard Forms can with
certainty apply to the Human Being; that all Rules therefore, thence
derived, can only be considered as _Expedient Fictions_, and
consequently subject to be _overruled_ by the Artist,--in whose
mind alone is the ultimate Rule; and, finally, that without an
intimate acquaintance with Nature, in all its varieties of the moral,
intellectual, and physical, the highest powers are wanting in their
necessary condition of action, and are therefore incapable of
supplying the Rule.


The term Composition, in its general sense, signifies the union of
things that were originally separate: in the art of Painting it
implies, in addition to this, such an arrangement and reciprocal
relation of these materials, as shall constitute them so many
essential parts of a whole.

In a true Composition of Art will be found the following
characteristics:--First, Unity of Purpose, as expressing the general
sentiment or intention of the Artist. Secondly, Variety of Parts, as
expressed in the diversity of shape, quantity, and line. Thirdly,
Continuity, as expressed by the connection of parts with each other,
and their relation to the whole. Fourthly, Harmony of Parts.

As these characteristics, like every thing which the mind can
recognize as true, all have their origin in its natural desires, they
may also be termed Principles; and as such we shall consider them. In
order, however, to satisfy ourselves that they are truly such, and not
arbitrary assumptions, or the traditional dogmas of Practice, it may
be well to inquire whence is their authority; for, though the ultimate
cause of pleasure and pain may ever remain to us a mystery, yet it is
not so with their intermediate causes, or the steps that lead to them.

With respect to Unity of Purpose, it is sufficient to observe, that,
where the attention is at the same time claimed by two objects, having
each a different end, they must of necessity break in upon that free
state required of the mind in order to receive a full impression from
either. It is needless to add, that such conflicting claims cannot,
under any circumstances, be rendered agreeable. And yet this most
obvious requirement of the mind has sometimes been violated by great
Artists,--though not of authority in this particular, as we shall
endeavour to show in another place.

We proceed, meanwhile, to the second principle, namely, Variety; by
which is to be understood _difference_, yet with _relation_
to a _common end_.

Of a ruling Principle, or Law, we can only get a notion by observing the
effects of certain things in relation to the mind; the uniformity of
which leads us to infer something which is unchangeable and permanent.
It is in this way that, either directly or indirectly, we learn the
existence of certain laws that invariably control us. Thus, indirectly,
from our disgust at monotony, we infer the necessity of variety. But
variety, when carried to excess, results in weariness. Some limitation,
therefore, seems no less needed. It is, however, obvious, that all
attempts to fix the limit to Variety, that shall apply as a universal
rule, must be nugatory, inasmuch as the _degree_ must depend on the
_kind_, and the kind on the subject treated. For instance, if the
subject be of a gay and light character, and the emotions intended to be
excited of a similar nature, the variety may be carried to a far greater
extent than in one of a graver character. In the celebrated Marriage at
Cana, by Paul Veronese, we see it carried, perhaps, to its utmost
limits; and to such an extent, that an hour's travel will hardly conduct
us through all its parts; yet we feel no weariness throughout this
journey, nay, we are quite unconscious of the time it has taken. It is
no disparagement of this remarkable picture, if we consider the subject,
not according to the title it bears, but as what the Artist has actually
made it,--that is, as a Venetian entertainment; and also the effect
intended, which was to delight by the exhibition of a gorgeous
_pageant_. And in this he has succeeded to a degree unexampled; for
literally the eye may be said to _dance_ through the picture, scarcely
lighting on one part before it is drawn to another, and another, and
another, as by a kind of witchery; while the subtile interlocking of
each successive novelty leaves it no choice, but, seducing it onward,
still keeps it in motion, till the giddy sense seems to call on the
imagination to join in the revel; and every poetic temperament answers
to the call, bringing visions of its own, that mingle with the painted
crowd, exchanging forms, and giving them voice, like the creatures of a

To those who have never seen this picture, our account of its effect
may perhaps appear incredible when they are told, that it not only
has no story, but not a single expression to which you can attach a
sentiment. It is nevertheless for this very reason that we here cite
it, as a triumphant verification of those immutable laws of the mind
to which the principles of Composition are supposed to appeal; where
the simple technic exhibition, or illustration of _Principles_,
without story, or thought, or a single definite expression, has
still the power to possess and to fill us with a thousand delightful

And here we cannot refrain from a passing remark on certain
criticisms, which have obtained, as we think, an undeserved currency.
To assert that such a work is solely addressed to the senses (meaning
thereby that its only end is in mere pleasurable sensation) is to give
the lie to our convictions; inasmuch as we find it appealing to one
of the mightiest ministers of the Imagination,--the great Law of
Harmony,--which cannot be _touched_ without awakening by its
vibrations, so to speak, the untold myriads of sleeping forms that lie
within its circle, that start up in tribes, and each in accordance
with the congenial instrument that summons them to action. He who
can thus, as it were, embody an abstraction is no mere pander to the
senses. And who that has a modicum of the imaginative would assert
of one of Haydn's Sonatas, that its effect on him was no other than
sensuous? Or who would ask for the _story_ in one of our gorgeous
autumnal sunsets?

In subjects of a grave or elevated kind, the Variety will be found to
diminish in the same degree in which they approach the Sublime. In the
raising of Lazarus, by Lievens, we have an example of the smallest
possible number of parts which the nature of such a subject would
admit. And, though a different conception might authorize a much
greater number, yet we do not feel in this any deficiency; indeed, it
may be doubted if the addition of even one more part would not be felt
as obtrusive.

By the term _parts_ we are not to be understood as including the
minutiae of dress or ornament, or even the several members of a group,
which come more properly under the head of detail; we apply the term
only to those prominent divisions which constitute the essential
features of a composition. Of these the Sublime admits the fewest. Nor
is the limitation arbitrary. By whatever causes the stronger passions
or higher faculties of the mind become pleasurably excited, if they be
pushed as it were beyond their supposed limits, till a sense of the
indefinite seems almost to partake of the infinite, to these causes we
affix the epithet _Sublime._ It is needless to inquire if such
an effect can be produced by any thing short of the vast and
overpowering, much less by the gradual approach or successive
accumulation of any number of separate forces. Every one can answer
from his own experience. We may also add, that the pleasure which
belongs to the deeper emotions always trenches on pain; and the sense
of pain leads to reaction; so that, singly roused, they will rise
but to fall, like men at a breach,--leaving a conquest, not over the
living, but the dead. The effect of the Sublime must therefore be
sudden, and to be sudden, simple, scarce seen till felt; coming like
a blast, bending and levelling every thing before it, till it passes
into space. So comes this marvellous emotion; and so vanishes,--to
where no straining of our mortal faculties will ever carry them.

To prevent misapprehension, we may here observe, that, though the
parts be few, it does not necessarily follow that they should always
consist of simple or single objects. This narrow inference has often
led to the error of mistaking mere space for grandeur, especially
with those who have wrought rather from theory than from the true
possession of their subjects. Hence, by the mechanical arrangement
of certain large and sweeping masses of light and shadow, we are
sometimes surprised into a momentary expectation of a sublime
impression, when a nearer approach gives us only the notion of a vast
blank. And the error lies in the misconception of a mass. For a mass
is not a _thing_, but the condition of _things_; into which,
should the subject require it, a legion, a host, may be compressed,
an army with banners,--yet so that they break not the unity of their
Part, that technic form to which they are subordinate.

The difference between a Part and a Mass is, that a Mass may include,
_per se_, many Parts, yet, in relation to a Whole, is no more
than a single component. Perhaps the same distinction may be more
simply expressed, if we define it as only a larger division, including
several _parts_, which may be said to be analogous to what is
termed the detail of a _Part_. Look at the ocean in a storm,--at
that single wave. How it grows before us, building up its waters as
with conscious life, till its huge head overlooks the mast! A million
of lines intersect its surface, a myriad of bubbles fleck it with
light; yet its terrible unity remains unbroken. Not a bubble or a line
gives a thought of minuteness; they flash and flit, ere the eye can
count them, leaving only their aggregate, in the indefinite sense
of multitudinous motion: take them away, and you take from the
_mass_ the very sign of its power, that fearful impetus which
makes it what it is,--a moving mountain of water.

We have thus endeavoured, in the opposite characters of the Sublime
and the Gay or Magnificent, to exhibit the two extremes of Variety; of
the intermediate degrees it is unnecessary to speak, since in these
two is included all that is applicable to the rest.

Though it is of vital importance to every composition that there be
variety of Lines, little can be said on the subject in addition to
what has been advanced in relation to parts, that is, to shape and
quantity; both having a common origin. By a line in Composition is
meant something very different from the geometrical definition.
Originally, it was no doubt used as a metaphor; but the needs of
Art have long since converted this, and many other words of like
application, (as _tone_, &c.,) into technical terms. _Line_
thus signifies the course or medium through which the eye is led from
one part of the picture to another. The indication of this course is
various and multiform, appertaining equally to shape, to color, and to
light and dark; in a word, to whatever attracts and keeps the eye in
motion. For the regulation of these lines there is no rule absolute,
except that they vary and unite; nor is the last strictly necessary,
it being sufficient if they so terminate that the transition from one
to another is made naturally, and without effort, by the imagination.
Nor can any laws be laid down as to their peculiar character: this
must depend on the nature of the subject.

In the wild and stormy scenes of Salvator Rosa, they break upon us
as with the angular flash of lightning; the eye is dashed up one
precipice only to be dashed down another; then, suddenly hurried to
the sky, it shoots up, almost in a direct line, to some sharp-edged
rock; whence pitched, as it were, into a sea of clouds, bellying with
circles, it partakes their motion, and seems to reel, to roll, and to
plunge with them into the depths of air.

If we pass from Salvator to Claude, we shall find a system of lines
totally different. Our first impression from Claude is that of perfect
_unity_, and this we have even before we are conscious of a
single image; as if, circumscribing his scenes by a magic circle, he
had imposed his own mood on all who entered it. The _spell_ then
opens ere it seems to have begun, acting upon us with a vague sense of
limitless expanse, yet so continuous, so gentle, so imperceptible in
its remotest gradations, as scarcely to be felt, till, combining
with unity, we find the feeling embodied in the complete image of
intellectual repose,--fulness and rest. The mind thus disposed, the
charmed eye glides into the scene: a soft, undulating light leads it
on, from bank to bank, from shrub to shrub; now leaping and sparkling
over pebbly brooks and sunny sands; now fainter and fainter, dying
away down shady slopes, then seemingly quenched in some secluded dell;
yet only for a moment,--for a dimmer ray again carries it onward,
gently winding among the boles of trees and rambling vines, that,
skirting the ascent, seem to hem in the twilight; then emerging
into day, it flashes in sheets over towers and towns, and woods and
streams, when it finally dips into an ocean, so far off, so twin-like
with the sky, that the doubtful horizon, unmarked by a line, leaves no
point of rest: and now, as in a flickering arch, the fascinated eye
seems to sail upward like a bird, wheeling its flight through a
mottled labyrinth of clouds, on to the zenith; whence, gently
inflected by some shadowy mass, it slants again downward to a mass
still deeper, and still to another, and another, until it falls into
the darkness of some massive tree,--focused like midnight in the
brightest noon: there stops the eye, instinctively closing, and giving
place to the Soul, there to repose and to dream her dreams of romance
and love.

From these two examples of their general effect, some notion may be
gathered of the different systems of the two Artists; and though
no mention has been made of the particular lines employed, their
distinctive character may readily be inferred from the kind of motion
given to the eye in the descriptions we have attempted. In the
rapid, abrupt, contrasted, whirling movement in the one, we have an
exposition of an irregular combination of curves and angles; while the
simple combination of the parabola and the serpentine will account for
all the imperceptible transitions in the other.

It would be easy to accumulate examples from other Artists who differ
in the economy of line not only from these but from each other; as
Raffaelle, Michael Angelo, Correggio, Titian, Poussin,--in a word,
every painter deserving the name of master: for lines here may be
called the tracks of thought, in which we follow the author's mind
through his imaginary creations. They hold, indeed, the same relation
to Painting that versification does to Poetry, an element of style;
for what is meant by a line in Painting is analogous to that which
in the sister art distinguishes the abrupt gait of Crabbe from the
sauntering walk of Cowley, and the "long, majestic march" of Dryden
from the surging sweep of Milton.

Of Continuity little needs be said, since its uses are implied in the
explanation of Line; indeed, all that can be added will be expressed
in its essential relation to a _whole_, in which alone it differs
from a mere line. For, though a line (as just explained) supposes a
continuous course, yet a line, _per se_, does not necessarily
imply any relation to other lines. It will still be a line, though
standing alone; but the principle of continuity may be called
the unifying spirit of every line. It is therefore that we have
distinguished it as a separate principle.

In fact, if we judge from feeling, the only true test, it is no
paradox to say that the excess of variety must inevitably end in
monotony; for, as soon as the sense of fatigue begins, every new
variety but adds to the pain, till the succeeding impressions are at
last resolved into continuous pain. But, supposing a limit to variety,
where the mind may be pleasurably excited, the very sense of pleasure,
when it reaches the extreme point, will create the desire of renewing
it, and naturally carry it back to the point of starting; thus
superinducing, with the renewed enjoyment, the fulness of pleasure, in
the sense of a whole.

It is by this summing up, as it were, of the memory, through
recurrence, not that we perceive,--which is instantaneous,--but that
we enjoy any thing as a whole. If we have not observed it in others,
some of us, perhaps, may remember it in ourselves, when we have stood
before some fine picture, though with a sense of pleasure, yet for
many minutes in a manner abstracted,--silently passing through all its
harmonious transitions without the movement of a muscle, and hardly
conscious of action, till we have suddenly found ourselves returning
on our steps. Then it was,--as if we had no eyes till then,--that
the magic Whole poured in upon us, and vouched for its truth in an
outbreak of rapture.

The fourth and last division of our subject is the Harmony of Parts;
or the essential agreement of one part with another, and of each with
the whole. In addition to our first general definition, we may further
observe, that by a Whole in Painting is signified the complete
expression, by means of form, color, light, and shadow, of one
thought, or series of thoughts, having for their end some
particular truth, or sentiment, or action, or mood of mind. We say
_thought_, because no images, however put together, can ever
be separated by the mind from other and extraneous images, so as to
comprise a positive whole, unless they be limited by some intellectual
boundary. A picture wanting this may have fine parts, but is not a
Composition, which implies parts united to each other, and also suited
to some specific purpose, otherwise they cannot be known as united.
Since Harmony, therefore, cannot be conceived of without reference to
a whole, so neither can a whole be imagined without fitness of parts.
To give this fitness, then, is the ultimate task and test of genius:
it is, in fact, calling form and life out of what before was but a
chaos of materials, and making them the subject and exponents of the
will. As the master-principle, also, it is the disposer, regulator,
and modifier of shape, line, and quantity, adding, diminishing,
changing, shaping, till it becomes clear and intelligible, and it
finally manifests itself in pleasurable identity with the harmony
within us.

To reduce the operation of this principle to precise rules is,
perhaps, without the province of human power: we might else expect to
see poets and painters made by recipe. As in many other operations of
the mind, we must here be content to note a few of the more tangible
facts, if we may be allowed the phrase, which have occasionally been
gathered by observation during the process. The first fact presented
is, that equal quantities, when coming together, produce monotony,
and, if at all admissible, are only so when absolutely needed, at
a proper distance, to echo back or recall the theme, which would
otherwise be lost in the excess of variety. We speak of quantity here
as of a mass, not of the minutiae; for _the essential components_
of a part may often be _equal quantities_, (as in a piece of
architecture, of armour, &c.,) which are analogous to poetic feet, for
instance, a spondee. The same effect we find from parallel lines and
repetition of shapes. Hence we obtain the law of a limited variety.
The next is, that the quantities must be so disposed as to balance
each other; otherwise, if all or too many of the larger be on one
side, they will endanger the imaginary circle, or other figure, by
which every composition is supposed to be bounded, making it appear
"lop-sided," or to be falling either in upon the smaller quantities,
or out of the picture: from which we infer the necessity of balance.
If, without others to counteract and restrain them, the parts
converge, the eye, being forced to the centre, becomes stationary; in
like manner, if all diverge, it is forced to fly off in tangents:
as if the great laws of Attraction and Repulsion were here also
essential, and illustrated in miniature. If we add to these Breadth, I
believe we shall have enumerated all the leading phenomena of
Harmony, which experience has enabled us to establish as rules. By
_breadth_ is meant such a massing of the quantities, whether
by color, light, or shadow, as shall enable the eye to pass without
obstruction, and by easy transitions, from one to another, so that it
shall appear to take in the whole at a glance. This may be likened to
both the exordium and peroration of a discourse, including as well
the last as the first general idea. It is, in other words, a simple,
connected, and concise exposition and summary of what the artist

We have thus endeavoured to arrange and to give a logical permanency
to the several principles of Composition. It is not to be supposed,
however, that in these we have every principle that might be named;
but they are all, as we conceive, that are of universal application.
Of other minor, or rather personal ones, since they pertain to the
individual, the number can only be limited by the variety of the
human intellect, to which these may be considered as so many simple
elementary guides; not to create genius, but to enable it to
understand itself, and by a distinct knowledge of its own operations
to correct its mistakes,--in a word, to establish the landmarks
between the flats of commonplace and the barrens of extravagance. And,
though the personal or individual principles referred to may not with
propriety be cited as examples in a general treatise like the present,
they are not only not to be overlooked, but are to be regarded by the
student as legitimate objects of study. To the truism, that we can
only judge of other minds by a knowledge of our own, we may add
its converse as especially true. In that mysterious tract of the
intellect, which we call the Imagination, there would seem to lie
hid thousands of unknown forms, of which we are often for years
unconscious, until they start up awakened by the footsteps of a
stranger. Hence it is that the greatest geniuses, as presenting a
wider field for excitement, are generally found to be the widest
likers; not so much from affinity, or because they possess the
precise kinds of excellence which they admire, but often from the
_differences_ which these very excellences in others, as the
exciting cause, awaken in themselves. Such men may be said to be
endowed with a double vision, an inward and an outward; the inward
seeing not unfrequently the reverse of what is seen by the outward.
It was this which caused Annibal Caracci to remark, on seeing for the
first time a picture by Caravaggio, that he thought a style totally
opposite might be made very captivating; and the hint, it is said,
sunk deep into and was not lost on Guido, who soon after realized what
his master had thus imagined. Perhaps no one ever caught more from
others than Raffaelle. I do not allude to his "borrowing," so
ingeniously, not soundly, defended by Sir Joshua, but rather to his
excitability, (if I may here apply a modern term,)--that inflammable
temperament, which took fire, as it were, from the very friction
of the atmosphere. For there was scarce an excellence, within his
knowledge, of his predecessors or contemporaries, which did not in a
greater or less degree contribute to the developement of his powers;
not as presenting models of imitation, but as shedding new light on
his own mind, and opening to view its hidden treasures. Such to him
were the forms of the Antique, of Leonardo da Vinci, and of Michael
Angelo, and the breadth and color of Fra Bartolomeo,--lights that
first made him acquainted with himself, not lights that he followed;
for he was a follower of none. To how many others he was indebted for
his impulses cannot now be known; but the new impetus he was known to
have received from every new excellence has led many to believe, that,
had he lived to see the works of Titian, he would have added to his
grace, character, and form, and with equal originality, the splendor
of color. "The design of Michael Angelo and the color of Titian," was
the inscription of Tintoretto over the door of his painting-room.
Whether he intended to designate these two artists as his future
models matters not; but that he did not follow them is evidenced in
his works. Nor, indeed, could he: the temptation to _follow_,
which his youthful admiration had excited, was met by an interdiction
not easily withstood,--the decree of his own genius. And yet the
decree had probably never been heard but for these very masters. Their
presence stirred him; and, when he thought of serving, his teeming
mind poured out its abundance, making _him_ a master to future
generations. To the forms of Michael Angelo he was certainly indebted
for the elevation of his own; there, however, the inspiration ended.
With Titian he was nearly allied in genius; yet he thought rather with
than after him,--at times even beyond him. Titian, indeed, may be said
to have first opened his eyes to the mysteries of nature; but they
were no sooner opened, than he rushed into them with a rapidity and
daring unwont to the more cautious spirit of his master; and, though
irregular, eccentric, and often inferior, yet sometimes he made his
way to poetical regions, of whose celestial hues even Titian himself
had never dreamt.

We might go on thus with every great name in Art. But these examples
are enough to show how much even the most original minds, not only
may, but _must_, owe to others; for the social law of our nature
applies no less to the intellect than to the affections. When applied
to genius, it may be called the social inspiration, the simple
statement of which seems to us of itself a solution of the
oft-repeated question, "Why is it that genius always appears in
clusters?" To Nature, indeed, we must all at last recur, as to the
only true and permanent foundation of real excellence. But Nature is
open to all men alike, in her beauty, her majesty, her grandeur, and
her sublimity. Yet who will assert that all men see, or, if they see,
are impressed by these her attributes alike? Nay, so great is the
difference, that one might almost suppose them inhabitants of
different worlds. Of Claude, for instance, it is hardly a metaphor to
say that he lived in two worlds during his natural life; for Claude
the pastry-cook could never have seen the same world that was made
visible to Claude the painter. It was human sympathy, acting through
human works, that gave birth to his intellect at the age of forty.
There is something, perhaps, ludicrous in the thought of an infant of
forty. Yet the fact is a solemn one, that thousands die whose minds
have never been born.

We could not, perhaps, instance a stronger confutation of the vulgar
error which opposes learning to genius, than the simple history of
this remarkable man. In all that respects the mind, he was literally a
child, till accident or necessity carried him to Rome; for, when the
office of color-grinder, added to that of cook, by awakening his
curiosity, first excited a love for the Art, his progress through its
rudiments seems to have been scarcely less slow and painful than that
of a child through the horrors of the alphabet. It was the struggle of
one who was learning to think; but, the rudiments being mastered, he
found himself suddenly possessed, not as yet of thought, but of new
forms of language; then came thoughts, pouring from his mind, and
filling them as moulds, without which they had never, perhaps, had
either shape or consciousness.

Now what was this new language but the product of other minds,--of
successive minds, amending, enlarging, elaborating, through successive
ages, till, fitted to all its wants, it became true to the Ideal, and
the vernacular tongue of genius through all time? The first inventor
of verse was but the prophetic herald of Homer, Shakspeare, and
Milton. And what was Rome then but the great University of Art, where
all this accumulated learning was treasured?

Much has been said of self-taught geniuses, as opposed to those who
have been instructed by others: but the distinction, it appears to
us, is without a difference; for it matters not whether we learn in a
school or by ourselves,--we cannot learn any thing without in some way
recurring to other minds. Let us imagine a poet who had never read,
never heard, never conversed with another. Now if he will not be
taught in any thing by another, he must strictly preserve this
independent negation. Truly the verses of such a poet would be a
miracle. Of similar self-taught painters we have abundant examples in
our aborigines,--but nowhere else.

But, while we maintain, as a positive law of our nature, the necessity
of mental intercourse with our fellow-creatures, in order to the full
developement of the _individual_, we are far from implying that
any thing which is actually taken from others can by any process
become our own, that is, original. We may reverse, transpose,
diminish, or add to it, and so skilfully that no scam or mutilation
shall be detected; and yet we shall not make it appear original,--in
other words, _true_, the offspring of _one_ mind. A borrowed
thought will always be borrowed; as it will be felt as such in its
_effect_, even while we are ourselves unconscious of the fact:
for it will want that _effect of life_, which only the first mind
can give it[3].

Of the multifarious retailers of the second-hand in style, the class
is so numerous as to make a selection difficult: they meet us at every
step in the history of the Art. One instance, however, may suffice,
and we select Vernet, as uniting in himself a singular and striking
example of the _false_ and the _true_; and also as the least
invidious instance, inasmuch as we may prove our position by opposing
him to himself.

In the landscapes of Vernet, (when not mere views,) we see the
imitator of Salvator, or rather copyist of his lines; and these we
have in all their angular nakedness, where rocks, trees, and mountains
are so jagged, contorted, and tumbled about, that nothing but an
explosion could account for their assemblage. They have not the
relation which we sometimes find even in a random collocation, as in
the accidental pictures of a discolored wall; for the careful hand
of the contriver is traced through all this disorder; nay, the very
execution, the conventional dash of pencil, betrays what a lawyer
would call the _malice prepense_ of the Artist in their strange
disfigurement. To many this may appear like hypercriticism; but we
sincerely believe that no one, even among his admirers, has ever been
deceived into a real sympathy with such technical flourishes: they
are felt as factitious; as mere diagrams of composition deduced from

Now let us look at one of his Storms at Sea, when he wrought from his
own mind. A dark leaden atmosphere prepares us for something fearful:
suddenly a scene of tumult, fierce, wild, disastrous, bursts upon us;
and we feel the shock drive, as it were, every other thought from the
mind: the terrible vision now seizes the imagination, filling it with
sound and motion: we see the clouds fly, the furious waves one upon
another dashing in conflict, and rolling, as if in wrath, towards the
devoted ship: the wind blows from the canvas; we hear it roar through
her shrouds; her masts bend like twigs, and her last forlorn hope,
the close-reefed foresail, streams like a tattered flag: a terrible
fascination still constrains us to look, and a dim, rocky shore looms
on her lee: then comes the dreadful cry of "Breakers ahead!" the crew
stand appalled, and the master's trumpet is soundless at his lips.
This is the uproar of nature, and we _feel_ it to be _true_;
for here every line, every touch, has a meaning. The ragged clouds,
the huddled waves, the prostrate ship, though forced by contrast
into the sharpest angles, all agree, opposed as they seem,--evolving
harmony out of apparent discord. And this is Genius, which no
criticism can ever disprove.

But all great names, it is said, must have their shadows. In our Art
they have many shadows, or rather I should say, reflections; which
are more or less distinct according to their proximity to the living
originals, and, like the images in opposite mirrors, becoming
themselves reflected and re-reflected with a kind of battledoor
alternation, grow dimmer and dimmer till they vanish from mere

Thus have the great schools of Italy, Flanders, and Holland lived and
walked after death, till even their ghosts have become familiar to us.

We would not, however, be understood as asserting that we receive
pleasure only from original works: this would be contradicting
the general experience. We admit, on the contrary, that there are
hundreds, nay, thousands, of pictures having no pretensions to
originality of any kind, which still afford pleasure; as, indeed,
do many things out of the Art, which we know to be second-hand, or
imperfect, and even trifling. Thus grace of manner, for instance,
though wholly unaided by a single definite quality, will often delight
us, and a ready elocution, with scarce a particle of sense, make
commonplace agreeable; and it seems to be, that the pain of mental
inertness renders action so desirable, that the mind instinctively
surrounds itself with myriads of objects, having little to recommend
them but the property of keeping it from stagnating. And we are
far from denying a certain value to any of these, provided they
be innocent: there are times when even the wisest man will find
commonplace wholesome. All we have attempted to show is, that the
effect of an original work, as opposed to an imitation, is marked by
a difference, not of degree merely, but of kind; and that this
difference cannot fail to be felt, not, indeed, by every one, but by
any competent judge, that is, any one in whom is developed, by
natural exercise, that internal sense by which the spirit of life is

* * * * *

Every original work becomes such from the infusion, so to speak, of
the mind of the Author; and of this the fresh materials of nature
alone seem susceptible. The imitated works of man cannot be endued
with a second life, that is, with a second mind: they are to the
imitator as air already breathed.

* * * * *

What has been said in relation to Form--that the works of our
predecessors, so far as they are recognized as true, are to be
considered as an extension of Nature, and therefore proper objects
of study--is equally applicable to Composition. But it is not to be
understood that this extended Nature (if we may so term it) is in any
instance to be imitated as a _whole_, which would be bringing our
minds into bondage to another; since, as already shown in the second
Discourse, every original work is of necessity impressed with the mind
of its author. If it be asked, then, what is the advantage of such
study, we shall endeavour to show, that it is not merely, as some have
supposed, in enriching the mind with materials, but rather in widening
our view of excellence, and, by consequent excitement, expanding our
own powers of observation, reflection, and performance. By increasing
the power of performance, we mean enlarging our knowledge of the
technical process, or the medium through which thought is expressed;
a most important species of knowledge, which, if to be otherwise
attained, is at least most readily learned from those who have left us
the result of their experience. This technical process, which has been
well called the language of the Art, includes, of course, all that
pertains to Composition, which, as the general medium, also contains
most of the elements of this peculiar tongue.

From the gradual progress of the various arts of civilization, it
would seem that only under the action of some great _social_ law
can man arrive at the full developement of his powers. In our
Art especially is this true; for the experience of one man must
necessarily be limited, particularly if compared with the endless
varieties of form and effect which diversify the face of Nature; and
the finest of these, too, in their very nature transient, or of rare
occurrence, and only known to occur to those who are prepared to seize
them in their rapid transit; so that in one short life, and with but
one set of senses, the greatest genius can learn but little. The
Artist, therefore, must needs owe much to the living, and more to the
dead, who are virtually his companions, inasmuch as through their
works they still live to our sympathies. Besides, in our great
predecessors we may be said to possess a multiplied life, if life
be measured by the number of acts,--which, in this case, we may all
appropriate to ourselves, as it were by a glance. For the dead in Art
may well be likened to the hardy pioneers of our own country, who have
successively cleared before us the swamps and forests that would have
obstructed our progress, and opened to us lands which the efforts of
no individual, however persevering, would enable him to reach.


Sentences Written by Mr. Allston on the Walls of His Studio.

1. "No genuine work of Art ever was, or ever can be, produced but for
its own sake; if the painter does not conceive to please himself, he
will not finish to please the world."--FUSELI.

2. If an Artist love his Art for its own sake, he will delight in
excellence wherever he meets it, as well in the work of another as in
his own. This is the test of a true love.

3. Nor is this genuine love compatible with a craving for distinction;
where the latter predominates, it is sure to betray itself before
contemporary excellence, either by silence, or (as a bribe to the
conscience) by a modicum of praise.

The enthusiasm of a mind so influenced is confined to itself.

4. Distinction is the consequence, never the object, of a great mind.

5. The love of gain never made a Painter; but it has marred many.

6. The most common disguise of Envy is in the praise of what is

7. Selfishness in Art, as in other things, is sensibility kept at

8. The Devil's heartiest laugh is at a detracting witticism. Hence the
phrase "devilish good" has sometimes a literal meaning.

9. The most intangible, and therefore the worst, kind of lie is a
half truth. This is the peculiar device of a _conscientious_

10. Reverence is an ennobling sentiment; it is felt to be degrading
only by the vulgar mind, which would escape the sense of its own
littleness by elevating itself into an antagonist of what is above it.
He that has no pleasure in looking up is not fit so much as to look
down. Of such minds are mannerists in Art; in the world, tyrants of
all sorts.

11. No right judgment can ever be formed on any subject having a moral
or intellectual bearing without benevolence; for so strong is man's
natural self-bias, that, without this restraining principle, he
insensibly becomes a competitor in all such cases presented to his
mind; and, when the comparison is thus made personal, unless the odds
be immeasurably against him, his decision will rarely be impartial.
In other words, no one can see any thing as it really is through the
misty spectacles of self-love. We must wish well to another in order
to do him justice. Now the virtue in this good-will is not to blind us
to his faults, but to our own rival and interposing merits.

12. In the same degree that we overrate ourselves, we shall underrate
others; for injustice allowed at home is not likely to be corrected
abroad. Never, therefore, expect justice from a vain man; if he has
the negative magnanimity not to disparage you, it is the most you can

13. The Phrenologists are right in placing the organ of self-love in
the back of the head, it being there where a vain man carries his
intellectual light; the consequence of which is, that every man he
approaches is obscured by his own shadow.

14. Nothing is rarer than a solitary lie; for lies breed like Surinam
toads; you cannot tell one but out it comes with a hundred young ones
on its back.

15. If the whole world should agree to speak nothing but truth, what
an abridgment it would make of speech! And what an unravelling there
would be of the invisible webs which men, like so many spiders, now
weave about each other! But the contest between Truth and Falsehood
is now pretty well balanced. Were it not so, and had the latter the
mastery, even language would soon become extinct, from its very
uselessness. The present superfluity of words is the result of the

16. A witch's skiff cannot more easily sail in the teeth of the wind,
than the human _eye_ lie against fact; but the truth will oftener
quiver through lips with a lie upon them.

17. An open brow with a clenched hand shows any thing but an open

18. It is a hard matter for a man to lie _all over_. Nature
having provided king's evidence in almost every member. The hand will
sometimes act as a vane to show which way the wind blows, when every
feature is set the other way; the knees smite together, and sound the
alarm of fear, under a fierce countenance; and the legs shake with
anger, when all above is calm.

19. Nature observes a variety even in her correspondences; insomuch
that in parts which seem but repetitions there will be found a
difference. For instance, in the human countenance, the two sides of
which are never identical. Whenever she deviates into monotony,
the deviation is always marked as an exception by some striking
deficiency; as in idiots, who are the only persons that laugh equally
on both sides of the mouth.

The insipidity of many of the antique Statues may be traced to the
false assumption of identity in the corresponding parts. No work
wrought by _feeling_ (which, after all, is the ultimate rule of
Genius) was ever marked by this monotony.

20. He is but half an orator who turns his hearers into spectators.
The best gestures (_quoad_ the speaker) are those which he cannot
help. An unconscious thump of the fist or jerk of the elbow is more
to the purpose, (whatever that may be,) than the most graceful
_cut-and-dried_ action. It matters not whether the orator
personates a trip-hammer or a wind-mill; if his mill but move with the
grist, or his hammer knead the iron beneath it, he will not fail of
his effect. An impertinent gesture is more likely to knock down the
orator than his opponent.

21. The only true independence is in humility; for the humble man
exacts nothing, and cannot be mortified,--expects nothing, and cannot
be disappointed. Humility is also a healing virtue; it will cicatrize
a thousand wounds, which pride would keep for ever open. But humility
is not the virtue of a fool; since it is not consequent upon any
comparison between ourselves and others, but between what we are and
what we ought to be,--which no man ever was.

22. The greatest of all fools is the proud fool,--who is at the mercy
of every fool he meets.

23. There is an essential meanness in the wish to _get the
better_ of any one. The only competition worthy, of a wise man is
with himself.

24. He that argues for victory is but a gambler in words, seeking to
enrich himself by another's loss.

25. Some men make their ignorance the measure of excellence; these
are, of course, very fastidious critics; for, knowing little, they can
find but little to like.

26. The Painter who seeks popularity in Art closes the door upon his
own genius.

27. Popular excellence in one age is but the _mechanism_ of what
was good in the preceding; in Art, the _technic_.

28. Make no man your idol, for the best man must have faults; and his
faults will insensibly become yours, in addition to your own. This is
as true in Art as in morals.

29. A man of genius should not aim at praise, except in the form of
_sympathy_; this assures him of his success, since it meets the
feeling which possessed himself.

30. Originality in Art is the individualizing the Universal; in other
words, the impregnating some general truth with the individual mind.

31. The painter who is content with the praise of the world in respect
to what does not satisfy himself, is not an artist, but an artisan;
for though his reward be only praise, his pay is that of a
mechanic,--for his time, and not for his art.

32. _Reputation_ is but a synonyme of _popularity_;
dependent on suffrage, to be increased or diminished at the will of
the voters. It is the creature, so to speak, of its particular age, or
rather of a particular state of society; consequently, dying with that
which sustained it. Hence we can scarcely go over a page of history,
that we do not, as in a church-yard, tread upon some buried
reputation. But fame cannot be voted down, having its immediate
foundation in the essential. It is the eternal shadow of excellence,
from which it can never be separated; nor is it ever made visible but
in the light of an intellect kindred with that of its author. It is
that light which projects the shadow which is seen of the multitude,
to be wondered at and reverenced, even while so little comprehended
as to be often confounded with the substance,--the substance being
admitted from the shadow, as a matter of faith. It is the economy of
Providence to provide such lights: like rising and setting stars, they
follow each other through successive ages: and thus the monumental
form of Genius stands for ever relieved against its own imperishable

33. All excellence of every kind is but variety of truth. If we wish,
then, for something beyond the true, we wish for that which is false.
According to this test, how little truth is there in Art! Little
indeed! but how much is that little to him who feels it!

34. Fame does not depend on the _will_ of any man, but Reputation
may be given or taken away. Fame is the sympathy of kindred
intellects, and sympathy is not a subject of _willing_; while
Reputation, having its source in the popular voice, is a sentence
which may either be uttered or suppressed at pleasure. Reputation,
being essentially contemporaneous, is always at the mercy of
the envious and the ignorant; but Fame, whose very birth is
_posthumous_, and which is only known _to exist by the echo of
its footsteps through congenial minds_, can neither be increased
nor diminished by any degree of will.

35. What _light_ is in the natural world, such is _fame_
in the intellectual; both requiring an _atmosphere_ in order
to become perceptible. Hence the fame of Michael Angelo is, to some
minds, a nonentity; even as the sun itself would be invisible _in

36. Fame has no necessary conjunction with Praise: it may exist without
the breath of a word; it is a _recognition of excellence_, which _must
be felt_, but need not be _spoken_. Even the envious must feel it,--feel
it, and hate it, in silence.

37. I cannot believe that any man who deserved fame ever labored for
it; that is, _directly_. For, as fame is but the contingent of
excellence, it would be like an attempt to project a shadow, before
its substance was obtained. Many, however, have so fancied. "I write,
I paint, for fame," has often been repeated: it should have been, "I
write, I paint, for reputation." All anxiety, therefore, about Fame
should be placed to the account of Reputation.

38. A man may be pretty sure that he has not attained
_excellence_, when it is not all in all to him. Nay, I may add,
that, if he looks beyond it, he has not reached it. This is not the
less true for being good _Irish_.

39. An original mind is rarely understood, until it has been
_reflected_ from some half-dozen congenial with it, so averse
are men to admitting the _true_ in an unusual form; whilst any
novelty, however fantastic, however false, is greedily swallowed. Nor
is this to be wondered at; for all truth demands a response, and few
people care to _think_, yet they must have something to supply
the place of thought. Every mind would appear original, if every man
had the power of _projecting_ his own into the mind of others.

40. All effort at originality must end either in the quaint or the
monstrous. For no man knows himself as an original; he can only
believe it on the report of others to whom _he is made known_, as
he is by the projecting power before spoken of.

41. There is one thing which no man, however generously disposed, can
_give_, but which every one, however poor, is bound to _pay_. This is
Praise. He cannot give it, because it is not his own,--since what is
dependent for its very existence on something in another can never
become to him a _possession_; nor can he justly withhold it, when the
presence of merit claims it as a _consequence_. As praise, then, cannot
be made a _gift_, so, neither, when not his due, can any man receive it:
he may think he does, but he receives only _words_; for _desert_ being
the essential condition of praise, there can be no reality in the one
without the other. This is no fanciful statement; for, though praise may
be withheld by the ignorant or envious, it cannot be but that, in the
course of time, an existing merit will, on _some one_, produce its
effects; inasmuch as the existence of any cause without its effect is an
impossibility. A fearful truth lies at the bottom of this, an
_irreversible justice_ for the weal or woe of him who confirms or
violates it.

* * * * *

[From the back of a pencil sketch.]

Let no man trust to the gentleness, the generosity, or seeming
goodness of his heart, in the hope that they alone can safely bear him
through the temptations of this world. This is a state of probation,
and a perilous passage to the true beginning of life, where even the
best natures need continually to be reminded of their weakness, and
to find their only security in steadily referring all their thoughts,
acts, affections, to the ultimate end of their being: yet where,
imperfect as we are, there is no obstacle too mighty, no temptation
too strong, to the truly humble in heart, who, distrusting themselves,
seek to be sustained only by that holy Being who is life and power,
and who, in his love and mercy, has promised to give to those that
ask.--Such were my reflections, to which I was giving way on reading
this melancholy story.

If he is satisfied with them, he may rest assured that he is neither
fitted for this world nor the next. Even in this, there are wrongs and
sorrows which no human remedy can reach;--no, tears cannot restore
what is lost.

* * * * *

[Written in a book of sketches, with a pencil.]

A real debt of gratitude--that is, founded on a disinterested act of
kindness--cannot be cancelled by any subsequent unkindness on the part
of our benefactor. If the favor be of a pecuniary nature, we may,
indeed, by returning an equal or greater sum, balance the moneyed part;
but we cannot _liquidate_ the _kind motive_ by the setting off against
it any number of unkind ones. For an after injury can no more _undo_ a
previous kindness, than we can _prevent_ in the future what has happened
in the past. So neither can a good act undo an ill one: a fearful truth!
For good and evil have a moral _life_, which nothing in time can
extinguish; the instant they _exist_, they start for Eternity. How,
then, can a man who has _once_ sinned, and who has not of _himself_
cleansed his soul, be fit for heaven where no sin can enter? I seek not
to enter into the mystery of the _atonement_, "which even the angels
sought to comprehend and could not"; but I feel its truth in an
unutterable conviction, and that, without it, all flesh must perish.
Equally deep, too, and unalienable, is my conviction that "the fruit of
sin is misery." A second birth to the soul is therefore a necessity
which sin _forces_ upon us. Ay,--but not against the desperate _will_
that rejects it.

This conclusion was not anticipated when I wrote the first sentence of
the preceding paragraph. But it does not surprise me. For it is but a
recurrence of what I have repeatedly experienced; namely, that I never
lighted on _any truth_ which I _inwardly felt_ as such, however
apparently remote from our religious being, (as, for instance, in the
philosophy of my art,) that, by following it out, did not find its
illustration and confirmation in some great doctrine of the Bible,--the
only true philosophy, the sole fountain of light, where the dark
questions of the understanding which have so long stood, like chaotic
spectres, between the fallen soul and its reason, at once lose their
darkness and their terror.

The Hypochondriac.[4]

He would not taste, but swallowed life at once;
And scarce had reached his prime ere he had bolted,
With all its garnish, mixed of sweet and sour,
Full fourscore years. For he, in truth, did wot not
What most he craved, and so devoured all;
Then, with his gases, followed Indigestion,
Making it food for night-mares and their foals.


It was the opinion of an ancient philosopher, that we can have no want
for which Nature does not provide an appropriate gratification. As it
regards our physical wants, this appears to be true. But there are
moral cravings which extend beyond the world we live in; and, were we
in a heathen age, would serve us with an unanswerable argument for the
immortality of the soul. That these cravings are felt by all, there
can be no doubt; yet that all feel them in the same degree would be as
absurd to suppose, as that every man possesses equal sensibility or
understanding. Boswell's desires, from his own account, seem to have
been limited to reading Shakspeare in the other world,--whether with
or without his commentators, he has left us to guess; and Newton
probably pined for the sight of those distant stars whose light has
not yet reached us. What originally was the particular craving of my
own mind I cannot now recall; but that I had, even in my boyish days,
an insatiable desire after something which always eluded me, I well
remember. As I grew into manhood, my desires became less definite; and
by the time I had passed through college, they seemed to have resolved
themselves into a general passion for _doing_.

It is needless to enumerate the different subjects which one after
another engaged me. Mathematics, metaphysics, natural and moral
philosophy, were each begun, and each in turn given up in a passion of
love and disgust.

It is the fate of all inordinate passions to meet their extremes;
so was it with mine. Could I have pursued any of these studies with
moderation, I might have been to this day, perhaps, both learned and
happy. But I could be moderate in nothing. Not content with being
employed, I must always be _busy_; and business, as every one
knows, if long continued, must end in fatigue, and fatigue in disgust,
and disgust in change, if that be practicable,--which unfortunately
was my case.

The restlessness occasioned by these half-finished studies brought
on a severe fit of self-examination. Why is it, I asked myself, that
these learned works, which have each furnished their authors with
sufficient excitement to effect their completion, should thus weary me
before I get midway into them? It is plain enough. As a reader I
am merely a recipient, but the composer is an active agent; a vast
difference! And now I can account for the singular pleasure, which
a certain bad poet of my acquaintance always took in inflicting his
verses on every one who would listen to him; each perusal being but a
sort of mental echo of the original bliss of composition. I will set
about writing immediately.

Having, time out of mind, heard the epithet _great_ coupled with
Historians, it was that, I believe, inclined me to write a history.
I chose my subject, and began collating, and transcribing, night and
day, as if I had not another hour to live; and on I went with the
industry of a steam-engine; when it one day occurred to me, that,
though I had been laboring for months, I had not yet had occasion for
one original thought. Pshaw! said I, 't is only making new clothes out
of old ones. I will have nothing more to do with history.

As it is natural for a mind suddenly disgusted with mechanic toil to
seek relief from its opposite, it can easily be imagined that my next
resource was Poetry. Every one rhymes now-a-days, and so can I. Shall
I write an Epic, or a Tragedy, or a Metrical Romance? Epics are out of
fashion; even Homer and Virgil would hardly be read in our time, but
that people are unwilling to admit their schooling to have been thrown
away. As to Tragedy, I am a modern, and it is a settled thing that no
modern _can_ write a tragedy; so I must not attempt that. Then
for Metrical Romances,--why, they are now manufactured; and, as the
Edinburgh Review says, may be "imported" by us "in bales." I will bind
myself to no particular class, but give free play to my imagination.
With this resolution I went to bed, as one going to be inspired. The
morning came; I ate my breakfast, threw up the window, and placed
myself in my elbow-chair before it. An hour passed, and nothing
occurred to me. But this I ascribed to a fit of laughter that seized
me, at seeing a duck made drunk by eating rum-cherries. I turned my
back on the window. Another hour followed, then another, and another:
I was still as far from poetry as ever; every object about me seemed
bent against my abstraction; the card-racks fascinating me like
serpents, and compelling me to read, as if I would get them by heart,
"Dr. Joblin," "Mr. Cumberback," "Mr. Milton Bull," &c. &c. I took up
my pen, drew a sheet of paper from my writing-desk, and fixed my eyes
upon that;--'t was all in vain; I saw nothing on it but the watermark,
_D. Ames_. I laid down the pen, closed my eyes, and threw my
head back in the chair. "Are you waiting to be shaved, Sir?" said
a familiar voice. I started up, and overturned my servant. "No,
blockhead!"--"I am waiting to be inspired";--but this I added
mentally. What is the cause of my difficulty? said I. Something within
me seemed to reply, in the words of Lear, "Nothing comes of nothing."
Then I must seek a subject. I ran over a dozen in a few minutes, chose
one after another, and, though twenty thoughts very readily occurred
on each, I was fain to reject them all; some for wanting pith, some
for belonging to prose, and others for having been worn out in the
service of other poets. In a word, my eyes began to open on the truth,
and I felt convinced that _that_ only was poetry which a man
writes because he cannot help writing; the irrepressible effluence
of his secret being on every thing in sympathy with it,--a kind of
_flowering_ of the soul amid the warmth and the light of nature.
I am no poet, I exclaimed, and I will not disfigure Mr. Ames with
commonplace verses.

I know not how I should have borne this second disappointment, had not
the title of a new Novel, which then came into my head, suggested a
trial in that branch of letters. I will write a Novel. Having come to
this determination, the next thing was to collect materials. They must
be sought after, said I, for my late experiment has satisfied me that
I might wait for ever in my elbow-chair, and they would never come to
me; they must be toiled for,--not in books, if I would not deal in
second-hand,--but in the world, that inexhaustible storehouse of
all kinds of originals. I then turned over in my mind the various
characters I had met with in life; amongst these a few only seemed
fitted for any story, and those rather as accessories; such as a
politician who hated popularity, a sentimental grave-digger, and a
metaphysical rope-dancer; but for a hero, the grand nucleus of my
fable, I was sorely at a loss. This, however, did not discourage me. I
knew he might be found in the world, if I would only take the trouble
to look for him. For this purpose I jumped into the first stage-coach
that passed my door; it was immaterial whither bound, my object being
men, not places. My first day's journey offered nothing better than a
sailor who rebuked a member of Congress for swearing. But at the third
stage, on the second day, as we were changing horses, I had the good
fortune to light on a face which gave promise of all I wanted. It was
so remarkable that I could not take my eyes from it; the forehead
might have been called handsome but for a pair of enormous eyebrows,
that seemed to project from it like the quarter-galleries of a ship,
and beneath these were a couple of small, restless, gray eyes, which,
glancing in every direction from under their shaggy brows, sparkled
like the intermittent light of fire-flies; in the nose there was
nothing remarkable, except that it was crested by a huge wart with a
small grove of black hairs; but the mouth made ample amends, being
altogether indescribable, for it was so variable in its expression,
that I could not tell whether it had most of the sardonic, the
benevolent, or the sanguinary, appearing to exhibit them all in
succession with equal vividness. My attention, however, was mainly
fixed by the sanguinary; it came across me like an east wind, and
I felt a cold sweat damping my linen; and when this was suddenly
succeeded by the benevolent, I was sure I had got at the secret of
his character,--no less than that of a murderer haunted by remorse.
Delighted with this discovery, I made up my mind to follow the owner
of the face wherever he went, till I should learn his history. I
accordingly made an end of my journey for the present, upon learning
that the stranger was to pass some time in the place where we stopped.
For three days I made minute inquiries; but all I could gather was,
that he had been a great traveller, though of what country no one
could tell me. On the fourth day, finding him on the move, I took
passage in the same coach. Now, said I, is my time of harvest. But I
was mistaken; for, in spite of all the lures which I threw out to
draw him into a communicative humor, I could get nothing from him but
monosyllables. So far from abating my ardor, this reserve only the
more whetted my curiosity. At last we stopped at a pleasant village
in New Jersey. Here he seemed a little better known; the innkeeper
inquiring after his health, and the hostler asking if the balls he
had supplied him with fitted the barrels of his pistols. The latter
inquiry I thought was accompanied by a significant glance, that
indicated a knowledge on the hostler's part of more than met the ear;
I determined therefore to sound him. After a few general remarks, that
had nothing to do with any thing, by way of introduction, I began by
hinting some random surmises as to the use to which the stranger might
have put the pistols he spoke of; inquired whether he was in the habit
of loading them at night; whether he slept with them under his pillow;
if he was in the practice of burning a light while he slept; and if
he did not sometimes awake the family by groans, or by walking with
agitated steps in his chamber. But it was all in vain, the man
protesting that he never knew any thing ill of him. Perhaps, thought
I, the hostler having overheard his midnight wanderings, and detected
his crime, is paid for keeping the secret. I pumped the landlord, and
the landlady, and the barmaid, and the chambermaid, and the waiters,
and the cook, and every thing that could speak in the house; still to
no purpose, each ending his reply with, "Lord, Sir, he's as honest a
gentleman, for aught I know, as any in the world"; then would come a
question,--"But perhaps _you_ know something of him yourself?"
Whether my answer, though given in the negative, was uttered in such a
tone as to imply an affirmative, thereby exciting suspicion, I cannot
tell; but it is certain that I soon after perceived a visible change
towards him in the deportment of the whole household. When he spoke to
the waiters, their jaws fell, their fingers spread, their eyes rolled,
with every symptom of involuntary action; and once, when he asked the
landlady to take a glass of wine with him, I saw her, under pretence
of looking out of the window, throw it into the street; in short, the
very scullion fled at his approach, and a chambermaid dared not
enter his room unless under guard of a large mastiff. That these
circumstances were not unobserved by him will appear by what follows.

Though I had come no nearer to facts, this general suspicion, added to
the remarkable circumstance that no one had ever heard his name (being
known only as _the gentleman_) gave every day new life to my
hopes. He is the very man, said I; and I began to revel in all the
luxury of detection, when, as I was one night undressing for bed, my
attention was caught by the following letter on my table.


"If you are the gentleman you would be thought, you will not
refuse satisfaction for the diabolical calumnies you have so
unprovokedly circulated against an innocent man.

"Your obedient servant,


"P.S. I shall expect you at five o'clock to-morrow morning, at the
three elms, by the river-side."

This invitation, as may be well imagined, discomposed me not a
little. Who Mr. Bub was, or in what way I had injured him, puzzled
me exceedingly. Perhaps, thought I, he has mistaken me for another
person; if so, my appearing on the ground will soon set matters right.
With this persuasion I went to bed, somewhat calmer than I should
otherwise have been; nay, I was even composed enough to divert myself
with the folly of one bearing so vulgar an appellation taking it into
his head to play the _man of honor_, and could not help a waggish
feeling of curiosity to see if his name and person were in keeping.

I woke myself in the morning with a loud laugh, for I had dreamt of
meeting, in the redoubtable Mr. Bub, a little pot-bellied man, with a
round face, a red snub-nose, and a pair of gooseberry wall-eyes. My
fit of pleasantry was far from passed off when I came in sight of the
fatal elms. I saw my antagonist pacing the ground with considerable
violence. Ah! said I, he is trying to escape from his unheroic name!
and I laughed again at the conceit; but, as I drew a little nearer,
there appeared a majestic altitude in his figure very unlike what I
had seen in my dream, and my laugh began to stiffen into a kind of
rigid grin. There now came upon me something very like a misgiving
that the affair might turn out to be no joke. I felt an unaccountable
wish that this Mr. Bub had never been born; still I advanced: but
if an aerolite had fallen at my feet, I could not have been more
startled, than when I found in the person of my challenger--the
mysterious stranger. The consequences of my curiosity immediately
rushed upon me, and I was no longer at a loss in what way I had
injured him. All my merriment seemed to curdle within me; and I felt
like a dog that had got his head into a jug, and suddenly finds he
cannot extricate it. "Well met, Sir," said the stranger; "now
take your ground, and abide the consequences of your infernal
insinuations." "Upon my word," replied I,--"upon my honor, Sir,"--and
there I stuck, for in truth I knew not what it was I was going to say;
when the stranger's second, advancing, exclaimed, in a voice which
I immediately recognized, "Why, zounds! Rainbow, are _you_ the
man?" "Is it you, Harman?" "What!" continued he, "my old classmate
Rainbow turned slanderer? Impossible! Indeed, Mr. Bub, there must be
some mistake here." "None, Sir," said the stranger; "I have it on
the authority of my respectable landlord, that, ever since this
gentleman's arrival, he has been incessant in his attempts to blacken
my character with every person at the inn." "Nay, my friend"--But I
put an end to Harman's further defence of me, by taking him aside,
and frankly confessing the whole truth. It was with some difficulty I
could get through the explanation, being frequently interrupted with
bursts of laughter from my auditor; which, indeed, I now began to
think very natural. In a word, to cut the story short, my friend
having repeated the conference verbatim to Mr. Bub, he was
good-natured enough to join in the mirth, saying, with one of his best
sardonics, he "had always had a misgiving that his unlucky ugly face
would one day or other be the death of somebody." Well, we passed the
day together, and having cracked a social bottle after dinner, parted,
I believe, as heartily friends as we should have been (which is saying
a great deal) had he indeed proved the favorite villain in my Novel.
But, alas! with the loss of my villain, away went the Novel.

Here again I was at a stand; and in vain did I torture my brains
for another pursuit. But why should I seek one? In fortune I have a
competence,--why not be as independent in mind? There are thousands in
the world whose sole object in life is to attain the means of living
without toil; and what is any literary pursuit but a series of mental
labor, ay, and oftentimes more wearying to the spirits than that of
the body. Upon the whole, I came to the conclusion, that it was a very
foolish thing to do any thing. So I seriously set about trying to do

Well, what with whistling, hammering down all the nails in the house
that had started, paring my nails, pulling my fire to pieces and
rebuilding it, changing my clothes to full dress though I dined alone,
trying to make out the figure of a Cupid on my discolored ceiling, and
thinking of a lady I had not thought of for ten years before, I got
along the first week tolerably well. But by the middle of the second
week,--'t was horrible! the hours seemed to roll over me like
mill-stones. When I awoke in the morning I felt like an Indian
devotee, the day coming upon me like the great temple of Juggernaut;
cracking of my bones beginning after breakfast; and if I had any
respite, it was seldom for more than half an hour, when a newspaper
seemed to stop the wheels;--then away they went, crack, crack, noon
and afternoon, till I found myself by night reduced to a perfect
jelly,--good for nothing but to be ladled into bed, with a greater
horror than ever at the thought of sunrise.

This will never do, said I; a toad in the heart of a tree lives a more
comfortable life than a nothing-doing man; and I began to perceive
a very deep meaning in the truism of "something being better than
nothing." But is a precise object always necessary to the mind? No: if
it be but occupied, no matter with what. That may easily be done.
I have already tried the sciences, and made abortive attempts in
literature, but I have never yet tried what is called general
reading;--that, thank Heaven, is a resource inexhaustible. I will
henceforth read only for amusement. My first experiment in this way
was on Voyages and Travels, with occasional dippings into Shipwrecks,
Murders, and Ghost-stories. It succeeded beyond my hopes; month after
month passing away like days, and as for days,--I almost fancied that
I could see the sun move. How comfortable, thought I, thus to travel
over the world in my closet! how delightful to double Cape Horn and
cross the African Desert in my rocking-chair,--to traverse Caffraria
and the Mogul's dominions in the same pleasant vehicle! This is living
to some purpose; one day dining on barbecued pigs in Otaheite; the
next in danger of perishing amidst the snows of Terra del Fuego; then
to have a lion cross my path in the heart of Africa; to run for my
life from a wounded rhinoceros, and sit, by mistake, on a sleeping
boa-constrictor;--this, this, said I, is life! Even the dangers of the
sea were but healthful stimulants. If I met with a tornado, it was
only an agreeable variety; water-spouts and ice-islands gave me no
manner of alarm; and I have seldom been more composed than when
catching a whale. In short, the ease with which I thus circumnavigated
the globe, and conversed with all its varieties of inhabitants,
expanded my benevolence; I found every place, and everybody in it,
even to the Hottentots, vastly agreeable. But, alas! I was doomed
to discover that this could not last for ever. Though I was still
curious, there were no longer curiosities; for the world is limited,
and new countries, and new people, like every thing else, wax stale on
acquaintance; even ghosts and hurricanes become at last familiar; and
books grow old, like those who read them.

I was now at what sailors call a dead lift; being too old to build
castles for the future, and too dissatisfied with the life I had
led to look back on the past. In this state of mind, I bought me a
snuffbox; for, as I could not honestly recommend my disjointed self
to any decent woman, it seemed a kind of duty in me to contract such
habits as would effectually prevent my taking in the lady I had once
thought of. I set to, snuffing away till I made my nose sore, and
lost my appetite. I then threw my snuffbox into the fire, and took to
cigars. This change appeared to revive me. For a short time I thought
myself in Elysium, and wondered I had never tried them before. Thou
fragrant weed! O, that I were a Dutch poet, I exclaimed, that I might
render due honor to thy unspeakable virtues! Ineffable tobacco! Every
puff seemed like oil poured upon troubled waters, and I felt an
inexpressible calmness stealing over my frame; in truth, it seemed
like a benevolent spirit reconciling my soul to my body. But
moderation, as I have before said, was never one of my virtues. I
walked my room, pouring out volumes like a moving glass-house. My
apartment was soon filled with smoke; I looked in the glass and hardly
knew myself, my eyes peering at me, through the curling atmosphere,
like those of a poodle. I then retired to the opposite end, and
surveyed the furniture; nothing retained its original form or
position;--the tables and chairs seemed to loom from the floor, and my
grandfather's picture to thrust forward its nose like a French-horn,
while that of my grandmother, who was reckoned a beauty in her day,
looked, in her hoop, like her husband's wig-block stuck on a tub.
Whether this was a signal for the fiends within me to begin their
operations, I know not; but from that day I began to be what is called
nervous. The uninterrupted health I had hitherto enjoyed now seemed
the greatest curse that could have befallen me. I had never had the
usual itinerant distempers; it was very unlikely that I should always
escape them; and the dread of their coming upon me in my advanced age
made me perfectly miserable. I scarcely dared to stir abroad;
had sandbags put to my doors to keep out the measles; forbade my
neighbours' children playing in my yard to avoid the whooping-cough;
and, to prevent infection from the small-pox, I ordered all my male
servants' heads to be shaved, made the coachman and footman wear tow
wigs, and had them both regularly smoked whenever they returned from
the neighbouring town, before they were allowed to enter my presence.
Nor were these all my miseries; in fact, they were but a sort of
running base to a thousand other strange and frightful fancies; the
mere skeleton to a whole body-corporate of horrors. I became dreamy,
was haunted by what I had read, frequently finding a Hottentot, or a
boa-constrictor, in my bed. Sometimes I fancied myself buried in one
of the pyramids of Egypt, breaking my shins against the bones of a
sacred cow. Then I thought myself a kangaroo, unable to move because
somebody had cut off my tail.

In this miserable state I one evening rushed out of my house. I know
not how far, or how long, I had been from home, when, hearing a
well-known voice, I suddenly stopped. It seemed to belong to a face
that I knew; yet how I should know it somewhat puzzled me, being then
fully persuaded that I was a Chinese Josh. My friend (as I afterwards
learned he was) invited me to go to his club. This, thought I, is one
of my worshippers, and they have a right to carry me wherever they
please; accordingly I suffered myself to be led.

I soon found myself in an American tavern, and in the midst of a dozen
grave gentlemen who were emptying a large bowl of punch. They each
saluted me, some calling me by name, others saying they were happy to
make my acquaintance; but what appeared quite unaccountable was my not
only understanding their language, but knowing it to be English. A
kind of reaction now began to take place in my brain. Perhaps, said I,
I am not a Josh. I was urged to pledge my friend in a glass of punch;
I did so; my friend's friend, and his friend, and all the rest, in
succession, begged to have the same honor; I complied, again
and again, till at last, the punch having fairly turned my
head topsy-turvy, righted my understanding; and I found myself

This happy change gave a pleasant fillip to my spirits. I returned
home, found no monster in my bed, and slept quietly till near noon the
next day. I arose with a slight headache and a great admiration
of punch; resolving, if I did not catch the measles from my late
adventure, to make a second visit to the club. No symptoms appearing,
I went again; and my reception was such as led to a third, and a
fourth, and a fifth visit, when I became a regular member. I believe
my inducement to this was a certain unintelligible something in three
or four of my new associates, which at once gratified and kept alive
my curiosity, in their letting out just enough of themselves while I
was with them to excite me when alone to speculate on what was kept
back. I wondered I had never met with such characters in books; and
the kind of interest they awakened began gradually to widen to others.
Henceforth I will live in the world, said I; 't is my only remedy. A
man's own affairs are soon conned; he gets them by heart till they
haunt him when he would be rid of them; but those of another can
be known only in part, while that which remains unrevealed is a
never-ending stimulus to curiosity. The only natural mode, therefore,
of preventing the mind preying on itself,--the only rational, because
the only interminable employment,--is to be busy about other people's

The variety of objects which this new course of life each day
presented, brought me at length to a state of sanity; at least, I was
no longer disposed to conjure up remote dangers to my door, or chew
the cud on my indigested past reading; though sometimes, I confess,
when I have been tempted to meddle with a very bad character, I have
invariably been threatened with a relapse; which leads me to think the
existence of some secret affinity between rogues and boa-constrictors
is not unlikely. In a short time, however, I had every reason to
believe myself completely cured; for the days began to appear of their
natural length, and I no longer saw every thing through a pair of
blue spectacles, but found nature diversified by a thousand beautiful
colors, and the people about me a thousand times more interesting than
hyenas or Hottentots. The world is now my only study, and I trust I
shall stick to it for the sake of my health.


[1] The Frightful is not the Terrible, though often confounded with it.

[2] See Introductory Discourse.

[3] There is one species of imitation, however, which, as having been
practised by some of the most original minds, and also sanctioned by the
ablest writers, demands at least a little consideration; namely, the
adoption of an attitude, provided it be employed to convey a different
thought. So far, indeed, as the imitation has been confined to a
suggestion, and the attitude adopted has been modified by the new subject,
to which it was transferred, by a distinct change of character and
expression, though with but little variation in the disposition of limbs,
we may not dissent; such imitations being virtually little more than
hints, since they end in thoughts either totally different from, or more
complete than, the first. This we do not condemn, for every Poet, as well
as Artist, knows that a thought so modified is of right his own. It is the
transplanting of a tree, not the borrowing of a seed, against which we
contend. But when writers justify the appropriation, of entire figures,
without any such change, we do not agree with them; and cannot but think
that the examples they have quoted, as in the Sacrifice at Lystra, by
Raffaelle, and the Baptism, by Poussin, will fully support our position.
The antique _basso rilievo_ which Raffaelle has introduced in the former,
being certainly imitated both as to lines and grouping, is so distinct,
both in character and form, from the surrounding figures, as to render
them a distinct people, and their very air reminds us of another age. We
cannot but believe we should have had a very different group, and far
superior in expression, had he given us a conception of his own. It would
at least have been in accordance with the rest, animated with the
superstitious enthusiasm of the surrounding crowd; and especially as
sacrificing Priests would they have been amazed and awe-stricken in the
living presence of a god, instead of personating, as in the present group,
the cold officials of the Temple, going through a stated task at the
shrine of their idol. In the figure by Poussin, which he borrowed from
Michael Angelo, the discrepancy is still greater. The original figure,
which was in the Cartoon at Pisa, (now known only by a print,) is that of
a warrior who has been suddenly roused from the act of bathing by the
sound of a trumpet; he has just leaped upon the bank, and, in his haste to
obey its summons, thrusts his foot through his garment. Nothing could be
more appropriate than the violence of this action; it is in unison with
the hurry and bustle of the occasion. And this is the figure which Poussin
(without the slightest change, if we recollect aright) has transferred to
the still and solemn scene in which John baptizes the Saviour. No one can
look at this figure without suspecting the plagiarism. Similar instances
may be found in his other works; as in the Plague of the Philistines,
where the Alcibiades of Raffaelle is coolly sauntering among the dead and
dying, and with as little relation to the infected multitude as if he were
still with Socrates in the School of Athens. In the same picture may be
found also one of the Apostles from the Cartoon of the Draught of Fishes:
and we may naturally ask what business he has there. And yet such
appropriations have been made to appear no thefts, simply because no
attempt seems to have been made at concealment! But theft, we must be
allowed to think, is still theft, whether committed in the dark, or in the
face of day. And the example is a dangerous one, inasmuch as it comes from
men who were not constrained to resort to such shifts by any poverty of

Akin to this is another and larger kind of borrowing, which, though it
cannot strictly be called copying; yet so evidently betrays a foreign
origin, as to produce the same effect. We allude to the adoption of the
peculiar lines, handling, and disposition of masses, &c., of any
particular master.

[4] First printed in 1821, in "The Idle Man," No. II p. 38.

[5] A feigned name.--_Editor_.


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