The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry
Walter Horatio Pater

Part 3 out of 4

surfaces with a strange, delightful, foreign aspect passing over all
that Northern land, in itself neither deeper nor more permanent
than a chance effect of light. He reinforces, he doubles the
French daintiness by Italian finesse. Thereupon, nearly all the
force and all the seriousness of French work disappear; only the
elegance, the aërial touch, the perfect manner remain. But this
elegance, this manner, this daintiness of execution are
consummate, and have an unmistakable aesthetic value.

So the old French chanson, which, like the old northern Gothic
ornament, though it sometimes refined itself into a sort of weird
elegance, was often, in its essence, something rude and formless,
became in the hands of Ronsard a Pindaric ode. He gave it
structure, a sustained system, strophe and antistrophe, and taught
it a changefulness and variety of metre which keep the curiosity
always excited, so that the very aspect of it, as it [159] lies
written on the page, carries the eye lightly onwards, and of which
this is a good instance:--

Avril, le grace, et le ris
De Cypris,
Le flair et la douce haleine;
Avril, le parfum des dieux,
Qui, des cieux,
Sentent l’odeur de la plaine;

C’est toy, courtois et gentil,
Qui, d’exil
Retire ces passagères,
Ces arondelles qui vont,
Et qui sont
Du printemps les messagères.

That is not by Ronsard, but by Remy Belleau, for Ronsard soon
came to have a school. Six other poets threw in their lot with him
in his literary revolution,--this Remy Belleau, Antoine de Baif,
Pontus de Tyard, Étienne Jodelle, Jean Daurat, and lastly Joachim
du Bellay; and with that strange love of emblems which is
characteristic of the time, which covered all the works of Francis
the First with the salamander, and all the works of Henry the
Second with the double crescent, and all the works of Anne of
Brittany with the knotted cord, they called themselves the Pleiad;
seven in all, although, as happens with the celestial Pleiad, if you
scrutinise this constellation of poets more carefully you may find
there a great number of minor stars.

The first note of this literary revolution was [160] struck by
Joachim du Bellay in a little tract written at the early age of
twenty-four, which coming to us through three centuries seems of
yesterday, so full is it of those delicate critical distinctions which
are sometimes supposed peculiar to modern writers. The piece
has for its title La Deffense et Illustration de la langue
Françoyse; and its problem is how to illustrate or ennoble the
French language, to give it lustre.

We are accustomed to speak of the varied critical and creative
movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the
Renaissance, and because we have a single name for it we may
sometimes fancy that there was more unity in the thing itself than
there really was. Even the Reformation, that other great
movement of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, had far less
unity, far less of combined action, than is at first sight supposed;
and the Renaissance was infinitely less united, less conscious of
combined action, than the Reformation. But if anywhere the
Renaissance became conscious, as a German philosopher might
say, if ever it was understood as a systematic movement by those
who took part in it, it is in this little book of Joachim du Bellay's,
which it is impossible to read without feeling the excitement, the
animation, of change, of discovery. "It is a remarkable fact,"
says M. Sainte-Beuve, "and an inversion of what is true of other
languages, that, in French, prose has always had the precedence
over poetry." Du Bellay's prose [161] is perfectly transparent,
flexible, and chaste. In many ways it is a more characteristic
example of the culture of the Pleiad than any of its verse; and
those who love the whole movement of which the Pleiad is a
part, for a weird foreign grace in it, and may be looking about for
a true specimen of it, cannot have a better than Joachim du Bellay
and this little treatise of his.

Du Bellay's object is to adjust the existing French culture to the
rediscovered classical culture; and in discussing this problem,
and developing the theories of the Pleiad, he has lighted upon
many principles of permanent truth and applicability. There were
some who despaired of the French language altogether, who
thought it naturally incapable of the fulness and elegance of
Greek and Latin--cette élégance et copie qui est en la langue
Greque et Romaine--that science could be adequately discussed,
and poetry nobly written, only in the dead languages. "Those
who speak thus," says Du Bellay, "make me think of the relics
which one may only see through a little pane of glass, and must
not touch with one's hands. That is what these people do with all
branches of culture, which they keep shut up in Greek and Latin
books, not permitting one to see them otherwise, or transport
them out of dead words into those which are alive, and wing their
way daily through the mouths of men." "Languages," he says
again, "are not born like plants and trees, some naturally feeble
and sickly, [162] others healthy and strong and apter to bear the
weight of men's conceptions, but all their virtue is generated in
the world of choice and men's freewill concerning them.
Therefore, I cannot blame too strongly the rashness of some of
our countrymen, who being anything rather than Greeks or
Latins, depreciate and reject with more than stoical disdain
everything written in French; nor can I express my surprise at the
odd opinion of some learned men who think that our vulgar
tongue is wholly incapable of erudition and good literature."

It was an age of translations. Du Bellay himself translated two
books of the Aeneid, and other poetry, old and new, and there
were some who thought that the translation of the classical
literature was the true means of ennobling the French language:--
strangers are ever favourites with us--nous favorisons toujours les
étrangers. Du Bellay moderates their expectations. "I do not
believe that one can learn the right use of them"--he is speaking
of figures and ornament in language--"from translations, because
it is impossible to reproduce them with the same grace with
which the original author used them. For each language has I
know not what peculiarity of its own; and if you force yourself to
express the naturalness (le naïf) of this in another language,
observing the law of translation,--not to expatiate beyond the
limits of the author himself, your words will be constrained,
[163] cold and ungraceful." Then he fixes the test of all good
translation:--"To prove this, read me Demosthenes and Homer in
Latin, Cicero and Virgil in French, and see whether they produce
in you the same affections which you experience in reading those
authors in the original."

In this effort to ennoble the French language, to give it grace,
number, perfection, and as painters do to their pictures, that last,
so desirable, touch--cette dernière main que nous désirons-what
Du Bellay is really pleading for is his mother-tongue, the
language, that is, in which one will have the utmost degree of
what is moving and passionate. He recognised of what force the
music and dignity of languages are, how they enter into the
inmost part of things; and in pleading for the cultivation of the
French language, he is pleading for no merely scholastic interest,
but for freedom, impulse, reality, not in literature only, but in
daily communion of speech. After all, it was impossible to have
this impulse in Greek and Latin, dead languages shut up in books
as in reliquaries--péris et mises en reliquaires de livres. By aid
of this starveling stock--pauvre plante et vergette--of the French
language, he must speak delicately, movingly, if he is ever to
speak so at all: that, or none, must be for him the medium of what
he calls, in one of his great phrases, le discours fatal des choses
mondaines--that discourse about affairs which decides men's
fates. And it is his patriotism [164] not to despair of it; he sees it
already perfect in all elegance and beauty of words--parfait en
toute élégance et vénusté de paroles.

Du Bellay was born in the disastrous year 1525, the year of the
battle of Pavia, and the captivity of Francis the First. His parents
died early, and to him, as the younger son, his mother's little
estate, ce petit Liré, the beloved place of his birth, descended. He
was brought up by a brother only a little older than himself; and
left to themselves, the two boys passed their lives in day-dreams
of military glory. Their education was neglected; "The time of
my youth," says Du Bellay, "was lost, like the flower which no
shower waters, and no hand cultivates." He was just twenty
years old when the elder brother died, leaving Joachim to be the
guardian of his child. It was with regret, with a shrinking sense
of incapacity, that he took upon him the burden of this
responsibility. Hitherto he had looked forward to the profession
of a soldier, hereditary in his family. But at this time a sickness
attacked him which brought him cruel sufferings, and seemed
likely to be mortal. It was then for the first time that he read the
Greek and Latin poets. These studies came too late to make him
what he so much desired to be, a trifler in Greek and Latin verse,
like so many others of his time now forgotten; instead, they made
him a lover of his own homely native tongue, that poor starveling
stock of the French [165] language. It was through this fortunate
short-coming in his education that he became national and
modern; and he learned afterwards to look back on that wild
garden of his youth with only a half regret. A certain Cardinal du
Bellay was the successful member of the family, a man often
employed in high official business. To him the thoughts of
Joachim turned when it became necessary to choose a profession,
and in 1552 he accompanied the Cardinal to Rome. He remained
there nearly five years, burdened with the weight of affairs, and
languishing with home-sickness. Yet it was under these
circumstances that his genius yielded its best fruits. From Rome,
so full of pleasurable sensation for men of an imaginative
temperament such as his, with all the curiosities of the
Renaissance still fresh in it, his thoughts went back painfully,
longingly, to the country of the Loire, with its wide expanse of
waving corn, its homely pointed roofs of grey slate, and its far-
off scent of the sea. He reached home at last, but only to die
there, quite suddenly, one wintry day, at the early age of thirty-

Much of Du Bellay's poetry illustrates rather the age and school
to which he belonged than his own temper and genius. As with
the writings of Ronsard and the other poets of the Pleiad, its
interest depends not so much on the impress of individual genius
upon it, as on the [166] circumstance that it was once poetry à la
mode, that it is part of the manner of a time--a time which made
much of manner, and carried it to a high degree of perfection. It
is one of the decorations of an age which threw a large part of its
energy into the work of decoration. We feel a pensive pleasure in
gazing on these faded adornments, and observing how a group of
actual men and women pleased themselves long ago. Ronsard's
poems are a kind of epitome of his age. Of one side of that age, it
is true, of the strenuous, the progressive, the serious movement,
which was then going on, there is little; but of the catholic side,
the losing side, the forlorn hope, hardly a figure is absent. The
Queen of Scots, at whose desire Ronsard published his odes,
reading him in her northern prison, felt that he was bringing back
to her the true flavour of her early days in the court of Catherine
at the Louvre, with its exotic Italian gaieties. Those who disliked
that poetry, disliked it because they found that age itself
distasteful. The poetry of Malherbe came, with its sustained style
and weighty sentiment, but with nothing that set people singing;
and the lovers of such poetry saw in the poetry of the Pleiad only
the latest trumpery of the middle age. But the time arrived when
the school of Malherbe also had had its day; and the
Romanticists, who in their eagerness for excitement, for strange
music and imagery, went back to the works of the middle age,
accepted the Pleiad too [167] with the rest; and in that new
middle age which their genius has evoked, the poetry of the
Pleiad has found its place. At first, with Malherbe, you may
think it, like the architecture, the whole mode of life, the very
dresses of that time, fantastic, faded, rococo. But if you look
long enough to understand it, to conceive its sentiment, you will
find that those wanton lines have a spirit guiding their caprices.
For there is style there; one temper has shaped the whole; and
everything that has style, that has been done as no other man or
age could have done it, as it could never, for all our trying, be
done again, has its true value and interest. Let us dwell upon it
for a moment, and try to gather from it that special flower, ce
fleur particulier, which Ronsard himself tells us every garden

It is poetry not for the people, but for a confined circle, for
courtiers, great lords and erudite persons, people who desire to be
humoured, to gratify a certain refined voluptuousness they have
in them. Ronsard loves, or dreams that he loves, a rare and
peculiar type of beauty, la petite pucelle Angevine, with golden
hair and dark eyes. But he has the ambition not only of being a
courtier and a lover, but a great scholar also; he is anxious about
orthography, about the letter è Grecque, the true spelling of Latin
names in French writing, and the restoration of the letter i to its
primitive liberty--del' i voyelle en sa première liberté. His poetry
is full of quaint, [168] remote learning. He is just a little
pedantic, true always to his own express judgment, that to be
natural is not enough for one who in poetry desires to produce
work worthy of immortality. And therewithal a certain number
of Greek words, which charmed Ronsard and his circle by their
gaiety and daintiness, and a certain air of foreign elegance about
them, crept into the French language; as there were other strange
words which the poets of the Pleiad forged for themselves, and
which had only an ephemeral existence.

With this was united the desire to taste a more exquisite and
various music than that of the older French verse, or of the
classical poets. The music of the measured, scanned verse of
Latin and Greek poetry is one thing; the music of the rhymed,
unscanned verse of Villon and the old French poets, la poésie
chantée, is another. To combine these two kinds of music in a
new school of French poetry, to make verse which should scan
and rhyme as well, to search out and harmonise the measure of
every syllable, and unite it to the swift, flitting, swallow-like
motion of rhyme, to penetrate their poetry with a double music--
this was the ambition of the Pleiad. They are insatiable of music,
they cannot have enough of it; they desire a music of greater
compass perhaps than words can possibly yield, to drain out the
last drops of sweetness which a certain note or accent contains.

[169] It was Goudimel, the serious and protestant Goudimel, who
set Ronsard's songs to music; but except in this eagerness for
music the poets of the Pleiad seem never quite in earnest. The
old Greek and Roman mythology, which the great Italians had
found a motive so weighty and severe, becomes with them a mere
toy. That "Lord of terrible aspect," Amor, has become Love the
boy, or the babe. They are full of fine railleries; they delight in
diminutives, ondelette, fontelette, doucelette, Cassandrette.
Their loves are only half real, a vain effort to prolong the
imaginative loves of the middle age beyond their natural lifetime.
They write love-poems for hire. Like that party of people who
tell the tales in Boccaccio's Decameron, they form a circle which
in an age of great troubles, losses, anxieties, can amuse itself with
art, poetry, intrigue. But they amuse themselves with wonderful
elegance. And sometimes their gaiety becomes satiric, for, as
they play, real passions insinuate themselves, and at least the
reality of death. Their dejection at the thought of leaving this fair
abode of our common daylight--le beau sejour du commun jour--
is expressed by them with almost wearisome reiteration. But
with this sentiment too they are able to trifle. The imagery of
death serves for delicate ornament, and they weave into the airy
nothingness of their verses their trite reflections on the vanity
[170] of life. Just so the grotesque details of the charnel-house
nest themselves, together with birds and flowers and the fancies
of the pagan mythology, in the traceries of the architecture of that
time, which wantons in its graceful arabesques with the images of
old age and death.

Ronsard became deaf at sixteen; and it was this circumstance
which finally determined him to be a man of letters instead of a
diplomatist, significantly, one might fancy, of a certain premature
agedness, and of the tranquil, temperate sweetness appropriate to
that, in the school of poetry which he founded. Its charm is that
of a thing not vigorous or original, but full of the grace which
comes of long study and reiterated refinements, and many steps
repeated, and many angles worn down, with an exquisite
faintness, une fadeur exquise, a certain tenuity and caducity, as
for those who can bear nothing vehement or strong; for princes
weary of love, like Francis the First, or of pleasure, like Henry
the Third, or of action, like Henry the Fourth. Its merits are those
of the old,--grace and finish, perfect in minute detail. For these
people are a little jaded, and have a constant desire for a subdued
and delicate excitement, to warm their creeping fancy a little.
They love a constant change of rhyme in poetry, and in their
houses that strange, fantastic interweaving of thin, reed-like lines,
which are a kind of rhetoric in architecture.

[171] But the poetry of the Pleiad is true not only to the
physiognomy of its age, but also to its country--ce pays du
Vendomois--the names and scenery of which so often recur in it:-
-the great Loire, with its long spaces of white sand; the little river
Loir; the heathy, upland country, with its scattered pools of water
and waste road-sides, and retired manors, with their crazy old
feudal defences half fallen into decay; La Beauce, where the vast
rolling fields seem to anticipate the great western sea itself. It is
full of the traits of that country. We see Du Bellay and Ronsard
gardening, or hunting with their dogs, or watch the pastimes of a
rainy day; and with all this is connected a domesticity, a
homeliness and simple goodness, by which the Northern country
gains upon the South. They have the love of the aged for
warmth, and understand the poetry of winter; for they are not far
from the Atlantic, and the west wind which comes up from it,
turning the poplars white, spares not this new Italy in France. So
the fireside often appears, with the pleasures of the frosty season,
about the vast emblazoned chimneys of the time, and with a
bonhomie as of little children, or old people.

It is in Du Bellay's Olive, a collection of sonnets in praise of a
half-imaginary lady, Sonnetz a la louange d'Olive, that these
characteristics are most abundant. Here is a perfectly crystallised


D'amour, de grace, et de haulte valeur
Les feux divins estoient ceinctz et les cieulx
S'estoient vestuz d'un manteau precieux
A raiz ardens de diverse couleur:
Tout estoit plein de beauté, de bonheur,
La mer tranquille, et le vent gracieulx,
Quand celle la nasquit en ces bas lieux
Qui a pillé du monde tout l'honneur.
Ell' prist son teint des beux lyz blanchissans,
Son chef de l'or, ses deux levres des rozes,
Et du soleil ses yeux resplandissans:
Le ciel usant de libéralité,
Mist en l'esprit ses semences encloses,
Son nom des Dieux prist l'immortalité.

That he is thus a characteristic specimen of the poetical taste of
that age, is indeed Du Bellay's chief interest. But if his work is
to have the highest sort of interest, if it is to do something more
than satisfy curiosity, if it is to have an aesthetic as distinct from
an historical value, it is not enough for a poet to have been the
true child of his age, to have conformed to its aesthetic
conditions, and by so conforming to have charmed and stimulated
that age; it is necessary that there should be perceptible in his
work something individual, inventive, unique, the impress there
of the writer's own temper and personality. This impress M.
Sainte-Beuve thought he found in the Antiquités de Rome, and
the Regrets, which he ranks as what has been called poésie
intime, that intensely modern sort of poetry in which the writer
has for his aim the portraiture of his own most intimate moods,
and [173] to take the reader into his confidence. That age had
other instances of this intimacy of sentiment: Montaigne's Essays
are full of it, the carvings of the church of Brou are full of it. M.
Sainte-Beuve has perhaps exaggerated the influence of this
quality in Du Bellay's Regrets; but the very name of the book has
a touch of Rousseau about it, and reminds one of a whole
generation of self-pitying poets in modern times. It was in the
atmosphere of Rome, to him so strange and mournful, that these
pale flowers grew up. For that journey to Italy, which he
deplored as the greatest misfortune of his life, put him in full
possession of his talent, and brought out all its originality. And
in effect you do find intimacy, intimité, here. The trouble of his
life is analysed, and the sentiment of it conveyed directly to our
minds; not a great sorrow or passion, but only the sense of loss in
passing days, the ennui of a dreamer who must plunge into the
world's affairs, the opposition between actual life and the ideal, a
longing for rest, nostalgia, home-sickness--that pre-eminently
childish, but so suggestive sorrow, as significant of the final
regret of all human creatures for the familiar earth and limited

The feeling for landscape is often described as a modern one; still
more so is that for antiquity, the sentiment of ruins. Du Bellay
has this sentiment. The duration of the hard, sharp outlines of
things is a grief to him, and passing his wearisome [174] days
among the ruins of ancient Rome, he is consoled by the thought
that all must one day end, by the sentiment of the grandeur of
nothingness--la grandeur du rien. With a strange touch of far-off
mysticism, he thinks that the great whole--le grand tout--into
which all other things pass and lose themselves, ought itself
sometimes to perish and pass away. Nothing less can relieve his
weariness. From the stately aspects of Rome his thoughts went
back continually to France, to the smoking chimneys of his little
village, the longer twilight of the North, the soft climate of
Anjou--La douceur Angevine; yet not so much to the real France,
we may be sure, with its dark streets and roofs of rough-hewn
slate, as to that other country, with slenderer towers, and more
winding rivers, and trees like flowers, and with softer sunshine on
more gracefully-proportioned fields and ways, which the fancy of
the exile, and the pilgrim, and of the schoolboy far from home,
and of those kept at home unwillingly, everywhere builds up
before or behind them.

He came home at last, through the Grisons, by slow journeys;
and there, in the cooler air of his own country, under its skies of
milkier blue, the sweetest flower of his genius sprang up. There
have been poets whose whole fame has rested on one poem, as
Gray's on the Elegy in a Country Churchyard, or Ronsard's, as
many critics have thought, on the eighteen lines of [175] one
famous ode. Du Bellay has almost been the poet of one poem;
and this one poem of his is an Italian product transplanted into
that green country of Anjou; out of the Latin verses of Andrea
Navagero, into French. But it is a composition in which the
matter is almost nothing, and the form almost everything; and the
form of the poem as it stands, written in old French, is all Du
Bellay's own. It is a song which the winnowers are supposed to
sing as they winnow the corn, and they invoke the winds to lie
lightly on the grain.


A vous trouppe legère
Qui d'aile passagères
Par le monde volez,
Et d'un sifflant murmure
L'ombrageuse verdure
Doulcement esbranlez.

J'offre ces violettes,
Ces lis & ces fleurettes,
Et ces roses icy,
Ces vermeillettes roses
Sont freschement écloses,
Et ces oelliets aussi.

De vostre doulce haleine
Eventez ceste plaine
Eventez ce sejour;
Ce pendant que j'ahanne
A mon blè que je vanne
A la chaleur du jour.


That has, in the highest degree, the qualities, the value, of the
whole Pleiad school of poetry, of the whole phase of taste from
which that school derives--a certain silvery grace of fancy, nearly
all the pleasure of which is in the surprise at the happy and
dexterous way in which a thing slight in itself is handled. The
sweetness of it is by no means to be got at by crushing, as you
crush wild herbs to get at their perfume. One seems to hear the
measured motion of the fans, with a child's pleasure on coming
across the incident for the first time, in one of those great barns of
Du Bellay's own country, La Beauce, the granary of France. A
sudden light transfigures some trivial thing, a weather-vane, a
wind-mill, a winnowing fan, the dust in the barn door. A
moment--and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect;
but it leaves a relish behind it, a longing that the accident may
happen again.



157. *The purely artistic aspects of this subject have been
interpreted, in a work of great taste and learning, by Mrs. Mark
Pattison:--The Renaissance of Art in France.

175. *A graceful translation of this and some other poems of the
Pleiad may be found in Ballads and Lyrics of Old France, by Mr.
Andrew Lang.



GOETHE'S fragments of art-criticism contain a few pages of
strange pregnancy on the character of Winckelmann. He speaks
of the teacher who had made his career possible, but whom he
had never seen, as of an abstract type of culture, consummate,
tranquil, withdrawn already into the region of ideals, yet retaining
colour from the incidents of a passionate intellectual life.
He classes him with certain works of art, possessing an
inexhaustible gift of suggestion, to which criticism may return
again and again with renewed freshness. Hegel, in his lectures on
the Philosophy of Art, estimating the work of his predecessors,
has also passed a remarkable judgment on Winckelmann's
writings:--"Winckelmann, by contemplation of the ideal works of
the ancients, received a sort of inspiration, through which he
opened a new sense for the study of art. He is to be regarded as
one of those who, in the sphere of art, have known how to initiate
a new organ for the human spirit." That it has [178] given a new
sense, that it has laid open a new organ, is the highest that can be
said of any critical effort. It is interesting then to ask what kind
of man it was who thus laid open a new organ. Under what
conditions was that effected?

Johann Joachim Winckelmann was born at Stendal, in
Brandenburg, in the year 1717. The child of a poor tradesman,
he passed through many struggles in early youth, the memory of
which ever remained in him as a fitful cause of dejection. In
1763, in the full emancipation of his spirit, looking over the
beautiful Roman prospect, he writes--"One gets spoiled here; but
God owed me this; in my youth I suffered too much." Destined
to assert and interpret the charm of the Hellenic spirit, he served
first a painful apprenticeship in the tarnished intellectual world of
Germany in the earlier half of the eighteenth century. Passing out
of that into the happy light of the antique, he had a sense of
exhilaration almost physical. We find him as a child in the dusky
precincts of a German school, hungrily feeding on a few
colourless books. The master of this school grows blind;
Winckelmann becomes his famulus. The old man would have
had him study theology. Winckelmann, free of the master's
library, chooses rather to become familiar with the Greek
classics. Herodotus and Homer win, with their "vowelled"
Greek, his warmest enthusiasm; whole nights of fever are
devoted to them; disturbing dreams of an [179] Odyssey of his
own come to him. "He felt in himself," says Madame de Staël,
"an ardent attraction towards the south. In German imaginations
even now traces are often to be found of that love of the sun, that
weariness of the North (cette fatigue du nord), which carried the
northern peoples away into the countries of the South. A fine sky
brings to birth sentiments not unlike the love of one's

To most of us, after all our steps towards it, the antique world, in
spite of its intense outlines, its own perfect self-expression, still
remains faint and remote. To him, closely limited except on the
side of the ideal, building for his dark poverty "a house not made
with hands," it early came to seem more real than the present. In
the fantastic plans of foreign travel continually passing through
his mind, to Egypt, for instance, and to France, there seems
always to be rather a wistful sense of something lost to be
regained, than the desire of discovering anything new. Goethe
has told us how, in his eagerness actually to handle the antique,
he became interested in the insignificant vestiges of it which the
neighbourhood of Strasburg afforded. So we hear of
Winckelmann's boyish antiquarian wanderings among the ugly
Brandenburg sandhills. Such a conformity between himself and
Winckelmann, Goethe would have gladly noted.

At twenty-one he enters the University of Halle, to study
theology, as his friends desire; [180] instead, he becomes the
enthusiastic translator of Herodotus. The condition of Greek
learning in German schools and universities had fallen, and there
were no professors at Halle who could satisfy his sharp,
intellectual craving. Of his professional education he always
speaks with scorn, claiming to have been his own teacher from
first to last. His appointed teachers did not perceive that a new
source of culture was within their hands. Homo vagus et
inconstans!--one of them pedantically reports of the future
pilgrim to Rome, unaware on which side his irony was whetted.
When professional education confers nothing but irritation on a
Schiller, no one ought to be surprised; for Schiller, and such as
he, are primarily spiritual adventurers. But that Winckelmann,
the votary of the gravest of intellectual traditions, should get
nothing but an attempt at suppression from the professional
guardians of learning, is what may well surprise us.

In 1743 he became master of a school at Seehausen. This was the
most wearisome period of his life. Notwithstanding a success in
dealing with children, which seems to testify to something simple
and primeval in his nature, he found the work of teaching very
depressing. Engaged in this work, he writes that he still has
within him a longing desire to attain to the knowledge of beauty--
sehnlich wünschte zur Kenntniss des Schönen zu gelangen. He
had to shorten his nights, [181] sleeping only four hours, to gain
time for reading. And here Winckelmann made a step forward in
culture. He multiplied his intellectual force by detaching from it
all flaccid interests. He renounced mathematics and law, in
which his reading had been considerable,--all but the literature of
the arts. Nothing was to enter into his life unpenetrated by its
central enthusiasm. At this time he undergoes the charm of
Voltaire. Voltaire belongs to that flimsier, more artificial,
classical tradition, which Winckelmann was one day to supplant,
by the clear ring, the eternal outline, of the genuine antique. But
it proves the authority of such a gift as Voltaire's that it allures
and wins even those born to supplant it. Voltaire's impression on
Winckelmann was never effaced; and it gave him a consideration
for French literature which contrasts with his contempt for the
literary products of Germany. German literature transformed,
siderealised, as we see it in Goethe, reckons Winckelmann
among its initiators. But Germany at that time presented nothing
in which he could have anticipated Iphigenie, and the formation
of an effective classical tradition in German literature.

Under this purely literary influence, Winckelmann protests
against Christian Wolff and the philosophers. Goethe, in
speaking of this protest, alludes to his own obligations to
Emmanuel Kant. Kant's influence over the [182] culture of
Goethe, which he tells us could not have been resisted by him
without loss, consisted in a severe limitation to the concrete. But
he adds, that in born antiquaries, like Winckelmann, a constant
handling of the antique, with its eternal outline, maintains that
limitation as effectually as a critical philosophy. Plato, however,
saved so often for his redeeming literary manner, is excepted
from Winckelmann's proscription of the philosophers. The
modern student most often meets Plato on that side which seems
to pass beyond Plato into a world no longer pagan, based upon
the conception of a spiritual life. But the element of affinity
which he presents to Winckelmann is that which is wholly Greek,
and alien from the Christian world, represented by that group of
brilliant youths in the Lysis, still uninfected by any spiritual
sickness, finding the end of all endeavour in the aspects of the
human form, the continual stir and motion of a comely human

This new-found interest in Plato's dialogues could not fail to
increase his desire to visit the countries of the classical tradition.
"It is my misfortune," he writes, " that I was not born to great
place, wherein I might have had cultivation, and the opportunity
of following my instinct and forming myself." A visit to Rome
probably was already designed, and he silently preparing for it.
Count Bünau, the author of a historical work then of note, had
collected at Nöthenitz a [183] valuable library, now part of the
library of Dresden. In 1748 Winckelmann wrote to Bünau in
halting French:--He is emboldened, he says, by Bünau's
indulgence for needy men of letters. He desires only to devote
himself to study, having never allowed himself to be dazzled by
favourable prospects in the Church. He hints at his doubtful
position "in a metaphysical age, by which humane literature is
trampled under foot. At present," he goes on, "little value is set
on Greek literature, to which I have devoted myself so far as I
could penetrate, when good books are so scarce and expensive."
Finally, he desires a place in some corner of Bünau's library.
"Perhaps, at some future time, I shall become more useful to the
public, if, drawn from obscurity in whatever way, I can find
means to maintain myself in the capital."

Soon afterwards we find Winckelmann in the library at
Nöthenitz. Thence he made many visits to the collection of
antiquities at Dresden. He became acquainted with many artists,
above all with Oeser, Goethe's future friend and master, who,
uniting a high culture with the practical knowledge of art, was
fitted to minister to Winckelmann's culture. And now a new
channel of communion with the Greek life was opened for him.
Hitherto he had handled the words only of Greek poetry, stirred
indeed and roused by them, yet divining beyond the words some
unexpressed pulsation of sensuous life. Suddenly [184] he is in
contact with that life, still fervent in the relics of plastic art.
Filled as our culture is with the classical spirit, we can hardly
imagine how deeply the human mind was moved, when, at the
Renaissance, in the midst of a frozen world, the buried fire of
ancient art rose up from under the soil. Winckelmann here
reproduces for us the earlier sentiment of the Renaissance. On a
sudden the imagination feels itself free. How facile and direct, it
seems to say, is this life of the senses and the understanding,
when once we have apprehended it! Here, surely, is that more
liberal mode of life we have been seeking so long, so near to us
all the while. How mistaken and roundabout have been our
efforts to reach it by mystic passion, and monastic reverie; how
they have deflowered the flesh; how little have they really
emancipated us! Hermione melts from her stony posture, and the
lost proportions of life right themselves. Here, then, in vivid
realisation we see the native tendency of Winckelmann to escape
from abstract theory to intuition, to the exercise of sight and
touch. Lessing, in the Laocoon, has theorised finely on the
relation of poetry to sculpture; and philosophy may give us
theoretical reasons why not poetry but sculpture should be the
most sincere and exact expression of the Greek ideal. By a
happy, unperplexed dexterity, Winckelmann solves the question
in the concrete. It is what Goethe calls his Gewahrwerden der
griechischen Kunst, his finding of Greek art.

[185] Through the tumultuous richness of Goethe's culture, the
influence of Winckelmann is always discernible, as the strong,
regulative under-current of a clear, antique motive. "One learns
nothing from him," he says to Eckermann, "but one becomes
something." If we ask what the secret of this influence was,
Goethe himself will tell us--wholeness, unity with one's self,
intellectual integrity. And yet these expressions, because they fit
Goethe, with his universal culture, so well, seem hardly to
describe the narrow, exclusive interest of Winckelmann.
Doubtless Winckelmann's perfection is a narrow perfection: his
feverish nursing of the one motive of his life is a contrast to
Goethe's various energy. But what affected Goethe, what
instructed him and ministered to his culture, was the integrity, the
truth to its type, of the given force. The development of this
force was the single interest of Winckelmann, unembarrassed by
anything else in him. Other interests, practical or intellectual,
those slighter talents and motives not supreme, which in most
men are the waste part of nature, and drain away their vitality, he
plucked out and cast from him. The protracted longing of his
youth is not a vague, romantic longing: he knows what he longs
for, what he wills. Within its severe limits his enthusiasm burns
like lava. "You know," says Lavater, speaking of
Winckelmann's countenance, "that I consider ardour and
indifference by no means incompatible in the [186] same
character. If ever there was a striking instance of that union, it is
in the countenance before us." "A lowly childhood," says
Goethe, "insufficient instruction in youth, broken, distracted
studies in early manhood, the burden of school-keeping! He was
thirty years old before he enjoyed a single favour of fortune: but
so soon as he had attained to an adequate condition of freedom,
he appears before us consummate and entire, complete in the
ancient sense."

But his hair is turning grey, and he has not yet reached the south.
The Saxon court had become Roman Catholic, and the way to
favour at Dresden was through Roman ecclesiastics. Probably
the thought of a profession of the papal religion was not new to
Winckelmann. At one time he had thought of begging his way to
Rome, from cloister to cloister, under the pretence of a
disposition to change his faith. In 1751, the papal nuncio,
Archinto, was one of the visitors at Nöthenitz. He suggested
Rome as the fitting stage for Winckelmann's accomplishments,
and held out the hope of a place in the Pope's library. Cardinal
Passionei, charmed with Winckelmann's beautiful Greek writing,
was ready to play the part of Maecenas, if the indispensable
change were made. Winckelmann accepted the bribe, and visited
the nuncio at Dresden. Unquiet still at the word "profession," not
without a struggle, he joined the Roman Church, July the 11th,

[187] Goethe boldly pleads that Winckelmann was a pagan, that
the landmarks of Christendom meant nothing to him. It is clear
that he intended to deceive no one by his disguise; fears of the
inquisition are sometimes visible during his life in Rome; he
entered Rome notoriously with the works of Voltaire in his
possession; the thought of what Count Bünau might be thinking
of him seems to have been his greatest difficulty. On the other
hand, he may have had a sense of a certain antique and as it were
pagan grandeur in the Roman Catholic religion. Turning from
the crabbed Protestantism, which had been the ennui of his youth,
he might reflect that while Rome had reconciled itself to the
Renaissance, the Protestant principle in art had cut off Germany
from the supreme tradition of beauty. And yet to that transparent
nature, with its simplicity as of the earlier world, the loss of
absolute sincerity must have been a real loss. Goethe
understands that Winckelmann had made this sacrifice. Yet at
the bar of the highest criticism, perhaps, Winckelmann may be
absolved. The insincerity of his religious profession was only
one incident of a culture in which the moral instinct, like the
religious or political, was merged in the artistic. But then the
artistic interest was that, by desperate faithfulness to which
Winckelmann was saved from the mediocrity, which, breaking
through no bounds, moves ever in a bloodless routine, and misses
its one [188] chance in the life of the spirit and the intellect.
There have been instances of culture developed by every high
motive in turn, and yet intense at every point; and the aim of our
culture should be to attain not only as intense but as complete a
life as possible. But often the higher life is only possible at all,
on condition of the selection of that in which one's motive is
native and strong; and this selection involves the renunciation of
a crown reserved for others. Which is better?--to lay open a new
sense, to initiate a new organ for the human spirit, or to cultivate
many types of perfection up to a point which leaves us still
beyond the range of their transforming power? Savonarola is one
type of success; Winckelmann is another; criticism can reject
neither, because each is true to itself. Winckelmann himself
explains the motive of his life when he says, "It will be my
highest reward, if posterity acknowledges that I have written

For a time he remained at Dresden. There his first book
appeared, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works of Art in
Painting and Sculpture. Full of obscurities as it was, obscurities
which baffled but did not offend Goethe when he first turned to
art-criticism, its purpose was direct--an appeal from the artificial
classicism of the day to the study of the antique. The book was
well received, and a pension supplied through the king's
confessor. In September 1755 he started for Rome, in the
company of a young [189] Jesuit. He was introduced to Raphael
Mengs, a painter then of note, and found a home near him, in the
artists' quarter, in a place where he could "overlook, far and
wide, the eternal city." At first he was perplexed with the sense
of being a stranger on what was to him, spiritually, native soil.
"Unhappily," he cries in French, often selected by him as the
vehicle of strong feeling, "I am one of those whom the Greeks
call opsimatheis.+--I have come into the world and into Italy too
late." More than thirty years afterwards, Goethe also, after many
aspirations and severe preparation of mind, visited Italy. In early
manhood, just as he too was finding Greek art, the rumour of that
true artist's life of Winckelmann in Italy had strongly moved
him. At Rome, spending a whole year drawing from the antique,
in preparation for Iphigenie, he finds the stimulus of
Winckelmann's memory ever active. Winckelmann's Roman life
was simple, primeval, Greek. His delicate constitution permitted
him the use only of bread and wine. Condemned by many as a
renegade, he had no desire for places of honour, but only to see
his merits acknowledged, and existence assured to him. He was
simple without being niggardly; he desired to be neither poor nor

Winckelmann's first years in Rome present all the elements of an
intellectual situation of the highest interest. The beating of the
soul against its bars, the sombre aspect, the alien traditions,*
[190] the still barbarous literature of Germany, are afar off;
before him are adequate conditions of culture, the sacred soil
itself, the first tokens of the advent of the new German literature,
with its broad horizons, its boundless intellectual promise.
Dante, passing from the darkness of the Inferno, is filled with a
sharp and joyful sense of light, which makes him deal with it, in
the opening of the Purgatorio, in a wonderfully touching and
penetrative way. Hellenism, which is the principle pre-eminently
of intellectual light (our modern culture may have more colour,
the medieval spirit greater heat and profundity, but Hellenism is
pre-eminent for light), has always been most effectively
conceived by those who have crept into it out of an intellectual
world in which the sombre elements predominate. So it had been
in the ages of the Renaissance. This repression, removed at last,
gave force and glow to Winckelmann's native affinity to the
Hellenic spirit. "There had been known before him," says
Madame de Staël, "learned men who might be consulted like
books; but no one had, if I may say so, made himself a pagan for
the purpose of penetrating antiquity." "One is always a poor
executant of conceptions not one's own."--On exécute mal ce
qu'on n'a pas conçu soi-même*--are true in their measure of
every genuine enthusiasm. Enthusiasm,--that, in the broad
Platonic sense of the Phaedrus, was the secret of [191] his
divinatory Power over the Hellenic world. This enthusiasm,
dependent as it is to a great degree on bodily temperament, has a
power of re-enforcing the purer emotions of the intellect with an
almost physical excitement. That his affinity with Hellenism was
not merely intellectual, that the subtler threads of temperament
were inwoven in it, is proved by his romantic, fervent friendships
with young men. He has known, he says, many young men more
beautiful than Guido's archangel. These friendships, bringing
him into contact with the pride of human form, and staining the
thoughts with its bloom, perfected his reconciliation to the spirit
of Greek sculpture. A letter on taste, addressed from Rome to a
young nobleman, Friedrich von Berg, is the record of such a

"I shall excuse my delay," he begins, "in fulfilling my promise of an
essay on the taste for beauty in works of art, in the words of Pindar.
He says to Agesidamus, a youth of Locri--idea te kalon, hôra te
kekramenon--whom he had kept waiting for an intended ode, that a debt
paid with usury is the end of reproach. This may win your good-nature
on behalf of my present essay, which has turned out far more detailed
and circumstantial than I had at first intended. "It is from yourself
that the subject is taken. Our intercourse has been short, too short
both for you and me; but the first time I saw you, the affinity of our
spirits was revealed to me: [192] your culture proved that my hope was
not groundless; and I found in a beautiful body a soul created for
nobleness, gifted with the sense of beauty. My parting from you was
therefore one of the most painful in my life; and that this feeling
continues our common friend is witness, for your separation from me
leaves me no hope of seeing you again. Let this essay be a memorial
of our friendship, which, on my side, is free from every selfish
motive, and ever remains subject and dedicate to yourself alone."

The following passage is characteristic--

"As it is confessedly the beauty of man which is to be conceived
under one general idea, so I have noticed that those who are
observant of beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at
all by the beauty of men, seldom have an impartial, vital, inborn
instinct for beauty in art. To such persons the beauty of Greek art
will ever seem wanting, because its supreme beauty is rather
male than female. But the beauty of art demands a higher
sensibility than the beauty of nature, because the beauty of art,
like tears shed at a play, gives no pain, is without life, and must
be awakened and repaired by culture. Now, as the spirit of
culture is much more ardent in youth than in manhood, the
instinct of which I am speaking must be exercised and directed to
what is beautiful, before that age is reached, at which one would
be afraid to confess that one had no taste for it."

[193] Certainly, of that beauty of living form which regulated
Winckelmann's friendships, it could not be said that it gave no
pain. One notable friendship, the fortune of which we may trace
through his letters, begins with an antique, chivalrous letter in
French, and ends noisily in a burst of angry fire. Far from
reaching the quietism, the bland indifference of art, such
attachments are nevertheless more susceptible than any others of
equal strength of a purely intellectual culture. Of passion, of
physical excitement, they contain only just so much as stimulates
the eye to the finest delicacies of colour and form. These
friendships, often the caprices of a moment, make
Winckelmann's letters, with their troubled colouring, an
instructive but bizarre addition to the History of Art, that shrine of
grave and mellow light around the mute Olympian family. The
impression which Winckelmann's literary life conveyed to those
about him was that of excitement, intuition, inspiration, rather
than the contemplative evolution of general principles. The
quick, susceptible enthusiast, betraying his temperament even in
appearance, by his olive complexion, his deep-seated, piercing
eyes, his rapid movements, apprehended the subtlest principles of
the Hellenic manner, not through the understanding, but by
instinct or touch. A German biographer of Winckelmann has
compared him to Columbus. That is not the aptest of comparisons;
but it reminds one of [194] a passage in which Edgar Quinet
describes the great discoverer's famous voyage. His science was
often at fault; but he had a way of estimating at once the slightest
indication of land, in a floating weed or passing bird; he seemed
actually to come nearer to nature than other men. And that world
in which others had moved with so much embarrassment, seems
to call out in Winckelmann new senses fitted to deal with it. He
is in touch with it; it penetrates him, and becomes part of his
temperament. He remodels his writings with constant renewal of
insight; he catches the thread of a whole sequence of laws in
some hollowing of the hand, or dividing of the hair; he seems to
realise that fancy of the reminiscence of a forgotten knowledge
hidden for a time in the mind itself; as if the mind of one, lover
and philosopher at once in some phase of pre-existence--philosophêsas
pote met' erôtos.+--fallen into a new cycle, were beginning its
intellectual career over again, yet with a certain power of
anticipating its results. So comes the truth of Goethe's judgments
on his works; they are a life, a living thing, designed for those who
are alive--ein Lebendiges für die Lebendigen geschrieben, ein
Leben selbst.

In 1758 Cardinal Albani, who had formed in his Roman villa a
precious collection of antiquities, became Winckelmann's patron.
Pompeii had just opened its treasures; Winckelmann [195]
gathered its first-fruits. But his plan of a visit to Greece remained
unfulfilled. From his first arrival in Rome he had kept the
History of Ancient Art ever in view. All his other writings were a
preparation for that. It appeared, finally, in 1764; but even after
its publication Winckelmann was still employed in perfecting it.
It is since his time that many of the most significant examples of
Greek art have been submitted to criticism. He had seen little or
nothing of what we ascribe to the age of Pheidias; and his
conception of Greek art tends, therefore, to put the mere elegance
of the imperial society of ancient Rome in place of the severe and
chastened grace of the palaestra. For the most part he had to
penetrate to Greek art through copies, imitations, and later
Roman art itself; and it is not surprising that this turbid medium
has left in Winckelmann's actual results much that a more
privileged criticism can correct.

He had been twelve years in Rome. Admiring Germany had
made many calls to him. At last, in 1768, he set out to revisit the
country of his birth; and as he left Rome, a strange, inverted
home-sickness, a strange reluctance to leave it at all, came over
him. He reached Vienna. There he was loaded with honours and
presents: other cities were awaiting him. Goethe, then nineteen
years old, studying art at Leipsic, was expecting his coming, with
that wistful eagerness which marked his youth, when the news
[196] of Winckelmann's murder arrived. All his "weariness of
the North" had revived with double force. He left Vienna,
intending to hasten back to Rome, and at Trieste a delay of a few
days occurred. With characteristic openness, Winckelmann had
confided his plans to a fellow-traveller, a man named Arcangeli,
and had shown him the gold medals received at Vienna.
Arcangeli's avarice was aroused. One morning he entered
Winckelmann's room, under pretence of taking leave.
Winckelmann was then writing "memoranda for the future editor
of the History of Art," still seeking the perfection of his great
work. Arcangeli begged to see the medals once more. As
Winckelmann stooped down to take them from the chest, a cord
was thrown round his neck. Some time afterwards, a child with
whose companionship Winckelmann had beguiled his delay,
knocked at the door, and receiving no answer, gave the alarm.
Winckelmann was found dangerously wounded, and died a few
hours later, after receiving the last sacraments. It seemed as if the
gods, in reward for his devotion to them, had given him a death
which, for its swiftness and its opportunity, he might well have
desired. "He has," says Goethe, "the advantage of figuring in the
memory of posterity, as one eternally able and strong; for the
image in which one leaves the world is that in which one moves
among the shadows." Yet, perhaps, it is not fanciful to regret that
his proposed [197] meeting with Goethe never took place.
Goethe, then in all the pregnancy of his wonderful youth, still
unruffled by the "press and storm" of his earlier manhood, was
awaiting Winckelmann with a curiosity of the worthiest kind. As
it was, Winckelmann became to him something like what Virgil
was to Dante. And Winckelmann, with his fiery friendships, had
reached that age and that period of culture at which emotions
hitherto fitful, sometimes concentrate themselves in a vital,
unchangeable relationship. German literary history seems to
have lost the chance of one of those famous friendships, the very
tradition of which becomes a stimulus to culture, and exercises an
imperishable influence.

In one of the frescoes of the Vatican, Raphael has commemorated
the tradition of the Catholic religion. Against a space of tranquil
sky, broken in upon by the beatific vision, are ranged the great
personages of Christian history, with the Sacrament in the midst.
Another fresco of Raphael in the same apartment presents a very
different company, Dante alone appearing in both. Surrounded
by the muses of Greek mythology, under a thicket of laurel, sits
Apollo, with the sources of Castalia at his feet. On either side are
grouped those on whom the spirit of Apollo descended, the
classical and Renaissance poets, to whom the waters of Castalia
[198] come down, a river making glad this other "city of God."
In this fresco it is the classical tradition, the orthodoxy of taste,
that Raphael commemorates. Winckelmann's intellectual history
authenticates the claims of this tradition in human culture. In the
countries where that tradition arose, where it still lurked about its
own artistic relics, and changes of language had not broken its
continuity, national pride might sometimes light up anew an
enthusiasm for it. Aliens might imitate that enthusiasm, and
classicism become from time to time an intellectual fashion. But
Winckelmann was not further removed by language, than by
local aspects and associations, from those vestiges of the classical
spirit; and he lived at a time when, in Germany, classical studies
were out of favour. Yet, remote in time and place, he feels after
the Hellenic world, divines those channels of ancient art, in
which its life still circulates, and, like Scyles, the half-barbarous
yet Hellenising king, in the beautiful story of Herodotus, is
irresistibly attracted by it. This testimony to the authority of the
Hellenic tradition, its fitness to satisfy some vital requirement of
the intellect, which Winckelmann contributes as a solitary man of
genius, is offered also by the general history of the mind. The
spiritual forces of the past, which have prompted and informed
the culture of a succeeding age, live, indeed, within that culture,
but with an absorbed, underground life. The Hellenic element
alone [199] has not been so absorbed, or content with this
underground life; from time to time it has started to the surface;
culture has been drawn back to its sources to be clarified and
corrected. Hellenism is not merely an absorbed element in our
intellectual life; it is a conscious tradition in it.

Again, individual genius works ever under conditions of time and
place: its products are coloured by the varying aspects of nature,
and type of human form, and outward manners of life. There is
thus an element of change in art; criticism must never for a
moment forget that "the artist is the child of his time." But
besides these conditions of time and place, and independent of
them, there is also an element of permanence, a standard of taste,
which genius confesses. This standard is maintained in a purely
intellectual tradition. It acts upon the artist, not as one of the
influences of his own age, but through those artistic products of
the previous generation which first excited, while they directed
into a particular channel, his sense of beauty. The supreme
artistic products of succeeding generations thus form a series of
elevated points, taking each from each the reflection of a strange
light, the source of which is not in the atmosphere around and
above them, but in a stage of society remote from ours. The
standard of taste, then, was fixed in Greece, at a definite
historical period. A tradition for all succeeding generations, it
originates in a spontaneous [200] growth out of the influences of
Greek society. What were the conditions under which this ideal,
this standard of artistic orthodoxy, was generated? How was
Greece enabled to force its thought upon Europe?

Greek art, when we first catch sight of it, is entangled with Greek
religion. We are accustomed to think of Greek religion as the
religion of art and beauty, the religion of which the Olympian
Zeus and the Athena Polias are the idols, the poems of Homer the
sacred books. Thus Cardinal Newman speaks of "the classical
polytheism which was gay and graceful, as was natural in a
civilised age." Yet such a view is only a partial one. In it the eye
is fixed on the sharp, bright edge of high Hellenic culture, but
loses sight of the sombre world across which it strikes. Greek
religion, where we can observe it most distinctly, is at once a
magnificent ritualistic system, and a cycle of poetical
conceptions. Religions, as they grow by natural laws out of
man's life, are modified by whatever modifies his life. They
brighten under a bright sky, they become liberal as the social
range widens, they grow intense and shrill in the clefts of human
life, where the spirit is narrow and confined, and the stars are
visible at noonday; and a fine analysis of these differences is one
of the gravest functions of religious criticism. Still, the broad
foundation, in mere human nature, of all religions as they exist
for the greatest number, [201] is a universal pagan sentiment, a
paganism which existed before the Greek religion, and has
lingered far onward into the Christian world, ineradicable, like
some persistent vegetable growth, because its seed is an element
of the very soil out of which it springs.

This pagan sentiment measures the sadness with which the
human mind is filled, whenever its thoughts wander far from
what is here, and now. It is beset by notions of irresistible natural
powers, for the most part ranged against man, but the secret also
of his fortune, making the earth golden and the grape fiery for
him. He makes gods in his own image, gods smiling and flower-
crowned, or bleeding by some sad fatality, to console him by
their wounds, never closed from generation to generation. It is
with a rush of home-sickness that the thought of death presents
itself. He would remain at home for ever on the earth if he could.
As it loses its colour and the senses fail, he clings ever closer to
it; but since the mouldering of bones and flesh must go on to the
end, he is careful for charms and talismans, which may chance to
have some friendly power in them, when the inevitable shipwreck
comes. Such sentiment is a part of the eternal basis of all
religions, modified indeed by changes of time and place, but
indestructible, because its root is so deep in the earth of man's
nature. The breath of religious initiators passes over them; a few
"rise up with wings as eagles," [202] but the broad level of
religious life is not permanently changed. Religious progress,
like all purely spiritual progress, is confined to a few. This
sentiment attaches itself in the earliest times to certain usages of
patriarchal life, the kindling of fire, the washing of the body, the
slaughter of the flock, the gathering of harvest, holidays and
dances. Here are the beginnings of a ritual, at first as occasional
and unfixed as the sentiment which it expresses, but destined to
become the permanent element of religious life. The usages of
patriarchal life change; but this germ of ritual remains, promoted
now with a consciously religious motive, losing its domestic
character, and therefore becoming more and more inexplicable
with each generation. Such pagan worship, in spite of local
variations, essentially one, is an element in all religions. It is the
anodyne which the religious principle, like one administering
opiates to the incurable, has added to the law which makes life
sombre for the vast majority of mankind.

More definite religious conceptions come from other sources, and
fix themselves upon this ritual in various ways, changing it, and
giving it new meanings. In Greece they were derived from
mythology, itself not due to a religious source at all, but
developing in the course of time into a body of religious
conceptions, entirely human in form and character. To the
unprogressive ritual element it brought these conceptions, itself-
hê pterou dynamis, the power of the wing--an element [203] of
refinement, of ascension, with the promise of an endless destiny.
While the ritual remains unchanged, the aesthetic element, only
accidentally connected with it, expands with the freedom and
mobility of the things of the intellect. Always, the fixed element
is the religious observance; the fluid, unfixed element is the
myth, the religious conception. This religion is itself pagan, and
has in any broad view of it the pagan sadness. It does not at
once, and for the majority, become the higher Hellenic religion.
The country people, of course, cherish the unlovely idols of an
earlier time, such as those which Pausanias found still devoutly
preserved in Arcadia. Athenaeus tells the story of one who,
coming to a temple of Latona, had expected to find some worthy
presentment of the mother of Apollo, and laughed on seeing only
a shapeless wooden figure. The wilder people have wilder gods,
which, however, in Athens, or Corinth, or Lacedaemon, changing
ever with the worshippers in whom they live and move and have
their being, borrow something of the lordliness and distinction of
human nature there. Greek religion too has its mendicants, its
purifications, its antinomian mysticism, its garments offered to
the gods, its statues worn with kissing, its exaggerated
superstitions for the vulgar only, its worship of sorrow, its
addolorata, its mournful mysteries. Scarcely a wild or
melancholy note of the medieval church but was anticipated by
Greek polytheism! What should [204] we have thought of the
vertiginous prophetess at the very centre of Greek religion? The
supreme Hellenic culture is a sharp edge of light across this
gloom. The fiery, stupefying wine becomes in a happier climate
clear and exhilarating. The Dorian worship of Apollo, rational,
chastened, debonair, with his unbroken daylight, always opposed
to the sad Chthonian divinities, is the aspiring element, by force
and spring of which Greek religion sublimes itself. Out of Greek
religion, under happy conditions, arises Greek art, to minister to
human culture. It was the privilege of Greek religion to be able
to transform itself into an artistic ideal.

For the thoughts of the Greeks about themselves, and their
relation to the world generally, were ever in the happiest
readiness to be transformed into objects for the senses. In this
lies the main distinction between Greek art and the mystical art of
the Christian middle age, which is always struggling to express
thoughts beyond itself. Take, for instance, a characteristic work
of the middle age, Angelico's Coronation of the Virgin, in the
cloister of Saint Mark's at Florence. In some strange halo of a
moon Jesus and the Virgin Mother are seated, clad in mystical
white raiment, half shroud, half priestly linen. Jesus, with rosy
nimbus and the long pale hair--tanquam lana alba et tanquam
nix--of the figure in the Apocalypse, with slender finger-tips is
setting a crown of pearl on the head of Mary, who, [205] corpse-
like in her refinement, is bending forward to receive it, the light
lying like snow upon her forehead. Certainly, it cannot be said of
Angelico's fresco that it throws into a sensible form our highest
thoughts about man and his relation to the world; but it did not do
this adequately even for Angelico. For him, all that is outward or
sensible in his work--the hair like wool, the rosy nimbus, the
crown of pearl--is only the symbol or type of a really
inexpressible world, to which he wishes to direct the thoughts; he
would have shrunk from the notion that what the eye
apprehended was all. Such forms of art, then, are inadequate to
the matter they clothe; they remain ever below its level.
Something of this kind is true also of oriental art. As in the
middle age from an exaggerated inwardness, so in the East from a
vagueness, a want of definition, in thought, the matter presented
to art is unmanageable, and the forms of sense struggle vainly
with it. The many-headed gods of the East, the orientalised,
many-breasted Diana of Ephesus, like Angelico's fresco, are at
best overcharged symbols, a means of hinting at an idea which art
cannot fitly or completely express, which still remains in the
world of shadows.

But take a work of Greek art,--the Venus of Melos. That is in no
sense a symbol, a suggestion, of anything beyond its own
victorious fairness. The mind begins and ends with the finite
image, yet loses no part of the spiritual motive. [206] That motive
is not lightly and loosely attached to the sensuous form, as its
meaning to an allegory, but saturates and is identical with it. The
Greek mind had advanced to a particular stage of self-reflexion,
but was careful not to pass beyond it. In oriental thought there is
a vague conception of life everywhere, but no true appreciation
of itself by the mind, no knowledge of the distinction of man's
nature: in its consciousness of itself, humanity is still confused
with the fantastic, indeterminate life of the animal and vegetable
world. In Greek thought, on the other hand, the "lordship of the
soul" is recognised; that lordship gives authority and divinity to
human eyes and hands and feet; inanimate nature is thrown into
the background. But just there Greek thought finds its happy
limit; it has not yet become too inward; the mind has not yet
learned to boast its independence of the flesh; the spirit has not
yet absorbed everything with its emotions, nor reflected its own
colour everywhere. It has indeed committed itself to a train of
reflexion which must end in defiance of form, of all that is
outward, in an exaggerated idealism. But that end is still distant:
it has not yet plunged into the depths of religious mysticism.

This ideal art, in which the thought does not outstrip or lie
beyond the proper range of its sensible embodiment, could not
have arisen out of a phase of life that was uncomely or poor.
That delicate pause in Greek reflexion was joined, by [207] some
supreme good luck, to the perfect animal nature of the Greeks.
Here are the two conditions of an artistic ideal. The influences
which perfected the animal nature of the Greeks are part of the
process by which "the ideal" was evolved. Those "Mothers"
who, in the second part of Faust, mould and remould the typical
forms that appear in human history, preside, at the beginning of
Greek culture, over such a concourse of happy physical
conditions as ever generates by natural laws some rare type of
intellectual or spiritual life. That delicate air, "nimbly and
sweetly recommending itself" to the senses, the finer aspects of
nature, the finer lime and clay of the human form, and modelling
of the dainty framework of the human countenance:--these are
the good luck of the Greek when he enters upon life. Beauty
becomes a distinction, like genius, or noble place.

"By no people," says Winckelmann, "has beauty been so highly
esteemed as by the Greeks. The priests of a youthful Jupiter at
Aegae, of the Ismenian Apollo, and the priest who at Tanagra led
the procession of Mercury, bearing a lamb upon his shoulders,
were always youths to whom the prize of beauty had been
awarded. The citizens of Egesta erected a monument to a certain
Philip, who was not their fellow-citizen, but of Croton, for his
distinguished beauty; and the people made offerings at it. In an
ancient song, ascribed to Simonides or Epicharmus, [208] of
four wishes, the first was health, the second beauty. And as
beauty was so longed for and prized by the Greeks, every
beautiful person sought to become known to the whole people by
this distinction, and above all to approve himself to the artists,
because they awarded the prize; and this was for the artists an
occasion for having supreme beauty ever before their eyes.
Beauty even gave a right to fame; and we find in Greek histories
the most beautiful people distinguished. Some were famous for
the beauty of one single part of their form; as Demetrius
Phalereus, for his beautiful eyebrows, was called Charito-
blepharos. It seems even to have been thought that the
procreation of beautiful children might be promoted by prizes.
This is shown by the existence of contests for beauty, which in
ancient times were established by Cypselus, King of Arcadia, by
the river Alpheus; and, at the feast of Apollo of Philae, a prize
was offered to the youths for the deftest kiss. This was decided
by an umpire; as also at Megara, by the grave of Diocles. At
Sparta, and at Lesbos, in the temple of Juno, and among the
Parrhasii, there were contests for beauty among women. The
general esteem for beauty went so far, that the Spartan women set
up in their bedchambers a Nireus, a Narcissus, or a Hyacinth, that
they might bear beautiful children."

So, from a few stray antiquarianisms, a few [209] faces cast up
sharply from the waves, Winckelmann, as his manner was,
divines the temperament of the antique world, and that in which it
had delight. It has passed away with that distant age, and we may
venture to dwell upon it. What sharpness and reality it has is the
sharpness and reality of suddenly arrested life. The Greek system
of gymnastics originated as part of a religious ritual. The
worshipper was to recommend himself to the gods by becoming
fleet and fair, white and red, like them. The beauty of the
palaestra, and the beauty of the artist's workshop, reacted on one
another. The youth tried to rival his gods; and his increased
beauty passed back into them.--"I take the gods to witness, I had
rather have a fair body than a king's crown"--Omnymi pantas theous
mê helesthai an tên basileôs archên anti tou kalos einai+--that
is the form in which one age of the world chose the higher life.--
A perfect world, if the gods could have seemed for ever only fleet
and fair, white and red! Let us not regret that this unperplexed
youth of humanity, satisfied with the vision of itself, passed, at
the due moment, into a mournful maturity; for already the deep joy
was in store for the spirit, of finding the ideal of that youth still
red with life in the grave.

It followed that the Greek ideal expressed itself pre-eminently in
sculpture. All art has a sensuous element, colour, form, sound--in
poetry a dexterous recalling of these, together with the profound,
joyful sensuousness of motion, and each [210] of them may be a
medium for the ideal: it is partly accident which in any individual
case makes the born artist, poet, or painter rather than sculptor.
But as the mind itself has had an historical development, one
form of art, by the very limitations of its material, may be more
adequate than another for the expression of any one phase of that
development. Different attitudes of the imagination have a native
affinity with different types of sensuous form, so that they
combine together, with completeness and ease. The arts may
thus be ranged in a series, which corresponds to a series of
developments in the human mind itself. Architecture, which
begins in a practical need, can only express by vague hint or
symbol the spirit or mind of the artist. He closes his sadness over
him, or wanders in the perplexed intricacies of things, or projects
his purpose from him clean-cut and sincere, or bares himself to
the sunlight. But these spiritualities, felt rather than seen, can but
lurk about architectural form as volatile effects, to be gathered
from it by reflexion. Their expression is, indeed, not really
sensuous at all. As human form is not the subject with which it
deals, architecture is the mode in which the artistic effort centres,
when the thoughts of man concerning himself are still indistinct,
when he is still little preoccupied with those harmonies, storms,
victories, of the unseen and intellectual world, which, wrought
out into the bodily form, give it an interest and significance
[211] communicable to it alone. The art of Egypt, with its
supreme architectural effects, is, according to Hegel's beautiful
comparison, a Memnon waiting for the day, the day of the Greek
spirit, the humanistic spirit, with its power of speech.

Again, painting, music, and poetry, with their endless power of
complexity, are the special arts of the romantic and modern ages.
Into these, with the utmost attenuation of detail, may be
translated every delicacy of thought and feeling, incidental to a
consciousness brooding with delight over itself. Through their
gradations of shade, their exquisite intervals, they project in an
external form that which is most inward in passion or sentiment.
Between architecture and those romantic arts of painting, music,
and poetry, comes sculpture, which, unlike architecture, deals
immediately with man, while it contrasts with the romantic arts,
because it is not self-analytical. It has to do more exclusively
than any other art with the human form, itself one entire medium
of spiritual expression, trembling, blushing, melting into dew,
with inward excitement. That spirituality which only lurks about
architecture as a volatile effect, in sculpture takes up the whole
given material, and penetrates it with an imaginative motive; and
at first sight sculpture, with its solidity of form, seems a thing
more real and full than the faint, abstract world of poetry or
painting. Still the fact is the reverse. Discourse and action show
man as he is, more directly than the play of [212] the muscles and
the moulding of the flesh; and over these poetry has command.
Painting, by the flushing of colour in the face and dilatation of
light in the eye--music, by its subtle range of tones--can refine
most delicately upon a single moment of passion, unravelling its
subtlest threads.

But why should sculpture thus limit itself to pure form? Because,
by this limitation, it becomes a perfect medium of expression for
one peculiar motive of the imaginative intellect. It therefore
renounces all those attributes of its material which do not forward
that motive. It has had, indeed, from the beginning an unfixed
claim to colour; but this element of colour in it has always been
more or less conventional, with no melting or modulation of
tones, never permitting more than a very limited realism. It was
maintained chiefly as a religious tradition. In proportion as the
art of sculpture ceased to be merely decorative, and subordinate
to architecture, it threw itself upon pure form. It renounces the
power of expression by lower or heightened tones. In it, no
member of the human form is more significant than the rest; the
eye is wide, and without pupil; the lips and brow are hardly less
significant than hands, and breasts, and feet. But the limitation of
its resources is part of its pride: it has no backgrounds, no sky or
atmosphere, to suggest and interpret a train of feeling; a little of
suggested motion, and much of pure light on its gleaming
surfaces, with pure form--only these.

[213] And it gains more than it loses by this limitation to its own
distinguishing motives; it unveils man in the repose of his
unchanging characteristics. That white light, purged from the
angry, blood-like stains of action and passion, reveals, not what is
accidental in man, but the tranquil godship in him, as opposed to
the restless accidents of life. The art of sculpture records the first
naïve, unperplexed recognition of man by himself; and it is a
proof of the high artistic capacity of the Greeks, that they
apprehended and remained true to these exquisite limitations, yet,
in spite of them, gave to their creations a mobile, a vital,

Heiterkeit--blitheness or repose, and Allgemeinheit--generality or
breadth, are, then, the supreme characteristics of the Hellenic
ideal. But that generality or breadth has nothing in common with
the lax observation, the unlearned thought, the flaccid execution,
which have sometimes claimed superiority in art, on the plea of
being "broad" or "general." Hellenic breadth and generality
come of a culture minute, severe, constantly renewed, rectifying
and concentrating its impressions into certain pregnant types.

The basis of all artistic genius lies in the power of conceiving
humanity in a new and striking way, of putting a happy world of
its own creation in place of the meaner world of our common
days, generating around itself an atmosphere with a novel power
of refraction, selecting, transforming, recombining the images it
transmits, according to [214] the choice of the imaginative
intellect. In exercising this power, painting and poetry have a
variety of subject almost unlimited. The range of characters or
persons open to them is as various as life itself; no character,
however trivial, misshapen, or unlovely, can resist their magic.
That is because those arts can accomplish their function in the
choice and development of some special situation, which lifts or
glorifies a character, in itself not poetical. To realise this
situation, to define, in a chill and empty atmosphere, the focus
where rays, in themselves pale and impotent, unite and begin to
burn, the artist may have, indeed, to employ the most cunning
detail, to complicate and refine upon thought and passion a
thousand-fold. Let us take a brilliant example from the poems of
Robert Browning. His poetry is pre-eminently the poetry of
situations. The characters themselves are always of secondary
importance; often they are characters in themselves of little
interest; they seem to come to him by strange accidents from the
ends of the world. His gift is shown by the way in which he
accepts such a character, throws it into some situation, or
apprehends it in some delicate pause of life, in which for a
moment it becomes ideal. In the poem entitled Le Byron de nos
Jours, in his Dramatis Personae, we have a single moment of
passion thrown into relief after this exquisite fashion. Those two
jaded Parisians are not intrinsically interesting: they begin to
interest us only [215] when thrown into a choice situation. But to
discriminate that moment, to make it appreciable by us, that we
may "find" it, what a cobweb of allusions, what double and treble
reflexions of the mind upon itself, what an artificial light is
constructed and broken over the chosen situation; on how fine a
needle's point that little world of passion is balanced! Yet, in
spite of this intricacy, the poem has the clear ring of a central
motive. We receive from it the impression of one imaginative
tone, of a single creative act.

To produce such effects at all requires all the resources of
painting, with its power of indirect expression, of subordinate but
significant detail, its atmosphere, its foregrounds and
backgrounds. To produce them in a pre-eminent degree requires
all the resources of poetry, language in its most purged form, its
remote associations and suggestions, its double and treble lights.
These appliances sculpture cannot command. In it, therefore, not
the special situation, but the type, the general character of the
subject to be delineated, is all-important. In poetry and painting,
the situation predominates over the character; in sculpture, the
character over the situation. Excluded by the proper limitation of
its material from the development of exquisite situations, it has to
choose from a select number of types intrinsically interesting--
interesting, that is, independently of any special situation into
which they may be thrown. Sculpture [216] finds the secret of its
power in presenting these types, in their broad, central, incisive
lines. This it effects not by accumulation of detail, but by
abstracting from it. All that is accidental, all that distracts the
simple effect upon us of the supreme types of humanity, all traces
in them of the commonness of the world, it gradually purges

Works of art produced under this law, and only these, are really
characterised by Hellenic generality or breadth. In every
direction it is a law of restraint. It keeps passion always below
that degree of intensity at which it must necessarily be transitory,
never winding up the features to one note of anger, or desire, or
surprise. In some of the feebler allegorical designs of the middle
age, we find isolated qualities portrayed as by so many masks; its
religious art has familiarised us with faces fixed immovably into
blank types of placid reverie. Men and women, again, in the
hurry of life, often wear the sharp impress of one absorbing
motive, from which it is said death sets their features free. All
such instances may be ranged under the grotesque; and the
Hellenic ideal has nothing in common with the grotesque. It
allows passion to play lightly over the surface of the individual
form, losing thereby nothing of its central impassivity, its depth
and repose. To all but the highest culture, the reserved faces of
the gods will ever have something of insipidity.

[217] Again, in the best Greek sculpture, the archaic immobility
has been stirred, its forms are in motion; but it is a motion ever
kept in reserve, and very seldom committed to any definite
action. Endless as are the attitudes of Greek sculpture, exquisite
as is the invention of the Greeks in this direction, the actions or
situations it permits are simple and few. There is no Greek
Madonna; the goddesses are always childless. The actions
selected are those which would be without significance, except in
a divine person--binding on a sandal or preparing for the bath.
When a more complex and significant action is permitted, it is
most often represented as just finished, so that eager expectancy
is excluded, as in the image of Apollo just after the slaughter of
the Python, or of Venus with the apple of Paris already in her
hand. The Laocoon, with all that patient science through which it
has triumphed over an almost unmanageable subject, marks a
period in which sculpture has begun to aim at effects legitimate,
because delightful, only in painting.

The hair, so rich a source of expression in painting, because,
relatively to the eye or the lip, it is mere drapery, is withdrawn
from attention; its texture, as well as its colour, is lost, its
arrangement but faintly and severely indicated, with no broken or
enmeshed light. The eyes are wide and directionless, not fixing
anything with their gaze, nor riveting the brain to any special
[218] external object, the brows without hair. Again, Greek
sculpture deals almost exclusively with youth, where the
moulding of the bodily organs is still as if suspended between
growth and completion, indicated but not emphasised; where the
transition from curve to curve is so delicate and elusive, that
Winckelmann compares it to a quiet sea, which, although we
understand it to be in motion, we nevertheless regard as an image
of repose; where, therefore, the exact degree of development is so
hard to apprehend. If a single product only of Hellenic art were
to be saved in the wreck of all beside, one might choose perhaps
from the "beautiful multitude" of the Panathenaic frieze, that line
of youths on horseback, with their level glances, their proud,
patient lips, their chastened reins, their whole bodies in exquisite
service. This colourless, unclassified purity of life, with its
blending and interpenetration of intellectual, spiritual, and
physical elements, still folded together, pregnant with the
possibilities of a whole world closed within it, is the highest
expression of the indifference which lies beyond all that is
relative or partial. Everywhere there is the effect of an awaking,
of a child's sleep just disturbed. All these effects are united in a
single instance--the adorante of the museum of Berlin, a youth
who has gained the wrestler's prize, with hands lifted and open,
in praise for the victory. Fresh, unperplexed, it is the image of a
man as he springs first from the sleep of nature, his white light
[219] taking no colour from any one-sided experience. He is
characterless, so far as character involves subjection to the
accidental influences of life.

"This sense," says Hegel, "for the consummate modelling of
divine and human forms was pre-eminently at home in Greece.
In its poets and orators, its historians and philosophers, Greece
cannot be conceived from a central point, unless one brings, as a
key to the understanding of it, an insight into the ideal forms of
sculpture, and regards the images of statesmen and philosophers,
as well as epic and dramatic heroes, from the artistic point of
view. For those who act, as well as those who create and think,
have, in those beautiful days of Greece, this plastic character.
They are great and free, and have grown up on the soil of their
own individuality, creating themselves out of themselves, and
moulding themselves to what they were, and willed to be. The
age of Pericles was rich in such characters; Pericles himself,
Pheidias, Plato, above all Sophocles, Thucydides also, Xenophon
and Socrates, each in his own order, the perfection of one
remaining undiminished by that of the others. They are ideal
artists of themselves, cast each in one flawless mould, works of
art, which stand before us as an immortal presentment of the
gods. Of this modelling also are those bodily works of art, the
victors in the Olympic games; yes! and even Phryne, who, as the
most beautiful of women, [220] ascended naked out of the water,
in the presence of assembled Greece."

This key to the understanding of the Greek spirit, Winckelmann
possessed in his own nature, itself like a relic of classical
antiquity, laid open by accident to our alien, modern atmosphere.
To the criticism of that consummate Greek modelling he brought
not only his culture but his temperament. We have seen how
definite was the leading motive of that culture; how, like some
central root-fibre, it maintained the well-rounded unity of his life
through a thousand distractions. Interests not his, nor meant for
him, never disturbed him. In morals, as in criticism, he followed
the clue of instinct, of an unerring instinct. Penetrating into the
antique world by his passion, his temperament, he enunciated no
formal principles, always hard and one-sided. Minute and
anxious as his culture was, he never became one-sidedly self-
analytical. Occupied ever with himself, perfecting himself and
developing his genius, he was not content, as so often happens
with such natures, that the atmosphere between him and other
minds should be thick and clouded; he was ever jealously
refining his meaning into a form, express, clear, objective. This
temperament he nurtured and invigorated by friendships which
kept him always in direct contact with the spirit of youth. The
beauty of the Greek statues was a sexless beauty: the statues of
the gods had the least traces of sex. [221] Here there is a moral
sexlessness, a kind of ineffectual wholeness of nature, yet with a
true beauty and significance of its own.

One result of this temperament is a serenity--Heiterkeit--which
characterises Winckelmann's handling of the sensuous side of
Greek art. This serenity is, perhaps, in great measure, a negative
quality: it is the absence of any sense of want, or corruption, or
shame. With the sensuous element in Greek art he deals in the
pagan manner; and what is implied in that? It has been
sometimes said that art is a means of escape from "the tyranny of
the senses." It may be so for the spectator: he may find that the
spectacle of supreme works of art takes from the life of the senses
something of its turbid fever. But this is possible for the
spectator only because the artist, in producing those works, has
gradually sunk his intellectual and spiritual ideas in sensuous
form. He may live, as Keats lived, a pure life; but his soul, like
that of Plato's false astronomer, becomes more and more
immersed in sense, until nothing which lacks the appeal to sense
has interest for him. How could such an one ever again endure
the greyness of the ideal or spiritual world? The spiritualist is
satisfied as he watches the escape of the sensuous elements from
his conceptions; his interest grows, as the dyed garment bleaches
in the keener air. But the artist steeps his thought again and again
into the fire of colour. To the Greek this immersion in [222] the
sensuous was, religiously, at least, indifferent. Greek
sensuousness, therefore, does not fever the conscience: it is
shameless and childlike. Christian asceticism, on the other hand,
discrediting the slightest touch of sense, has from time to time
provoked into strong emphasis the contrast or antagonism to
itself, of the artistic life, with its inevitable sensuousness.--I did
but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine
hand, and lo! I must die.--It has sometimes seemed hard to
pursue that life without something of conscious disavowal of a
spiritual world; and this imparts to genuine artistic interests a
kind of intoxication. From this intoxication Winckelmann is free:
he fingers those pagan marbles with unsinged hands, with no
sense of shame or loss. That is to deal with the sensuous side of
art in the pagan manner.

The longer we contemplate that Hellenic ideal, in which man is at
unity with himself, with his physical nature, with the outward
world, the more we may be inclined to regret that he should ever
have passed beyond it, to contend for a perfection that makes the
blood turbid, and frets the flesh, and discredits the actual world
about us. But if he was to be saved from the ennui which ever
attaches itself to realisation, even the realisation of the perfect
life, it was necessary that a conflict should come, that some
sharper note should grieve the existing harmony, and the spirit
chafed by it beat out at last only a larger and profounder music.
[223] In Greek tragedy this conflict has begun: man finds himself
face to face with rival claims. Greek tragedy shows how such a
conflict may be treated with serenity, how the evolution of it may
be a spectacle of the dignity, not of the impotence, of the human
spirit. But it is not only in tragedy that the Greek spirit showed
itself capable of thus bringing joy out of matter in itself full of
discouragements. Theocritus too strikes often a note of romantic
sadness. But what a blithe and steady poise, above these
discouragements, in a clear and sunny stratum of the air!

Into this stage of Greek achievement Winckelmann did not enter.
Supreme as he is where his true interest lay, his insight into the
typical unity and repose of the highest sort of sculpture seems to
have involved limitation in another direction. His conception of
art excludes that bolder type of it which deals confidently and
serenely with life, conflict, evil. Living in a world of exquisite
but abstract and colourless form, he could hardly have conceived
of the subtle and penetrative, yet somewhat grotesque art of the
modern world. What would he have thought of Gilliatt, in Victor
Hugo's Travailleurs de la Mer, or of the bleeding mouth of
Fantine in the first part of Les Misérables, penetrated as those
books are with a sense of beauty, as lively and transparent as that
of a Greek? Nay, a sort of preparation for the romantic temper is
noticeable even within the limits of the Greek ideal itself, [224]
which for his part Winckelmann failed to see. For Greek religion
has not merely its mournful mysteries of Adonis, of Hyacinthus,
of Demeter, but it is conscious also of the fall of earlier divine
dynasties. Hyperion gives way to Apollo, Oceanus to Poseidon.
Around the feet of that tranquil Olympian family still crowd the
weary shadows of an earlier, more formless, divine world. The
placid minds even of Olympian gods are troubled with thoughts
of a limit to duration, of inevitable decay, of dispossession.
Again, the supreme and colourless abstraction of those divine
forms, which is the secret of their repose, is also a premonition of
the fleshless, consumptive refinements of the pale, medieval
artists. That high indifference to the outward, that impassivity,
has already a touch of the corpse in it: we see already Angelico
and the Master of the Passion in the artistic future. The
suppression of the sensuous, the shutting of the door upon it, the
ascetic interest, may be even now foreseen. Those abstracted
gods, "ready to melt out their essence fine into the winds," who
can fold up their flesh as a garment, and still remain themselves,
seem already to feel that bleak air, in which like Helen of Troy,
they wander as the spectres of the middle age.

Gradually, as the world came into the church, an artistic interest,
native in the human soul, reasserted its claims. But Christian art
was still dependent on pagan examples, building the [225] shafts
of pagan temples into its churches, perpetuating the form of the
basilica, in later times working the disused amphitheatres as
stone quarries. The sensuous expression of ideas which
unreservedly discredit the world of sense, was the delicate
problem which Christian art had before it. If we think of
medieval painting, as it ranges from the early German schools,
still with something of the air of the charnel-house about them, to
the clear loveliness of Perugino, we shall see how that problem
was solved. In the very "worship of sorrow" the native blitheness
of art asserted itself. The religious spirit, as Hegel says, "smiled
through its tears." So perfectly did the young Raphael infuse that
Heiterkeit, that pagan blitheness, into religious works, that his
picture of Saint Agatha at Bologna became to Goethe a step in
the evolution of Iphigenie.* But in proportion as the gift of
smiling was found once more, there came also an aspiration
towards that lost antique art, some relics of which Christian art
had buried in itself, ready to work wonders when their day came.

The history of art has suffered as much as any history by
trenchant and absolute divisions. Pagan and Christian art are
sometimes harshly opposed, and the Renaissance is represented
as a fashion which set in at a definite period. That is the
superficial view: the deeper view is that which preserves the
identity of European culture. [226] The two are really continuous;
and there is a sense in which it may be said that the Renaissance
was an uninterrupted effort of the middle age, that it was ever
taking place. When the actual relics of the antique were restored
to the world, in the view of the Christian ascetic it was as if an
ancient plague-pit had been opened. All the world took the
contagion of the life of nature and of the senses. And now it was
seen that the medieval spirit too had done something for the new
fortunes of the antique. By hastening the decline of art, by
withdrawing interest from it and yet keeping unbroken the thread
of its traditions, it had suffered the human mind to repose itself,
that when day came it might awake, with eyes refreshed, to those
ancient, ideal forms.

The aim of a right criticism is to place Winckelmann in an
intellectual perspective, of which Goethe is the foreground. For,
after all, he is infinitely less than Goethe; and it is chiefly because
at certain points he comes in contact with Goethe, that criticism
entertains consideration of him. His relation to modern culture is
a peculiar one. He is not of the modern world; nor is he wholly
of the eighteenth century, although so much of his outer life is
characteristic of it. But that note of revolt against the eighteenth
century, which we detect in Goethe, was struck by Winckelmann.
Goethe illustrates a union of the Romantic spirit, in its adventure,
its variety, its profound subjectivity of soul, with Hellenism,
[227] in its transparency, its rationality, its desire of beauty--that
marriage of Faust and Helena, of which the art of the nineteenth
century is the child, the beautiful lad Euphorion, as Goethe
conceives him, on the crags, in the "splendour of battle and in
harness as for victory," his brows bound with light.* Goethe
illustrates, too, the preponderance in this marriage of the Hellenic
element; and that element, in its true essence, was made known to
him by Winckelmann.

Breadth, centrality, with blitheness and repose, are the marks of
Hellenic culture. Is such culture a lost art? The local, accidental
colouring of its own age has passed from it; and the greatness that
is dead looks greater when every link with what is slight and
vulgar has been severed. We can only see it at all in the
reflected, refined light which a great education creates for us.
Can we bring down that ideal into the gaudy, perplexed light of
modern life?

Certainly, for us of the modern world, with its conflicting claims,
its entangled interests, distracted by so many sorrows, with many
preoccupations, so bewildering an experience, the problem of
unity with ourselves, in blitheness and repose, is far harder than it
was for the Greek within the simple terms of antique life. Yet,
not less than ever, the intellect demands completeness, centrality.
It is this which Winckelmann imprints on the imagination of
[228] Goethe, at the beginning of life, in its original and simplest
form, as in a fragment of Greek art itself, stranded on that
littered, indeterminate shore of Germany in the eighteenth
century. In Winckelmann, this type comes to him, not as in a
book or a theory, but more importunately, because in a passionate
life, in a personality. For Goethe, possessing all modern
interests, ready to be lost in the perplexed currents of modern
thought, he defines, in clearest outline, the eternal problem of
culture--balance, unity with one's self, consummate Greek

It could no longer be solved, as in Phryne ascending naked out of
the water, by perfection of bodily form, or any joyful union with
the external world: the shadows had grown too long, the light too
solemn, for that. It could hardly be solved, as in Pericles or
Pheidias, by the direct exercise of any single talent: amid the
manifold claims of our modern intellectual life, that could only
have ended in a thin, one-sided growth. Goethe's Hellenism was
of another order, the Allgemeinheit and Heiterkeit, the
completeness and serenity, of a watchful, exigent intellectualism.
Im Ganzen, Guten, Wahren, resolut zu leben:--is Goethe's
description of his own higher life; and what is meant by life in
the whole--im Ganzen? It means the life of one for whom, over
and over again, what was once precious has become indifferent.
Every one who aims at the life of culture is met by many forms of
it, arising out [229] of the intense, laborious, one-sided
development of some special talent. They are the brightest
enthusiasms the world has to show: and it is not their part to
weigh the claims which this or that alien form of genius makes
upon them. But the proper instinct of self-culture cares not so
much to reap all that those various forms of genius can give, as to
find in them its own strength. The demand of the intellect is to
feel itself alive. It must see into the laws, the operation, the
intellectual reward of every divided form of culture; but only that
it may measure the relation between itself and them. It struggles
with those forms till its secret is won from each, and then lets
each fall back into its place, in the supreme, artistic view of life.
With a kind of passionate coldness, such natures rejoice to be
away from and past their former selves, and above all, they are
jealous of that abandonment to one special gift which really
limits their capabilities. It would have been easy for Goethe,
with the gift of a sensuous nature, to let it overgrow him. It
comes easily and naturally, perhaps, to certain "other-worldly"
natures to be even as the Schöne Seele, that ideal of gentle
pietism, in Wilhelm Meister: but to the large vision of Goethe,
this seemed to be a phase of life that a man might feel all round,
and leave behind him. Again, it is easy to indulge the
commonplace metaphysical instinct. But a taste for metaphysics
may be one of those things which we must renounce, if we [230]
mean to mould our lives to artistic perfection. Philosophy serves
culture, not by the fancied gift of absolute or transcendental
knowledge, but by suggesting questions which help one to detect
the passion, and strangeness, and dramatic contrasts of life.

But Goethe's culture did not remain "behind the veil": it ever
emerged in the practical functions of art, in actual production.
For him the problem came to be:--Can the blitheness and
universality of the antique ideal be communicated to artistic
productions, which shall contain the fulness of the experience of
the modern world? We have seen that the development of the
various forms of art has corresponded to the development of the
thoughts of man concerning humanity, to the growing revelation
of the mind to itself. Sculpture corresponds to the unperplexed,
emphatic outlines of Hellenic humanism; painting to the mystic
depth and intricacy of the middle age; music and poetry have
their fortune in the modern world.

Let us understand by poetry all literary production which attains
the power of giving pleasure by its form, as distinct from its
matter. Only in this varied literary form can art command that
width, variety, delicacy of resources, which will enable it to deal
with the conditions of modern life. What modern art has to do in
the service of culture is so to rearrange the details of modern life,
so to reflect it, that it may satisfy the spirit. [231] And what does
the spirit need in the face of modern life? The sense of freedom.
That naïve, rough sense of freedom, which supposes man's will
to be limited, if at all, only by a will stronger than his, he can
never have again. The attempt to represent it in art would have
so little verisimilitude that it would be flat and uninteresting. The
chief factor in the thoughts of the modern mind concerning itself
is the intricacy, the universality of natural law, even in the moral
order. For us, necessity is not, as of old, a sort of mythological
personage without us, with whom we can do warfare. It is rather
a magic web woven through and through us, like that magnetic
system of which modern science speaks, penetrating us with a
network, subtler than our subtlest nerves, yet bearing in it the
central forces of the world. Can art represent men and women in
these bewildering toils so as to give the spirit at least an
equivalent for the sense of freedom? Certainly, in Goethe's
romances, and even more in the romances of Victor Hugo, we
have high examples of modern art dealing thus with modern life,
regarding that life as the modern mind must regard it, yet
reflecting upon it blitheness and repose. Natural laws we shall
never modify, embarrass us as they may; but there is still
something in the nobler or less noble attitude with which we
watch their fatal combinations. In those romances of Goethe and
Victor Hugo, in some excellent work done after them, this [232]
entanglement, this network of law, becomes the tragic situation,
in which certain groups of noble men and women work out for
themselves a supreme Dénouement. Who, if he saw through all,
would fret against the chain of circumstance which endows one at
the end with those great experiences?



189. +Liddell and Scott definition: "late in learning, late to learn."

190. *Words of Charlotte Corday before the Convention.

191. +Pindar, Odes Book O., poem 10, line 99. E-text editor's
translation: "beautiful in appearance, and blended with the fresh
spring of youth..."

194. + +Transliteration: philosophêsas pote met' erôtos. Translation:
"Seeking knowledge alongside love."

209. +Symposium, Chapter 4, section 11, line 3. E.C. Marchant,
Xenophontis opera omnia, vol. 2, 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1921 (repr. 1971).

225. *Italiänische Reise. Bologna, 19 Oct. 1776.

227. *Faust, Th. ii. Act. 3.


Legei pou Hêrakleitos hoti panta chorei kai ouden menei.+

[233] TO regard all things and principles of things as inconstant
modes or fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern
thought. Let us begin with that which is without--our physical
life. Fix upon it in one of its more exquisite intervals, the
moment, for instance, of delicious recoil from the flood of water
in summer heat. What is the whole physical life in that moment
but a combination of natural elements to which science gives
their names? But those elements, phosphorus and lime and
delicate fibres, are present not in the human body alone: we
detect them in places most remote from it. Our physical life is a
perpetual motion of them--the passage of the blood, the waste
and repairing of the lenses of the eye, [234] the modification of
the tissues of the brain under every ray of light and sound--
processes which science reduces to simpler and more elementary
forces. Like the elements of which we are composed, the action
of these forces extends beyond us: it rusts iron and ripens corn.
Far out on every side of us those elements are broadcast, driven
in many currents; and birth and gesture and death and the
springing of violets from the grave are but a few out of ten
thousand resultant combinations. That clear, perpetual outline of
face and limb is but an image of ours, under which we group
them--a design in a web, the actual threads of which pass out
beyond it. This at least of flamelike our life has, that it is but the
concurrence, renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting
sooner or later on their ways.

Or if we begin with the inward world of thought and feeling, the
whirlpool is still more rapid, the flame more eager and devouring.
There it is no longer the gradual darkening of the eye, the gradual
fading of colour from the wall--movements of the shore-side,
where the water flows down indeed, though in apparent rest--but
the race of the mid-stream, a drift of momentary acts of sight and
passion and thought. At first sight experience seems to bury us
under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp
and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand
forms of action. But when [235] reflexion begins to play upon
these objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive
force seems suspended like some trick of magic; each object is
loosed into a group of impressions--colour, odour, texture--in the
mind of the observer. And if we continue to dwell in thought on
this world, not of objects in the solidity with which language
invests them, but of impressions, unstable, flickering,
inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our
consciousness of them, it contracts still further: the whole scope
of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the
individual mind. Experience, already reduced to a group of
impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall
of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its
way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be
without. Every one of those impressions is the impression of the
individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary
prisoner its own dream of a world. Analysis goes a step farther
still, and assures us that those impressions of the individual mind
to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in
perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as
time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible
also; all that is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we
try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more truly said that it
has ceased to be than that it is. [236] To such a tremulous wisp
constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp
impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of
such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines itself down.
It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of
impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off--that
continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual weaving and
unweaving of ourselves.

Philosophiren, says Novalis, ist dephlegmatisiren, vivificiren.+
The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the
human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and
eager observation. Every moment some form grows perfect in
hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the
rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is
irresistibly real and attractive to us,--for that moment only. Not
the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A
counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated,
dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to seen in them
by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point
to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest
number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this
ecstasy, is success in life. In a sense it might even be said that
our failure is to form habits: for, after all, habit is relative to a
[237] stereotyped world, and meantime it is only the roughness of
the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem
alike. While all melts under our feet, we may well grasp at any
exquisite passion, or any contribution to knowledge that seems by
a lifted horizon to set the spirit free for a moment, or any stirring
of the senses, strange dyes, strange colours, and curious odours,
or work of the artist's hands, or the face of one's friend. Not to
discriminate every moment some passionate attitude in those
about us, and in the very brilliancy of their gifts some tragic
dividing of forces on their ways, is, on this short day of frost and
sun, to sleep before evening. With this sense of the splendour of
our experience and of its awful brevity, gathering all we are into
one desperate effort to see and touch, we shall hardly have time
to make theories about the things we see and touch. What we
have to do is to be for ever curiously testing new opinions and
courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile
orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own. Philosophical
theories or ideas, as points of view, instruments of criticism, may
help us to gather up what might otherwise pass unregarded by us.
"Philosophy is the microscope of thought." The theory or idea or
system which requires of us the sacrifice of any part of this
experience, in consideration of some interest into which we
cannot enter, or some abstract theory we have not identified with
ourselves, [238] or of what is only conventional, has no real
claim upon us.

One of the most beautiful passages of Rousseau is that in the
sixth book of the Confessions, where he describes the awakening
in him of the literary sense. An undefinable taint of death had
clung always about him, and now in early manhood he believed
himself smitten by mortal disease. He asked himself how he
might make as much as possible of the interval that remained;
and he was not biassed by anything in his previous life when he
decided that it must be by intellectual excitement, which he found
just then in the clear, fresh writings of Voltaire. Well! we are all
condamnés, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of
death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve--les hommes sont tous
condamnés à mort avec des sursis indéfinis: we have an interval,
and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval
in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among
"the children of this world," in art and song. For our one chance
lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as
possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this
quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various
forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which
come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion--that it
does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied
consciousness. [239] Of such wisdom, the poetic passion, the
desire of beauty, the love of art for its own sake, has most. For
art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing but the
highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for
those moments' sake.



233. *This brief "Conclusion" was omitted in the second edition
of this book, as I conceived it might possibly mislead some of
those young men into whose hands it might fall. On the whole, I
have thought it best to reprint it here, with some slight changes
which bring it closer to my original meaning. I have dealt more
fully in Marius the Epicurean with the thoughts suggested by it.


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