The Project Gutenberg eBook of Modern Painters, Volume 3 (of 5)

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Title: Modern Painters, Volume 3 (of 5)

Author: John Ruskin

Release date: February 18, 2012 [eBook #38923]
Most recently updated: January 25, 2021

Language: English

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Transcriber's Notes:

The original spelling and minor inconsistencies in the spelling and formatting have been retained. Unusual and alternative spellings have been retained as they appear on the original publication. Hyphenated words have been standardized.

Minor typographical changes are listed at the bottom of this text.

Library Edition



J O H N  R U S K I N


NEW YORK                         CHICAGO








Chapter   I.— Of the received Opinions touching the "Grand Style"          1
" II.— Of Realization 16
" III.— Of the Real Nature of Greatness of Style 23
" IV.— Of the False Ideal:—First, Religious 44
" V.— Of the False Ideal:—Secondly, Profane 61
" VI.— Of the True Ideal:—First, Purist 70
" VII.— Of the True Ideal:—Secondly, Naturalist 77
" VIII.— Of the True Ideal:—Thirdly, Grotesque 92
" IX.— Of Finish 108
" X.— Of the Use of Pictures 124
" XI.— Of the Novelty of Landscape 144
" XII.— Of the Pathetic Fallacy 152
" XIII.— Of Classical Landscape 168
" XIV.— Of Mediæval Landscape:—First, the Fields 191
" XV.— Of Mediæval Landscape:—Secondly, the Rocks 229
" XVI.— Of Modern Landscape 248
" XVII.— The Moral of Landscape 280
" XVIII.— Of the Teachers of Turner 308


I.— Claude's Tree-drawing 333
II.— German Philosophy 336
III.— Plagiarism 338


        Drawn by     Engraved by  
Frontispiece. Lake, Land, and Cloud.       The Author       J. C. Armytage.          

 Facing page
1.   True and False Griffins The Author R. P. Cuff 106
2.   Drawing of Tree-bark Various J. H. Le Keux 114
3.   Strength of old Pine The Author J. H. Le Keux 116
4.   Ramification according to Claude Claude J. H. Le Keux 117
5.   Good and Bad Tree-drawing Turner and Constable       J. Cousen 118
6.   Foreground Leafage The Author J. C. Armytage 121
7.   Botany of the Thirteenth Century Missal-Painters Henry Shaw 203
8.   The Growth of Leaves The Author R. P. Cuff 204
9.   Botany of the Fourteenth Century Missal-Painters Cuff; H. Swan 207
10.   Geology of the Middle Ages Leonardo, etc. R. P. Cuff 238
11.   Latest Purism Raphael J. C. Armytage 313
12.   The Shores of Wharfe J. W. M. Turner The Author 314
13.   First Mountain-Naturalism Masaccio J. H. Le Keux 315
14.   The Lombard Apennine The Author Thos. Lupton 315
15.   St. George of the Seaweed The Author Thos. Lupton 315
16.   Early Naturalism Titian J. C. Armytage 316
17.   Advanced Naturalism Tintoret J. C. Armytage 316


As this preface is nearly all about myself, no one need take the trouble of reading it, unless he happens to be desirous of knowing—what I, at least, am bound to state,—the circumstances which have caused the long delay of the work, as well as the alterations which will be noticed in its form.

The first and second volumes were written to check, as far as I could, the attacks upon Turner which prevented the public from honoring his genius, at the time when his power was greatest. The check was partially given, but too late; Turner was seized by painful illness not long after the second volume appeared; his works, towards the close of the year 1845, showed a conclusive failure of power; and I saw that nothing remained for me to write, but his epitaph.

The critics had done their proper and appointed work; they had embittered, more than those who did not know Turner intimately could have believed possible, the closing years of his life; and had blinded the world in general (as it appears ordained by Fate that the world always shall be blinded) to the presence of a great spirit among them, till the hour of its departure. With them, and their successful work, I had nothing more to do; the account of gain and loss, of gifts and gratitude, between Turner and his countrymen, was for ever closed. He could only be left to his quiet death at Chelsea,—the sun upon his face; they to dispose a length of funeral through Ludgate, and bury, with threefold honor, his body in St. Paul's, his pictures at Charing Cross, and his purposes in Chancery. But with respect to the illustration and preservation of those of his works which remained unburied, I felt that much might yet be done, if I could at all succeed in proving that these works had some nobleness in them, and were worth preservation. I pursued my task, therefore, as I had at first proposed, with this only difference invi method,—that instead of writing in continued haste, such as I had been forced into at first by the urgency of the occasion, I set myself to do the work as well as I could, and to collect materials for the complete examination of the canons of art received among us.

I have now given ten years of my life to the single purpose of enabling myself to judge rightly of art, and spent them in labor as earnest and continuous as men usually undertake to gain position, or accumulate fortune. It is true, that the public still call me an "amateur;" nor have I ever been able to persuade them that it was possible to work steadily and hard with any other motive than that of gaining bread, or to give up a fixed number of hours every day to the furtherance of an object unconnected with personal interests. I have, however, given up so much of life to this object; earnestly desiring to ascertain, and be able to teach, the truth respecting art; and also knowing that this truth was, by time and labor, definitely ascertainable.

It is an idea too frequently entertained, by persons who are not much interested in art, that there are no laws of right or wrong concerning it; and that the best art is that which pleases most widely. Hence the constant allegation of "dogmatism" against any one who states unhesitatingly either preference or principle, respecting pictures. There are, however, laws of truth and right in painting, just as fixed as those of harmony in music, or of affinity in chemistry. Those laws are perfectly ascertainable by labor, and ascertainable no other way. It is as ridiculous for any one to speak positively about painting who has not given a great part of his life to its study, as it would be for a person who had never studied chemistry to give a lecture on affinities of elements; but it is also as ridiculous for a person to speak hesitatingly about laws of painting who has conscientiously given his time to their ascertainment, as it would be for Mr. Faraday to announce in a dubious manner that iron had an affinity for oxygen, and to put the question to the vote of his audience whether it had or not. Of course there are many things, in all stages of knowledge, which cannot be dogmatically stated; and it will be found, by any candid reader, either of what I have before written, or of this book, that in many cases, I am not dogmatic. The phrase, "I think so," or, "it seems so to me," will be met with continually; and I pray the reader to believe that I use such expression always in seriousness, never as matter of form.


It may perhaps be thought that, considering the not very elaborate structure of the following volumes, they might have been finished sooner. But it will be found, on reflection, that the ranges of inquiry engaged in demanded, even for their slight investigation, time and pains which are quite unrepresented in the result. It often required a week or two's hard walking to determine some geological problem, now dismissed in an unnoticed sentence; and it constantly needed examination and thought, prolonged during many days in the picture gallery, to form opinions which the reader may suppose to be dictated by caprice, and will hear only to dispute.

A more serious disadvantage, resulting from the necessary breadth of subject, was the chance of making mistakes in minor and accessory points. For the labor of a critic who sincerely desires to be just, extends into more fields than it is possible for any single hand to furrow straightly. He has to take some note of many physical sciences; of optics, geometry, geology, botany, and anatomy; he must acquaint himself with the works of all great artists, and with the temper and history of the times in which they lived; he must be a fair metaphysician, and a careful observer of the phenomena of natural scenery. It is not possible to extend the range of work thus widely, without running the chance of occasionally making mistakes; and if I carefully guarded against that chance, I should be compelled both to shorten my powers of usefulness in many directions, and to lose much time over what work I undertook. All that I can secure, therefore, is rightness in main points and main tendencies; for it is perfectly possible to protect oneself against small errors, and yet to make great and final error in the sum of work: on the other hand, it is equally possible to fall into many small errors, and yet be right in tendency all the while, and entirely right in the end. In this respect, some men may be compared to careful travellers, who neither stumble at stones, nor slip in sloughs, but have, from the beginning of their journey to its close, chosen the wrong road; and others to those who, however slipping or stumbling at the wayside, have yet their eyes fixed on the true gate and goal (stumbling, perhaps, even the more because they have), and will not fail of reaching them. Such are assuredly the safer guides: he who follows them may avoid their slips, and be their companion in attainment.

Although, therefore, it is not possible but that, in the discussion of so many subjects as are necessarily introduced in theviii following pages, here and there a chance should arise of minor mistake or misconception, the reader need not be disturbed by the detection of any such. He will find always that they do not affect the matter mainly in hand.

I refer especially in these remarks to the chapters on Classical and Mediæval Landscape. It is certain, that in many respects, the views there stated must be inaccurate or incomplete; for how should it be otherwise when the subject is one whose proper discussion would require knowledge of the entire history of two great ages of the world? But I am well assured that the suggestions in those chapters are useful; and that even if, after farther study of the subject, the reader should find cause to differ with me in this or the other speciality, he will yet thank me for helping him to a certain length in the investigation, and confess, perhaps, that he could not at last have been right, if I had not first ventured to be wrong.

And of one thing he may be certified, that any error I fall into will not be in an illogical deduction: I may mistake the meaning of a symbol, or the angle of a rock-cleavage, but not draw an inconsequent conclusion. I state this, because it has often been said that I am not logical, by persons who do not so much as know what logic means. Next to imagination, the power of perceiving logical relation is one of the rarest among men; certainly, of those with whom I have conversed, I have found always ten who had deep feeling, quick wit, or extended knowledge, for one who could set down a syllogism without a flaw; and for ten who could set down a syllogism, only one who could entirely understand that a square has four sides. Even as I am sending these sheets to press, a work is put into my hand, written to prove (I would, from the depth of my heart, it could prove) that there was no ground for what I said in the Stones of Venice respecting the logical probability of the continuity of evil. It seems learned, temperate, thoughtful, everything in feeling and aim that a book should be, and yet it begins with this sentence:

"The question cited in our preface, 'Why not infinite good out of infinite evil?' must be taken to imply—for it else can have no weight,—that in order to the production of infinite good, the existence of infinite evil is indispensable."

So, if I had said that there was no reason why honey should not be sucked out of a rock, and oil out of a flinty rock, the writerix would have told me this sentence must be taken to imply—for it else could have no weight,—that in order to the production of honey, the existence of rocks is indispensable. No less intense and marvellous are the logical errors into which our best writers are continually falling, owing to the notion that laws of logic will help them better than common sense. Whereas any man who can reason at all, does it instinctively, and takes leaps over intermediate syllogisms by the score, yet never misses his footing at the end of the leap; but he who cannot instinctively argue, might as well, with the gout in both feet, try to follow a chamois hunter by the help of crutches, as to follow, by the help of syllogism, a person who has the right use of his reason. I should not, however, have thought it necessary to allude to this common charge against my writings, but that it happens to confirm some views I have long entertained, and which the reader will find glanced at in their proper place, respecting the necessity of a more practically logical education for our youth. Of other various charges I need take no note, because they are always answered the one by the other. The complaint made against me to-day for being narrow and exclusive, is met to-morrow by indignation that I should admire schools whose characters cannot be reconciled; and the assertion of one critic, that I am always contradicting myself, is balanced by the vexation of another, at my ten years' obstinacies in error.

I once intended the illustrations to these volumes to be more numerous and elaborate, but the art of photography now enables any reader to obtain as many memoranda of the facts of nature as he needs; and, in the course of my ten years' pause, I have formed plans for the representation of some of the works of Turner on their own scale; so that it would have been quite useless to spend time in reducing drawings to the size of this page, which were afterwards to be engraved of their own size.[1] I have therefore here only given illustrations enough to enable the reader, who has not access to the works of Turner, to understand the principles laid down in the text, and apply them to such art as may be within his reach. And I owe sincere thanks to the various engravers who have worked with me, for the zeal and care with which they have carried out the requirements in each case, and overcome difficulties of a nature often widelyx differing from those involved by their habitual practice. I would not make invidious distinction, where all have done well; but may perhaps be permitted to point, as examples of what I mean, to the 3rd and 6th Plates in this volume (the 6th being left unlettered in order not to injure the effect of its ground), in which Mr. Le Keux and Mr. Armytage have exactly facsimiled, in line engraving, drawings of mine made on a grey ground touched with white, and have given even the loaded look of the body color. The power of thus imitating actual touches of color with pure lines will be, I believe, of great future importance in rendering Turner's work on a large scale. As for the merit or demerit of these or other drawings of my own, which I am obliged now for the sake of illustration often to engrave, I believe I could speak of it impartially, and should unreluctantly do so; but I leave, as most readers will think I ought, such judgment to them, merely begging them to remember that there are two general principles to be kept in mind in examining the drawings of any writer on art: the first, that they ought at least to show such ordinary skill in draughtsmanship, as to prove that the writer knows what the good qualities of drawing are; the second, that they are never to be expected to equal, in either execution or conception, the work of accomplished artists,—for the simple reason, that in order to do anything thoroughly well, the whole mind, and the whole available time, must be given to that single art. It is probable, for reasons which will be noted in the following pages, that the critical and executive faculties are in great part independent of each other; so that it is nearly as great an absurdity to require of any critic that he should equal in execution even the work which he condemns, as to require of the audience which hisses a piece of vocal music that they should instantly chant it in truer harmony themselves. But whether this be true or not (it is at least untrue to this extent, that a certain power of drawing is indispensable to the critic of art), and supposing that the executive and critical powers always exist in some correspondent degree in the same person, still they cannot be cultivated to the same extent. The attention required for the development of a theory is necessarily withdrawn from the design of a drawing, and the time devoted to the realization of a form is lost to the solution of a problem. Choice must at last be made between one and the other power, as the principal aim of life; and if the painter should find it necessary sometimes to explain one of his picturesxi in words, or the writer to illustrate his meaning with a drawing, the skill of the one need not be doubted because his logic is feeble, nor the sense of the other because his pencil is listless.

As, however, it is sometimes alleged by the opponents of my principles, that I have never done anything, it is proper that the reader should know exactly the amount of work for which I am answerable in these illustrations. When an example is given from any of the works of Turner, it is either etched by myself from the original drawing, or engraved from a drawing of mine, translating Turner's work out of color into black and white, as for instance, the frontispiece to the fourth volume. When a plate is inscribed as "after" such and such a master, I have always myself made the drawing, in black and white, from the original picture; as, for instance, Plate 11, in this volume. If it has been made from a previously existing engraving, it is inscribed with the name of the first engraver at the left-hand lowest corner; as, for instance, Plate 18, in Vol. IV. Outline etchings are either by my own hand on the steel, as Plate 12, here, and 20, 21, in Vol. IV.; or copies from my pen drawings, etched by Mr. Boys, with a fidelity for which I sincerely thank him; one, Plate 22, Vol. IV., is both drawn and etched by Mr. Boys from an old engraving. Most of the other illustrations are engraved from my own studies from nature. The colored Plate (7, in this volume) is from a drawing executed with great skill by my assistant, Mr. J. J. Laing, from MSS. in the British Museum; and the lithography of it has been kindly superintended by Mr. Henry Shaw, whose renderings of mediæval ornaments stand, as far as I know, quite unrivalled in modern art. The two woodcuts of mediæval design, Figs. 1 and 3, are also from drawings by Mr. Laing, admirably cut by Miss Byfield. I use this word "admirably," not with reference to mere delicacy of execution, which can usually be had for money, but to the perfect fidelity of facsimile, which is in general not to be had for money, and by which Miss Byfield has saved me all trouble with respect to the numerous woodcuts in the fourth volume; first, by her excellent renderings of various portions of Albert Durer's woodcuts; and, secondly, by reproducing, to their last dot or scratch, my own pen diagrams, drawn in general so roughly that few wood-engravers would have condescended to cut them with care, and yet always involving some points in which care was indispensable. One or two changes have been permitted in the arrangement of the book,xii which make the text in these volumes not altogether a symmetrical continuation of that in former ones. Thus, I thought it better to put the numbers of paragraphs always at the left-hand side of the page; and as the summaries, in small type, appeared to me for the most part cumbrous and useless, I have banished them, except where there were complicated divisions of subject which it seemed convenient to indicate at the margin. I am not sorry thus to carry out my own principle of the sacrifice of architectural or constructive symmetry to practical service. The plates are, in a somewhat unusual way, numbered consecutively through the two volumes, as I intend them to be also through the fifth. This plan saves much trouble in references.

I have only to express, in conclusion, my regret that it has been impossible to finish the work within the limits first proposed. Having, of late, found my designs always requiring enlargement in process of execution, I will take care, in future, to set no limits whatsoever to any good intentions. In the present instance I trust the reader will pardon me, as the later efforts of our schools of art have necessarily introduced many new topics of discussion.

And so I wish him heartily a happy New Year.

Denmark Hill, Jan. 1856.

[1] I should be very grateful to the proprietors of pictures or drawings by Turner, if they would send me lists of the works in their possession; as I am desirous of forming a systematic catalogue of all his works.

Lake, Land, and Cloud. (near Como.)






§ 1. In taking up the clue of an inquiry, now intermitted for nearly ten years, it may be well to do as a traveller would, who had to recommence an interrupted journey in a guideless country; and, ascending, as it were, some little hill beside our road, note how far we have already advanced, and what pleasantest ways we may choose for farther progress.

I endeavored, in the beginning of the first volume, to divide the sources of pleasure open to us in Art into certain groups, which might conveniently be studied in succession. After some preliminary discussion, it was concluded (Part I. Chap. III. § 86), that these groups were, in the main, three; consisting, first, of the pleasures taken in perceiving simple resemblance to Nature (Ideas of Truth); secondly, of the pleasures taken in the beauty of the things chosen to be painted (Ideas of Beauty); and, lastly, of pleasures taken in the meanings and relations of these things (Ideas of Relation).

The first volume, treating of the ideas of Truth, was chiefly occupied with an inquiry into the various success with which different artists had represented the facts of Nature,—an inquiry necessarily conducted very imperfectly, owing to the want of pictorial illustration.


The second volume nearly opened the inquiry into the nature of ideas of Beauty and Relation, by analysing (as far as I was able to do so) the two faculties of the human mind which mainly seized such ideas; namely, the contemplative and imaginative faculties.

It remains for us to examine the various success of artists, especially of the great landscape-painter whose works have been throughout our principal subject, in addressing these faculties of the human mind, and to consider who among them has conveyed the noblest ideas of beauty, and touched the deepest sources of thought.

§ 2. I do not intend, however, now to pursue the inquiry in a method so laboriously systematic; for the subject may, it seems to me, be more usefully treated by pursuing the different questions which rise out of it just as they occur to us, without too great scrupulousness in marking connections, or insisting on sequences. Much time is wasted by human beings, in general, on establishment of systems; and it often takes more labor to master the intricacies of an artificial connection, than to remember the separate facts which are so carefully connected. I suspect that system-makers, in general, are not of much more use, each in his own domain, than, in that of Pomona, the old women who tie cherries upon sticks, for the more convenient portableness of the same. To cultivate well, and choose well, your cherries, is of some importance; but if they can be had in their own wild way of clustering about their crabbed stalk, it is a better connection for them than any other; and, if they cannot, then, so that they be not bruised, it makes to a boy of a practical disposition, not much difference whether he gets them by handfuls, or in beaded symmetry on the exalting stick. I purpose, therefore, henceforward to trouble myself little with sticks or twine, but to arrange my chapters with a view to convenient reference, rather than to any careful division of subjects, and to follow out, in any by-ways that may open, on right hand or left, whatever question it seems useful at any moment to settle.

§ 3. And, in the outset, I find myself met by one which I ought to have touched upon before—one of especial interest in the present state of the Arts. I have said that the art is great3est which includes the greatest ideas; but I have not endeavored to define the nature of this greatness in the ideas themselves. We speak of great truths, of great beauties, great thoughts. What is it which makes one truth greater than another, one thought greater than another? This question is, I repeat, of peculiar importance at the present time; for, during a period now of some hundred and fifty years, all writers on Art who have pretended to eminence, have insisted much on a supposed distinction between what they call the Great and the Low Schools; using the terms "High Art," "Great or Ideal Style," and other such, as descriptive of a certain noble manner of painting, which it was desirable that all students of Art should be early led to reverence and adopt; and characterising as "vulgar," or "low," or "realist," another manner of painting and conceiving, which it was equally necessary that all students should be taught to avoid.

But lately this established teaching, never very intelligible, has been gravely called in question. The advocates and self-supposed practisers of "High Art" are beginning to be looked upon with doubt, and their peculiar phraseology to be treated with even a certain degree of ridicule. And other forms of Art are partly developed among us, which do not pretend to be high, but rather to be strong, healthy, and humble. This matter of "highness" in Art, therefore deserves our most careful consideration. Has it been, or is it, a true highness, a true princeliness, or only a show of it, consisting in courtly manners and robes of state? Is it rocky height or cloudy height, adamant or vapor, on which the sun of praise so long has risen and set? It will be well at once to consider this.

§4. And first, let us get, as quickly as may be, at the exact meaning with which the advocates of "High Art" use that somewhat obscure and figurative term.

I do not know that the principles in question are anywhere more distinctly expressed than in two papers in the Idler, written by Sir Joshua Reynolds, of course under the immediate sanction of Johnson; and which may thus be considered as the utterance of the views then held upon the subject by the artists of chief skill, and critics of most sense, arranged in a form so brief and clear, as to admit of their being brought before the4 public for a morning's entertainment. I cannot, therefore, it seems to me, do better than quote these two letters, or at least the important parts of them, examining the exact meaning of each passage as it occurs. There are, in all, in the Idler three letters on painting, Nos. 76, 79, and 82; of these, the first is directed only against the impertinences of pretended connoisseurs, and is as notable for its faithfulness, as for its wit, in the description of the several modes of criticism in an artificial and ignorant state of society; it is only, therefore, in the two last papers that we find the expression of the doctrines which it is our business to examine.

No. 79 (Saturday, Oct. 20th, 1759) begins, after a short preamble, with the following passage:—

"Amongst the painters, and the writers on painting, there is one maxim universally admitted and continually inculcated. Imitate nature is the invariable rule; but I know none who have explained in what manner this rule is to be understood; the sequence of which is, that every one takes it in the most obvious sense, that objects are represented naturally when they have such relief that they seem real. It may appear strange, perhaps, to hear this sense of the rule disputed; but it must be considered, that, if the excellency of a painter consisted only in this kind of imitation, Painting must lose its rank, and be no longer considered as a liberal art, and sister to Poetry, this imitation being nearly mechanical, in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed best; for the painter of genius cannot stoop to drudgery, in which the understanding has no part; and what pretence has the art to claim kindred with poetry but by its power over the imagination? To this power the painter of genius directs him; in this sense he studies nature, and often arrives at his end, even by being unnatural in the confined sense of the word."

"The grand style of painting requires this minute attention to be carefully avoided, and must be kept as separate from it as the style of poetry from that of history. (Poetical ornaments destroy that air of truth and plainness which ought to characterise history; but the very being of poetry consists in departing from this plain narrative, and adopting every ornament that will warm the imagination.[2] ) To desire to see the excellencies of each style united—to mingle the Dutch with the Italian school, is to join contrarieties, which cannot subsist together, and which destroy the efficacy of each other."


§ 5. We find, first, from this interesting passage, that the writer considers the Dutch and Italian masters as severally representative of the low and high schools; next, that he considers the Dutch painters as excelling in a mechanical imitation, "in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed best;" and, thirdly, that he considers the Italian painters as excelling in a style which corresponds to that of imaginative poetry in literature, and which has an exclusive right to be called the grand style.

I wish that it were in my power entirely to concur with the writer, and to enforce this opinion thus distinctly stated. I have never been a zealous partisan of the Dutch School, and should rejoice in claiming Reynolds's authority for the assertion, that their manner was one "in which the slowest intellect was always sure to succeed best." But before his authority can be so claimed, we must observe exactly the meaning of the assertion itself, and separate it from the company of some others not perhaps so admissible. First, I say, we must observe Reynolds's exact meaning, for (though the assertion may at first appear singular) a man who uses accurate language is always more liable to misinterpretation than one who is careless in his expressions. We may assume that the latter means very nearly what we at first suppose him to mean, for words which have been uttered without thought may be received without examination. But when a writer or speaker may be fairly supposed to have considered his expressions carefully, and, after having revolved a number of terms in his mind, to have chosen the one which exactly means the thing he intends to say, we may be assured that what costs him time to select, will require from us time to understand, and that we shall do him wrong, unless we pause to reflect how the word which he has actually employed differs from other words which it seems he might have employed. It thus constantly happens that persons themselves unaccustomed to think clearly, or speak correctly, misunderstand a logical and careful writer, and are actually in more danger of being misled by language which is measured and precise, than by that which is loose and inaccurate.

§ 6. Now, in the instance before us, a person not accustomed to good writing might very rashly conclude, that when Reynolds6 spoke of the Dutch School as one "in which the slowest intellect was sure to succeed best," he meant to say that every successful Dutch painter was a fool. We have no right to take his assertion in that sense. He says, the slowest intellect. We have no right to assume that he meant the weakest. For it is true, that in order to succeed in the Dutch style, a man has need of qualities of mind eminently deliberate and sustained. He must be possessed of patience rather than of power; and must feel no weariness in contemplating the expression of a single thought for several months together. As opposed to the changeful energies of the imagination, these mental characters may be properly spoken of as under the general term—slowness of intellect. But it by no means follows that they are necessarily those of weak or foolish men.

We observe however, farther, that the imitation which Reynolds supposes to be characteristic of the Dutch School is that which gives to objects such relief that they seem real, and that he then speaks of this art of realistic imitation as corresponding to history in literature.

§ 7. Reynolds, therefore, seems to class these dull works of the Dutch School under a general head, to which they are not commonly referred—that of Historical painting; while he speaks of the works of the Italian School not as historical, but as poetical painting. His next sentence will farther manifest his meaning.

"The Italian attends only to the invariable, the great and general ideas which are fixed and inherent in universal nature; the Dutch, on the contrary, to literal truth and minute exactness in the detail, as I may say, of nature modified by accident. The attention to these petty peculiarities is the very cause of this naturalness so much admired in the Dutch pictures, which, if we suppose it to be a beauty, is certainly of a lower order, which ought to give place to a beauty of a superior kind, since one cannot be obtained but by departing from the other.

"If my opinion was asked concerning the works of Michael Angelo, whether they would receive any advantage from possessing this mechanical merit, I should not scruple to say, they would not only receive no advantage, but would lose, in a great measure, the effect which they now have on every mind susceptible of great and noble ideas. His works may be said to be all genius and soul; and why should they be loaded with heavy matter, which can only counteract his purpose by retarding the progress of the imagination?"


Examining carefully this and the preceding passage, we find the author's unmistakable meaning to be, that Dutch painting is history; attending to literal truth and "minute exactness in the details of nature modified by accident." That Italian painting is poetry, attending only to the invariable; and that works which attend only to the invariable are full of genius and soul; but that literal truth and exact detail are "heavy matter which retards the progress of the imagination."

§ 8. This being then indisputably what Reynolds means to tell us, let us think a little whether he is in all respects right. And first, as he compares his two kinds of painting to history and poetry, let us see how poetry and history themselves differ, in their use of variable and invariable details. I am writing at a window which commands a view of the head of the Lake of Geneva; and as I look up from my paper, to consider this point, I see, beyond it, a blue breadth of softly moving water, and the outline of the mountains above Chillon, bathed in morning mist. The first verses which naturally come into my mind are—

"A thousand feet in depth below
The massy waters meet and flow;
So far the fathom line was sent
From Chillon's snow-white battlement."

Let us see in what manner this poetical statement is distinguished from a historical one.

It is distinguished from a truly historical statement, first, in being simply false. The water under the castle of Chillon is not a thousand feet deep, nor anything like it.[3] Herein, certainly, these lines fulfil Reynolds's first requirement in poetry, "that it should be inattentive to literal truth and minute exactness in detail." In order, however, to make our comparison more closely in other points, let us assume that what is stated is indeed a fact, and that it was to be recorded, first historically, and then poetically.


Historically stating it, then, we should say: "The lake was sounded from the walls of the castle of Chillon, and found to be a thousand feet deep."

Now, if Reynolds be right in his idea of the difference between history and poetry, we shall find that Byron leaves out of this statement certain unnecessary details, and retains only the invariable,—that is to say, the points which the Lake of Geneva and castle of Chillon have in common with all other lakes and castles.

Let us hear, therefore.

"A thousand feet in depth below."

"Below?" Here is, at all events, a word added (instead of anything being taken away); invariable, certainly in the case of lakes, but not absolutely necessary.

"The massy waters meet and flow."

"Massy!" why massy? Because deep water is heavy. The word is a good word, but it is assuredly an added detail, and expresses a character, not which the Lake of Geneva has in common with all other lakes, but which it has in distinction from those which are narrow or shallow.

§ 9. "Meet and flow." Why meet and flow? Partly to make up a rhyme; partly to tell us that the waters are forceful as well as massy, and changeful as well as deep. Observe, a farther addition of details, and of details more or less peculiar to the spot, or, according to Reynolds's definition, of "heavy matter, retarding the progress of the imagination."

"So far the fathom line was sent."

Why fathom line? All lines for sounding are not fathom lines. If the lake was ever sounded from Chillon, it was probably sounded in metres, not fathoms. This is an addition of another particular detail, in which the only compliance with Reynolds's requirement is, that there is some chance of its being an inaccurate one.

"From Chillon's snow-white battlement."

Why snow-white? Because castle battlements are not usually snow-white. This is another added detail, and a detail9 quite peculiar to Chillon, and therefore exactly the most striking word in the whole passage.

"Battlement!" why battlement? Because all walls have not battlements, and the addition of the term marks the castle to be not merely a prison, but a fortress.

This is a curious result. Instead of finding, as we expected, the poetry distinguished from the history by the omission of details, we find it consist entirely in the addition of details; and instead of being characterized by regard only of the invariable, we find its whole power to consist in the clear expression of what is singular and particular!

§ 10. The reader may pursue the investigation for himself in other instances. He will find in every case that a poetical is distinguished from a merely historical statement, not by being more vague, but more specific, and it might, therefore, at first appear that our author's comparison should be simply reversed, and that the Dutch School should be called poetical, and the Italian historical. But the term poetical does not appear very applicable to the generality of Dutch painting; and a little reflection will show us, that if the Italians represent only the invariable, they cannot be properly compared even to historians. For that which is incapable of change has no history, and records which state only the invariable need not be written, and could not be read.

§ 11. It is evident, therefore, that our author has entangled himself in some grave fallacy, by introducing this idea of invariableness as forming a distinction between poetical and historical art. What the fallacy is, we shall discover as we proceed; but as an invading army should not leave an untaken fortress in its rear, we must not go on with our inquiry into the views of Reynolds until we have settled satisfactorily the question already suggested to us, in what the essence of poetical treatment really consists. For though, as we have seen, it certainly involves the addition of specific details, it cannot be simply that addition which turns the history into poetry. For it is perfectly possible to add any number of details to a historical statement, and to make it more prosaic with every added word. As, for instance, "The lake was sounded out of a flat-bottomed boat, near the crab tree at the corner of the kitchen-garden,10 and was found to be a thousand feet nine inches deep, with a muddy bottom." It thus appears that it is not the multiplication of details which constitutes poetry; nor their subtraction which constitutes history; but that there must be something either in the nature of the details themselves, or the method of using them, which invests them with poetical power or historical propriety.

§ 12. It seems to me, and may seem to the reader, strange that we should need to ask the question, "What is poetry?" Here is a word we have been using all our lives, and, I suppose, with a very distinct idea attached to it; and when I am now called upon to give a definition of this idea, I find myself at a pause. What is more singular, I do not at present recollect hearing the question often asked, though surely it is a very natural one; and I never recollect hearing it answered, or even attempted to be answered. In general, people shelter themselves under metaphors, and while we hear poetry described as an utterance of the soul, an effusion of Divinity, or voice of nature, or in other terms equally elevated and obscure, we never attain anything like a definite explanation of the character which actually distinguishes it from prose.

§ 13. I come, after some embarrassment, to the conclusion, that poetry is "the suggestion, by the imagination, of noble grounds for the noble emotions." I mean, by the noble emotions, those four principal sacred passions—Love, Veneration, Admiration, and Joy (this latter especially, if unselfish); and their opposites—Hatred, Indignation (or Scorn), Horror, and Grief,—this last, when unselfish, becoming Compassion. These passions in their various combinations constitute what is called "poetical feeling," when they are felt on noble grounds, that is, on great and true grounds. Indignation, for instance, is a poetical feeling, if excited by serious injury; but it is not a poetical feeling if entertained on being cheated out of a small sum of money. It is very possible the manner of the cheat may have been such as to justify considerable indignation; but the feeling is nevertheless not poetical unless the grounds of it be large as well as just. In like manner, energetic admiration may be excited in certain minds by a display of fireworks, or a street of handsome shops; but the feeling is not poetical, be11cause the grounds of it are false, and therefore ignoble. There is in reality nothing to deserve admiration either in the firing of packets of gunpowder, or in the display of the stocks of ware-houses. But admiration excited by the budding of a flower is a poetical feeling, because it is impossible that this manifestation of spiritual power and vital beauty can ever be enough admired.

§ 14. Farther, it is necessary to the existence of poetry that the grounds of these feelings should be furnished by the imagination. Poetical feeling, that is to say, mere noble emotion, is not poetry. It is happily inherent in all human nature deserving the name, and is found often to be purest in the least sophisticated. But the power of assembling, by the help of the imagination, such images as will excite these feelings, is the power of the poet or literally of the "Maker."[4]


Now this power of exciting the emotions depends of course on the richness of the imagination, and on its choice of those images which, in combination, will be most effective, or, for the particular work to be done, most fit. And it is altogether impossible for a writer not endowed with invention to conceive what tools a true poet will make use of, or in what way he will apply them, or what unexpected results he will bring out by them; so that it is vain to say that the details of poetry ought to possess, or ever do possess, any definite character. Generally speaking, poetry runs into finer and more delicate details than prose; but the details are not poetical because they are more delicate, but because they are employed so as to bring out an affecting result. For instance, no one but a true poet would have thought of exciting our pity for a bereaved father by describing his way of locking the door of his house:

"Perhaps to himself, at that moment he said,
The key I must take, for my Ellen is dead;
But of this in my ears not a word did he speak,
And he went to the chase with a tear on his cheek."

In like manner, in painting, it is altogether impossible to say beforehand what details a great painter may make poetical by his use of them to excite noble emotions: and we shall, therefore, find presently that a painting is to be classed in the great or inferior schools, not according to the kind of details which it represents, but according to the uses for which it employs them.

§ 15. It is only farther to be noticed, that infinite confusion has been introduced into this subject by the careless and illogical custom of opposing painting to poetry, instead of regarding poetry as consisting in a noble use, whether of colors or words. Painting is properly to be opposed to speaking or writing, but not to poetry. Both painting and speaking are methods of13 expression. Poetry is the employment of either for the noblest purposes.

§ 16. This question being thus far determined, we may proceed with our paper in the Idler.

"It is very difficult to determine the exact degree of enthusiasm that the arts of painting and poetry may admit. There may, perhaps, be too great indulgence as well as too great a restraint of imagination; if the one produces incoherent monsters, the other produces what is full as bad, lifeless insipidity. An intimate knowledge of the passions, and good sense, but not common sense, must at last determine its limits. It has been thought, and I believe with reason, that Michael Angelo sometimes transgressed those limits; and, I think, I have seen figures of him of which it was very difficult to determine whether they were in the highest degree sublime or extremely ridiculous. Such faults may be said to be the ebullitions of genius; but at least he had this merit, that he never was insipid, and whatever passion his works may excite, they will always escape contempt.

"What I have had under consideration is the sublimest style, particularly that of Michael Angelo, the Homer of painting. Other kinds may admit of this naturalness, which of the lowest kind is the chief merit; but in painting, as in poetry, the highest style has the least of common nature."

From this passage we gather three important indications of the supposed nature of the Great Style. That it is the work of men in a state of enthusiasm. That it is like the writing of Homer; and that it has as little as possible of "common nature" in it.

§ 17. First, it is produced by men in a state of enthusiasm. That is, by men who feel strongly and nobly; for we do not call a strong feeling of envy, jealousy, or ambition, enthusiasm. That is, therefore, by men who feel poetically. This much we may admit, I think, with perfect safety. Great art is produced by men who feel acutely and nobly; and it is in some sort an expression of this personal feeling. We can easily conceive that there may be a sufficiently marked distinction between such art, and that which is produced by men who do not feel at all, but who reproduce, though ever so accurately, yet coldly, like human mirrors, the scenes which pass before their eyes.

§ 18. Secondly, Great Art is like the writing of Homer, and this chiefly because it has little of "common nature" in it. We are not clearly informed what is meant by common nature in this passage. Homer seems to describe a great deal of what is14 common;—cookery, for instance, very carefully in all its processes. I suppose the passage in the Iliad which, on the whole, has excited most admiration, is that which describes a wife's sorrow at parting from her husband, and a child's fright at its father's helmet; and I hope, at least, the former feeling may be considered "common nature." But the true greatness of Homer's style is, doubtless, held by our author to consist in his imaginations of things not only uncommon but impossible (such as spirits in brazen armor, or monsters with heads of men and bodies of beasts), and in his occasional delineations of the human character and form in their utmost, or heroic, strength and beauty. We gather then on the whole, that a painter in the Great Style must be enthusiastic, or full of emotion, and must paint the human form in its utmost strength and beauty, and perhaps certain impossible forms besides, liable by persons not in an equally enthusiastic state of mind to be looked upon as in some degree absurd. This I presume to be Reynolds's meaning, and to be all that he intends us to gather from his comparison of the Great Style with the writings of Homer. But if that comparison be a just one in all respects, surely two other corollaries ought to be drawn from it, namely,—first, that these Heroic or Impossible images are to be mingled with others very unheroic and very possible; and, secondly, that in the representation of the Heroic or Impossible forms, the greatest care must be taken in finishing the details, so that a painter must not be satisfied with painting well the countenance and the body of his hero, but ought to spend the greatest part of his time (as Homer the greatest number of verses) in elaborating the sculptured pattern on his shield.

§ 19. Let us, however, proceed with our paper.

"One may very safely recommend a little more enthusiasm to the modern painters; too much is certainly not the vice of the present age. The Italians seem to have been continually declining in this respect, from the time of Michael Angelo to that of Carlo Maratti, and from thence to the very bathos of insipidity to which they are now sunk, so that there is no need of remarking, that where I mentioned the Italian painters in opposition to the Dutch, I mean not the moderns, but the heads of the old Roman and Bolognian schools; nor did I mean to include, in my idea of an Italian painter, the Venetian school, which may be said to be the Dutch part of the Italian genius. I have only to add a word of advice to the painters, that, however15 excellent they may be in painting naturally, they would not flatter themselves very much upon it; and to the connoisseurs, that when they see a cat or a fiddle painted so finely, that, as the phrase is, it looks as if you could take it up, they would not for that reason immediately compare the painter to Raffaelle and Michael Angelo."

In this passage there are four points chiefly to be remarked. The first, that in the year 1759, the Italian painters were, in our author's opinion, sunk in the very bathos of insipidity. The second, that the Venetian painters, i.e. Titian, Tintoret, and Veronese, are, in our author's opinion, to be classed with the Dutch; that is to say, are painters in a style "in which the slowest intellect is always sure to succeed best." Thirdly, that painting naturally is not a difficult thing, nor one on which a painter should pride himself. And, finally, that connoisseurs, seeing a cat or a fiddle successfully painted, ought not therefore immediately to compare the painter to Raphael or Michael Angelo.

Yet Raphael painted fiddles very carefully in the foreground of his St. Cecilia,—so carefully, that they quite look as if they might be taken up. So carefully, that I never yet looked at the picture without wishing that somebody would take them up, and out of the way. And I am under a very strong persuasion that Raphael did not think painting "naturally" an easy thing. It will be well to examine into this point a little; and for the present, with the reader's permission, we will pass over the first two statements in this passage (touching the character of Italian art in 1759, and of Venetian art in general), and immediately examine some of the evidence existing as to the real dignity of "natural" painting—that is to say, of painting carried to the point at which it reaches a deceptive appearance of reality.

[2] I have put this sentence in a parenthesis, because it is inconsistent with the rest of the statement, and with the general teaching of the paper; since that which "attends only to the invariable" cannot certainly adopt "every ornament that will warm the imagination."

[3] "MM. Mallet et Pictet, se trouvant sur le lac auprès du château de Chillon, le 6 Août, 1774, plongèrent à la profondeur de 312 pieds de un thermomètre," &c.—Saussure, Voyages dans les Alpes, chap. ii. § 33. It appears from the next paragraph, that the thermometer was "au fond du lac."

[4] Take, for instance, the beautiful stanza in the "Affliction of Margaret:"

"I look for ghosts, but none will force
Their way to me. 'Tis falsely said
That ever there was intercourse
Between the living and the dead;
For, surely then, I should have sight
Of him I wait for, day and night,
With love and longing infinite."

This we call Poetry, because it is invented or made by the writer, entering into the mind of a supposed person. Next, take an instance of the actual feeling truly experienced and simply expressed by a real person.

"Nothing surprised me more than a woman of Argentière, whose cottage I went into to ask for milk, as I came down from the glacier of Argentière, in the month of March, 1764. An epidemic dysentery had prevailed in the village, and, a few months before, had taken away from her, her father, her husband, and her brothers, so that she was left alone, with three children in the cradle. Her face had something noble in it, and its expression bore the seal of a calm and profound sorrow. After having given me milk, she asked me whence I came, and what I came there to do, so early in the year. When she knew that I was of Geneva, she said to me, 'she could not believe that all Protestants were lost souls; that there were many honest people among us, and that God was too good and too great to condemn all without distinction.' Then, after a moment of reflection, she added, in shaking her head, 'But, that which is very strange, is that of so many who have gone away, none have ever returned. I,' she added, with an expression of grief, 'who have so mourned my husband and my brothers, who have never ceased to think of them, who every night conjure them with beseechings to tell me where they are, and in what state they are! Ah, surely, if they lived anywhere, they would not leave me thus! But, perhaps,' she added, 'I am not worthy of this kindness, perhaps the pure and innocent spirits of these children,' and she looked at the cradle, 'may have their presence, and the joy which is denied to me.'"—Saussure, Voyages dans les Alpes, chap. xxiv.

This we do not call Poetry, merely because it is not invented, but the true utterance of a real person.




§ 1. In the outset of this inquiry, the reader must thoroughly understand that we are not now considering what is to be painted, but how far it is to be painted. Not whether Raphael does right in representing angels playing upon violins, or whether Veronese does right in allowing cats and monkeys to join the company of kings: but whether, supposing the subjects rightly chosen, they ought on the canvas to look like real angels with real violins, and substantial cats looking at veritable kings; or only like imaginary angels with soundless violins, ideal cats, and unsubstantial kings.

Now, from the first moment when painting began to be a subject of literary inquiry and general criticism, I cannot remember any writer, not professedly artistical, who has not, more or less, in one part of his book or another, countenanced the idea that the great end of art is to produce a deceptive resemblance of reality. It may be, indeed, that we shall find the writers, through many pages, explaining principles of ideal beauty, and professing great delight in the evidences of imagination. But whenever a picture is to be definitely described,—whenever the writer desires to convey to others some impression of an extraordinary excellence, all praise is wound up with some such statements as these: "It was so exquisitely painted that you expected the figures to move and speak; you approached the flowers to enjoy their smell, and stretched your hand towards the fruit which had fallen from the branches. You shrunk back lest the sword of the warrior should indeed descend, and turned away your head that you might not witness the agonies of the expiring martyr!"

§ 2. In a large number of instances, language such as this will be found to be merely a clumsy effort to convey to others a17 sense of the admiration, of which the writer does not understand the real cause in himself. A person is attracted to a picture by the beauty of its color, interested by the liveliness of its story, and touched by certain countenances or details which remind him of friends whom he loved, for scenes in which he delighted. He naturally supposes that what gives him so much pleasure must be a notable example of the painter's skill; but he is ashamed to confess, or perhaps does not know, that he is so much a child as to be fond of bright colors and amusing incidents; and he is quite unconscious of the associations which have so secret and inevitable a power over his heart. He casts about for the cause of his delight, and can discover no other than that he thought the picture like reality.

§ 3. In another, perhaps a still larger number of cases, such language will be found to be that of simple ignorance—the ignorance of persons whose position in life compels them to speak of art, without having any real enjoyment of it. It is inexcusably required from people of the world, that they should see merit in Claudes and Titians; and the only merit which many persons can either see or conceive in them is, that they must be "like nature."

§ 4. In other cases, the deceptive power of the art is really felt to be a source of interest and amusement. This is the case with a large number of the collectors of Dutch pictures. They enjoy seeing what is flat made to look round, exactly as a child enjoys a trick of legerdemain; they rejoice in flies which the spectator vainly attempts to brush away, and in dew which he endeavors to dry by putting the picture in the sun. They take it for the greatest compliment to their treasures that they should be mistaken for windows; and think the parting of Abraham and Hagar adequately represented, if Hagar seems to be really crying.

It is against critics and connoisseurs of this latter stamp (of whom, in the year 1759, the juries of art were for the most part composed) that the essay of Reynolds, which we have been examining, was justly directed. But Reynolds had not sufficiently considered that neither the men of this class, nor of the two other classes above described, constitute the entire body of those who praise Art for its realization; and that the holding18 of this apparently shallow and vulgar opinion cannot, in all cases, be attributed to the want either of penetration, sincerity, or sense. The collectors of Gerard Dows and Hobbimas may be passed by with a smile; and the affectations of Walpole and simplicities of Vasari dismissed with contempt or with compassion. But very different men from these have held precisely the same language; and, one amongst the rest, whose authority is absolutely, and in all points, overwhelming.

§ 5. There was probably never a period in which the influence of art over the minds of men seemed to depend less on its merely imitative power, than the close of the thirteenth century. No painting or sculpture at that time reached more than a rude resemblance of reality. Its despised perspective, imperfect chiaroscuro, and unrestrained flights of fantastic imagination, separated the artist's work from nature by an interval which there was no attempt to disguise, and little to diminish. And yet, at this very period, the greatest poet of that, or perhaps of any other age, and the attached friend of its greatest painter, who must over and over again have held full and free conversation with him respecting the objects of his art, speaks in the following terms of painting, supposed to be carried to its highest perfection:—

"Qual di pennel fu maestro, e di stile
Che ritraesse l' ombre, e i tratti, ch' ivi
Mirar farieno uno ingegno sottile.
Morti li morti, e i vivi parean vivi:
Non vide me' di me, chi vide il vero,
Quant' io calcai, fin che chinato givi."
Dante, Purgatorio, canto xii. 1. 64

'What master of the pencil, or the style,
Had traced the shades and lines that might have made
The subtlest workman wonder? Dead, the dead,
The living seemed alive; with clearer view
His eye beheld not, who beheld the truth.
Than mine what I did tread on, while I went,
Low bending.'

Dante has here clearly no other idea of the highest art than that it should bring back, as in a mirror or vision, the aspect of things passed or absent. The scenes of which he speaks are, on19 the pavement, for ever represented by angelic power, so that the souls which traverse this circle of the rock may see them, as if the years of the world had been rolled back, and they again stood beside the actors in the moment of action. Nor do I think that Dante's authority is absolutely necessary to compel us to admit that such art as this might indeed be the highest possible. Whatever delight we may have been in the habit of taking in pictures, if it were but truly offered to us, to remove at our will the canvas from the frame, and in lieu of it to behold, fixed for ever, the image of some of those mighty scenes which it has been our way to make mere themes for the artist's fancy; if, for instance, we could again behold the Magdalene receiving her pardon at Christ's feet, or the disciples sitting with Him at the table of Emmaus; and this not feebly nor fancifully, but as if some silver mirror, that had leaned against the wall of the chamber, had been miraculously commanded to retain for ever the colors that had flashed upon it for an instant,—would we not part with our picture—Titian's or Veronese's though it might be?

§ 6. Yes, the reader answers, in the instance of such scenes as these, but not if the scene represented were uninteresting. Not, indeed, if it were utterly vulgar or painful; but we are not yet certain that the art which represents what is vulgar or painful is itself of much value; and with respect to the art whose aim is beauty, even of an inferior order, it seems that Dante's idea of its perfection has still much evidence in its favor. For among persons of native good sense, and courage enough to speak their minds, we shall often find a considerable degree of doubt as to the use of art, in consequence of their habitual comparison of it with reality. "What is the use, to me, of the painted landscape?" they will ask: "I see more beautiful and perfect landscapes every day of my life in my forenoon walk." "What is the use, to me, of the painted effigy of hero or beauty? I can see a stamp of higher heroism, and light of purer beauty, on the faces around me, utterly inexpressible by the highest human skill." Now, it is evident that to persons of this temper the only valuable pictures would indeed be mirrors, reflecting permanently the images of the things in which they took delight, and of the faces that they loved. "Nay," but the reader20 interrupts, (if he is of the Idealist school) "I deny that more beautiful things are to be seen in nature than in art; on the contrary, everything in nature is faulty, and art represents nature as perfected." Be it so. Must, therefore, this perfected nature be imperfectly represented? Is it absolutely required of the painter, who has conceived perfection, that he should so paint it as to look only like a picture? Or is not Dante's view of the matter right even here, and would it not be well that the perfect conception of Pallas should be so given as to look like Pallas herself, rather than merely like the picture of Pallas?

§ 7. It is not easy for us to answer this question rightly, owing to the difficulty of imagining any art which should reach the perfection supposed. Our actual powers of imitation are so feeble that wherever deception is attempted, a subject of a comparatively low or confined order must be chosen. I do not enter at present into the inquiry how far the powers of imitation extend; but assuredly up to the present period they have been so limited that it is hardly possible for us to conceive a deceptive art embracing a high range of subject. But let the reader make the effort, and consider seriously what he would give at any moment to have the power of arresting the fairest scenes, those which so often rise before him only to vanish; to stay the cloud in its fading, the leaf in its trembling, and the shadows in their changing; to bid the fitful foam be fixed upon the river, and the ripples be everlasting upon the lake; and then to bear away with him no darkened or feeble sun-stain (though even that is beautiful), but a counterfeit which should seem no counterfeit —the true and perfect image of life indeed. Or rather (for the full majesty of such a power is not thus sufficiently expressed) let him consider that it would be in effect nothing else than a capacity of transporting himself at any moment into any scene —a gift as great as can be possessed by a disembodied spirit': and suppose, also, this necromancy embracing not only the present but the past, and enabling us seemingly to enter into the very bodily presence of men long since gathered to the dust; to behold them in act as they lived, but—with greater privilege than ever was granted to the companions of those transient acts of life,—to see them fastened at our will in the gesture and ex21pression of an instant, and stayed, on the eve of some great deed, in immortality of burning purpose. Conceive, so far as it is possible, such power as this, and then say whether the art which conferred it is to be spoken lightly of, or whether we should not rather reverence, as half divine, a gift which would go so far as to raise us into the rank, and invest us with the felicities, of angels?

Yet such would imitative art be in its perfection. Not by any means an easy thing, as Reynolds supposes it. Far from being easy, it is so utterly beyond all human power that we have difficulty even in conceiving its nature or results—the best art we as yet possess comes so far short of it.

§ 8. But we must not rashly come to the conclusion that such art would, indeed, be the highest possible. There is much to be considered hereafter on the other side; the only conclusion we are as yet warranted in forming is, that Reynolds had no right to speak lightly or contemptuously of imitative art; that in fact, when he did so, he had not conceived its entire nature, but was thinking of some vulgar conditions of it, which were the only ones known to him, and that, therefore, his whole endeavor to explain the difference between great and mean art has been disappointed; that he has involved himself in a crowd of theories, whose issue he had not foreseen, and committed himself to conclusions which he never intended. There is an instinctive consciousness in his own mind of the difference between high and low art; but he is utterly incapable of explaining it, and every effort which he makes to do so involves him in unexpected fallacy and absurdity. It is not true that Poetry does not concern herself with minute details. It is not true that high art seeks only the Invariable. It is not true that imitative art is an easy thing. It is not true that the faithful rendering of nature is an employment in which "the slowest intellect is likely to succeed best." All these successive assertions are utterly false and untenable, while the plain truth, a truth lying at the very door, has all the while escaped him,—that which was incidentally stated in the preceding chapter,—namely, that the difference between great and mean art lies, not in definable methods of handling, or styles of representation, or choices of subjects, but wholly in the nobleness of the end to22 which the effort of the painter is addressed. We cannot say that a painter is great because he paints boldly, or paints delicately; because he generalizes or particularizes; because he loves detail, or because he disdains it. He is great if, by any of these means, he has laid open noble truths, or aroused noble emotions. It does not matter whether he paint the petal of a rose, or the chasms of a precipice, so that Love and Admiration attend him as he labors, and wait for ever upon his work. It does not matter whether he toil for months upon a few inches of his canvas, or cover a palace front with color in a day, so only that it be with a solemn purpose that he has filled his heart with patience, or urged his hand to haste. And it does not matter whether he seek for his subjects among peasants or nobles, among the heroic or the simple, in courts or in fields, so only that he behold all things with a thirst for beauty, and a hatred of meanness and vice. There are, indeed, certain methods of representation which are usually adopted by the most active minds, and certain characters of subject usually delighted in by the noblest hearts; but it is quite possible, quite easy, to adopt the manner of painting without sharing the activity of mind, and to imitate the choice of subject without possessing the nobility of spirit; while, on the other hand, it is altogether impossible to foretell on what strange objects the strength of a great man will sometimes be concentrated, or by what strange means he will sometimes express himself. So that true criticism of art never can consist in the mere application of rules; it can be just only when it is founded on quick sympathy with the innumerable instincts and changeful efforts of human nature, chastened and guided by unchanging love of all things that God has created to be beautiful, and pronounced to be good.




§ 1. I doubt not that the reader was ill-satisfied with the conclusion arrived at in the last chapter. That "great art" is art which represents what is beautiful and good, may not seem a very profound discovery; and the main question may be thought to have been all the time lost sight of, namely, "What is beautiful, and what is good?" No; those are not the main, at least not the first questions; on the contrary, our subject becomes at once opened and simplified as soon as we have left those the only questions. For observe, our present task, according to our old plan, is merely to investigate the relative degrees of the beautiful in the art of different masters; and it is an encouragement to be convinced, first of all, that what is lovely will also be great, and what is pleasing, noble. Nor is the conclusion so much a matter of course as it at first appears, for, surprising as the statement may seem, all the confusion into which Reynolds has plunged both himself and his readers, in the essay we have been examining, results primarily from a doubt in his own mind as to the existence of beauty at all. In the next paper I alluded to, No. 82 (which needs not, however, to be examined at so great length), he calmly attributes the whole influence of beauty to custom, saying, that "he has no doubt, if we were more used to deformity than to beauty, deformity would then lose the idea now annexed to it, and take that of beauty; as if the whole world shall agree that Yes and No should change their meanings. Yes would then deny, and No would affirm!"

§ 2. The world does, indeed, succeed—oftener than is, perhaps, altogether well for the world—in making Yes mean No, and No mean Yes.[5] But the world has never succeeded, nor24 ever will, in making itself delight in black clouds more than in blue sky, or love the dark earth better than the rose that grows from it. Happily for mankind, beauty and ugliness are as positive in their nature as physical pain and pleasure, as light and darkness, or as life and death; and, though they may be denied or misunderstood in many fantastic ways, the most subtle reasoner will at last find that color and sweetness are still attractive to him, and that no logic will enable him to think the rainbow sombre, or the violet scentless. But the theory that beauty was merely a result of custom was very common in Johnson's time. Goldsmith has, I think, expressed it with more force and wit than any other writer, in various passages of the Citizen of the World. And it was, indeed, a curious retribution of the folly of the world of art, which for some three centuries had given itself recklessly to the pursuit of beauty, that at last it should be led to deny the very existence of what it had so morbidly and passionately sought. It was as if a child should leave its home to pursue the rainbow, and then, breathless and hopeless, declare that it did not exist. Nor is the lesson less useful which may be gained in observing the adoption of such a theory by Reynolds himself. It shows how completely an artist may be unconscious of the principles of his own work, and how he may be led by instinct to do all that is right, while he is misled by false logic to say all that is wrong. For nearly every word that Reynolds wrote was contrary to his own practice; he seems to have been born to teach all error by his precept, and all excellence by his example; he enforced with his lips generalization and idealism, while with his pencil he was tracing the patterns of the dresses of the belles of his day; he exhorted his pupils to attend only to the invariable, while he himself was occupied in distinguishing every variation of womanly temper; and he denied the existence of the beautiful, at the same instant that he arrested it as it passed, and perpetuated it for ever.

§ 3. But we must not quit the subject here. However inconsistently or dimly expressed, there is, indeed, some truth in that commonly accepted distinction between high and low art. That a thing should be beautiful is not enough; there is, as we said in the outset, a higher and lower range of beauty, and some ground for separating into various and unequal ranks painters25 who have, nevertheless, each in his several way, represented something that was beautiful or good.

Nor, if we would, can we get rid of this conviction. We have at all times some instinctive sense that the function of one painter is greater than that of another, even supposing each equally successful in his own way; and we feel that, if it were possible to conquer prejudice, and do away with the iniquities of personal feeling, and the insufficiencies of limited knowledge, we should all agree in this estimate, and be able to place each painter in his right rank, measuring them by a true scale of nobleness. We feel that the men in the higher classes of the scale would be, in the full sense of the word, Great—men whom one would give much to see the faces of but for an instant; and that those in the lower classes of the scale (though none were admitted but who had true merit of some kind) would be very small men, not greatly exciting either reverence or curiosity. And with this fixed instinct in our minds, we permit our teachers daily to exhort their pupils to the cultivation of "great art"—neither they nor we having any very clear notion as to what the greatness consists in: but sometimes inclining to think it must depend on the space of the canvas, and that art on a scale of 6 feet by 10 is something spiritually separated from that on a scale of 3 feet by 5;—sometimes holding it to consist in painting the nude body, rather than the body decently clothed;—sometimes being convinced that it is connected with the study of past history, and that the art is only great which represents what the painter never saw, and about which he knows nothing;-and sometimes being firmly persuaded that it consists in generally finding fault with, and endeavoring to mend, whatsoever the Divine Wisdom has made. All which various errors, having yet some motes and atoms of truth in the make of each of them, deserve some attentive analysis, for they come under that general law,—that "the corruption of the best is the worst." There are not worse errors going than these four; and yet the truth they contain, and the instinct which urges many to preach them, are at the root of all healthy growth in art. We ruin one young painter after another by telling him to follow great art, without knowing, ourselves, what greatness is; and yet the feeling that it verily is something, and that there26 are depths and breadths, shallows and narrows, in the matter, is all that we have to look to, if we would ever make our art serviceable to ourselves or others. To follow art for the sake of being a great man, and therefore to cast about continually for some means of achieving position or attracting admiration, is the surest way of ending in total extinction. And yet it is only by honest reverence for art itself, and by great self-respect in the practice of it, that it can be rescued from dilettantism, raised to approved honorableness, and brought to the proper work it has to accomplish in the service of man.

§ 4. Let us therefore look into the facts of the thing, not with any metaphysical, or otherwise vain and troublesome effort at acuteness, but in a plain way; for the facts themselves are plain enough, and may be plainly stated, only the difficulty is that out of these facts, right and left, the different forms of misapprehension branch into grievous complexity, and branch so far and wide, that if once we try to follow them, they will lead us quite from our mark into other separate, though not less interesting discussions. The best way will be, therefore, I think, to sketch out at once in this chapter, the different characters which really constitute "greatness" of style, and to indicate the principal directions of the outbranching misapprehensions of them; then, in the succeeding chapters, to take up in succession those which need more talk about them, and follow out at leisure whatever inquiries they may suggest.

§ 5. I. Choice of Noble Subject.—Greatness of style consists, then: first, in the habitual choice of subjects of thought which involve wide interests and profound passions, as opposed to those which involve narrow interests and slight passions. The style is greater or less in exact proportion to the nobleness of the interests and passions involved in the subject. The habitual choice of sacred subjects, such as the Nativity, Transfiguration, Crucifixion (if the choice be sincere), implies that the painter has a natural disposition to dwell on the highest thoughts of which humanity is capable; it constitutes him so far forth a painter of the highest order, as, for instance, Leonardo, in his painting of the Last Supper: he who delights in representing the acts or meditations of great men, as, for instance, Raphael painting the School of Athens, is, so far27 forth, a painter of the second order: he who represents the passions and events of ordinary life, of the third. And in this ordinary life, he who represents deep thoughts and sorrows, as, for instance, Hunt, in his Claudio and Isabella, and such other works, is of the highest rank in his sphere; and he who represents the slight malignities and passions of the drawingroom, as, for instance, Leslie, of the second rank: he who represents the sports of boys or simplicities of clowns, as Webster or Teniers, of the third rank; and he who represents brutalities and vices (for delight in them, and not for rebuke of them), of no rank at all, or rather of a negative rank, holding a certain order in the abyss.

§ 6. The reader will, I hope, understand how much importance is to be attached to the sentence in the first parenthesis, "if the choice be sincere;" for choice of subject is, of course, only available as a criterion of the rank of the painter, when it is made from the heart. Indeed, in the lower orders of painting, the choice is always made from such heart as the painter has; for his selection of the brawls of peasants or sports of children can, of course, proceed only from the fact that he has more sympathy with such brawls or pastimes than with nobler subjects. But the choice of the higher kind of subjects is often insincere; and may, therefore, afford no real criterion of the painter's rank. The greater number of men who have lately painted religious or heroic subjects have done so in mere ambition, because they had been taught that it was a good thing to be a "high art" painter; and the fact is that, in nine cases out of ten, the so-called historical or "high-art" painter is a person infinitely inferior to the painter of flowers or still life. He is, in modern times, nearly always a man who has great vanity without pictorial capacity, and differs from the landscape or fruit painter merely in misunderstanding and over-estimating his own powers. He mistakes his vanity for inspiration, his ambition for greatness of soul, and takes pleasure in what he calls "the ideal," merely because he has neither humility nor capacity enough to comprehend the real.

§ 7. But also observe, it is not enough even that the choice be sincere. It must also be wise. It happens very often that a man of weak intellect, sincerely desiring to do what is good and28 useful, will devote himself to high art subjects because he thinks them the only ones on which time and toil can be usefully spent, or, sometimes, because they are really the only ones he has pleasure in contemplating. But not having intellect enough to enter into the minds of truly great men, or to imagine great events as they really happened, he cannot become a great painter; he degrades the subjects he intended to honor, and his work is more utterly thrown away, and his rank as an artist in reality lower, than if he had devoted himself to the imitation of the simplest objects of natural history. The works of Overbeck are a most notable instance of this form of error.

§ 8. It must also be remembered, that in nearly all the great periods of art the choice of subject has not been left to the painter. His employer,—abbot, baron, or monarch,—determined for him whether he should earn his bread by making cloisters bright with choirs of saints, painting coats of arms on leaves of romances, or decorating presence-chambers with complimentary mythology; and his own personal feelings are ascertainable only by watching, in the themes assigned to him, what are the points in which he seems to take most pleasure. Thus, in the prolonged ranges of varied subjects with which Benozzo Gozzoli decorated the cloisters of Pisa, it is easy to see that love of simple domestic incident, sweet landscape, and glittering ornament, prevails slightly over the solemn elements of religious feeling, which, nevertheless, the spirit of the age instilled into him in such measure as to form a very lovely and noble mind, though still one of the second order. In the work of Orcagna, an intense solemnity and energy in the sublimest groups of his figures, fading away as he touches inferior subjects, indicates that his home was among the archangels, and his rank among the first of the sons of men: while Correggio, in the sidelong grace, artificial smiles, and purple languors of his saints, indicates the inferior instinct which would have guided his choice in quite other directions, had it not been for the fashion of the age, and the need of the day.

§ 9. It will follow, of course, from the above considerations, that the choice which characterises the school of high art is seen as much in the treatment of a subject as in its selection, and that the expression of the thoughts of the persons represented29 will always be the first thing considered by the painter who worthily enters that highest school. For the artist who sincerely chooses the noblest subject will also choose chiefly to represent what makes that subject noble, namely, the various heroism or other noble emotions of the persons represented. If, instead of this, the artist seeks only to make his picture agreeable by the composition of its masses and colors, or by any other merely pictorial merit, as fine drawing of limbs, it is evident, not only that any other subject would have answered his purpose as well, but that he is unfit to approach the subject he has chosen, because he cannot enter into its deepest meaning, and therefore cannot in reality have chosen it for that meaning. Nevertheless, while the expression is always to be the first thing considered, all other merits must be added to the utmost of the painter's power: for until he can both color and draw beautifully he has no business to consider himself a painter at all, far less to attempt the noblest subjects of painting; and, when he has once possessed himself of these powers, he will naturally and fitly employ them to deepen and perfect the impression made by the sentiment of his subject.

The perfect unison of expression, as the painter's main purpose, with the full and natural exertion of his pictorial power in the details of the work, is found only in the old Pre-Raphaelite periods, and in the modern Pre-Raphaelite school. In the works of Giotto, Angelico, Orcagna, John Bellini, and one or two more, these two conditions of high art are entirely fulfilled, so far as the knowledge of those days enabled them to be fulfilled; and in the modern Pre-Raphaelite school they are fulfilled nearly to the uttermost. Hunt's Light of the World is, I believe, the most perfect instance of expressional purpose with technical power, which the world has yet produced.

§ 10. Now in the Post Raphaelite period of ancient art, and in the spurious high art of modern times, two broad forms of error divide the schools; the one consisting in (A) the superseding of expression by technical excellence, and the other in (B) the superseding of technical excellence by expression.

(A). Superseding expression by technical excellence.—This takes place most frankly, and therefore most innocently, in the work of the Venetians. They very nearly ignore expression al30together, directing their aim exclusively to the rendering of external truths of color and form. Paul Veronese will make the Magdalene wash the feet of Christ with a countenance as absolutely unmoved as that of any ordinary servant bringing a ewer to her master, and will introduce the supper at Emmaus as a background to the portraits of two children playing with a dog. Of the wrongness or rightness of such a proceeding we shall reason in another place; at present we have to note it merely as displacing the Venetian work from the highest or expressional rank of art. But the error is generally made in a more subtle and dangerous way. The artist deceives himself into the idea that he is doing all he can to elevate his subject by treating it under rules of art, introducing into it accurate science, and collecting for it the beauties of (so-called) ideal form; whereas he may, in reality, be all the while sacrificing his subject to his own vanity or pleasure, and losing truth, nobleness, and impressiveness for the sake of delightful lines or creditable pedantries.

§ 11. (B). Superseding technical excellence by expression.—This is usually done under the influence of another kind of vanity. The artist desires that men should think he has an elevated soul, affects to despise the ordinary excellence of art, contemplates with separated egotism the course of his own imaginations or sensations, and refuses to look at the real facts round about him, in order that he may adore at leisure the shadow of himself. He lives in an element of what he calls tender emotions and lofty aspirations; which are, in fact, nothing more than very ordinary weaknesses or instincts, contemplated through a mist of pride. A large range of modern German art comes under this head.

A more interesting and respectable form of this error is fallen into by some truly earnest men, who, finding their powers not adequate to the attainment of great artistical excellence, but adequate to rendering, up to a certain point, the expression of the human countenance, devote themselves to that object alone, abandoning effort in other directions, and executing the accessaries of their pictures feebly or carelessly. With these are associated another group of philosophical painters, who suppose the artistical merits of other parts adverse to the expression, as31 drawing the spectator's attention away from it, and who paint in grey color, and imperfect light and shade, by way of enforcing the purity of their conceptions. Both these classes of conscientious but narrow-minded artists labor under the same grievous mistake of imagining that wilful fallacy can ever be either pardonable or helpful. They forget that color, if used at all, must be either true or false, and that what they call chastity, dignity, and reserve, is, to the eye of any person accustomed to nature, pure, bold, and impertinent falsehood. It does not, in the eyes of any soundly minded man, exalt the expression of a female face that the cheeks should be painted of the color of clay, nor does it in the least enhance his reverence for a saint to find the scenery around him deprived, by his presence, of sunshine. It is an important consolation, however, to reflect that no artist ever fell into any of these last three errors (under head B.) who had really the capacity of becoming a great painter. No man ever despised color who could produce it; and the error of these sentimentalists and philosophers is not so much in the choice of their manner of painting, as in supposing themselves capable of painting at all. Some of them might have made efficient sculptors, but the greater number had their mission in some other sphere than that of art, and would have found, in works of practical charity, better employment for their gentleness and sentimentalism, than in denying to human beauty its color, and to natural scenery its light; in depriving heaven of its blue, and earth of its bloom, valor of its glow, and modesty of its blush.

§ 12. II. Love of Beauty.—The second characteristic of the great school of art is, that it introduces in the conception of its subject as much beauty as is possible, consistently with truth.[6]


For instance, in any subject consisting of a number of figures, it will make as many of those figures beautiful as the faithful representation of humanity will admit. It will not deny the facts of ugliness or decrepitude, or relative inferiority and33 superiority of feature as necessarily manifested in a crowd, but it will, so far as it is in its power, seek for and dwell upon the fairest forms, and in all things insist on the beauty that is in them, not on the ugliness. In this respect, schools of art become higher in exact proportion to the degree in which they apprehend and love the beautiful. Thus, Angelico, intensely loving all spiritual beauty, will be of the highest rank; and Paul Veronese and Correggio, intensely loving physical and corporeal beauty, of the second rank; and Albert Durer, Rubens, and in general the Northern artists, apparently insensible to beauty, and caring only for truth, whether shapely or not, of the third rank; and Teniers and Salvator, Caravaggio, and other such worshippers of the depraved, of no rank, or, as we said before, of a certain order in the abyss.

§ 13. The corruption of the schools of high art, so far as this particular quality is concerned, consists in the sacrifice of truth to beauty. Great art dwells on all that is beautiful; but false art omits or changes all that is ugly. Great art accepts Nature as she is, but directs the eyes and thoughts to what is most perfect in her; false art saves itself the trouble of direction by removing or altering whatever it thinks objectionable. The evil results of which proceeding are twofold.

§ 14. Evil first,—that we lose the true force of beauty.

First. That beauty deprived of its proper foils and adjuncts ceases to be enjoyed as beauty, just as light deprived of all shadow ceases to be enjoyed as light. A white canvas cannot produce an effect of sunshine; the painter must darken it in some places before he can make it look luminous in others; nor can an uninterrupted succession of beauty produce the true effect of beauty; it must be foiled by inferiority before its own power can be developed. Nature has for the most part mingled her inferior and nobler elements as she mingles sunshine with shade, giving due use and influence to both, and the painter who chooses to remove the shadow, perishes in the burning desert he has created. The truly high and beautiful art of Angelico is continually refreshed and strengthened by his frank portraiture of the most ordinary features of his brother monks, and of the recorded peculiarities of ungainly sanctity; but the modern German and Raphaelesque schools lose all honor and nobleness34 in barber-like admiration of handsome faces, and have, in fact, no real faith except in straight noses and curled hair. Paul Veronese opposes the dwarf to the soldier, and the negress to the queen; Shakspere places Caliban beside Miranda, and Autolycus beside Perdita; but the vulgar idealist withdraws his beauty to the safety of the saloon, and his innocence to the seclusion of the cloister; he pretends that he does this in delicacy of choice and purity of sentiment, while in truth he has neither courage to front the monster, nor wit enough to furnish the knave.

§ 15. Evil second,—we lose the true quantity of beauty.

It is only by the habit of representing faithfully all things, that we can truly learn what is beautiful and what is not. The ugliest objects contain some element of beauty; and in all, it is an element peculiar to themselves, which cannot be separated from their ugliness, but must either be enjoyed together with it, or not at all. The more a painter accepts nature as he finds it, the more unexpected beauty he discovers in what he at first despised; but once let him arrogate the right of rejection, and he will gradually contract his circle of enjoyment, until what he supposed to be nobleness of selection ends in narrowness of perception. Dwelling perpetually upon one class of ideas, his art becomes at once monstrous and morbid; until at last he cannot faithfully represent even what he chooses to retain; his discrimination contracts into darkness, and his fastidiousness fades into fatuity.

High art, therefore, consists neither in altering, nor in improving nature; but in seeking throughout nature for "whatsoever things are lovely, and whatsoever things are pure;" in loving these, in displaying to the utmost of the painter's power such loveliness as is in them, and directing the thoughts of others to them by winning art, or gentle emphasis. Of the degree in which this can be done, and in which it may be permitted to gather together, without falsifying, the finest forms or thoughts, so as to create a sort of perfect vision, we shall have to speak hereafter: at present, it is enough to remember that art (cæteris paribus) is great in exact proportion to the love of beauty shown by the painter, provided that love of beauty forfeit no atom of truth.


§ 16. III. Sincerity.—The next[7] characteristic of great art is that it includes the largest possible quantity of Truth in the most perfect possible harmony. If it were possible for art to give all the truths of nature, it ought to do it. But this is not possible. Choice must always be made of some facts which can be represented, from among others which must be passed by in silence, or even, in some respects, misrepresented. The inferior artist chooses unimportant and scattered truths; the great artist chooses the most necessary first, and afterwards the most consistent with these, so as to obtain the greatest possible and most harmonious sum. For instance, Rembrandt always chooses to represent the exact force with which the light on the most illumined part of an object is opposed to its obscurer portions. In order to obtain this, in most cases, not very important truth, he sacrifices the light and color of five sixths of his picture; and the expression of every character of objects which depends on tenderness of shape or tint. But he obtains his single truth, and what picturesque and forcible expression is dependent upon it, with magnificent skill and subtlety. Veronese, on the contrary, chooses to represent the great relations of visible things to each other, to the heaven above, and to the earth beneath them. He holds it more important to show how a figure stands relieved from delicate air, or marble wall; how as a red, or purple, or white figure, it separates itself, in clear discernibility, from things not red, nor purple, nor white; how infinite daylight shines round it; how innumerable veils of faint shadow invest it; how its blackness and darkness are, in the excess of their nature, just as limited and local as its intensity of light: all this, I say, he feels to be more important than showing merely the exact measure of the spark of sunshine that gleams on a dagger-hilt, or glows on a jewel. All this, moreover, he feels to be harmonious,—capable of being joined in one great system of spacious truth. And with inevitable watchfulness, inestimable subtlety, he unites all this in tenderest balance, noting in each hair's-breadth of color, not merely what its rightness or wrongness is in itself, but what its relation is to every other on his canvas; restraining, for truth's sake, his exhaustless energy, reining back, for truth's sake, his fiery strength;36veiling, before truth, the vanity of brightness; penetrating, for truth, the discouragement of gloom; ruling his restless invention with a rod of iron; pardoning no error, no thoughtlessness, no forgetfulness; and subduing all his powers, impulses, and imaginations, to the arbitrament of a merciless justice, and the obedience of an incorruptible verity.

§ 17. Corollary 1st: great art is generally distinct.

I give this instance with respect to color and shade; but, in the whole field of art, the difference between the great and inferior artists is of the same kind, and may be determined at once by the question, which of them conveys the largest sum of truth? It follows from this principle, that in general all great drawing is distinct drawing; for truths which are rendered indistinctly might, for the most part, as well not be rendered at all. There are, indeed, certain facts of mystery, and facts of indistinctness, in all objects, which must have their proper place in the general harmony, and the reader will presently find me, when we come to that part of our investigation, telling him that all good drawing must in some sort be indistinct. We may, however, understand this apparent contradiction, by reflecting that the highest knowledge always involves a more advanced perception of the fields of the unknown; and, therefore, it may most truly be said, that to know anything well involves a profound sensation of ignorance, while yet it is equally true that good and noble knowledge is distinguished from vain and useless knowledge chiefly by its clearness and distinctness, and by the vigorous consciousness of what is known and what is not.

So in art. The best drawing involves a wonderful perception and expression of indistinctness; and yet all noble drawing is separated from the ignoble by its distinctness, by its fine expression and firm assertion of Something; whereas the bad drawing, without either firmness or fineness, expresses and asserts Nothing. The first thing, therefore, to be looked for as a sign of noble art, is a clear consciousness of what is drawn and what is not; the bold statement, and frank confession—"This I know," "that I know not;" and, generally speaking, all haste, slurring, obscurity, indecision, are signs of low art, and all calmness, distinctness, luminousness, and positiveness, of high art.

§ 18. Corollary 2d: Great art is generally large in masses and in scale.

It follows, secondly, from this principle, that as the great painter is always attending to the sum and harmony of his truths rather than to one or the other of any group, a quality of Grasp is visible in his work, like the power of a great reasoner over his subject, or a great poet over his conception, manifesting itself very often in missing out certain details or less truths (which, though good in themselves, he finds are in the way of others), and in a sweeping manner of getting the beginnings and ends of things shown at once, and the squares and depths rather than the surfaces: hence, on the whole, a habit of looking at large masses rather than small ones; and even a physical largeness of handling, and love of working, if possible, on a large scale; and various other qualities, more or less imperfectly expressed by such technical terms as breadth, massing, unity, boldness, &c., all of which are, indeed, great qualities when they mean breadth of truth, weight of truth, unity of truth, and courageous assertion of truth; but which have all their correlative errors and mockeries, almost universally mistaken for them,—the breadth which has no contents, the weight which has no value, the unity which plots deception, and the boldness which faces out fallacy.

§ 19. And it is to be noted especially respecting largeness of scale, that though for the most part it is characteristic of the more powerful masters, they having both more invention wherewith to fill space (as Ghirlandajo wished that he might paint all the walls of Florence), and, often, an impetuosity of mind which makes them like free play for hand and arm (besides that they usually desire to paint everything in the foreground of their picture of the natural size), yet, as this largeness of scale involves the placing of the picture at a considerable distance from the eye, and this distance involves the loss of many delicate details, and especially of the subtle lines of expression in features, it follows that the masters of refined detail and human expression are apt to prefer a small scale to work upon; so that the chief masterpieces of expression which the world possesses are small pictures by Angelico, in which the figures are rarely more than six or seven inches high; in the best works of Raphael and Leonardo the figures are almost always less than38 life, and the best works of Turner do not exceed the size of 18 inches by 12.

§ 20. Corollary 3d: Great art is always delicate.

As its greatness depends on the sum of truth, and this sum of truth can always be increased by delicacy of handling, it follows that all great art must have this delicacy to the utmost possible degree. This rule is infallible and inflexible. All coarse work is the sign of low art. Only, it is to be remembered, that coarseness must be estimated by the distance from the eye; it being necessary to consult this distance, when great, by laying on touches which appear coarse when seen near; but which, so far from being coarse, are, in reality, more delicate in a master's work than the finest close handling, for they involve a calculation of result, and are laid on with a subtlety of sense precisely correspondent to that with which a good archer draws his bow; the spectator seeing in the action nothing but the strain of the strong arm, while there is, in reality, in the finger and eye, an ineffably delicate estimate of distance, and touch on the arrow plume. And, indeed, this delicacy is generally quite perceptible to those who know what the truth is, for strokes by Tintoret or Paul Veronese, which were done in an instant, and look to an ignorant spectator merely like a violent dash of loaded color, (and are, as such, imitated by blundering artists,) are, in fact, modulated by the brush and finger to that degree of delicacy that no single grain of the color could be taken from the touch without injury; and little golden particles of it, not the size of a gnat's head, have important share and function in the balances of light in a picture perhaps fifty feet long. Nearly every other rule applicable to art has some exception but this. This has absolutely none. All great art is delicate art, and all coarse art is bad art. Nay, even to a certain extent, all bold art is bad art; for boldness is not the proper word to apply to the courage and swiftness of a great master, based on knowledge, and coupled with fear and love. There is as much difference between the boldness of the true and the false masters, as there is between the courage of a pure woman and the shamelessness of a lost one.

§ 21. IV. Invention.—The last characteristic of great art is that it must be inventive, that is, be produced by the imagi39nation. In this respect, it must precisely fulfil the definition already given of poetry; and not only present grounds for noble emotion, but furnish these grounds by imaginative power. Hence there is at once a great bar fixed between the two schools of Lower and Higher Art. The lower merely copies what is set before it, whether in portrait, landscape, or still-life; the higher either entirely imagines its subject, or arranges the materials presented to it, so as to manifest the imaginative power in all the three phases which have been already explained in the second volume.

And this was the truth which was confusedly present in Reynolds's mind when he spoke, as above quoted, of the difference between Historical and Poetical Painting. Every relation of the plain facts which the painter saw is proper historical painting.[8] If those facts are unimportant (as that he saw a gambler quarrel with another gambler, or a sot enjoying himself with another sot), then the history is trivial; if the facts are important (as that he saw such and such a great man look thus, or act thus, at such a time), then the history is noble: in each case perfect truth of narrative being supposed, otherwise the whole thing is worthless, being neither history nor poetry, but plain falsehood. And farther, as greater or less elegance and precision are manifested in the relation or painting of the incidents, the merit of the work varies; so that, what with difference of subject, and what with difference of treatment, historical painting falls or rises in changeful eminence, from Dutch trivialities to a Velasquez portrait, just as historical talking or writing varies in eminence, from an old woman's story-telling up to Herodotus. Besides which, certain operations of the imagination come into play inevitably, here and there, so as to touch the history with some light of poetry, that is, with some light shot forth of the narrator's mind, or brought out by the way he has put the accidents together; and wherever the imagination has thus had anything to do with the matter at all (and it must be somewhat cold work where it has not), then, the confines of the lower and higher schools touching each other, the work is colored by both; but there is no reason why, therefore,40 we should in the least confuse the historical and poetical characters, any more than that we should confuse blue with crimson, because they may overlap each other, and produce purple.

§ 22. Now, historical or simply narrative art is very precious in its proper place and way, but it is never great art until the poetical or imaginative power touches it; and in proportion to the stronger manifestation of this power, it becomes greater and greater, while the highest art is purely imaginative, all its materials being wrought into their form by invention; and it differs, therefore, from the simple historical painting, exactly as Wordsworth's stanza, above quoted, differs from Saussure's plain narrative of the parallel fact; and the imaginative painter differs from the historical painter in the manner that Wordsworth differs from Saussure.

§ 23. Farther, imaginative art always includes historical art; so that, strictly speaking, according to the analogy above used, we meet with the pure blue, and with the crimson ruling the blue and changing it into kingly purple, but not with the pure crimson: for all imagination must deal with the knowledge it has before accumulated; it never produces anything but by combination or contemplation. Creation, in the full sense, is impossible to it. And the mode in which the historical faculties are included by it is often quite simple, and easily seen. Thus, in Hunt's great poetical picture of the Light of the World, the whole thought and arrangement of the picture being imaginative, the several details of it are wrought out with simple portraiture; the ivy, the jewels, the creeping plants, and the moonlight being calmly studied or remembered from the things themselves. But of all these special ways in which the invention works with plain facts, we shall have to treat farther afterwards.

§ 24. And now, finally, since this poetical power includes the historical, if we glance back to the other qualities required in great art, and put all together, we find that the sum of them is simply the sum of all the powers of man. For as (1) the choice of the high subject involves all conditions of right moral choice, and as (2) the love of beauty involves all conditions of right admiration, and as (3) the grasp of truth involves all strength of sense, evenness of judgment, and honesty of purpose, and as (4) the poetical power involves all swiftness of invention, and41 accuracy of historical memory, the sum of all these powers is the sum of the human soul. Hence we see why the word "Great" is used of this art. It is literally great. It compasses and calls forth the entire human spirit, whereas any other kind of art, being more or less small or narrow, compasses and calls forth only part of the human spirit. Hence the idea of its magnitude is a literal and just one, the art being simply less or greater in proportion to the number of faculties it exercises and addresses.[9] And this is the ultimate meaning of the definition I gave of it long ago, as containing the "greatest number of the greatest ideas."

§ 25. Such, then, being the characters required in order to constitute high art, if the reader will think over them a little, and over the various ways in which they may be falsely assumed, he will easily perceive how spacious and dangerous a field of discussion they open to the ambitious critic, and of error to the ambitious artist; he will see how difficult it must be, either to distinguish what is truly great art from the mockeries of it, or to rank the real artists in any thing like a progressive system of greater and less. For it will have been observed that the various qualities which form greatness are partly inconsistent with each other (as some virtues are, docility and firmness for instance), and partly independent of each other; and the fact is, that artists differ not more by mere capacity, than by the component elements of their capacity, each possessing in very different proportions the several attributes of greatness; so that, classed by one kind of merit, as, for instance, purity of expression, Angelico will stand highest; classed by another, sincerity of manner, Veronese will stand highest; classed by another, love of beauty, Leonardo will stand highest; and so on; hence arise continual disputes and misunderstandings among those who think that high art must always be one and the same, and that great artists ought to unite all great attributes in an equal degree.

§ 26. In one of the exquisitely finished tales of Marmontel, a company of critics are received at dinner by the hero of the story, an old gentleman, somewhat vain of his acquired taste,42 and his niece, by whose incorrigible natural taste, he is seriously disturbed and tormented. During the entertainment, "On parcourut tous les genres de littérature, et pour donner plus d'essor a l'érudition et à la critique, on mit sur le tapis cette question toute neuve, sçavoir, lequel méritoit le préference de Corneille ou de Racine. L'on disoit même là-dessus les plus belles choses du monde, lorsque la petite nièce, qui n'avoit pas dit un mot, s'avisa de demander naïvement lequel des deux fruits, de l'orange ou de la pêche, avoit le gout les plus exquis et méritoit le plus d'éloges. Son oncle rougit de sa simplicité, et les convives baissèrent tous les yeux sans daigner répondre à cette bêtise. Ma nièce, dit Fintac, a votre âge, il faut sçavoir écouter, et se taire."

I cannot close this chapter with shorter or better advice to the reader, than merely, whenever he hears discussions about the relative merits of great masters, to remember the young lady's question. It is, indeed, true that there is a relative merit, that a peach is nobler than a hawthorn berry, and still more a hawthorn berry than a bead of the nightshade; but in each rank of fruits, as in each rank of masters, one is endowed with one virtue, and another with another; their glory is their dissimilarity, and they who propose to themselves in the training of an artist that he should unite the coloring of Tintoret, the finish of Albert Durer, and the tenderness of Correggio, are no wiser than a horticulturist would be, who made it the object of his labor to produce a fruit which should unite in itself the lusciousness of the grape, the crispness of the nut, and the fragrance of the pine.

§ 27. And from these considerations one most important practical corollary is to be deduced, with the good help of Mademoiselle's Agathe's simile, namely, that the greatness or smallness of a man is, in the most conclusive sense, determined for him at his birth, as strictly as it is determined for a fruit whether it is to be a currant or an apricot. Education, favorable circumstances, resolution, and industry can do much; in a certain sense they do everything; that is to say, they determine whether the poor apricot shall fall in the form of a green bead, blighted by an east wind, shall be trodden under foot, or whether it shall expand into tender pride, and sweet brightness43 of golden velvet. But apricot out of currant,—great man out of small,—did never yet art or effort make; and, in a general way, men have their excellence nearly fixed for them when they are born; a little cramped and frost-bitten on one side, a little sun-burnt and fortune-spotted on the other, they reach, between good and evil chances, such size and taste as generally belong to the men of their calibre, and the small in their serviceable bunches, the great in their golden isolation, have, these no cause for regret, nor those for disdain.

§ 28. Therefore it is, that every system of teaching is false which holds forth "great art" as in any wise to be taught to students, or even to be aimed at by them. Great art is precisely that which never was, nor will be taught, it is preeminently and finally the expression of the spirits of great men; so that the only wholesome teaching is that which simply endeavors to fix those characters of nobleness in the pupil's mind, of which it seems easily susceptible; and without holding out to him, as a possible or even probable result, that he should ever paint like Titian, or carve like Michael Angelo, enforces upon him the manifest possibility, and assured duty, of endeavoring to draw in a manner at least honest and intelligible; and cultivates in him those general charities of heart, sincerities of thought, and graces of habit which are likely to lead him, throughout life, to prefer openness to affectation, realities to shadows, and beauty to corruption.

[5] Del "nò," per lì danar, vi "sì" far ita.

[6] As here, for the first time, I am obliged to use the terms Truth and Beauty in a kind of opposition, I must therefore stop for a moment to state clearly the relation of these two qualities of art; and to protest against the vulgar and foolish habit of confusing truth and beauty with each other. People with shallow powers of thought, desiring to flatter themselves with the sensation of having attained profundity, are continually doing the most serious mischief by introducing confusion into plain matters, and then valuing themselves on being confounded. Nothing is more common than to hear people who desire to be thought philosophical, declare that "beauty is truth," and "truth is beauty." I would most earnestly beg every sensible person who hears such an assertion made, to nip the germinating philosopher in his ambiguous bud; and beg him, if he really believes his own assertion, never thenceforward to use two words for the same thing. The fact is, truth and beauty are entirely distinct, though often related, things. One is a property of statements, the other of objects. The statement that "two and two make four" is true, but it is neither beautiful nor ugly, for it is invisible; a rose is lovely, but it is neither true nor false, for it is silent. That which shows nothing cannot be fair, and that which asserts nothing cannot be false. Even the ordinary use of the words false and true as applied to artificial and real things, is inaccurate. An artificial rose is not a "false" rose, it is not a rose at all. The falseness is in the person who states, or induces the belief, that it is a rose.

Now, therefore, in things concerning art, the words true and false are only to be rightly used while the picture is considered as a statement of facts. The painter asserts that this which he has painted is the form of a dog, a man, or a tree. If it be not the form of a dog, a man, or a tree, the painter's statement is false; and therefore we justly speak of a false line, or false color; not that any line or color can in themselves be false, but they become so when they convey a statement that they resemble something which they do not resemble. But the beauty of the lines or colors is wholly independent of any such statement. They may be beautiful lines, though quite inaccurate, and ugly lines though quite faithful. A picture may be frightfully ugly, which represents with fidelity some base circumstance of daily life; and a painted window may be exquisitely beautiful, which represents men with eagles' faces, and dogs with blue heads and crimson tails (though, by the way, this is not in the strict sense false art, as we shall see hereafter, inasmuch as it means no assertion that men ever had eagles' faces). If this were not so, it would be impossible to sacrifice truth to beauty; for to attain the one would always be to attain the other. But, unfortunately, this sacrifice is exceedingly possible, and it is chiefly this which characterizes the false schools of high art, so far as high art consists in the pursuit of beauty. For although truth and beauty are independent of each other, it does not follow that we are at liberty to pursue whichever we please. They are indeed separable, but it is wrong to separate them; they are to be sought together in the order of their worthiness; that is to say, truth first, and beauty afterwards. High art differs from low art in possessing an excess of beauty in addition to its truth, not in possessing an excess of beauty inconsistent with truth.

[7] I name them in order of increasing not decreasing importance.

[8] Compare my Edinburgh Lectures, lecture iv. p. 218, et seq. (2nd edition).

[9] Compare Stones of Venice, vol. iii. chap. iv. § 7, and § 21.




§ 1. Having now gained some general notion of the meaning of "great art," we may, without risk of confusing ourselves, take up the questions suggested incidentally in the preceding chapter, and pursue them at leisure. Of these, two principal ones are closely connected with each other, to wit, that put in the 12th paragraph—How may beauty be sought in defiance of truth? and that in the 23rd paragraph—How does the imagination show itself in dealing with truth? These two, therefore, which are, besides, the most important of all, and, if well answered, will answer many others inclusively, we shall find it most convenient to deal with at once.

§ 2. The pursuit, by the imagination, of beautiful and strange thoughts or subjects, to the exclusion of painful or common ones, is called among us, in these modern days, the pursuit of "the ideal;" nor does any subject deserve more attentive examination than the manner in which this pursuit is entered upon by the modern mind. The reader must pardon me for making in the outset one or two statements which may appear to him somewhat wide of the matter, but which, (if he admits their truth,) he will, I think, presently perceive to reach to the root of it. Namely,

That men's proper business in this world falls mainly into three divisions:

First, to know themselves, and the existing state of the things they have to do with.

Secondly, to be happy in themselves, and in the existing state of things.

Thirdly, to mend themselves, and the existing state of things, as far as either are marred or mendable.

These, I say, are the three plain divisions of proper human45 business on this earth. For these three, the following are usually substituted and adopted by human creatures:

First, to be totally ignorant of themselves, and the existing state of things.

"Secondly, to be miserable in themselves, and in the existing state of things.

Thirdly, to let themselves, and the existing state of things, alone (at least in the way of correction).

§ 3. The dispositions which induce us to manage, thus wisely, the affairs of this life seem to be:

First, a fear of disagreeable facts, and conscious shrinking from clearness of light, which keep us from examining ourselves, and increase gradually into a species of instinctive terror at all truth, and love of glosses, veils, and decorative lies of every sort.

Secondly, a general readiness to take delight in anything past, future, far off, or somewhere else, rather than in things now, near, and here; leading us gradually to place our pleasure principally in the exercise of the imagination, and to build all our satisfaction on things as they are not. Which power being one not accorded to the lower animals, and having indeed, when disciplined, a very noble use, we pride ourselves upon it, whether disciplined or not, and pass our lives complacently, in substantial discontent, and visionary satisfaction.

§ 4. Now nearly all artistical and poetical seeking after the ideal is only one branch of this base habit—the abuse of the imagination, in allowing it to find its whole delight in the impossible and untrue; while the faithful pursuit of the ideal is an honest use of the imagination, giving full power and presence to the possible and true.

It is the difference between these two uses of it which we have to examine.

§ 5. And, first, consider what are the legitimate uses of the imagination, that is to say, of the power of perceiving, or conceiving with the mind, things which cannot be perceived by the senses.

Its first and noblest use is, to enable us to bring sensibly to our sight the things which are recorded as belonging to our future state, or as invisibly surrounding us in this. It is given46 us, that we may imagine the cloud of witnesses in heaven and earth, and see, as if they were now present, the souls of the righteous waiting for us; that we may conceive the great army of the inhabitants of heaven, and discover among them those whom we most desire to be with for ever; that we may be able to vision forth the ministry of angels beside us, and see the chariots of fire on the mountains that gird us round; but above all, to call up the scenes and facts in which we are commanded to believe, and be present, as if in the body, at every recorded event of the history of the Redeemer. Its second and ordinary use is to empower us to traverse the scenes of all other history, and force the facts to become again visible, so as to make upon us the same impression which they would have made if we had witnessed them; and in the minor necessities of life, to enable us, out of any present good, to gather the utmost measure of enjoyment by investing it with happy associations, and, in any present evil, to lighten it, by summoning back the images of other hours; and, also, to give to all mental truths some visible type in allegory, simile, or personification, which shall more deeply enforce them; and, finally, when the mind is utterly outwearied, to refresh it with such innocent play as shall be most in harmony with the suggestive voices of natural things, permitting it to possess living companionship instead of silent beauty, and create for itself fairies in the grass and naiads in the wave.

§ 6. These being the uses of imagination, its abuses are either in creating, for mere pleasure, false images, where it is its duty to create true ones; or in turning what was intended for the mere refreshment of the heart into its daily food, and changing the innocent pastimes of an hour into the guilty occupation of a life.

Let us examine the principal forms of this misuse, one by one.

§ 7. First, then, the imagination is chiefly warped and dishonored by being allowed to create false images, where it is its duty to create true ones. And this most dangerously in matters of religion. For a long time, when art was in its infancy, it remained unexposed to this danger, because it could not, with any power, realize or create any thing. It consisted merely in simple outlines and pleasant colors; which were understood to47 be nothing more than signs of the thing thought of, a sort of pictorial letter for it, no more pretending to represent it than the written characters of its name. Such art excited the imagination, while it pleased the eye. But it asserted nothing, for it could realize nothing. The reader glanced at it as a glittering symbol, and went on to form truer images for himself. This act of the mind may be still seen in daily operation in children, as they look at brightly colored pictures in their story-books. Such pictures neither deceive them nor satisfy them; they only set their own inventive powers to work in the directions required.

§ 8. But as soon as art obtained the power of realization, it obtained also that of assertion. As fast as the painter advanced in skill he gained also in credibility, and that which he perfectly represented was perfectly believed, or could be disbelieved only by an actual effort of the beholder to escape from the fascinating deception. What had been faintly declared, might be painlessly denied; but it was difficult to discredit things forcibly alleged; and representations, which had been innocent in discrepancy, became guilty in consistency.

Fig 1
Fig. 1.

§ 9. For instance, when in the thirteenth century, the nativity was habitually represented by such a symbol as that on the next page, fig. 1, there was not the smallest possibility that such a picture could disturb, in the mind of the reader of the New Testament, the simple meaning of the words "wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger." That this manger was typified by a trefoiled arch[10] would no more prevent his distinct understanding of the narrative, than the grotesque heads introduced above it would interfere with his firm comprehension of the words "ox" or "ass;" while if there were anything in the action of the principal figures suggestive of real feeling, that suggestion he would accept, together with the general pleasantness of the lines and colors in the decorative letter; but without having his faith in the unrepresented48 and actual scene obscured for a moment. But it was far otherwise, when Francia or Perugino, with exquisite power of representing the human form, and high knowledge of the mysteries of art, devoted all their skill to the delineation of an impossible scene; and painted, for their subjects of the Nativity, a beautiful and queenly lady, her dress embroidered with gold, and with a crown of jewels upon her hair, kneeling, on a floor of inlaid and precious marble, before a crowned child, laid under a portico of Lombardic[11] architecture; with a sweet, verdurous, and vivid landscape in the distance, full of winding rivers, village spires, and baronial towers.[12] It is quite true that the frank absurdity of the thought prevented its being received as a deliberate contradiction of the truths of Scripture; but it is no less certain, that the continual presentment to the mind of this beautiful and fully realized imagery more and more chilled its power of apprehending the real truth; and that when pictures of this description met the eye in49 every corner of every chapel, it was physically impossible to dwell distinctly upon facts the direct reverse of those represented. The word "Virgin" or "Madonna," instead of calling up the vision of a simple Jewish girl, bearing the calamities of poverty, and the dishonors of inferior station, summoned instantly the idea of a graceful princess, crowned with gems, and surrounded by obsequious ministry of kings and saints. The fallacy which was presented to the imagination was indeed discredited, but also the fact which was not presented to the imagination was forgotten; all true grounds of faith were gradually undermined, and the beholder was either enticed into mere luxury of fanciful enjoyment, believing nothing; or left, in his confusion of mind, the prey of vain tales and traditions; while in his best feelings he was unconsciously subject to the power of the fallacious picture, and with no sense of the real cause of his error, bowed himself, in prayer or adoration, to the lovely lady on her golden throne, when he would never have dreamed of doing so to the Jewish girl in her outcast poverty, or, in her simple household, to the carpenter's wife.

§ 10. But a shadow of increasing darkness fell upon the human mind as art proceeded to still more perfect realization. These fantasies of the earlier painters, though they darkened faith, never hardened feeling; on the contrary, the frankness of their unlikelihood proceeded mainly from the endeavor on the part of the painter to express, not the actual fact, but the enthusiastic state of his own feelings about the fact; he covers the Virgin's dress with gold, not with any idea of representing the Virgin as she ever was, or ever will be seen, but with a burning desire to show what his love and reverence would think fittest for her. He erects for the stable a Lombardic portico, not because he supposes the Lombardi to have built stables in Palestine in the days of Tiberius, but to show that the manger in which Christ was laid is, in his eyes, nobler than the greatest architecture in the world. He fills his landscape with church spires and silver streams, not because he supposes that either were in sight of Bethlehem, but to remind the beholder of the peaceful course and succeeding power of Christianity. And, regarded with due sympathy and clear understanding of these thoughts of the artist, such pictures remain most impressive and touching, even50 to this day. I shall refer to them in future, in general terms, as the pictures of the "Angelican Ideal"—Angelico being the central master of the school.

§ 11. It was far otherwise in the next step of the Realistic progress. The greater his powers became, the more the mind of the painter was absorbed in their attainment, and complacent in their display. The early arts of laying on bright colors smoothly, of burnishing golden ornaments, or tracing, leaf by leaf, the outlines of flowers, were not so difficult as that they should materially occupy the thoughts of the artist, or furnish foundation for his conceit; he learned these rudiments of his work without pain, and employed them without pride, his spirit being left free to express, so far as it was capable of them, the reaches of higher thought. But when accurate shade, and subtle color, and perfect anatomy, and complicated perspective, became necessary to the work, the artist's whole energy was employed in learning the laws of these, and his whole pleasure consisted in exhibiting them. His life was devoted, not to the objects of art, but to the cunning of it; and the sciences of composition and light and shade were pursued as if there were abstract good in them;—as if, like astronomy or mathematics, they were ends in themselves, irrespective of anything to be effected by them. And without perception, on the part of any one, of the abyss to which all were hastening, a fatal change of aim took place throughout the whole world of art. In early times art was employed for the display of religious facts; now, religious facts were employed for the display of art. The transition, though imperceptible, was consummate; it involved the entire destiny of painting. It was passing from the paths of life to the paths of death.

§ 12. And this change was all the more fatal, because at first veiled by an appearance of greater dignity and sincerity than were possessed by the older art. One of the earliest results of the new knowledge was the putting away the greater part of the unlikelihoods and fineries of the ancient pictures, and an apparently closer following of nature and probability. All the fantasy which I have just been blaming as disturbant of the simplicity of faith, was first subdued,—then despised and cast aside. The appearances of nature were more closely followed in51 everything; and the crowned Queen-Virgin of Perugino sank into a simple Italian mother in Raphael's Madonna of the Chair.

§ 13. Was not this, then, a healthy change? No. It would have been healthy if it had been effected with a pure motive, and the new truths would have been precious if they had been sought for truth's sake. But they were not sought for truth's sake, but for pride's; and truth which is sought for display may be just as harmful as truth which is spoken in malice. The glittering childishness of the old art was rejected, not because it was false, but because it was easy; and, still more, because the painter had no longer any religious passion to express. He could think of the Madonna now very calmly, with no desire to pour out the treasures of earth at her feet, or crown her brows with the golden shafts of heaven. He could think of her as an available subject for the display of transparent shadows, skilful tints, and scientific foreshortenings,—as a fair woman, forming, if well painted, a pleasant piece of furniture for the corner of a boudoir, and best imagined by combination of the beauties of the prettiest contadinas. He could think of her, in her last maternal agony, with academical discrimination; sketch in first her skeleton, invest her, in serene science, with the muscles of misery and the fibres of sorrow; then cast the grace of antique drapery over the nakedness of her desolation, and fulfil, with studious lustre of tears and delicately painted pallor, the perfect type of the "Mater Dolorosa."

§ 14. It was thus that Raphael thought of the Madonna.[13]

Now observe, when the subject was thus scientifically completed, it became necessary, as we have just said, to the full display of all the power of the artist, that it should in many respects be more faithfully imagined than it had been hitherto, "Keeping," "Expression," "Historical Unity," and such other requirements, were enforced on the painter, in the same tone, and with the same purpose, as the purity of his oil and the accuracy of his perspective. He was told that the figure of Christ should be "dignified," those of the Apostles "expressive," that of the Virgin "modest," and those of children "in52nocent." All this was perfectly true; and in obedience to such directions, the painter proceeded to manufacture certain arrangements of apostolic sublimity, virginal mildness, and infantine innocence, which, being free from the quaint imperfection and contradictoriness of the early art, were looked upon by the European public as true things, and trustworthy representations of the events of religious history. The pictures of Francia and Bellini had been received as pleasant visions. But the cartoons of Raphael were received as representations of historical fact.

§ 15. Now, neither they, nor any other work of the period, were representations either of historical or possible fact. They were, in the strictest sense of the word, "compositions"—cold arrangements of propriety and agreeableness, according to academical formulas; the painter never in any case making the slightest effort to conceive the thing as it must have happened, but only to gather together graceful lines and beautiful faces, in such compliance with commonplace ideas of the subject as might obtain for the whole an "epic unity," or some such other form of scholastic perfectness.

§ 16. Take a very important instance.

I suppose there is no event in the whole life of Christ to which, in hours of doubt or fear, men turn with more anxious thirst to knew the close facts of it, or with more earnest and passionate dwelling upon every syllable of its recorded narrative, than Christ's showing Himself to his disciples at the lake of Galilee. There is something preeminently open, natural, full fronting our disbelief in this manifestation. The others, recorded after the resurrection, were sudden, phantom-like, occurring to men in profound sorrow and wearied agitation of heart; not, it might seem, safe judges of what they saw. But the agitation was now over. They had gone back to their daily work, thinking still their business lay net-wards, unmeshed from the literal rope and drag. "Simon Peter saith unto them, 'I go a fishing,' They say unto him, 'We also go with thee,'" True words enough, and having far echo beyond those Galilean hills. That night they caught nothing; but when the morning came, in the clear light of it, behold a figure stood on the shore. They were not thinking of anything but their fruit53less hauls. They had no guess who it was. It asked them simply if they had caught anything. They said no. And it tells them to cast yet again. And John shades his eyes from the morning sun with his hand, to look who it is; and though the glinting of the sea, too, dazzles him, he makes out who it is, at last; and poor Simon, not to be outrun this time, tightens, his fisher's coat about him, and dashes in, over the nets. One would have liked to see him swim those hundred yards, and stagger to his knees on the beach.

Well, the others get to the beach, too, in time, in such slow way as men in general do get, in this world, to its true shore, much impeded by that wonderful "dragging the net with fishes;" but they get there—seven of them in all;—first the Denier, and then the slowest believer, and then the quickest believer, and then the two throne-seekers, and two more, we know not who.

They sit down on the shore face to face with Him, and eat their broiled fish as He bids. And then, to Peter, all dripping still, shivering, and amazed, staring at Christ in the sun, on the other side of the coal fire,—thinking a little, perhaps, of what happened by another coal fire, when it was colder, and having had no word once changed with him by his Master since that look of His,—to him, so amazed, comes the question, "Simon, lovest thou me?" Try to feel that a little, and think of it till it is true to you; and then, take up that infinite monstrosity and hypocrisy—Raphael's cartoon of the Charge to Peter. Note, first, the bold fallacy—the putting all the Apostles there, a mere lie to serve the Papal heresy of the Petric supremacy, by putting them all in the background while Peter receives the charge, and making them all witnesses to it. Note the handsomely curled hair and neatly tied sandals of the men who had been out all night in the sea-mists and on the slimy decks. Note their convenient dresses for going a-fishing, with trains that lie a yard along the ground, and goodly fringes,—all made to match, an apostolic fishing costume.[14] Note how Peter especially (whose chief glory was in his wet coat girt about him54 and naked limbs) is enveloped in folds and fringes, so as to kneel and hold his keys with grace. No fire of coals at all, nor lonely mountain shore, but a pleasant Italian landscape, full of villas and churches, and a flock of sheep to be pointed at; and the whole group of Apostles, not round Christ, as they would have been naturally, but straggling away in a line, that they may all be shown.

The simple truth is, that the moment we look at the picture we feel our belief of the whole thing taken away. There is, visibly, no possibility of that group ever having existed, in any place, or on any occasion. It is all a mere mythic absurdity, and faded concoction of fringes, muscular arms, and curly heads of Greek philosophers.

§ 17. Now, the evil consequences of the acceptance of this kind of religious idealism for true, were instant and manifold. So far as it was received and trusted in by thoughtful persons, it only served to chill all the conceptions of sacred history which they might otherwise have obtained. Whatever they could have fancied for themselves about the wild, strange, infinitely stern, infinitely tender, infinitely varied veracities of the life of Christ, was blotted out by the vapid fineries of Raphael; the rough Galilean pilot, the orderly custom receiver, and all the questioning wonder and fire of uneducated apostleship, were obscured under an antique mask of philosophical faces and long robes. The feeble, subtle, suffering, ceaseless energy and humiliation of St. Paul were confused with an idea of a meditative Hercules leaning on a sweeping sword;[15] and the mighty presences of Moses and Elias were softened by introductions of delicate grace, adopted from dancing nymphs and rising Auroras,[16]


Now, no vigorously minded religious person could possibly receive pleasure or help from such art as this; and the necessary result was the instant rejection of it by the healthy religion of the world. Raphael ministered, with applause, to the impious luxury of the Vatican, but was trampled under foot at once by every believing and advancing Christian of his own and subsequent times; and thenceforward pure Christianity and "high art" took separate roads, and fared on, as best they might, independently of each other.

§ 18. But although Calvin, and Knox, and Luther, and their flocks, with all the hardest-headed and truest-hearted faithful left in Christendom, thus spurned away the spurious art, and all art with it, (not without harm to themselves, such as a man must needs sustain in cutting off a decayed limb[17]) certain conditions of weaker Christianity suffered the false system to retain influence over them; and to this day, the clear and tasteless poison of the art of Raphael infects with sleep of infidelity the hearts of millions of Christians. It is the first cause of all that preeminent dulness which characterizes what Protestants call sacred art; a dulness not merely baneful in making religion distasteful to the young, but in sickening, as we have seen, all vital belief of religion in the old. A dim sense of impossibility attaches itself always to the graceful emptiness of the representation; we feel instinctively that the painted Christ and painted apostle are not beings that ever did or could exist; and this fatal sense of fair fabulousness, and well-composed impossibility, steals gradually from the picture into the history, until we find ourselves reading St. Mark or St. Luke with the same admiring, but uninterested, incredulity, with which we contemplate Raphael.

§ 19. On a certain class of minds, however, these Raphaelesque and other sacred paintings of high order, have had, of late years, another kind of influence, much resembling that which they had at first on the most pious Romanists. They are used to excite certain conditions of religious dream or reverie; being again, as in earliest times, regarded not as representations of fact, but as expressions of sentiment respecting the fact. In56 this way the best of them have unquestionably much purifying and enchanting power; and they are helpful opponents to sinful passion and weakness of every kind. A fit of unjust anger, petty malice, unreasonable vexation, or dark passion, cannot certainly, in a mind of ordinary sensibility, hold its own in the presence of a good engraving from any work of Angelico, Memling, or Perugino. But I nevertheless believe, that he who trusts much to such helps will find them fail him at his need; and that the dependence, in any great degree, on the presence or power of a picture, indicates a wonderfully feeble sense of the presence and power of God. I do not think that any man, who is thoroughly certain that Christ is in the room, will care what sort of pictures of Christ he has on its walls; and, in the plurality of cases, the delight taken in art of this kind is, in reality, nothing more than a form of graceful indulgence of those sensibilities which the habits of a disciplined life restrain in other directions. Such art is, in a word, the opera and drama of the monk. Sometimes it is worse than this, and the love of it is the mask under which a general thirst for morbid excitement will pass itself for religion. The young lady who rises in the middle of the day, jaded by her last night's ball, and utterly incapable of any simple or wholesome religious exercise, can still gaze into the dark eyes of the Madonna di San Sisto, or dream over the whiteness of an ivory crucifix, and returns to the course of her daily life in full persuasion that her morning's feverishness has atoned for her evening's folly. And all the while, the art which possesses these very doubtful advantages is acting for undoubtful detriment, in the various ways above examined, on the inmost fastnesses of faith; it is throwing subtle endearments round foolish traditions, confusing sweet fancies with sound doctrines, obscuring real events with unlikely semblances, and enforcing false assertions with pleasant circumstantiality, until, to the usual, and assuredly sufficient, difficulties standing in the way of belief, its votaries have added a habit of sentimentally changing what they know to be true, and of dearly loving what they confess to be false.

§ 20. Has there, then (the reader asks emphatically), been no true religious ideal? Has religious art never been of any service to mankind? I fear, on the whole, not. Of true relig57ious ideal, representing events historically recorded, with solemn effort at a sincere and unartificial conception, there exist, as yet, hardly any examples. Nearly all good religious pictures fall into one or other branch of the false ideal already examined, either into the Angelican (passionate ideal) or the Raphaelesque (philosophical ideal). But there is one true form of religious art, nevertheless, in the pictures of the passionate ideal which represent imaginary beings of another world. Since it is evidently right that we should try to imagine the glories of the next world, and as this imagination must be, in each separate mind, more or less different, and unconfined by any laws of material fact, the passionate ideal has not only full scope here, but it becomes our duty to urge its powers to its utmost, so that every condition of beautiful form and color may be employed to invest these scenes with greater delightfulness (the whole being, of course, received as an assertion of possibility, not of absolute fact). All the paradises imagined by the religious painters—the choirs of glorified saints, angels, and spiritual powers, when painted with full belief in this possibility of their existence, are true ideals; and so far from our having dwelt on these too much, I believe, rather, we have not trusted them enough, nor accepted them enough, as possible statements of most precious truth. Nothing but unmixed good can accrue to any mind from the contemplation of Orcagna's Last Judgment or his triumph of death, of Angelico's Last Judgment and Paradise, or any of the scenes laid in heaven by the other faithful religious masters; and the more they are considered, not as works of art, but as real visions of real things, more or less imperfectly set down, the more good will be got by dwelling upon them. The same is true of all representations of Christ as a living presence among us now, as in Hunt's Light of the World.

§ 21. For the rest, there is a reality of conception in some of the works of Benozzo Gozzoli, Ghirlandajo, and Giotto, which approaches to a true ideal, even of recorded facts. But the examination of the various degrees in which sacred art has reached its proper power is not to our present purpose; still less, to investigate the infinitely difficult question of its past operation on the Christian mind. I hope to prosecute my inquiry into this subject in another work; it being enough here58 to mark the forms of ideal error, without historically tracing their extent, and to state generally that my impression is, up to the present moment, that the best religious art has been hitherto rather a fruit, and attendant sign, of sincere Christianity than a promoter of or help to it. More, I think, has always been done for God by few words than many pictures, and more by few acts than many words.

§ 22. I must not, however, quit the subject without insisting on the chief practical consequence of what we have observed, namely, that sacred art, so far from being exhausted, has yet to attain the development of its highest branches; and the task, or privilege, yet remains for mankind, to produce an art which shall be at once entirely skilful and entirely sincere. All the histories of the Bible are, in my judgment, yet waiting to be painted. Moses has never been painted; Elijah never; David never (except as a mere ruddy stripling); Deborah never; Gideon never; Isaiah never. What single example does the reader remember of painting which suggested so much as the faintest shadow of these people, or of their deeds? Strong men in armor, or aged men with flowing beards, he may remember, who, when he looked at his Louvre or Uffizii catalogue, he found were intended to stand for David or for Moses. But does he suppose that, if these pictures had suggested to him the feeblest image of the presence of such men, he would have passed on, as he assuredly did, to the next picture,—representing, doubtless, Diana and Actaeon, or Cupid and the Graces, or a gambling quarrel in a pothouse,—with no sense of pain, or surprise? Let him meditate over the matter, and he will find ultimately that what I say is true, and that religious art, at once complete and sincere, never yet has existed.

§ 23. It will exist: nay, I believe the era of its birth has come, and that those bright Turnerian imageries, which the European public declared to be "dotage," and those calm Pre-Raphaelite studies which, in like manner, it pronounced "puerility," form the first foundation that has been ever laid for true sacred art. Of this we shall presently reason farther. But, be it as it may, if we would cherish the hope that sacred art may, indeed, arise for us, two separate cautions are to be addressed to the two opposed classes of religionists whose influence will59 chiefly retard that hope's accomplishment. The group calling themselves Evangelical ought no longer to render their religion an offence to men of the world by associating it only with the most vulgar forms of art. It is not necessary that they should admit either music or painting into religious service; but, if they admit either the one or the other, let it not be bad music nor bad painting: it is certainly in nowise more for Christ's honor that His praise should be sung discordantly, or His miracles painted discreditably, than that His word should be preached ungrammatically. Some Evangelicals, however, seem to take a morbid pride in the triple degradation.[18]

§ 24. The opposite class of men, whose natural instincts lead them to mingle the refinements of art with all the offices and practices of religion, are to be warned, on the contrary, how they mistake their enjoyments for their duties, or confound poetry with faith. I admit that it is impossible for one man to judge another in this matter, and that it can never be said with certainty how far what seems frivolity may be force, and what seems the indulgence of the heart may be, indeed, its dedication. I am ready to believe that Metastasio, expiring in a canzonet, may have died better than if his prayer had been in unmeasured syllables.[19] But, for the most part, it is assuredly60 much to be feared lest we mistake a surrender to the charms of art for one to the service of God; and, in the art which we permit, lest we substitute sentiment for sense, grace for utility. And for us all there is in this matter even a deeper danger than that of indulgence. There is the danger of Artistical Pharisaism. Of all the forms of pride and vanity, as there are none more subtle, so I believe there are none more sinful, than those which are manifested by the Pharisees of art. To be proud of birth, of place, of wit, of bodily beauty, is comparatively innocent, just because such pride is more natural, and more easily detected. But to be proud of our sanctities; to pour contempt upon our fellows, because, forsooth, we like to look at Madonnas in bowers of roses, better than at plain pictures of plain things; and to make this religious art of ours the expression of our own perpetual self-complacency,—congratulating ourselves, day by day, on our purities, proprieties, elevations, and inspirations, as above the reach of common mortals,—this I believe to be one of the wickedest and foolishest forms of human egotism; and, truly, I had rather, with great, thoughtless, humble Paul Veronese, make the Supper at Emmaus a background for two children playing with a dog (as, God knows, men do usually put it in the background to everything, if not out of sight altogether), than join that school of modern Germanism which wears its pieties for decoration as women wear their diamonds, and flaunts the dry fleeces of its phylacteries between its dust and the dew of heaven.

[10] The curious inequality of this little trefoil is not a mistake; it is faithfully copied by the draughtsman from the MS. Perhaps the actual date of the illumination may be a year or two past the thirteenth century, i.e., 1300—1310: but it is quite characteristic of the thirteenth century treatment in the figures.

[11] Lombardic, i.e. in the style of Pietro and Tullio Lombardo, in the fifteenth century (not Lombard).

[12] All this, it will be observed, is that seeking for beauty at the cost of truth which we have generally noted in the last chapter.

[13] This is one form of the sacrifice of expression to technical merit, generally noted at the end of the 10th paragraph of the last chapter.

[14] I suppose Raphael intended a reference to Numbers xv. 38; but if he did, the blue riband, or "vitta," as it is in the Vulgate, should have been on the borders too.

[15] In the St. Cecilia of Bologna.

[16] In the Transfiguration. Do but try to believe that Moses and Elias are really there talking with Christ. Moses in the loveliest heart and midst of the land which once it had been denied him to behold,—Elijah treading the earth again, from which he had been swept to heaven in fire; both now with a mightier message than ever they had given in life,—mightier, in closing their own mission,—mightier, in speaking to Christ "of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." They, men of like passions once with us, appointed to speak to the Redeemer of His death.

And, then, look at Raphael's kicking gracefulnesses.

[17] Luther had no dislike of religious art on principle. Even the stove in his chamber was wrought with sacred subjects. See Mrs. Stowe's Sunny Memories.

[18] I do not know anything more humiliating to a man of common sense, than to open what is called an "illustrated Bible" of modern days. See, for instance, the plates in Brown's Bible (octavo: Edinburgh, 1840), a standard evangelical edition. Our habit of reducing the psalms to doggerel before we will condescend to sing them, is a parallel abuse. It is marvellous to think that human creatures with tongues and souls should refuse to chant the verse: "Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up thy strength, and come and help us;" preferring this:—

"Behold, how Benjamin expects,
With Ephraim and Manasseh joined,
In their deliverance, the effects
Of thy resistless strength to find!"

[19] "En 1780, âgé de quatre-vingt-deux ans, au moment de recevoir le viatique, il rassembla ses forces, et chanta, à son Créateur:

'Eterno Genitor
Io t' offro il proprio figlio
Che in pegno del tuo amor
Si vuole a me donar.
A lui rivolgi il ciglio,
Mira chi t' offro; e poi,
Niega, Signor, se puoi,
Niega di perdonar'".—
De Stendhal, Via de Metastasio.




§ 1. Such having been the effects of the pursuit of ideal beauty on the religious mind of Europe, we might be tempted next to consider in what way the same movement affected the art which concerned itself with profane subject, and, through that art, the whole temper of modern civilization.

I shall, however, merely glance at this question. It is a very painful and a very wide one. Its discussion cannot come properly within the limits, or even within the aim, of a work like this; it ought to be made the subject of a separate essay, and that essay should be written by some one who had passed less of his life than I have among the mountains, and more of it among men. But one or two points may be suggested for the reader to reflect upon at his leisure.

§ 2. I said just now that we might be tempted to consider how this pursuit of the ideal affected profane art. Strictly speaking, it brought that art into existence. As long as men sought for truth first, and beauty secondarily, they cared chiefly, of course, for the chief truth, and all art was instinctively religious. But as soon as they sought for beauty first, and truth secondarily, they were punished by losing sight of spiritual truth altogether, and the profane (properly so called) schools of art were instantly developed.

The perfect human beauty, which, to a large part of the community, was by far the most interesting feature in the work of the rising school, might indeed be in some degree consistent with the agony of Madonnas, and the repentance of Magdalenes; but could not be exhibited in fulness, when the subjects, however irreverently treated, nevertheless demanded some decency in the artist, and some gravity in the spectator. The newly acquired powers of rounding limbs, and tinting lips, had62 too little scope in the sanctities even of the softest womanhood; and the newly acquired conceptions of the nobility of nakedness could in no wise be expressed beneath the robes of the prelate or the sackcloth of the recluse. But the source from which these ideas had been received afforded also full field for their expression; the heathen mythology, which had furnished the examples of these heights of art, might again become the subject of the inspirations it had kindled;—with the additional advantage that it could now be delighted in, without being believed; that its errors might be indulged, unrepressed by its awe; and those of its deities whose function was temptation might be worshipped, in scorn of those whose hands were charged with chastisement.

So, at least, men dreamed in their foolishness,—to find, as the ages wore on, that the returning Apollo bore not only his lyre, but his arrows; and that at the instant of Cytherea's resurrection to the sunshine, Persephone had reascended her throne in the deep.

§ 3. Little thinking this, they gave themselves up fearlessly to the chase of the new delight, and exhausted themselves in the pursuit of an ideal now doubly false. Formerly, though they attempted to reach an unnatural beauty, it was yet in representing historical facts and real persons; now they sought for the same unnatural beauty in representing tales which they knew to be fictitious, and personages who they knew had never existed. Such a state of things had never before been found in any nation. Every people till then had painted the acts of their kings, the triumphs of their armies, the beauty of their race, or the glory of their gods. They showed the things they had seen or done; the beings they truly loved or faithfully adored. But the ideal art of modern Europe was the shadow of a shadow; and with mechanism substituted for perception, and bodily beauty for spiritual life, it set itself to represent men it had never seen, customs it had never practised, and gods in whom it had never believed.

§ 4. Such art could of course have no help from the virtues, nor claim on the energies of men. It necessarily rooted itself in their vices and their idleness; and of their vices principally in two, pride and sensuality. To the pride, was attached emi63nently the art of architecture; to the sensuality, those of painting and sculpture. Of the fall of architecture, as resultant from the formalist pride of its patrons and designers, I have spoken elsewhere. The sensualist ideal, as seen in painting and sculpture, remains to be examined here. But one interesting circumstance is to be observed with respect to the manner of the separation of these arts. Pride, being wholly a vice, and in every phase inexcusable, wholly betrayed and destroyed the art which was founded on it. But passion, having some root and use in healthy nature, and only becoming guilty in excess, did not altogether destroy the art founded upon it. The architecture of Palladio is wholly virtueless and despicable. Not so the Venus of Titian, nor the Antiope of Correggio.

§ 5. We find, then, at the close of the sixteenth century, the arts of painting and sculpture wholly devoted to entertain the indolent and satiate the luxurious. To effect these noble ends, they took a thousand different forms; painting, however, of course being the most complying, aiming sometimes at mere amusement by deception in landscapes, or minute imitation of natural objects; sometimes giving more piquant excitement in battle-pieces full of slaughter, or revels deep in drunkenness; sometimes entering upon serious subjects, for the sake of grotesque fiends and picturesque infernos, or that it might introduce pretty children as cherubs, and handsome women as Magdalenes and Maries of Egypt, or portraits of patrons in the character of the more decorous saints: but more frequently, for direct flatteries of this kind, recurring to Pagan mythology, and painting frail ladies as goddesses or graces, and foolish kings in radiant apotheosis; while, for the earthly delight of the persons whom it honored as divine, it ransacked the records of luscious fable, and brought back, in fullest depth of dye and flame of fancy, the impurest dreams of the un-Christian ages.

§ 6. Meanwhile, the art of sculpture, less capable of ministering to mere amusement, was more or less reserved for the affectations of taste; and the study of the classical statues introduced various ideas on the subjects of "purity," "chastity," and "dignity," such as it was possible for people to entertain who were themselves impure, luxurious, and ridiculous. It is a matter of extreme difficulty to explain the exact64 character of this modern sculpturesque ideal; but its relation to the true ideal may be best understood by considering it as in exact parallelism with the relation of the word "taste" to the word "love." Wherever the word "taste" is used with respect to matters of art, it indicates either that the thing spoken of belongs to some inferior class of objects, or that the person speaking has a false conception of its nature. For, consider the exact sense in which a work of art is said to be "in good or bad taste." It does not mean that it is true, or false; that it is beautiful, or ugly; but that it does or does not comply either with the laws of choice, which are enforced by certain modes of life; or the habits of mind produced by a particular sort of education. It does not mean merely fashionable, that is, complying with a momentary caprice of the upper classes; but it means agreeing with the habitual sense which the most refined education, common to those upper classes at the period, gives to their whole mind. Now, therefore, so far as that education does indeed tend to make the senses delicate, and the perceptions accurate, and thus enables people to be pleased with quiet instead of gaudy color, and with graceful instead of coarse form; and, by long acquaintance with the best things, to discern quickly what is fine from what is common;—so far, acquired taste is an honorable faculty, and it is true praise of anything to say it is "in good taste." But so far as this higher education has a tendency to narrow the sympathies and harden the heart, diminishing the interest of all beautiful things by familiarity, until even what is best can hardly please, and what is brightest hardly entertain;—so far as it fosters pride, and leads men to found the pleasure they take in anything, not on the worthiness of the thing, but on the degree in which it indicates some greatness of their own (as people build marble porticos, and inlay marble floors, not so much because they like the colors of marble, or find it pleasant to the foot, as because such porches and floors are costly, and separated in all human eyes from plain entrances of stone and timber);—so far as it leads people to prefer gracefulness of dress, manner, and aspect, to value of substance and heart, liking a well said thing better than a true thing, and a well trained manner better than a sincere one, and a delicately formed face better than a good-65natured one, and in all other ways and things setting custom and semblance above everlasting truth;—so far, finally, as it induces a sense of inherent distinction between class and class, and causes everything to be more or less despised which has no social rank, so that the affection, pleasure, or grief of a clown are looked upon as of no interest compared with the affection and grief of a well-bred man;—just so far, in all these several ways, the feeling induced by what is called a "liberal education" is utterly adverse to the understanding of noble art; and the name which is given to the feeling,—Taste, Goût, Gusto,—in all languages, indicates the baseness of it, for it implies that art gives only a kind of pleasure analogous to that derived from eating by the palate.

§ 7. Modern education, not in art only, but in all other things referable to the same standard, has invariably given taste in this bad sense; it has given fastidiousness of choice without judgment, superciliousness of manner without dignity, refinement of habit without purity, grace of expression without sincerity, and desire of loveliness without love; and the modern "Ideal" of high art is a curious mingling of the gracefulness and reserve of the drawingroom with a certain measure of classical sensuality. Of this last element, and the singular artifices by which vice succeeds in combining it with what appears to be pure and severe, it would take us long to reason fully; I would rather leave the reader to follow out for himself the consideration of the influence, in this direction, of statues, bronzes, and paintings, as at present employed by the upper circles of London, and (especially) Paris; and this not so much in the works which are really fine, as in the multiplied coarse copies of them; taking the widest range, from Dannaeker's Ariadne down to the amorous shepherd and shepherdess in china on the drawingroom time-piece, rigidly questioning, in each case, how far the charm of the art does indeed depend on some appeal to the inferior passions. Let it be considered, for instance, exactly how far the value of a picture of a girl's head by Greuze would be lowered in the market, if the dress, which now leaves the bosom bare, were raised to the neck; and how far, in the commonest lithograph of some utterly popular subject,—for instance, the teaching of Uncle Tom by Eva,—the66 sentiment which is supposed to be excited by the exhibition of Christianity in youth is complicated with that which depends upon Eva's having a dainty foot and a well-made satin slipper;—and then, having completely determined for himself how far the element exists, consider farther, whether, when art is thus frequent (for frequent he will assuredly find it to be) in its appeal to the lower passions, it is likely to attain the highest order of merit, or be judged by the truest standards of judgment. For, of all the causes which have combined, in modern times, to lower the rank of art, I believe this to be one of the most fatal; while, reciprocally, it may be questioned how far society suffers, in its turn, from the influences possessed over it by the arts it has degraded. It seems to me a subject of the very deepest interest to determine what has been the effect upon the European nations of the great change by which art became again capable of ministering delicately to the lower passions, as it had in the worst days of Rome; how far, indeed, in all ages, the fall of nations may be attributed to art's arriving at this particular stage among them. I do not mean that, in any of its stages, it is incapable of being employed for evil, but that assuredly an Egyptian, Spartan, or Norman was unexposed to the kind of temptation which is continually offered by the delicate painting and sculpture of modern days; and, although the diseased imagination might complete the imperfect image of beauty from the colored image on the wall,[20] or the most revolting thoughts be suggested by the mocking barbarism of the Gothic sculpture, their hard outline and rude execution were free from all the subtle treachery which now fills the flushed canvas and the rounded marble.

§ 8. I cannot, however, pursue this inquiry here. For our present purpose it is enough to note that the feeling, in itself so debased, branches upwards into that of which, while no one has cause to be ashamed, no one, on the other hand, has cause to be proud, namely, the admiration of physical beauty in the human form, as distinguished from expression of character. Every one can easily appreciate the merit of regular features and well-formed limbs, but it requires some attention, sympathy, and67 sense, to detect the charm of passing expression, or life-disciplined character. The beauty of the Apollo Belvidere, or Venus de Medicis, is perfectly palpable to any shallow fine lady or fine gentleman, though they would have perceived none in the face of an old weather-beaten St. Peter, or a grey-haired "Grandmother Lois." The knowledge that long study is necessary to produce these regular types of the human form renders the facile admiration matter of eager self-complacency; the shallow spectator, delighted that he can really, and without hypocrisy, admire what required much thought to produce, supposes himself endowed with the highest critical faculties, and easily lets himself be carried into rhapsodies about the "ideal," which, when all is said, if they be accurately examined, will be found literally to mean nothing more than that the figure has got handsome calves to its legs, and a straight nose.

§ 9. That they do mean, in reality, nothing more than this may be easily ascertained by watching the taste of the same persons in other things. The fashionable lady who will write five or six pages in her diary respecting the effect upon her mind of such and such an "ideal" in marble, will have her drawing room table covered with Books of Beauty, in which the engravings represent the human form in every possible aspect of distortion and affectation; and the connoisseur who, in the morning, pretends to the most exquisite taste in the antique, will be seen, in the evening, in his opera-stall, applauding the least graceful gestures of the least modest figurante.

§ 10. But even this vulgar pursuit of physical beauty (vulgar in the profoundest sense, for there is no vulgarity like the vulgarity of education) would be less contemptible if it really succeeded in its object; but, like all pursuits carried to inordinate length, it defeats itself. Physical beauty is a noble thing when it is seen in perfectness; but the manner in which the moderns pursue their ideal prevents their ever really seeing what they are always seeking; for, requiring that all forms should be regular and faultless, they permit, or even compel, their painters and sculptors to work chiefly by rule, altering their models to fit their preconceived notions of what is right. When such artists look at a face, they do not give it the attention necessary to discern what beauty is already in its peculiar features; but68 only to see how best it may be altered into something for which they have themselves laid down the laws. Nature never unveils her beauty to such a gaze. She keeps whatever she has done best, close sealed, until it is regarded with reverence. To the painter who honors her, she will open a revelation in the face of a street mendicant; but in the work of the painter who alters her, she will make Portia become ignoble and Perdita graceless.

§ 11. Nor is the effect less for evil on the mind of the general observer. The lover of ideal beauty, with all his conceptions narrowed by rule, never looks carefully enough upon the features which do not come under his law (or any others), to discern the inner beauty in them. The strange intricacies about the lines of the lips, and marvellous shadows and watch-fires of the eye, and wavering traceries of the eyelash, and infinite modulations of the brow, wherein high humanity is embodied, are all invisible to him. He finds himself driven back at last, with all his idealism, to the lionne of the ball-room, whom youth and passion can as easily distinguish as his utmost critical science; whereas, the observer who has accustomed himself to take human faces as God made them, will often find as much beauty on a village green as in the proudest room of state, and as much in the free seats of a church aisle, as in all the sacred paintings of the Vatican or the Pitti.

§ 12. Then, farther, the habit of disdaining ordinary truth, and seeking to alter it so as to fit the fancy of the beholder, gradually infects the mind in all its other operation; so that it begins to propose to itself an ideal in history, an ideal in general narration, an ideal in portraiture and description, and in every thing else where truth may be painful or uninteresting; with the necessary result of more or less weakness, wickedness, and uselessness in all that is done or said, with the desire of concealing this painful truth. And, finally, even when truth is not intentionally concealed, the pursuer of idealism will pass his days in false and useless trains of thought, pluming himself, all the while, upon his superiority therein to the rest of mankind. A modern German, without either invention or sense, seeing a rapid in a river, will immediately devote the remainder of the day to the composition of dialogues between amorous water nymphs and unhappy mariners; while the man of true inven69tion, power, and sense will, instead, set himself to consider whether the rocks in the river could have their points knocked off, or the boats upon it be made with stronger bottoms.

§ 13. Of this final baseness of the false ideal, its miserable waste of time, strength, and available intellect of man, by turning, as I have said above, innocence of pastime into seriousness of occupation, it is, of course, hardly possible to sketch out even so much as the leading manifestations. The vain and haughty projects of youth for future life; the giddy reveries of insatiable self exaltation; the discontented dreams of what might have been or should be, instead of the thankful understanding of what is; the casting about for sources of interest in senseless fiction, instead of the real human histories of the people round us; the prolongation from age to age of romantic historical deceptions instead of sifted truth; the pleasures taken in fanciful portraits of rural or romantic life in poetry and on the stage, without the smallest effort to rescue the living rural population of the world from its ignorance or misery; the excitement of the feelings by labored imagination of spirits, fairies, monsters, and demons, issuing in total blindness of heart and sight to the true presences of beneficent or destructive spiritual powers around us; in fine, the constant abandonment of all the straightforward paths of sense and duty, for fear of losing some of the enticement of ghostly joys, or trampling somewhat "sopra lor vanità, che par persona;" all these various forms of false idealism have so entangled the modern mind, often called, I suppose ironically, practical, that truly I believe there never yet was idolatry of stock or staff so utterly unholy as this our idolatry of shadows; nor can I think that, of those who burnt incense under oaks, and poplars, and elms, because "the shadow thereof was good," it could in any wise be more justly or sternly declared than of us—"The wind hath bound them up in her wings, and they shall be ashamed because of their sacrifices."[21]

[20] Ezek. xxiii. 14.

[21] Hosea, chap. iv. 12, 13, and 19.




§ 1. Having thus glanced at the principal modes in which the imagination works for evil, we must rapidly note also the principal directions in which its operation is admissible, even in changing or strangely combining what is brought within its sphere.

For hitherto we have spoken as if every change wilfully wrought by the imagination was an error; apparently implying that its only proper work was to summon up the memories of past events, and the anticipations of future ones, under aspects which would bear the sternest tests of historical investigation, or abstract reasoning. And in general this is, indeed, its noblest work. Nevertheless, it has also permissible functions peculiarly its own, and certain rights of feigning, and adorning, and fancifully arranging, inalienable from its nature. Everything that is natural is, within certain limits, right; and we must take care not, in over-severity, to deprive ourselves of any refreshing or animating power ordained to be in us for our help.

§ 2. (A). It was noted in speaking above of the Angelican or passionate ideal, that there was a certain virtue in it dependent on the expression of its loving enthusiasm. (Chap. IV. § 10.)

(B). In speaking of the pursuit of beauty as one of the characteristics of the highest art, it was also said that there were certain ways of showing this beauty by gathering together, without altering, the finest forms, and marking them by gentle emphasis. (Chap. III. § 15.)

(C). And in speaking of the true uses of imagination it was said, that we might be allowed to create for ourselves, in innocent play, fairies and naiads, and other such fictitious creatures. (Chap. IV. § 5.)


Now this loving enthusiasm, which seeks for a beauty fit to be the object of eternal love; this inventive skill, which kindly displays what exists around us in the world; and this playful energy of thought which delights in various conditions of the impossible, are three forms of idealism more or less connected with the three tendencies of the artistical mind which I had occasion to explain in the chapter on the Nature of Gothic, in the Stones of Venice. It was there pointed out, that, the things around us containing mixed good and evil, certain men chose the good and left the evil (thence properly called Purists); others received both good and evil together (thence properly called Naturalists); and others had a tendency to choose the evil and leave the good, whom, for convenience' sake, I termed Sensualists. I do not mean to say that painters of fairies and naiads must belong to this last and lowest class, or habitually choose the evil and leave the good; but there is, nevertheless, a strange connection between the reinless play of the imagination, and a sense of the presence of evil, which is usually more or less developed in those creations of the imagination to which we properly attach the word Grotesque.

For this reason, we shall find it convenient to arrange what we have to note respecting true idealism under the three heads—

A. Purist Idealism.
B. Naturalist Idealism.
C. Grotesque Idealism.

§ 3. A. Purist Idealism.—It results from the unwillingness of men whose dispositions are more than ordinarily tender and holy, to contemplate the various forms of definite evil which necessarily occur in the daily aspects of the world around them. They shrink from them as from pollution, and endeavor to create for themselves an imaginary state, in which pain and imperfection either do not exist, or exist in some edgeless and enfeebled condition.

As, however, pain and imperfection are, by eternal laws, bound up with existence, so far as it is visible to us, the endeavor to cast them away invariably indicates a comparative childishness of mind, and produces a childish form of art. In general, the effort is most successful when it is most naïve, and72 when the ignorance of the draughtsman is in some frank proportion to his innocence. For instance, one of the modes of treatment, the most conducive to this ideal expression, is simply drawing everything without shadows, as if the sun were everywhere at once. This, in the present state of our knowledge, we could not do with grace, because we could not do it without fear or shame. But an artist of the thirteenth century did it with no disturbance of conscience,—knowing no better, or rather, in some sense, we might say, knowing no worse. It is, however, evident, at first thought, that all representations of nature without evil must either be ideals of a future world, or be false ideals, if they are understood to be representations of facts. They can only be classed among the branches of the true ideal, in so far as they are understood to be nothing more than expressions of the painter's personal affections or hopes.

§ 4. Let us take one or two instances in order clearly to explain our meaning.

The life of Angelico was almost entirely spent in the endeavor to imagine the beings belonging to another world. By purity of life, habitual elevation of thought, and natural sweetness of disposition, he was enabled to express the sacred affections upon the human countenance as no one ever did before or since. In order to effect clearer distinction between heavenly beings and those of this world, he represents the former as clothed in draperies of the purest color, crowned with glories of burnished gold, and entirely shadowless. With exquisite choice of gesture, and disposition of folds of drapery, this mode of treatment gives perhaps the best idea of spiritual beings which the human mind is capable of forming. It is, therefore, a true ideal;[22] but the mode in which it is arrived at (being so far mechanical and contradictory of the appearances of nature) necessarily precludes those who practise it from being complete masters of their art. It is always childish, but beautiful in its childishness.

§ 5. The works of our own Stothard are examples of the operation of another mind, singular in gentleness and purity, upon mere worldly subject. It seems as if Stothard could not73 conceive wickedness, coarseness, or baseness; every one of his figures looks as if it had been copied from some creature who had never harbored an unkind thought, or permitted itself in an ignoble action. With this immense love of mental purity is joined, in Stothard, a love of mere physical smoothness and softness, so that he lived in a universe of soft grass and stainless fountains, tender trees, and stones at which no foot could stumble.

All this is very beautiful, and may sometimes urge us to an endeavor to make the world itself more like the conception of the painter. At least, in the midst of its malice, misery, and baseness, it is often a relief to glance at the graceful shadows, and take, for momentary companionship, creatures full only of love, gladness, and honor. But the perfect truth will at last vindicate itself against the partial truth; the help which we can gain from the unsubstantial vision will be only like that which we may sometimes receive, in weariness, from the scent of a flower or the passing of a breeze. For all firm aid and steady use, we must look to harder realities; and, as far as the painter himself is regarded, we can only receive such work as the sign of an amiable imbecility. It is indeed ideal; but ideal as a fair dream is in the dawn of morning, before the faculties are astir. The apparent completeness of grace can never be attained without much definite falsification as well as omission; stones, over which we cannot stumble, must be ill-drawn stones; trees, which are all gentleness and softness, cannot be trees of wood; nor companies without evil in them, companies of flesh and blood. The habit of falsification (with whatever aim) begins always in dulness and ends always in incapacity; nothing can be more pitiable than any endeavor by Stothard to express facts beyond his own sphere of soft pathos or graceful mirth, and nothing more unwise than the aim at a similar ideality by any painter who has power to render a sincerer truth.

§ 6. I remember another interesting example of ideality on this same root, but belonging to another branch of it, in the works of a young German painter, which I saw some time ago in a London drawingroom. He had been travelling in Italy, and had brought home a portfolio of sketches remarkable alike74 for their fidelity and purity. Every one was a laborious and accurate study of some particular spot. Every cottage, every cliff, every tree, at the site chosen, had been drawn; and drawn with palpable sincerity of portraiture, and yet in such a spirit that it was impossible to conceive that any sin or misery had ever entered into one of the scenes he had represented; and the volcanic horrors of Radicofani, the pestilent gloom of the Pontines, and the boundless despondency of the Campagna became under his hand, only various appearances of Paradise.

It was very interesting to observe the minute emendations or omissions by which this was effected. To set the tiles the slightest degree more in order upon a cottage roof; to insist upon the vine-leaves at the window, and let the shadow which fell from them naturally conceal the rent in the wall; to draw all the flowers in the foreground, and miss the weeds; to draw all the folds of the white clouds, and miss those of the black ones; to mark the graceful branches of the trees, and, in one way or another, beguile the eye from those which were ungainly; to give every peasant-girl whose face was visible the expression of an angel, and every one whose back was turned the bearing of a princess; finally, to give a general look of light, clear organization, and serene vitality to every feature in the landscape;—such were his artifices, and such his delights. It was impossible not to sympathize deeply with the spirit of such a painter; and it was just cause for gratitude to be permitted to travel, as it were, through Italy with such a friend. But his work had, nevertheless, its stern limitations and marks of everlasting inferiority. Always soothing and pathetic, it could never be sublime, never perfectly nor entrancingly beautiful; for the narrow spirit of correction could not cast itself fully into any scene; the calm cheerfulness which shrank from the shadow of the cypress, and the distortion of the olive, could not enter into the brightness of the sky that they pierced, nor the softness of the bloom that they bore: for every sorrow that his heart turned from, he lost a consolation; for every fear which he dared not confront, he lost a portion of his hardiness; the unsceptred sweep of the storm-clouds, the fair freedom of glancing shower and flickering sunbeam, sank into sweet rectitudes and decent formalisms; and, before eyes that refused to be dazzled or darkened, the hours of sunset wreathed their rays un75heeded, and the mists of the Apennines spread their blue veils in vain.

§ 7. To this inherent shortcoming and narrowness of reach the farther defect was added, that this work gave no useful representation of the state of facts in the country which it pretended to contemplate. It was not only wanting in all the higher elements of beauty, but wholly unavailable for instruction of any kind beyond that which exists in pleasurableness of pure emotion. And considering what cost of labor was devoted to the series of drawings, it could not but be matter for grave blame, as well as for partial contempt, that a man of amiable feeling and considerable intellectual power should thus expend his life in the declaration of his own petty pieties and pleasant reveries, leaving the burden of human sorrow unwitnessed; and the power of God's judgments unconfessed; and, while poor Italy lay wounded and moaning at his feet, pass by, in priestly calm, lest the whiteness of his decent vesture should be spotted with unhallowed blood.

§ 8. Of several other forms of Purism I shall have to speak hereafter, more especially of that exhibited in the landscapes of the early religious painters; but these examples are enough, for the present, to show the general principle that the purest ideal, though in some measure true, in so far as it springs from the true longings of an earnest mind, is yet necessarily in many things deficient or blamable, and always an indication of some degree of weakness in the mind pursuing it. But, on the other hand, it is to be noted that entire scorn of this purist ideal is the sign of a far greater weakness. Multitudes of petty artists, incapable of any noble sensation whatever, but acquainted, in a dim way, with the technicalities of the schools, mock at the art whose depths they cannot fathom, and whose motives they cannot comprehend, but of which they can easily detect the imperfections, and deride the simplicities. Thus poor fumigatory Fuseli, with an art composed of the tinsel of the stage and the panics of the nursery, speaks contemptuously of the name of Angelico as "dearer to sanctity than to art." And a large portion of the resistance to the noble Pre-Raphaelite movement of our own days has been offered by men who suppose the entire function of the artist in this world to consist in laying on color with a large brush, and surrounding dashes of flake76 white with bituminous brown; men whose entire capacities of brain, soul, and sympathy, applied industriously to the end of their lives, would not enable them, at last, to paint so much as one of the leaves of the nettles at the bottom of Hunt's picture of the Light of the World.[23]

§ 9. It is finally to be remembered, therefore, that Purism is always noble when it is instinctive. It is not the greatest thing that can be done, but it is probably the greatest thing that the man who does it can do, provided it comes from his heart. True, it is a sign of weakness, but it is not in our choice whether we will be weak or strong; and there is a certain strength which can only be made perfect in weakness. If he is working in humility, fear of evil, desire of beauty, and sincere purity of purpose and thought, he will produce good and helpful things; but he must be much on his guard against supposing himself to be greater than his fellows, because he has shut himself into this calm and cloistered sphere. His only safety lies in knowing himself to be, on the contrary, less than his fellows, and in always striving, so far as he can find it in his heart, to extend his delicate narrowness towards the great naturalist ideal. The whole group of modern German purists have lost themselves, because they founded their work not on humility, nor on religion, but on small self-conceit. Incapable of understanding the great Venetians, or any other masters of true imaginative power, and having fed what mind they had with weak poetry and false philosophy, they thought themselves the best and greatest of artistic mankind, and expected to found a new school of painting in pious plagiarism and delicate pride. It is difficult at first to decide which is the more worthless, the spiritual affectation of the petty German, or the composition and chiaroscuro of the petty Englishman; on the whole, however, the latter have lightest weight, for the pseudo-religious painter must, at all events, pass much of his time in meditation upon solemn subjects, and in examining venerable models; and may sometimes even cast a little useful reflected light, or touch the heart with a pleasant echo.

[22] As noted above in Chap. IV § 20.

[23] Not that the Pre-Raphaelite is a purist movement, it is stern naturalist; but its unfortunate opposers, who neither know what nature is, nor what purism is, have mistaken the simple nature for morbid purism, and therefore cried out against it.




§ 1. We now enter on the consideration of that central and highest branch of ideal art which concerns itself simply with things as they ARE, and accepts, in all of them, alike the evil and the good. The question is, therefore, how the art which represents things simply as they are, can be called ideal at all. How does it meet that requirement stated in Chap. III. § 4, as imperative on all great art, that it shall be inventive, and a product of the imagination? It meets it preeminently by that power of arrangement which I have endeavored, at great length and with great pains, to define accurately in the chapter on Imagination associative in the second volume. That is to say, accepting the weaknesses, faults, and wrongnesses in all things that it sees, it so places and harmonizes them that they form a noble whole, in which the imperfection of each several part is not only harmless, but absolutely essential, and yet in which whatever is good in each several part shall be completely displayed.

§ 2. This operation of true idealism holds, from the least things to the greatest. For instance, in the arrangement of the smallest masses of color, the false idealist, or even the purist, depends upon perfecting each separate hue, and raises them all, as far as he can, into costly brilliancy; but the naturalist takes the coarsest and feeblest colors of the things around him, and so interweaves and opposes them that they become more lovely than if they had all been bright. So in the treatment of the human form. The naturalist will take it as he finds it; but, with such examples as his picture may rationally admit of more or less exalted beauty, he will associate inferior forms, so as not only to set off those which are most beautiful, but to bring out clearly what good there is in the inferior forms themselves;78 finally using such measure of absolute evil as there is commonly in nature, both for teaching and for contrast.

In Tintoret's Adoration of the Magi, the Madonna is not an enthroned queen, but a fair girl, full of simplicity and almost childish sweetness. To her are opposed (as Magi) two of the noblest and most thoughtful of the Venetian senators in extreme old age,—the utmost manly dignity, in its decline, being set beside the utmost feminine simplicity, in its dawn. The steep foreheads and refined features of the nobles are, again, opposed to the head of a negro servant, and of an Indian, both, however, noble of their kind. On the other side of the picture, the delicacy of the Madonna is farther enhanced by contrast with a largely made farm-servant, leaning on a basket. All these figures are in repose: outside, the troop of the attendants of the Magi is seen coming up at the gallop.

§ 3. I bring forward this picture, observe, not as an example of the ideal in conception of religious subject, but of the general ideal treatment of the human form; in which the peculiarity is, that the beauty of each figure is displayed to the utmost, while yet, taken separately the Madonna is an unaltered portrait of a Venetian girl, the Magi are unaltered Venetian Senators, and the figure with the basket, an unaltered market-woman of Mestre.

And the greater the master of the ideal, the more perfectly true in portraiture will his individual figures be always found, the more subtle and bold his arts of harmony and contrast. This is a universal principle, common to all great art. Consider, in Shakspere, how Prince Henry is opposed to Falstaff, Falstaff to Shallow, Titania to Bottom, Cordelia to Regan, Imogen to Cloten, and so on; while all the meaner idealists disdain the naturalism, and are shocked at the contrasts. The fact is, a man who can see truth at all, sees it wholly, and neither desires nor dares to mutilate it.

§ 4. It is evident that within this faithful idealism, and as one branch of it only, will arrange itself the representation of the human form and mind in perfection, when this perfection is rationally to be supposed or introduced,—that is to say, in the highest personages of the story. The careless habit of confining the term "ideal" to such representations, and not under79standing the imperfect ones to be equally ideal in their place, has greatly added to the embarrassment and multiplied the errors of artists.[24] Thersites is just as ideal as Achilles, and Alecto as Helen; and, what is more, all the nobleness of the beautiful ideal depends upon its being just as probable and natural as the ugly one, and having in itself, occasionally or partially, both faults and familiarities. If the next painter who desires to illustrate the character of Homer's Achilles, would represent him cutting pork chops for Ulysses,[25] he would enable the public to understand the Homeric ideal better than they have done for several centuries. For it is to be kept in mind that the naturalist ideal has always in it, to the full, the power expressed by those two words. It is naturalist, because studied from nature, and ideal, because it is mentally arranged in a certain manner. Achilles must be represented cutting pork chops, because that was one of the things which the nature of Achilles involved his doing: he could not be shown wholly as Achilles, if he were not shown doing that. But he shall do it at such time and place as Homer chooses.

§ 5. Now, therefore, observe the main conclusions which follow from these two conditions, attached always to art of this kind. First, it is to be taken straight from nature; it is to be the plain narration of something the painter or writer saw. Herein is the chief practical difference between the higher and lower artists; a difference which I feel more and more every day that I give to the study of art. All the great men see what they paint before they paint it,—see it in a perfectly passive manner,—cannot help seeing it if they would; whether in their mind's eye, or in bodily fact, does not matter; very often the mental vision is, I believe, in men of imagination, clearer than the bodily one; but vision it is, of one kind or another,—the whole scene, character, or incident passing before them as in second sight, whether they will or no, and requiring them to paint it as they see it; they not daring, under the might of its80 presence, to alter[26] one jot or tittle of it as they write it down or paint it down; it being to them in its own kind and degree always a true vision or Apocalypse, and invariably accompanied in their hearts by a feeling correspondent to the words,—"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are."

And the whole power, whether of painter or poet, to describe rightly what we call an ideal thing, depends upon its being thus, to him, not an ideal, but a real thing. No man ever did or ever will work well, but either from actual sight or sight of faith; and all that we call ideal in Greek or any other art, because to us it is false and visionary, was, to the makers of it, true and existent. The heroes of Phidias are simply representations of such noble human persons as he every day saw, and the gods of Phidias simply representations of such noble divine persons as he thoroughly believed to exist, and did in mental vision truly behold. Hence I said in the second preface to the Seven Lamps of Architecture: "All great art represents something that it sees or believes in; nothing unseen or uncredited."

§ 6. And just because it is always something that it sees or believes in, there is the peculiar character above noted, almost unmistakable, in all high and true ideals, of having been as it were studied from the life, and involving pieces of sudden familiarity, and close specific painting which never would have been admitted or even thought of, had not the painter drawn either from the bodily life or from the life of faith. For instance, Dante's centaur, Chiron, dividing his beard with his arrow before he can speak, is a thing that no mortal would ever have thought of, if he had not actually seen the centaur do it. They might have composed handsome bodies of men and horses in all possible ways, through a whole life of pseudo-idealism, and yet never dreamed of any such thing. But the real living centaur actually trotted across Dante's brain, and he saw him do it.

§ 7. And on account of this reality it is, that the great idealists venture into all kinds of what, to the pseudo-idealists, are "vulgarities." Nay, venturing is the wrong word; the great81 men have no choice in the matter; they do not know or care whether the things they describe are vulgarities or not. They saw them: they are the facts of the case. If they had merely composed what they describe, they would have had it at their will to refuse this circumstance or add that. But they did not compose it. It came to them ready fashioned; they were too much impressed by it to think what was vulgar or not vulgar in it. It might be a very wrong thing in a centaur to have so much beard; but so it was. And, therefore, among the various ready tests of true greatness there is not any more certain than this daring reference to, or use of, mean and little things—mean and little, that is, to mean and little minds; but, when used by the great men, evidently part of the noble whole which is authoritatively present before them. Thus, in the highest poetry, as partly above noted in the first chapter, there is no word so familiar but a great man will bring good out of it, or rather, it will bring good to him, and answer some end for which no other word would have done equally well.

§ 8. A common person, for instance, would be mightily puzzled to apply the word "whelp" to any one with a view of flattering him. There is a certain freshness and energy in the term, which gives it agreeableness; but it seems difficult, at first hearing, to use it complimentarily. If the person spoken of be a prince, the difficulty seems increased; and when, farther, he is at one and the same moment to be called a "whelp" and contemplated as a hero, it seems that a common idealist might well be brought to a pause. But hear Shakspere do it:—

"Invoke his warlike spirit,
And your great uncle's, Edward the Black Prince,
Who on the French ground play'd a tragedy,
Making defeat on the full power of France,
While his most mighty father on a hill
Stood smiling, to behold his lion's whelp
Forage in blood of French nobility."

So a common idealist would have been rather alarmed at the thought of introducing the name of a street in Paris—Straw Street—Rue de Fouarre—into the midst of a description of the highest heavens. Not so Dante,—82

"Beyond, thou mayst the flaming lustre scan
Of Isidore, of Bede, and that Richart
Who was in contemplation more than man.
And he, from whom thy looks returning are
To me, a spirit was, that in austere
Deep musings often thought death kept too far.
That is the light eternal of Sigier,
Who while in Rue de Fouarre his days he wore,
Has argued hateful truths in haughtiest ear."

What did it matter to Dante, up in heaven there, whether the mob below thought him vulgar or not! Sigier had read in Straw Street; that was the fact, and he had to say so, and there an end.

§ 9. There is, indeed, perhaps, no greater sign of innate and real vulgarity of mind or defective education than the want of power to understand the universality of the ideal truth; the absence of sympathy with the colossal grasp of those intellects, which have in them so much of divine, that nothing is small to them, and nothing large; but with equal and unoffended vision they take in the sum of the world,—Straw Street and the seventh heavens,—in the same instant. A certain portion of this divine spirit is visible even in the lower examples of all the true men; it is, indeed, perhaps, the clearest test of their belonging to the true and great group, that they are continually touching what to the multitude appear vulgarities. The higher a man stands, the more the word "vulgar" becomes unintelligible to him. Vulgar? what, that poor farmer's girl of William Hunt's, bred in the stable, putting on her Sunday gown, and pinning her best cap out of the green and red pin-cushion! Not so; she may be straight on the road to those high heavens, and may shine hereafter as one of the stars in the firmament for ever. Nay, even that lady in the satin bodice with her arm laid over a balustrade to show it, and her eyes turned up to heaven to show them; and the sportsman waving his rifle for the terror of beasts, and displaying his perfect dress for the delight of men, are kept, by the very misery and vanity of them, in the thoughts of a great painter, at a sorrowful level, somewhat above vulgarity. It is only when the minor painter takes them on his easel, that they become things for the universe to be ashamed of.


We may dismiss this matter of vulgarity in plain and few words, at least as far as regards art. There is never vulgarity in a whole truth, however commonplace. It may be unimportant or painful. It cannot be vulgar. Vulgarity is only in concealment of truth, or in affectation.

§ 10. "Well, but," (at this point the reader asks doubtfully,) "if then your great central idealist is to show all truth, low as well as lovely, receiving it in this passive way, what becomes of all your principles of selection, and of setting in the right place, which you were talking about up to the end of your fourth paragraph? How is Homer to enforce upon Achilles the cutting of the pork chops 'only at such time as Homer chooses,' if Homer is to have no choice, but merely to see the thing done, and sing it as he sees it?" Why, the choice, as well as the vision, is manifested to Homer. The vision comes to him in its chosen order. Chosen for him, not by him, but yet full of visible and exquisite choice, just as a sweet and perfect dream will come to a sweet and perfect person, so that, in some sense, they may be said to have chosen their dream, or composed it; and yet they could not help dreaming it so, and in no other wise. Thus, exactly thus, in all results of true inventive power, the whole harmony of the thing done seems as if it had been wrought by the most exquisite rules. But to him who did it, it presented itself so, and his will, and knowledge, and personality, for the moment went for nothing; he became simply a scribe, and wrote what he heard and saw.

And all efforts to do things of a similar kind by rule or by thought, and all efforts to mend or rearrange the first order of the vision, are not inventive; on the contrary, they ignore and deny invention. If any man, seeing certain forms laid on the canvas, does by his reasoning power determine that certain changes wrought in them would mend or enforce them, that is not only uninventive, but contrary to invention, which must be the involuntary occurrence of certain forms or fancies to the mind in the order they are to be portrayed. Thus the knowing of rules and the exertion of judgment have a tendency to check and confuse the fancy in its flow; so that it will follow, that, in exact proportion as a master knows anything about rules of right and wrong, he is likely to be uninventive; and in exact84 proportion as he holds higher rank and has nobler inventive power, he will know less of rules; not despising them, but simply feeling that between him and them there is nothing in common,—that dreams cannot be ruled—that as they come, so they must be caught, and they cannot be caught in any other shape than that they come in; and that he might as well attempt to rule a rainbow into rectitude, or cut notches in a moth's wings to hold it by, as in any wise attempt to modify, by rule, the forms of the involuntary vision.

§ 11. And this, which by reason we have thus anticipated, is in reality universally so. There is no exception. The great men never know how or why they do things. They have no rules; cannot comprehend the nature of rules;—do not, usually, even know, in what they do, what is best or what is worst: to them it is all the same; something they cannot help saying or doing,—one piece of it as good as another, and none of it (it seems to them) worth much. The moment any man begins to talk about rules, in whatsoever art, you may know him for a second-rate man; and, if he talks about them much, he is a third-rate, or not an artist at all. To this rule there is no exception in any art; but it is perhaps better to be illustrated in the art of music than in that of painting. I fell by chance the other day upon a work of De Stendhal's, "Vies de Haydn, de Mozart, et de Metastase," fuller of common sense than any book I ever read on the arts; though I see, by the slight references made occasionally to painting, that the author's knowledge therein is warped and limited by the elements of general teaching in the schools around him; and I have not yet, therefore, looked at what he has separately written on painting. But one or two passages out of this book on music are closely to our present purpose.

"Counterpoint is related to mathematics: a fool, with patience, becomes a respectable savant in that; but for the part of genius, melody, it has no rules. No art is so utterly deprived of precepts for the production of the beautiful. So much the better for it and for us. Cimarosa, when first at Prague his air was executed, Pria che spunti in ciel l'Aurora, never heard the pedants say to him, 'Your air is fine, because you have followed such and such a rule established by Pergolese85 in such an one of his airs; but it would be finer still if you had conformed yourself to such another rule from which Galluppi never deviated.'"

Yes: "so much the better for it, and for us;" but I trust the time will soon come when melody in painting will be understood, no less than in music, and when people will find that, there also, the great melodists have no rules, and cannot have any, and that there are in this, as in sound, "no precepts for the production of the beautiful."

§ 12. Again. "Behold, my friend, an example of that simple way of answering which embarrasses much. One asked him (Haydn) the reason for a harmony—for a passage's being assigned to one instrument rather than another; but all he ever answered was, 'I have done it, because it does well.'" Farther on, De Stendhal relates an anecdote of Haydn; I believe one well known, but so much to our purpose that I repeat it. Haydn had agreed to give some lessons in counterpoint to an English nobleman. "'For our first lesson,' said the pupil, already learned in the art—drawing at the same time a quatuor of Haydn's from his pocket, 'for our first lesson may we examine this quatuor; and will you tell me the reasons of certain modulations, which I cannot entirely approve because they are contrary to the principles?' Haydn, a little surprised, declared himself ready to answer. The nobleman began; and at the very first measures found matter for objection. Haydn, who invented habitually, and who was the contrary of a pedant, found himself much embarrassed, and answered always, 'I have done that because it has a good effect. I have put that passage there because it does well.' The Englishman, who judged that these answers proved nothing, recommenced his proofs, and demonstrated to him, by very good reasons, that his quatuor was good for nothing. 'But, my lord, arrange this quatuor then to your fancy,—play it so, and you will see which of the two ways is the best.' 'But why is yours the best which is contrary to the rules?' 'Because it is the pleasantest.' The nobleman replied. Haydn at last lost patience, and said, 'I see, my lord, it is you who have the goodness to give lessons to me, and truly I am forced to confess to you that I do not deserve the honor.' The partizan of the rules departed, still86 astonished that in following the rules to the letter one cannot infallibly produce a 'Matrimonio Segreto.'"

This anecdote, whether in all points true or not, is in its tendency most instructive, except only in that it makes one false inference or admission, namely, that a good composition can be contrary to the rules. It may be contrary to certain principles, supposed in ignorance to be general; but every great composition is in perfect harmony with all true rules, and involves thousands too delicate for ear, or eye, or thought, to trace; still it is possible to reason, with infinite pleasure and profit, about these principles, when the thing is once done; only, all our reasoning will not enable any one to do another thing like it, because all reasoning falls infinitely short of the divine instinct. Thus we may reason wisely over the way a bee builds its comb, and be profited by finding out certain things about the angles of it. But the bee knows nothing about those matters. It builds its comb in a far more inevitable way. And, from a bee to Paul Veronese, all master-workers work with this awful, this inspired unconsciousness.

§ 13. I said just now that there was no exception to this law, that the great men never knew how or why they did things. It is, of course, only with caution that such a broad statement should be made; but I have seen much of different kinds of artists, and I have always found the knowledge of, and attention to, rules so accurately in the inverse ratio to the power of the painter, that I have myself no doubt that the law is constant, and that men's smallness may be trigonometrically estimated by the attention which, in their work, they pay to principles, especially principles of composition. The general way in which the great men speak is of "trying to do" this or that, just as a child would tell of something he had seen and could not utter. Thus, in speaking of the drawing of which I have given an etching farther on (a scene on the St. Gothard[27]), Turner asked if I had been to see "that litter of stones which I endeavored to represent;" and William Hunt, when I asked him one day as he was painting, why he put on such and such a color, answered, "I don't know; I am just aiming at it;" and87 Turner, and he, and all the other men I have known who could paint, always spoke and speak in the same way; not in any selfish restraint of their knowledge, but in pure simplicity. While all the men whom I know, who cannot paint, are ready with admirable reasons for everything they have done; and can show, in the most conclusive way, that Turner is wrong, and how he might be improved.

§ 14. And this is the reason for the somewhat singular, but very palpable truth that the Chinese, and Indians, and other semi-civilized nations, can color better than we do, and that an Indian shawl or Chinese vase are still, in invention of color, inimitable by us. It is their glorious ignorance of all rules that does it; the pure and true instincts have play, and do their work,—instincts so subtle, that the least warping or compression breaks or blunts them; and the moment we begin teaching people any rules about color, and make them do this or that, we crush the instinct generally for ever. Hence, hitherto, it has been an actual necessity, in order to obtain power of coloring, that a nation should be half-savage: everybody could color in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; but we were ruled and legalized into grey in the fifteenth;—only a little salt simplicity of their sea natures at Venice still keeping their precious, shellfishy purpleness and power; and now that is gone; and nobody can color anywhere, except the Hindoos and Chinese; but that need not be so, and will not be so long; for, in a little while, people will find out their mistake, and give up talking about rules of color, and then everybody will color again, as easily as they now talk.

§ 15. Such, then, being the generally passive or instinctive character of right invention, it may be asked how these unmanageable instincts are to be rendered practically serviceable in historical or poetical painting,—especially historical, in which given facts are to be represented. Simply by the sense and self-control of the whole man; not by control of the particular fancy or vision. He who habituates himself, in his daily life, to seek for the stern facts in whatever he hears or sees, will have these facts again brought before him by the involuntary imaginative power in their noblest associations; and he who seeks for frivolities and fallacies, will have frivolities and falla88cies again presented to him in his dreams. Thus if, in reading history for the purpose of painting from it, the painter severely seeks for the accurate circumstances of every event; as, for instance, determining the exact spot of ground on which his hero fell, the way he must have been looking at the moment, the height the sun was at (by the hour of the day), and the way in which the light must have fallen upon his face, the actual number and individuality of the persons by him at the moment, and such other veritable details, ascertaining and dwelling upon them without the slightest care for any desirableness or poetic propriety in them, but for their own truth's sake; then these truths will afterwards rise up and form the body of his imaginative vision, perfected and united as his inspiration may teach. But if, in reading the history, he does not regard these facts, but thinks only how it might all most prettily, and properly, and impressively have happened, then there is nothing but prettiness and propriety to form the body of his future imagination, and his whole ideal becomes false. So, in the higher or expressive part of the work, the whole virtue of it depends on his being able to quit his own personality, and enter successively into the hearts and thoughts of each person; and in all this he is still passive: in gathering the truth he is passive, not determining what the truth to be gathered shall be; and in the after vision he is passive, not determining, but as his dreams will have it, what the truth to be represented shall be; only according to his own nobleness is his power of entering into the hearts of noble persons, and the general character of his dream of them.[28]

§ 16. It follows from all this, evidently, that a great idealist never can be egotistic. The whole of his power depends upon his losing sight and feeling of his own existence, and becoming a mere witness and mirror of truth, and a scribe of visions,—always passive in sight, passive in utterance,—lamenting continually that he cannot completely reflect nor clearly utter all he has seen. Not by any means a proud state for a man to be in. But the man who has no invention is always setting things in89 order, and putting the world to rights, and mending, and beautifying, and pluming himself on his doings as supreme in all ways.

§ 17. There is still the question open, What are the principal directions in which this ideal faculty is to exercise itself most usefully for mankind?

This question, however, is not to the purpose of our present work, which respects landscape-painting only; it must be one of those left open to the reader's thoughts, and for future inquiry in another place. One or two essential points I briefly notice.

In Chap. IV. § 5. it was said, that one of the first functions of imagination was traversing the scenes of history, and forcing the facts to become again visible. But there is so little of such force in written history, that it is no marvel there should be none hitherto in painting. There does not exist, as far as I know, in the world a single example of a good historical picture (that is to say, of one which, allowing for necessary dimness in art as compared with nature, yet answers nearly the same ends in our minds as the sight of the real event would have answered); the reason being, the universal endeavor to get effects instead of facts, already shown as the root of false idealism. True historical ideal, founded on sense, correctness of knowledge, and purpose of usefulness, does not yet exist; the production of it is a task which the closing nineteenth century may propose to itself.

§ 18. Another point is to be observed. I do not, as the reader may have lately perceived, insist on the distinction between historical and poetical painting, because, as noted in the 22nd paragraph of the third chapter, all great painting must be both.

Nevertheless, a certain distinction must generally exist between men who, like Horace Vernet, David, or Domenico Tintoret, would employ themselves in painting, more or less graphically, the outward verities of passing events—battles, councils, &c.—of their day (who, supposing them to work worthily of their mission, would become, properly so called, historical or narrative painters); and men who sought, in scenes of perhaps less outward importance, "noble grounds for noble emotion;"—who would be, in a certain separate sense, poetical painters,90 some of them taking for subjects events which had actually happened, and others themes from the poets; or, better still, becoming poets themselves in the entire sense, and inventing the story as they painted it. Painting seems to me only just to be beginning, in this sense also, to take its proper position beside literature, and the pictures of the "Awakening Conscience," "Huguenot," and such others, to be the first fruits of its new effort.

§ 19. Finally, as far as I can observe, it is a constant law that the greatest men, whether poets or historians, live entirely in their own age, and that the greatest fruits of their work are gathered out of their own age. Dante paints Italy in the thirteenth century; Chaucer, England in the fourteenth; Masaccio, Florence in the fifteenth; Tintoret, Venice in the sixteenth;—all of them utterly regardless of anachronism and minor error of every kind, but getting always vital truth out of the vital present.

§ 20. If it be said that Shakspere wrote perfect historical plays on subjects belonging to the preceding centuries, I answer, that they are perfect plays just because there is no care about centuries in them, but a life which all men recognise for the human life of all time; and this it is, not because Shakspere sought to give universal truth, but because, painting honestly and completely from the men about him, he painted that human nature which is, indeed, constant enough,—a rogue in the fifteenth century being, at heart, what a rogue is in the nineteenth and was in the twelfth; and an honest or a knightly man being, in like manner, very similar to other such at any other time. And the work of these great idealists is, therefore, always universal; not because it is not portrait, but because it is complete portrait down to the heart, which is the same in all ages: and the work of the mean idealists is not universal, not because it is portrait, but because it is half portrait,—of the outside, the manners and the dress, not of the heart. Thus Tintoret and Shakspere paint, both of them, simply Venetian and English nature as they saw it in their time, down to the root; and it does for all time; but as for any care to cast themselves into the particular ways and tones of thought, or custom, of past time in their historical work, you will find it in91 neither of them, nor in any other perfectly great man that I know of.

§ 21. If there had been no vital truth in their present, it is hard to say what these men could have done. I suppose, primarily, they would not have existed; that they, and the matter they have to treat of, are given together, and that the strength of the nation and its historians correlatively rise and fall—Herodotus springing out of the dust of Marathon. It is also hard to say how far our better general acquaintance with minor details of past history may make us able to turn the shadow on the imaginative dial backwards, and naturally to live, and even live strongly if we choose, in past periods; but this main truth will always be unshaken, that the only historical painting deserving the name is portraiture of our own living men and our own passing times,[29] and that all efforts to summon up the events of bygone periods, though often useful and touching, must come under an inferior class of poetical painting; nor will it, I believe, ever be much followed as their main work by the strongest men, but only by the weaker and comparatively sentimental (rather than imaginative) groups. This marvellous first half of the nineteenth century has in this matter, as in nearly all others, been making a double blunder. It has, under the name of improvement, done all it could to EFFACE THE RECORDS which departed ages have left of themselves, while it has declared the FORGERY OF FALSE RECORDS of these same ages to be the great work of its historical painters! I trust that in a few years more we shall come somewhat to our senses in the matter, and begin to perceive that our duty is to preserve what the past has had to say for itself, and to say for ourselves also what shall be true for the future. Let us strive, with just veneration for that future, first to do what is worthy to be spoken, and then to speak it faithfully; and, with veneration for the past, recognize that it is indeed in the power of love to preserve the monument, but not of incantation to raise the dead.

[24] The word "ideal" is used in this limited sense in the chapter on Generic Beauty in the second volume, but under protest. See § 4 in that chapter.

[25] II. ix. 209.

[26] "And yet you have just said it shall be at such time and place as Homer chooses. Is not this altering?" No; wait a little, and read on.

[27] See Plate XXI. in Chap. III. Vol. IV.

[28] The reader should, of course, refer for further details on this subject to the chapters on Imagination in Vol. II., of which I am only glancing now at the practical results.

[29] See Edinburgh Lectures, p. 217.




§ 1. I have already, in the Stones of Venice, had occasion to analyze, as far as I was able, the noble nature and power of grotesque conception; I am not sorry occasionally to refer the reader to that work, the fact being that it and this are parts of one whole, divided merely as I had occasion to follow out one or other of its branches; for I have always considered architecture as an essential part of landscape; and I think the study of its best styles and real meaning one of the necessary functions of the landscape-painter; as, in like manner, the architect cannot be a master-workman until all his designs are guided by understanding of the wilder beauty of pure nature. But, be this as it may, the discussion of the grotesque element belonged most properly to the essay on architecture, in which that element must always find its fullest development.

§ 2. The Grotesque is in that chapter[30] divided principally into three kinds:

(A). Art arising from healthful but irrational play of the imagination in times of rest.

(B). Art arising from irregular and accidental contemplation of terrible things; or evil in general.

(C). Art arising from the confusion of the imagination by the presence of truths which it cannot wholly grasp.

It is the central form of this art, arising from contemplation of evil, which forms the link of connection between it and the sensualist ideals, as pointed out above in the second paragraph of the sixth chapter, the fact being that the imagination, when at play, is curiously like bad children, and likes to play with fire; in its entirely serious moods it dwells by preference on93 beautiful and sacred images, but in its mocking or playful moods it is apt to jest, sometimes bitterly, with undercurrent of sternest pathos, sometimes waywardly, sometimes slightly and wickedly, with death and sin; hence an enormous mass of grotesque art, some most noble and useful, as Holbein's Dance of Death, and Albert Durer's Knight and Death,[31] going down gradually through various conditions of less and less seriousness into an art whose only end is that of mere excitement, or amusement by terror, like a child making mouths at another, more or less redeemed by the degree of wit or fancy in the grimace it makes, as in the demons of Teniers and such others; and, lower still, in the demonology of the stage.

§ 3. The form arising from an entirely healthful and open play of the imagination, as in Shakspere's Ariel and Titania, and in Scott's White Lady, is comparatively rare. It hardly ever is free from some slight taint of the inclination to evil; still more rarely is it, when so free, natural to the mind; for the moment we begin to contemplate sinless beauty we are apt to get serious; and moral fairy tales, and such other innocent work, are hardly ever truly, that is to say, naturally imaginative; but for the most part laborious inductions and compositions. The moment any real vitality enters them, they are nearly sure to become satirical, or slightly gloomy, and so connect themselves with the evil-enjoying branch.

§ 4. The third form of the Grotesque is a thoroughly noble one. It is that which arises out of the use or fancy of tangible signs to set forth an otherwise less expressible truth; including nearly the whole range of symbolical and allegorical art and poetry. Its nobleness has been sufficiently insisted upon in the place before referred to. (Chapter on Grotesque Renaissance, §§ LXIII. LXIV. &c.) Of its practical use, especially in painting, deeply despised among us, because grossly misunderstood, a few words must be added here.

A fine grotesque is the expression, in a moment, by a series of symbols thrown together in bold and fearless connection, of truths which it would have taken a long time to express in any verbal way, and of which the connection is left for the beholder94 to work out for himself; the gaps, left or overleaped by the haste of the imagination, forming the grotesque character.

§ 5. For instance, Spenser desires to tell us, (1.) that envy is the most untamable and unappeasable of the passions, not to be soothed by any kindness; (2.) that with continual labor it invents evil thoughts out of its own heart; (3.) that even in this, its power of doing harm is partly hindered by the decaying and corrupting nature of the evil it lives in; (4.) that it looks every way, and that whatever it sees is altered and discolored by its own nature; (5.) which discoloring, however, is to it a veil, or disgraceful dress, in the sight of others; (6.) and that it never is free from the most bitter suffering, (7.) which cramps all its acts and movements, enfolding and crushing it while it torments. All this it has required a somewhat long and languid sentence for me to say in unsymbolical terms,—not, by the way, that they are unsymbolical altogether, for I have been forced, whether I would or not, to use some figurative words; but even with this help the sentence is long and tiresome, and does not with any vigor represent the truth. It would take some prolonged enforcement of each sentence to make it felt, in ordinary ways of talking. But Spenser puts it all into a grotesque, and it is done shortly and at once, so that we feel it fully, and see it, and never forget it. I have numbered above the statements which had to be made. I now number them with the same numbers, as they occur in the several pieces of the grotesque:—

"And next to him malicious Envy rode
(1.)  Upon a ravenous wolfe, and (2. 3.) still did chaw
Between his cankred[32] teeth a venemous tode
That all the poison ran about his jaw.
(4. 5.)  All in a kirtle of discolourd say
He clothed was, y-paynted full of eies;
(6.)  And in his bosome secretly there lay
An hatefull snake, the which his tail uptyes
(7.)  In many folds, and mortall sting implyes."

There is the whole thing in nine lines; or, rather, in one image, which will hardly occupy any room at all on the mind's shelves, but can be lifted out, whole, whenever we want it. All noble grotesques are concentrations of this kind, and the95noblest convey truths which nothing else could convey; and not only so, but convey them, in minor cases with a delightfulness,—in the higher instances with an awfulness,—which no mere utterance of the symbolised truth would have possessed, but which belongs to the effort of the mind to unweave the riddle, or to the sense it has of there being an infinite power and meaning in the thing seen, beyond all that is apparent therein, giving the highest sublimity even to the most trivial object so presented and so contemplated.

"'Jeremiah, what seest thou?'
'I see a seething pot, and the face thereof is toward the north,
'Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.'"

And thus in all ages and among all nations, grotesque idealism has been the element through which the most appalling and eventful truth has been wisely conveyed, from the most sublime words of true Revelation, to the "ἀλλ᾿ ὅτ᾿ ἂν ἡμίονος βασιλεὐς," &c., of the oracles, and the more or less doubtful teaching of dreams; and so down to ordinary poetry. No element of imagination has a wider range, a more magnificent use, or so colossal a grasp of sacred truth.

§ 6. How, then, is this noble power best to be employed in the art of painting?

We hear it not unfrequently asserted that symbolism or personification should not be introduced in painting at all. Such assertions are in their grounds unintelligible, and in their substance absurd. Whatever is in words described as visible, may with all logical fitness[33] be rendered so by colors, and not only is this a legitimate branch of ideal art, but I believe there is hardly any other so widely useful and instructive; and I heartily wish that every great allegory which the poets ever invented were powerfully put on canvas, and easily accessible by all men, and that our artists were perpetually exciting themselves to invent more. And as far as authority bears on the question, the simple fact is that allegorical painting has been the delight of the greatest men and of the wisest multitudes, from the beginning of art, and will be till art expires. Orcagua's Triumph of96 Death; Simon Memmi's frescoes in the Spanish Chapel; Giotto's principal works at Assisi, and partly at the Arena; Michael Angelo's two best statues, the Night and Day; Albert Durer's noble Melancholy, and hundreds more of his best works; a full third, I should think, of the works of Tintoret and Veronese, and nearly as large a portion of those of Raphael and Rubens, are entirely symbolical or personifiant; and, except in the case of the last-named painter, are always among the most interesting works the painters executed. The greater and more thoughtful the artists, the more they delight in symbolism, and the more fearlessly they employ it. Dead symbolism, second-hand symbolism, pointless symbolism, are indeed objectionable enough; but so are most other things that are dead, second-hand, and pointless. It is also true that both symbolism and personification are somewhat more apt than most things to have their edges taken off by too much handling; and what with our modern Fames, Justices, and various metaphorical ideals, largely used for signs and other such purposes, there is some excuse for our not well knowing what the real power of personification is. But that power is gigantic and inexhaustible, and ever to be grasped with peculiar joy by the painter, because it permits him to introduce picturesque elements and flights of fancy into his work, which otherwise would be utterly inadmissible; to bring the wild beasts of the desert into the room of state, fill the air with inhabitants as well as the earth, and render the least (visibly) interesting incidents themes for the most thrilling drama. Even Tintoret might sometimes have been hard put to it, when he had to fill a large panel in the Ducal Palace with the portrait of a nowise interesting Doge, unless he had been able to lay a winged lion beside him, ten feet long from the nose to the tail, asleep upon the Turkey carpet; and Rubens could certainly have made his flatteries of Mary of Medicis palatable to no one but herself, without the help of rosy-cheeked goddesses of abundance, and seven-headed hydras of rebellion.

§ 7. For observe, not only does the introduction of these imaginary beings permit greater fantasticism of incident, but also infinite fantasticism of treatment; and, I believe, so far from the pursuit of the false ideal having in any wise exhausted the97 realms of fantastic imagination, those realms have hardly yet been entered, and that a universe of noble dream-land lies before us, yet to be conquered. For, hitherto, when fantastic creatures have been introduced, either the masters have been so realistic in temper that they made the spirits as substantial as their figures of flesh and blood,—as Rubens, and, for the most part, Tintoret; or else they have been weak and unpractised in realization, and have painted transparent or cloudy spirits because they had no power of painting grand ones. But if a really great painter, thoroughly capable of giving substantial truth, and master of the elements of pictorial effect which have been developed by modern art, would solemnly, and yet fearlessly, cast his fancy free in the spiritual world, and faithfully follow out such masters of that world as Dante and Spenser, there seems no limit to the splendor of thought which painting might express. Consider, for instance, how the ordinary personifications of Charity oscillate between the mere nurse of many children, of Reynolds, and the somewhat painfully conceived figure with flames issuing from the heart, of Giotto; and how much more significance might be given to the representation of Love, by amplifying with tenderness the thought of Dante, "Tanta rossa, che a pena fora dentro al foco nota,"[34] that is to say, by representing the loveliness of her face and form as all flushed with glow of crimson light, and, as she descended through heaven, all its clouds colored by her presence as they are by sunset. In the hands of a feeble painter, such an attempt would end in mere caricature; but suppose it taken up by Correggio, adding to his power of flesh-painting the (not inconsistent) feeling of Angelico in design, and a portion of Turner's knowledge of the clouds. There is nothing impossible in such a conjunction as this. Correggio, trained in another school, might have even himself shown some such extent of grasp; and in Turner's picture of the dragon of the Hesperides, Jason, vignette to Voyage of Columbus ("Slowly along the evening sky they went"), and such others, as well as in many of the works of Watts and Rosetti, is already visible, as I trust, the dawn of a new era of art, in a true unison of the grotesque with the realistic power.


§ 8. There is, however, unquestionably, a severe limit, in the case of all inferior masters, to the degree in which they may venture to realize grotesque conception, and partly, also, a limit in the nature of the thing itself, there being many grotesque ideas which may be with safety suggested dimly by words or slight lines, but which will hardly bear being painted into perfect definiteness. It is very difficult, in reasoning on this matter, to divest ourselves of the prejudices which have been forced upon us by the base grotesque of men like Bronzino, who, having no true imagination, are apt, more than others, to try by startling realism to enforce the monstrosity that has no terror in itself. But it is nevertheless true, that, unless in the hands of the very greatest men, the grotesque seems better to be expressed merely in line, or light and shade, or mere abstract color, so as to mark it for a thought rather than a substantial fact. Even if Albert Durer had perfectly painted his Knight and Death, I question if we should feel it so great a thought as we do in the dark engraving. Blake, perfectly powerful in the etched grotesque of the book of Job, fails always more or less as soon as he adds color; not merely for want of power (his eye for color being naturally good), but because his subjects seem, in a sort, insusceptible of completion; and the two inexpressibly noble and pathetic woodcut grotesques of Alfred Rethel's, Death the Avenger, and Death the Friend, could not, I think, but with disadvantage, be advanced into pictorial color.

And what is thus doubtfully true of the pathetic grotesque, is assuredly and always true of the jesting grotesque. So far as it expresses any transient flash of wit or satire, the less labor of line, or color, given to its expression the better; elaborate jesting being always intensely painful.

§ 9. For these several reasons, it seems not only permissible, but even desirable, that the art by which the grotesque is expressed should be more or less imperfect, and this seems a most beneficial ordinance as respects the human race in general. For the grotesque being not only a most forceful instrument of teaching, but a most natural manner of expression, springing as it does at once from any tendency to playfulness in minds highly comprehensive of truth; and being also one of the readiest ways in which such satire or wit as may be possessed by men99 of any inferior rank of mind can be for perpetuity expressed, it becomes on all grounds desirable that what is suggested in times of play should be rightly sayable without toil; and what occurs to men of inferior power or knowledge, sayable without any high degree of skill. Hence it is an infinite good to mankind when there is full acceptance of the grotesque, slightly sketched or expressed; and, if field for such expression be frankly granted, an enormous mass of intellectual power is turned to everlasting use, which, in this present century of ours, evaporates in street gibing or vain revelling; all the good wit and satire expiring in daily talk, (like foam on wine,) which in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had a permitted and useful expression in the arts of sculpture and illumination, like foam fixed into chalcedony. It is with a view (not the least important among many others bearing upon art) to the reopening of this great field of human intelligence, long entirely closed, that I am striving to introduce Gothic architecture into daily domestic use; and to revive the art of illumination, properly so called; not the art of miniature-painting in books, or on vellum, which has ridiculously been confused with it; but of making writing, simple writing, beautiful to the eye, by investing it with the great chord of perfect color, blue, purple, scarlet, white, and gold, and in that chord of color, permitting the continual play of the fancy of the writer in every species of grotesque imagination, carefully excluding shadow; the distinctive difference between illumination and painting proper, being, that illumination admits no shadows, but only gradations of pure color. And it is in this respect that illumination is specially fitted for grotesque expression; for, when I used the term "pictorial color," just now, in speaking of the completion of the grotesque of Death the Avenger, I meant to distinguish such color from the abstract, shadeless hues which are eminently fitted for grotesque thought. The requirement, respecting the slighter grotesque, is only that it shall be incompletely expressed. It may have light and shade without color (as in etching and sculpture), or color without light and shade (illumination), but must not, except in the hands of the greatest masters, have both. And for some conditions of the playful100 grotesque, the abstract color is a much more delightful element of expression than the abstract light and shade.

§ 10. Such being the manifold and precious uses of the true grotesque, it only remains for us to note carefully how it is to be distinguished from the false and vicious grotesque which results from idleness, instead of noble rest; from malice, instead of the solemn contemplation of necessary evil; and from general degradation of the human spirit, instead of its subjection, or confusion, by thoughts too high for it. It is easy for the reader to conceive how different the fruits of two such different states of mind must be; and yet how like in many respects, and apt to be mistaken, one for the other;—how the jest which springs from mere fatuity, and vacant want of penetration or purpose, is everlastingly, infinitely, separated from, and yet may sometimes be mistaken for, the bright, playful, fond, far-sighted jest of Plato, or the bitter, purposeful, sorrowing jest of Aristophanes; how, again, the horror which springs from guilty love of foulness and sin, may be often mistaken for the inevitable horror which a great mind must sometimes feel in the full and penetrative sense of their presence;—how, finally, the vague and foolish inconsistencies of undisciplined dream or reverie may be mistaken for the compelled inconsistencies of thoughts too great to be well sustained, or clearly uttered. It is easy, I say, to understand what a difference there must indeed be between these; and yet how difficult it may be always to define it, or lay down laws for the discovery of it, except by the just instinct of minds set habitually in all things to discern right from wrong.

§ 11. Nevertheless, one good and characteristic instance may be of service in marking the leading directions in which the contrast is discernible. On the opposite page, Plate I., I have put, beside each other, a piece of true grotesque, from the Lombard-Gothic, and of false grotesque from classical (Roman) architecture. They are both griffins; the one on the left carries on his back one of the main pillars of the porch of the cathedral of Verona; the one on the right is on the frieze of the temple of Antoninus and Faustina at Rome, much celebrated by Renaissance and bad modern architects.

In some respects, however, this classical griffin deserves its101 reputation. It is exceedingly fine in lines of composition, and, I believe (I have not examined the original closely), very exquisite in execution. For these reasons, it is all the better for our purpose. I do not want to compare the worst false grotesque with the best true, but rather, on the contrary, the best false with the simplest true, in order to see how the delicately wrought lie fails in the presence of the rough truth; for rough truth in the present case it is, the Lombard sculpture being altogether untoward and imperfect in execution.[35]

§ 12. "Well, but," the reader says, "what do you mean by calling either of them true? There never were such beasts in the world as either of these?"

No, never: but the difference is, that the Lombard workman did really see a griffin in his imagination, and carved it from the life, meaning to declare to all ages that he had verily seen with his immortal eyes such a griffin as that; but the classical workman never saw a griffin at all, nor anything else; but put the whole thing together by line and rule.

§ 13. "How do you know that?"

Very easily. Look at the two, and think over them. You know a griffin is a beast composed of lion and eagle. The classical workman set himself to fit these together in the most ornamental way possible. He accordingly carves a sufficiently satisfactory lion's body, then attaches very gracefully cut wings to the sides: then, because he cannot get the eagle's head on the broad lion's shoulders, fits the two together by something like a horse's neck (some griffins being wholly composed of a horse and eagle), then, finding the horse's neck look weak and unformidable, he strengthens it by a series of bosses, like vertebrae, in front, and by a series of spiny cusps, instead of a mane, on the ridge; next, not to lose the whole leonine character about the neck, he gives a remnant of the lion's beard, turned into a sort of griffin's whisker, and nicely curled and pointed; then an eye, probably meant to look grand and abstracted, and therefore neither lion's nor eagle's; and,102 finally, an eagle's beak, very sufficiently studied from a real one. The whole head being, it seems to him, still somewhat wanting in weight and power, he brings forward the right wing behind it, so as to enclose it with a broad line. This is the finest thing in the composition, and very masterly, both in thought, and in choice of the exactly right point where the lines of wing and beak should intersect (and it may be noticed in passing, that all men, who can compose at all, have this habit of encompassing or governing broken lines with broad ones, wherever it is possible, of which we shall see many instances hereafter). The whole griffin, thus gracefully composed, being, nevertheless, when all is done, a very composed griffin, is set to very quiet work, and raising his left foot, to balance his right wing, sets it on the tendril of a flower so lightly as not even to bend it down, though, in order to reach it, his left leg is made half as long again as his right.

§ 14. We may be pretty sure, if the carver had ever seen a griffin, he would have reported of him as doing something else than that with his feet. Let us see what the Lombardic workman saw him doing.

Remember, first, the griffin, though part lion and part eagle, has the united power of both. He is not merely a bit of lion and a bit of eagle, but whole lion, incorporate with whole eagle. So when we really see one, we may be quite sure we shall not find him wanting in anything necessary to the might either of beast or bird.

Well, among things essential to the might of a lion, perhaps, on the whole, the most essential are his teeth. He could get on pretty well even without his claws, usually striking his prey down with a blow, woundless; but he could by no means get on without his teeth. Accordingly, we see that the real or Lombardic griffin has the carnivorous teeth bare to the root, and the peculiar hanging of the jaw at the back, which marks the flexible and gaping mouth of the devouring tribes.

Again; among things essential to the might of an eagle, next to his wings (which are of course prominent in both examples), are his claws. It is no use his being able to tear anything with his beak, if he cannot first hold it in his claws; he has comparatively no leonine power of striking with his feet, but a103 magnificent power of grip with them. Accordingly, we see that the real griffin, while his feet are heavy enough to strike like a lion's, has them also extended far enough to give them the eagle's grip with the back claw; and has, moreover, some of the bird-like wrinkled skin over the whole foot, marking this binding power the more; and that he has besides verily got something to hold with his feet, other than a flower, of which more presently.

§ 15. Now observe, the Lombardic workman did not do all this because he had thought it out, as you and I are doing together; he never thought a bit about it. He simply saw the beast; saw it as plainly as you see the writing on this page, and of course could not be wrong in anything he told us of it.

Well, what more does he tell us? Another thing, remember, essential to an eagle is that it should fly fast. It is no use its having wings at all if it is to be impeded in the use of them. Now it would be difficult to impede him more thoroughly than by giving him two cocked ears to catch the wind.

Look, again, at the two beasts. You see the false griffin has them so set, and, consequently, as he flew, there would be a continual humming of the wind on each side of his head, and he would have an infallible earache when he got home. But the real griffin has his ears flat to his head, and all the hair of them blown back, even to a point, by his fast flying, and the aperture is downwards, that he may hear anything going on upon the earth, where his prey is. In the false griffin the aperture is upwards.

§ 16. Well, what more? As he is made up of the natures of lion and eagle, we may be very certain that a real griffin is, on the whole, fond of eating, and that his throat will look as if he occasionally took rather large pieces, besides being flexible enough to let him bend and stretch his head in every direction as he flies.

Look, again, at the two beasts. You see the false one has got those bosses upon his neck like vertebrae, which must be infinitely in his way when he is swallowing, and which are evidently inseparable, so that he cannot stretch his neck any more than a horse. But the real griffin is all loose about the neck, evidently being able to make it almost as much longer as he104 likes; to stretch and bend it anywhere, and swallow anything, besides having some of the grand strength of the bull's dewlap in it when at rest.

§ 17. What more? Having both lion and eagle in him, it is probable that the real griffin will have an infinite look of repose as well as power of activity. One of the notablest things about a lion is his magnificent indolence, his look of utter disdain of trouble when there is no occasion for it; as, also, one of the notablest things about an eagle is his look of inevitable vigilance, even when quietest. Look, again, at the two beasts. You see the false griffin is quite sleepy and dead in the eye, thus contradicting his eagle's nature, but is putting himself to a great deal of unnecessary trouble with his paws, holding one in a most painful position merely to touch a flower, and bearing the whole weight of his body on the other, thus contradicting his lion's nature.

But the real griffin is primarily, with his eagle's nature, wide awake; evidently quite ready for whatever may happen; and with his lion's nature, laid all his length on his belly, prone and ponderous; his two paws as simply put out before him as a drowsy puppy's on a drawingroom hearth-rug; not but that he has got something to do with them, worthy of such paws; but he takes not one whit more trouble about it than is absolutely necessary. He has merely got a poisonous winged dragon to hold, and for such a little matter as that, he may as well do it lying down and at his ease, looking out at the same time for any other piece of work in his way. He takes the dragon by the middle, one paw under the wing, another above, gathers him up into a knot, puts two or three of his claws well into his back, crashing through the scales of it and wrinkling all the flesh up from the wound, flattens him down against the ground, and so lets him do what he likes. The dragon tries to bite him, but can only bring his head round far enough to get hold of his own wing, which he bites in agony instead; flapping the griffin's dewlap with it, and wriggling his tail up against the griffin's throat; the griffin being, as to these minor proceedings, entirely indifferent, sure that the dragon's body cannot drag itself one hair's breadth off those ghastly claws, and that its head can do no harm but to itself.


§ 18. Now observe how in all this, through every separate part and action of the creature, the imagination is always right. It evidently cannot err; it meets every one of our requirements respecting the griffin as simply as if it were gathering up the bones of the real creature out of some ancient rock. It does not itself know or care, any more than the peasant laboring with his spade and axe, what is wanted to meet our theories or fancies. It knows simply what is there, and brings out the positive creature, errorless, unquestionable. So it is throughout art, and in all that the imagination does; if anything be wrong it is not the imagination's fault, but some inferior faculty's, which would have its foolish say in the matter, and meddled with the imagination, and said, the bones ought to be put together tail first, or upside down.

§ 19. This, however, we need not be amazed at, because the very essence of the imagination is already defined to be the seeing to the heart; and it is not therefore wonderful that it should never err; but it is wonderful, on the other hand, how the composing legalism does nothing else than err. One would have thought that, by mere chance, in this or the other element of griffin, the griffin-composer might have struck out a truth; that he might have had the luck to set the ears back, or to give some grasp to the claw. But, no; from beginning to end it is evidently impossible for him to be anything but wrong; his whole soul is instinct with lies; no veracity can come within hail of him; to him, all regions of right and life are for ever closed.

§ 20. And another notable point is, that while the imagination receives truth in this simple way, it is all the while receiving statutes of composition also, far more noble than those for the sake of which the truth was lost by the legalist. The ornamental lines in the classical griffin appear at first finer than in the other; but they only appear so because they are more commonplace and more palpable. The subtlety of the sweeping and rolling curves in the real griffin, the way they waver and change and fold, down the neck, and along the wing, and in and out among the serpent coils, is incomparably grander, merely as grouping of ornamental line, than anything in the other; nor is it fine as ornamental only, but as massively use106ful, giving weight of stone enough to answer the entire purpose of pedestal sculpture. Note, especially, the insertion of the three plumes of the dragon's broken wing in the outer angle, just under the large coil of his body; this filling of the gap being one of the necessities, not of the pedestal block merely, but a means of getting mass and breadth, which all composers desire more or less, but which they seldom so perfectly accomplish.

So that taking the truth first, the honest imagination gains everything; it has its griffinism, and grace, and usefulness, all at once: but the false composer, caring for nothing but himself and his rules, loses everything,—griffinism, grace, and all.

PLATE 1       PLATE 1
J. Ruskin. R. P. Cuff. From Lithograph.R. P. Cuff.
1. True and False Griffins.
Mediæval. Classical.

§ 21. I believe the reader will now sufficiently see how the terms "true" and "false" are in the most accurate sense attachable to the opposite branches of what might appear at first, in both cases, the merest wildness of inconsistent reverie. But they are even to be attached, in a deeper sense than that in which we have hitherto used them, to these two compositions. For the imagination hardly ever works in this intense way, unencumbered by the inferior faculties, unless it be under the influence of some solemn purpose or sentiment. And to all the falseness and all the verity of these two ideal creatures this farther falsehood and verity have yet to be added, that the classical griffin has, at least in this place, no other intent than that of covering a level surface with entertaining form; but the Lombardic griffin is a profound expression of the most passionate symbolism. Under its eagle's wings are two wheels,[36] which mark it as connected, in the mind of him who wrought it, with the living creatures of the vision of Ezekiel: "When they went, the wheels went by them, and whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, and the wheels were lifted up over against them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels." Thus signed, the winged shape becomes at once one of the acknowledged symbols of the Divine power; and, in its unity of lion and eagle, the workman of the middle ages always means to set forth the unity of the human and divine natures,[37] In this unity it bears up the pillars of the Church, set for ever107 as the corner stone. And the faithful and true imagination beholds it, in this unity, with everlasting vigilance and calm omnipotence, restrain the seed of the serpent crushed upon the earth; leaving the head of it free, only for a time, that it may inflict in its fury profounder destruction upon itself,—in this also full of deep meaning. The Divine power does not slay the evil creature. It wounds and restrains it only. Its final and deadly wound is inflicted by itself.

[30] On the Grotesque Renaissance, vol. iii.

[31] See Appendix I. Vol. IV. "Modern Grotesque."

[32] Cankred—because he cannot then bite hard.

[33] Though, perhaps, only in a subordinate degree. See farther on, § 8.

[34] "So red, that in the midst of the fire she could hardly have been seen."

[35] If there be any inaccuracy in the right-hand griffin, I am sorry, but am not answerable for it, as the plate has been faithfully reduced from a large French lithograph, the best I could find. The other is from a sketch of my own.

[36] At the extremities of the wings,—not seen in the plate.

[37] Compare the Purgatorio, canto xxix. &c.




§ 1. I am afraid the reader must be, by this time, almost tired of hearing about truth. But I cannot help this; the more I have examined the various forms of art, and exercised myself in receiving their differently intended impressions, the more I have found this truthfulness a final test, the only test of lasting power; and, although our concern in this part of our inquiry is, professedly, with the beauty which blossoms out of truth, still I find myself compelled always to gather it by the stalk, not by the petals. I cannot hold the beauty, nor be sure of it for a moment, but by feeling for that strong stem.

We have, in the preceding chapters, glanced through the various operations of the imaginative power of man; with this almost painfully monotonous result, that its greatness and honor were always simply in proportion to the quantity of truth it grasped. And now the question, left undetermined some hundred pages back (Chap. II. § 6), recurs to us in a simpler form than it could before. How far is this true imagination to be truly represented? How far should the perfect conception of Pallas be so given as to look like Pallas herself, rather than like the picture of Pallas?

§ 2. A question, this, at present of notable interest, and demanding instant attention. For it seemed to us, in reasoning about Dante's views of art, that he was, or might be, right in desiring realistic completeness; and yet, in what we have just seen of the grotesque ideal, it seemed there was a certain desirableness in incompleteness. And the schools of art in Europe are, at this moment, set in two hostile ranks,—not nobly hostile, but spitefully and scornfully, having for one of the main grounds of their dispute the apparently simple question, how far a picture may be carried forward in detail, or how soon it may be considered as finished.


I propose, therefore, in the present chapter, to examine, as thoroughly as I can, the real signification of this word, Finish, as applied to art, and to see if in this, as in other matters, our almost tiresome test is not the only right one; whether there be not a fallacious finish and a faithful finish, and whether the dispute, which seems to be only about completion and incompletion, has not therefore, at the bottom of it, the old and deep grounds of fallacy and fidelity.

§ 3. Observe, first, there are two great and separate senses in which we call a thing finished, or well finished. One, which refers to the mere neatness and completeness of the actual work, as we speak of a well-finished knife-handle or ivory toy (as opposed to ill-cut ones); and, secondly, a sense which refers to the effect produced by the thing done, as we call a picture well-finished if it is so full in its details, as to produce the effect of reality on the spectator. And, in England, we seem at present to value highly the first sort of finish which belongs to workmanship, in our manufactures and general doings of any kind, but to despise totally the impressive finish which belongs to the work; and therefore we like smooth ivories better than rough ones,—but careless scrawls or daubs better than the most complete paintings. Now, I believe that we exactly reverse the fitness of judgment in this matter, and that we ought, on the contrary, to despise the finish of workmanship, which is done for vanity's sake, and to love the finish of work, which is done for truth's sake,—that we ought, in a word, to finish our ivory toys more roughly, and our pictures more delicately.

Let us think over this matter.

§ 4. Perhaps one of the most remarkable points of difference between the English and Continental nations is in the degree of finish given to their ordinary work. It is enough to cross from Dover to Calais to feel this difference; and to travel farther only increases the sense of it. English windows for the most part fit their sashes, and their woodwork is neatly planed and smoothed; French windows are larger, heavier, and framed with wood that looks as if it had been cut to its shape with a hatchet; they have curious and cumbrous fastenings, and can only be forced asunder or together by some ingenuity and effort, and even then not properly. So with everything else110—French, Italian, and German, and, as far as I know, Continental. Foreign drawers do not slide as well as ours: foreign knives do not cut so well; foreign wheels do not turn so well, and we commonly plume ourselves much upon this, believing that generally the English people do their work better and more thoroughly, or as they say, "turn it out of their hands in better style," than foreigners. I do not know how far this is really the case. There may be a flimsy neatness, as well as a substantial roughness; it does not necessarily follow that the window which shuts easiest will last the longest, or that the harness which glitters the most is assuredly made of the toughest leather. I am afraid, that if this peculiar character of finish in our workmanship ever arose from a greater heartiness and thoroughness in our ways of doing things, it does so only now in the case of our best manufacturers; and that a great deal of the work done in England, however good in appearance, is but treacherous and rotten in substance. Still, I think that there is really in the English mind, for the most part, a stronger desire to do things as well as they can be done, and less inclination to put up with inferiorities or insufficiencies, than in general characterise the temper of foreigners. There is in this conclusion no ground for national vanity; for though the desire to do things as well as they can be done at first appears like a virtue, it is certainly not so in all its forms. On the contrary, it proceeds in nine cases out of ten more from vanity than conscientiousness; and that, moreover, often a weak vanity. I suppose that as much finish is displayed in the fittings of the private carriages of our young rich men as in any other department of English manufacture; and that our St. James's Street cabs, dogcarts, and liveries are singularly perfect in their way. But the feeling with which this perfection is insisted upon (however desirable as a sign of energy of purpose) is not in itself a peculiarly amiable or noble feeling; neither is it an ignoble disposition which would induce a country gentleman to put up with certain deficiencies in the appearance of his country-made carriage. It is true that such philosophy may degenerate into negligence, and that much thought and long discussion would be needed before we could determine satisfactorily the limiting lines between virtuous contentment and111 faultful carelessness; but at all events we have no right at once to pronounce ourselves the wisest people because we like to do all things in the best way. There are many little things which to do admirably is to waste both time and cost; and the real question is not so much whether we have done a given thing as well as possible, as whether we have turned a given quantity of labor to the best account.

§ 5. Now, so far from the labor's being turned to good account which is given to our English "finishing," I believe it to be usually destructive of the best powers of our workmen's minds. For it is evident, in the first place, that there is almost always a useful and a useless finish; the hammering and welding which are necessary to produce a sword plate of the best quality, are useful finishing; the polishing of its surface, useless.[38] In nearly all work this distinction will, more or less, take place between substantial finish and apparent finish, or what may be briefly characterized as "Make" and "Polish." And so far as finish is bestowed for purposes of "make," I have nothing to say against it. Even the vanity which displays itself in giving strength to our work is rather a virtue than a vice. But so far as finish is bestowed for purposes of "polish," there is much to be said against it; this first, and very strongly, that the qualities aimed at in common finishing, namely, smoothness, delicacy, or fineness, cannot in reality exist, in a degree worth admiring, in anything done by human hands. Our best finishing is but coarse and blundering work after all We may smooth, and soften, and sharpen till we are sick at heart; but take a good magnifying glass to our miracle of skill, and the invisible edge is a jagged saw, and the silky thread a rugged cable, and the soft surface a granite desert. Let all the ingenuity and all the art of the human race be brought to bear upon the attainment of the utmost possible finish, and they could not do what is done in the foot of a fly, or the film of a bubble. God alone can finish; and the more intelligent the human mind becomes, the more the infiniteness of interval is felt between human and divine work in this respect. So then112 it is not a little absurd to weary ourselves in struggling towards a point which we never can reach, and to exhaust our strength in vain endeavors to produce qualities which exist inimitably and inexhaustibly in the commonest things around us.

§ 6. But more than this: the fact is that in multitudes of instances, instead of gaining greater fineness of finish by our work, we are only destroying the fine finish of nature, and substituting coarseness and imperfection. For instance, when a rock of any kind has lain for some time exposed to the weather, Nature finishes it in her own way; first, she takes wonderful pains about its forms, sculpturing it into exquisite variety of dint and dimple, and rounding or hollowing it into contours, which for fineness no human hand can follow; then she colors it; and every one of her touches of color, instead of being a powder mixed with oil, is a minute forest of living trees, glorious in strength and beauty, and concealing wonders of structure, which in all probability are mysteries even to the eyes of angels. Man comes and digs up this finished and marvellous piece of work, which in his ignorance he calls a "rough stone." He proceeds to finish it in his fashion, that is, to split it in two, rend it into ragged blocks, and, finally, to chisel its surface into a large number of lumps and knobs, all equally shapeless, colorless, deathful, and frightful.[39] And the block, thus disfigured, he calls "finished," and proceeds to build therewith, and thinks himself great, forsooth, and an intelligent animal. Whereas, all that he has really done is, to destroy with utter ravage a piece of divine art, which, under the laws appointed by the Deity to regulate his work in this world, it must take good twenty years to produce the like of again. This he has destroyed, and has himself given in its place a piece of work which needs no more intelligence to do than a pholas has, or a worm, or the spirit which throughout the world has authority over rending, rottenness, and decay. I do not say that stone must not be cut; it needs to be cut for certain uses; only I say that the cutting it is not "finishing," but unfinishing it; and that so far as the mere fact of chiselling goes, the stone is ruined by the human touch. It is with it as with the stones of the Jewish altar: "If thou lift up thy tool upon it thou hast113 polluted it." In like manner a tree is a finished thing. But a plank, though ever so polished, is not. We need stones and planks, as we need food; but we no more bestow an additional admirableness upon stone in hewing it, or upon a tree in sawing it, than upon an animal in killing it.

§ 7. Well, but it will be said, there is certainly a kind of finish in stone-cutting, and in every other art, which is meritorious, and which consists in smoothing and refining as much as possible. Yes, assuredly there is a meritorious finish. First, as it has just been said, that which fits a thing for its uses,—as a stone to lie well in its place, or the cog of an engine wheel to play well on another; and, secondly, a finish belonging properly to the arts; but that finish does not consist in smoothing or polishing, but in the completeness of the expression of ideas. For in painting, there is precisely the same difference between the ends proposed in finishing that there is in manufacture. Some artists finish for the finish' sake; dot their pictures all over, as in some kinds of miniature-painting (when a wash of color would have produced as good an effect); or polish their pictures all over, making the execution so delicate that the touch of the brush cannot be seen, for the sake of the smoothness merely, and of the credit they may thus get for great labor; which kind of execution, seen in great perfection in many works of the Dutch school, and in those of Carlo Dolce, is that polished "language" against which I have spoken at length in various portions of the first volume; nor is it possible to speak of it with too great severity or contempt, where it has been made an ultimate end.

But other artists finish for the impression's sake, not to show their skill, nor to produce a smooth piece of work, but that they may, with each stroke, render clearer the expression of knowledge. And this sort of finish is not, properly speaking, so much completing the picture as adding to it. It is not that what is painted is more delicately done, but that infinitely more is painted. This finish is always noble, and, like all other noblest things, hardly ever understood or appreciated. I must here endeavor, more especially with respect to the state of quarrel between the schools of living painters, to illustrate it thoroughly.


§ 8. In sketching the outline, suppose of the trunk of a tree, as in Plate 2. (opposite) fig. 1., it matters comparatively little whether the outline be given with a bold, or delicate line, so long as it is outline only. The work is not more "finished" in one case than in the other; it is only prepared for being seen at a greater or less distance. The real refinement or finish of the line depends, not on its thinness, but on its truly following the contours of the tree, which it conventionally represents; conventionally, I say, because there is no such line round the tree, in reality; and it is set down not as an imitation, but a limitation of the form. But if we are to add shade to it as in fig. 2., the outline must instantly be made proportionally delicate, not for the sake of delicacy as such, but because the outline will now, in many parts, stand not for limitation of form merely, but for a portion of the shadow within that form. Now, as a limitation it was true, but as a shadow it would be false, for there is no line of black shadow at the edge of the stem. It must, therefore, be made so delicate as not to detach itself from the rest of the shadow where shadow exists, and only to be seen in the light where limitation is still necessary.

Observe, then, the "finish" of fig. 2. as compared with fig. 1. consists, not in its greater delicacy, but in the addition of a truth (shadow), a removal, in a great degree, of a conventionalism (outline). All true finish consists in one or other of these things. Now, therefore, if we are to "finish" farther we must know more or see more about the tree. And as the plurality of persons who draw trees know nothing of them, and will not look at them, it results necessarily that the effort to finish is not only vain, but unfinishes—does mischief. In the lower part of the plate, figs. 3, 4, 5, and 6. are facsimiles of pieces of line engraving, meant to represent trunks of trees; 3. and 4. are the commonly accredited types of tree-drawing among engravers in the eighteenth century; 5. and 6. are quite modern; 3. is from a large and important plate by Boydell, from Claude's Molten Calf, dated 1781; 4. by Boydell in 1776, from Rubens's Waggoner; 5. from a bombastic engraving, published about twenty years ago by Meulemeester of Brussels, from Raphael's115 Moses at the Burning Bush; and 6. from the foreground of Miller's Modern Italy, after Turner.[40]

2. Drawing of Tree-Stems.

All these represent, as far as the engraving goes, simply nothing. They are not "finished" in any sense but this,—that the paper has been covered with lines. 4. is the best, because, in the original work of Rubens, the lines of the boughs, and their manner of insertion in the trunk, have been so strongly marked, that no engraving could quite efface them; and, inasmuch as it represents these facts in the boughs, that piece of engraving is more finished than the other examples, while its own networked texture is still false and absurd; for there is no texture of this knitted-stocking-like description on boughs; and if there were, it would not be seen in the shadow, but in the light. Miller's is spirited, and looks lustrous, but has no resemblance to the original bough of Turner's, which is pale, and does not glitter. The Netherlands work is, on the whole, the worst; because, in its ridiculous double lines, it adds affectation and conceit to its incapacity. But in all these cases the engravers have worked in total ignorance both of what is meant by "drawing," and of the form of a tree, covering their paper with certain lines, which they have been taught to plough in copper, as a husbandman ploughs in clay.

§ 9. In the next three examples we have instances of endeavors at finish by the hands of artists themselves, marking three stages of knowledge or insight, and three relative stages of finish. Fig. 7. is Claude's (Liber Veritatis, No. 140., facsimile by Boydell). It still displays an appalling ignorance of the forms of trees, but yet is, in mode of execution, better—that is, more finished—than the engravings, because not altogether mechanical, and showing some dim, far-away, blundering memory of a few facts in stems, such as their variations of texture and roundness, and bits of young shoots of leaves. 8. is Salvator's, facsimiled from part of his original etching of the Finding of Œdipus. It displays considerable power of handling—not mechanical, but free and firm, and is just so much more finished than any of the others as it displays more intelligence about the way in which boughs gather themselves out of the116 stem, and about the varying character of their curves. Finally, fig. 9. is good work. It is the root of the apple-tree in Albert Durer's Adam and Eve, and fairly represents the wrinkles of the bark, the smooth portions emergent beneath, and the general anatomy of growth. All the lines used conduce to the representation of these facts; and the work is therefore highly finished. It still, however, leaves out, as not to be represented by such kind of lines, the more delicate gradations of light and shade. I shall now "finish" a little farther, in the next plate (3.), the mere insertion of the two boughs outlined in fig. 1. I do this simply by adding assertions of more facts. First, I say that the whole trunk is dark, as compared with the distant sky. Secondly, I say that it is rounded by gradations of shadow, in the various forms shown. And, lastly, I say that (this being a bit of old pine stripped by storm of its bark) the wood is fissured in certain directions, showing its grain, or muscle, seen in complicated contortions at the insertion of the arm and elsewhere.

§ 10. Now this piece of work, though yet far from complete (we will better it presently), is yet more finished than any of the others, not because it is more delicate or more skilful, but simply because it tells more truth, and admits fewer fallacies. That which conveys most information, with least inaccuracy, is always the highest finish; and the question whether we prefer art so finished, to art unfinished, is not one of taste at all. It is simply a question whether we like to know much or little; to see accurately or see falsely; and those whose taste in art (if they choose so to call it) leads them to like blindness better than sight, and fallacy better than fact, would do well to set themselves to some other pursuit than that of art.

§ 11. In the above plate we have examined chiefly the grain and surface of the boughs; we have not yet noticed the finish of their curvature. If the reader will look back to the No. 7. (Plate 2.), which, in this respect, is the worst of all the set, he will immediately observe the exemplification it gives of Claude's principal theory about trees; namely, that the boughs always parted from each other, two at a time, in the manner of the prongs of an ill-made table-fork. It may, perhaps, not be at once believed that this is indeed Claude's theory respecting117 tree-structure, without some farther examples of his practice. I have, therefore, assembled on the next page, Plate 4., some of the most characteristic passages of ramification in the Liber Veritatis; the plates themselves are sufficiently cheap (as they should be) and accessible to nearly every one, so that the accuracy of the facsimiles may be easily tested. I have given in Appendix I. the numbers of the plates from which the examples are taken, and it will be found that they have been rather improved than libelled, only omitting, of course, the surrounding leafage, in order to show accurately the branch-outlines, with which alone we are at present concerned. And it would be difficult to bring together a series more totally futile and foolish, more singularly wrong (as the false griffin was), every way at once; they are stiff, and yet have no strength; curved, and yet have no flexibility; monotonous, and yet disorderly; unnatural, and yet uninventive. They are, in fact, of that commonest kind of tree bough which a child or beginner first draws experimentally; nay, I am well assured, that if this set of branches had been drawn by a schoolboy, "out of his own head," his master would hardly have cared to show them as signs of any promise in him.

3. Strength of Old Pine.

4. Ramification, according to Claude.

§ 12. "Well, but do not the trunks of trees fork, and fork mostly into two arms at a time?"

Fig. 2.

Yes; but under as stern anatomical law as the limbs of an animal; and those hooked junctions in Plate 4. are just as accurately representative of the branching of wood as this (fig. 2.) is of a neck and shoulders. We should object to such a representation of shoulders, because we have some interest in, and knowledge of, human form; we do not object to Claude's trees, because we have no interest in, nor knowledge of, trees. And if it be still alleged that such work is nevertheless enough to give any one an "idea" of a tree, I answer that it never gave, nor ever will give, an idea of a tree to any one who loves trees; and that, moreover, no idea, whatever its pleasantness, is of the smallest value, which is not founded on simple facts. What pleasantness may be in wrong118 ideas we do not here inquire; the only question for us has always been, and must always be, What are the facts?

§ 13. And assuredly those boughs of Claude's are not facts: and every one of their contours is, in the worst sense, unfinished, without even the expectation or faint hope of possible refinement ever coming into them. I do not mean to enter here into the discussion of the characters of ramification; that must be in our separate inquiry into tree-structure generally; but I will merely give one piece of Turner's tree-drawing as an example of what finished work really is, even in outline. In plate 5. opposite, fig. 1. is the contour (stripped, like Claude's, of its foliage) of one of the distant tree-stems in the drawing of Bolton Abbey. In order to show its perfectness better by contrast with bad work (as we have had, I imagine, enough of Claude), I will take a bit of Constable; fig. 2. is the principal tree out of the engraving of the Lock on the Stour (Leslie's Life of Constable). It differs from the Claude outlines merely in being the kind of work which is produced by an uninventive person dashing about idly, with a brush, instead of drawing determinately wrong, with a pen: on the one hand worse than Claude's, in being lazier; on the other a little better in being more free, but, as representative of tree-form, of course still wholly barbarous. It is worth while to turn back to the description of the uninventive painter at work on a tree (Vol. II. chapter on Imaginative Association, § 11), for this trunk of Constable's is curiously illustrative of it. One can almost see him, first bending it to the right; then, having gone long enough to the right, turning to the left; then, having gone long enough to the left, away to the right again; then dividing it; and "because there is another tree in the picture with two long branches (in this case there really is), he knows that this ought to have three or four, which must undulate or go backwards and forwards," &c., &c.

§ 14. Then study the bit of Turner work: note first its quietness, unattractiveness, apparent carelessness whether you look at it or not; next note the subtle curvatures within the narrowest limits, and, when it branches, the unexpected, out of the way things it does, just what nobody could have thought of its doing; shooting out like a letter Y, with a nearly straight119 branch, and then correcting its stiffness with a zigzag behind, so that the boughs, ugly individually, are beautiful in unison. (In what I have hereafter to say about trees, I shall need to dwell much on this character of unexpectedness. A bough is never drawn rightly if it is not wayward, so that although, as just now said, quiet at first, not caring to be looked at, the moment it is looked at, it seems bent on astonishing you, and doing the last things you expect it to do.) But our present purpose is only to note the finish of the Turner curves, which, though they seem straight and stiff at first, are, when you look long, seen to be all tremulous, perpetually wavering along every edge into endless melody of change. This is finish in line, in exactly the same sense that a fine melody is finished in the association of its notes.

5. Good and Bad Tree-Drawing.

§ 15. And now, farther, let us take a little bit of the Turnerian tree in light and shade. I said above I would better the drawing of that pine trunk, which, though it has incipient shade, and muscular action, has no texture, nor local color. Now, I take about an inch and a half of Turner's ash trunks (one of the nearer ones) in this same drawing of Bolton Abbey (fig. 3. Plate 5.), and this I cannot better; this is perfectly finished; it is not possible to add more truth to it on that scale. Texture of bark, anatomy of muscle beneath, reflected lights in recessed hollows, stains of dark moss, and flickering shadows from the foliage above, all are there, as clearly as the human hand can mark them. I place a bit of trunk by Constable (fig. 5.),[41] from another plate in Leslie's Life of him (a dell in Helmingham Park, Suffolk), for the sake of the same comparison in shade that we have above in contour. You see Constable does not know whether he is drawing moss or shadow: those dark touches in the middle are confused in his mind between the dark stains on the trunk and its dark side; there is120 no anatomy, no cast shadow, nothing but idle sweeps of the brush, vaguely circular. The thing is much darker than Turner's, but it is not, therefore, finished; it is only blackened. And "to blacken" is indeed the proper word for all attempts at finish without knowledge. All true finish is added fact; and Turner's word for finishing a picture was always this significant one, "carry forward." But labor without added knowledge can only blacken or stain a picture, it cannot finish it.

§ 16. And this is especially to be remembered as we pass from comparatively large and distant objects, such as this single trunk, to the more divided and nearer features of foreground. Some degree of ignorance may be hidden, in completing what is far away; but there is no concealment possible in close work, and darkening instead of finishing becomes then the engraver's only possible resource. It has always been a wonderful thing to me to hear people talk of making foregrounds "vigorous," "marked," "forcible," and so on. If you will lie down on your breast on the next bank you come to (which is bringing it close enough, I should think, to give it all the force it is capable of), you will see, in the cluster of leaves and grass close to your face, something as delicate as this, which I have actually so drawn, on the opposite page, a mystery of soft shadow in the depths of the grass, with indefinite forms of leaves, which you cannot trace or count, within it, and out of that, the nearer leaves coming in every subtle gradation of tender light and flickering form, quite beyond all delicacy of pencilling to follow; and yet you will rise up from that bank (certainly not making it appear coarser by drawing a little back from it), and profess to represent it by a few blots of "forcible" foreground color. "Well, but I cannot draw every leaf that I see on the bank." No, for as we saw, at the beginning of this chapter, that no human work could be finished so as to express the delicacy of nature, so neither can it be finished so as to express the redundance of nature. Accept that necessity; but do not deny it; do not call your work finished, when you have, in engraving, substituted a confusion of coarse black scratches, or in water-color a few edgy blots, for ineffable organic beauty. Follow that beauty as far as you can, remembering that just as far as you see, know, and represent it, just so far your work is finished; as far as you fall short of it, your work is unfini121shed; and as far as you substitute any other thing for it, your work is spoiled.

6. Foreground Leafage.

§ 17. How far Turner followed it, is not easily shown; for his finish is so delicate as to be nearly uncopiable. I have just said it was not possible to finish that ash trunk of his, farther, on such a scale.[42] By using a magnifying-glass, and giving the same help to the spectator, it might perhaps be possible to add and exhibit a few more details; but even as it is, I cannot by line engraving express all that there is in that piece of tree-trunk, on the same scale. I have therefore magnified the upper part of it in fig 4. (Plate 5.), so that the reader may better see the beautiful lines of curvature into which even its slightest shades and spots are cast. Every quarter of an inch in Turner's drawings will bear magnifying in the same way; much of the finer work in them can hardly be traced, except by the keenest sight, until it is magnified. In his painting of Ivy Bridge,[43] the veins are drawn on the wings of a butterfly, not above three lines in diameter; and in one of his smaller drawings of Scarborough, in my own possession, the muscle-shells on the beach are rounded, and some shown as shut, some as open, though none are as large as one of the letters of this type; and yet this is the man who was thought to belong to the "dashing" school, literally because most people had not patience or delicacy of sight enough to trace his endless detail.

§ 18. "Suppose it was so," perhaps the reader replies; "still I do not like detail so delicate that it can hardly be seen." Then you like nothing in Nature (for you will find she always carries her detail too far to be traced). This point, however, we shall examine hereafter; it is not the question now whether we like finish or not; our only inquiry here is, what finish means; and I trust the reader is beginning to be satisfied that it does indeed mean nothing but consummate and accumulated truth, and that our old monotonous test must still serve us here as elsewhere. And it will become us to consider seri122ously why (if indeed it be so) we dislike this kind of finish—dislike an accumulation of truth. For assuredly all authority is against us, and no truly great man can be named in the arts—but it is that of one who finished to his utmost. Take Leonardo, Michael Angelo, and Raphael for a triad, to begin with. They all completed their detail with such subtlety of touch and gradation, that, in a careful drawing by any of the three, you cannot see where the pencil ceased to touch the paper; the stroke of it is so tender, that, when you look close to the drawing you can see nothing; you only see the effect of it a little way back! Thus tender in execution,—and so complete in detail, that Leonardo must needs draw every several vein in the little agates and pebbles of the gravel under the feet of the St. Anne in the Louvre. Take a quartett after the triad—Titian, Tintoret, Bellini, and Veronese. Examine the vine-leaves of the Bacchus and Ariadne, (Titian's) in the National Gallery; examine the borage blossoms, painted petal by petal, though lying loose on the table, in Titian's Supper at Emmaus, in the Louvre, or the snail-shells on the ground in his Entombment;[44] examine the separately designed patterns on every drapery of Veronese, in his Marriage in Cana; go to Venice and see how Tintoret paints the strips of black bark on the birch trunk that sustains the platform in his Adoration of the Magi: how Bellini fills the rents of his ruined walls with the most exquisite clusters of the erba della Madonna.[45] You will find them all in a tale. Take a quintett after the quartett—Francia, Angelico, Durer, Hemling, Perugino,—and still the witness is one, still the same striving in all to such utmost perfection as their knowledge and hand could reach.

Who shall gainsay these men? Above all, who shall gainsay them when they and Nature say precisely the same thing? For where does Nature pause in her finishing—that finishing which consists not in the smoothing of surface, but the filling of space, and the multiplication of life and thought?

Who shall gainsay them? I, for one, dare not; but accept their teaching, with Nature's, in all humbleness.


"But is there, then, no good in any work which does not pretend to perfectness? Is there no saving clause from this terrible requirement of completion? And if there be none, what is the meaning of all you have said elsewhere about rudeness as the glory of Gothic work, and, even a few pages back, about the danger of finishing, for our modern workmen?"

Indeed there are many saving clauses, and there is much good in imperfect work. But we had better cast the consideration of these drawbacks and exceptions into another chapter, and close this one, without obscuring, in any wise, our broad conclusion that "finishing" means in art simply "telling more truth;" and that whatever we have in any sort begun wisely, it is good to finish thoroughly.


"With his Yemen sword for aid;
Ornament it carried none,
But the notches on the blade."

[39] See the base of the new Army and Navy Clubhouse.

[40] I take this example from Miller, because, on the whole, he is the best engraver of Turner whom we have.

[41] Fig. 5. is not, however, so lustrous as Constable's; I cannot help this, having given the original plate to my good friend Mr. Cousen, with strict charge to facsimile it faithfully: but the figure is all the fairer, as a representation of Constable's art, for those mezzotints in Leslie's life of him have many qualities of drawing which are quite wanting in Constable's blots of color. The comparison shall be made elaborately, between picture and picture, in the section on Vegetation.

[42] It is of the exact size of the original, the whole drawing being about 15 1/2 inches by 11 in.

[43] An oil painting (about 3 ft. by 4 ft. 6 in.), and very broad in its masses. In the possession of E. Bicknell, Esq.

[44] These snail-shells are very notable, occurring as they do in, perhaps, the very grandest and broadest of all Titian's compositions.

[45] Linaria Cymbalaria, the ivy-leaved toadflax of English gardens.




§ 1. I am afraid this will be a difficult chapter; one of drawbacks, qualifications, and exceptions. But the more I see of useful truths, the more I find that, like human beings, they are eminently biped; and, although, as far as apprehended by human intelligence, they are usually seen in a crane-like posture, standing on one leg, whenever they are to be stated so as to maintain themselves against all attack it is quite necessary they should stand on two, and have their complete balance on opposite fulcra.

§ 2. I doubt not that one objection, with which as well as with another we may begin, has struck the reader very forcibly, after comparing the illustrations above given from Turner, Constable, and Claude. He will wonder how it was that Turner, finishing in this exquisite way, and giving truths by the thousand, where other painters gave only one or two, yet, of all painters, seemed to obtain least acknowledgeable resemblance to nature, so that the world cried out upon him for a madman, at the moment when he was giving exactly the highest and most consummate truth that had ever been seen in landscape.

And he will wonder why still there seems reason for this outcry. Still, after what analysis and proof of his being right have as yet been given, the reader may perhaps be saying to himself: "All this reasoning is of no use to me. Turner does not give me the idea of nature; I do not feel before one of his pictures as I should in the real scene. Constable takes me out into the shower, and Claude into the sun; and De Wint makes me feel as if I were walking in the fields; but Turner keeps me in the house, and I know always that I am looking at a picture."

I might answer to this; Well, what else should he do? If125 you want to feel as if you were in a shower, cannot you go and get wet without help from Constable? If you want to feel as if you were walking in the fields, cannot you go and walk in them without help from De Wint? But if you want to sit in your room and look at a beautiful picture, why should you blame the artist for giving you one? This was the answer actually made to me by various journalists, when first I showed that Turner was truer than other painters: "Nay," said they, "we do not want truth, we want something else than truth; we would not have nature, but something better than nature."

§ 3. I do not mean to accept that answer, although it seems at this moment to make for me: I have never accepted it. As I raise my eyes from the paper, to think over the curious mingling in it, of direct error, and far away truth, I see upon the room-walls, first, Turner's drawing of the chain of the Alps from the Superga above Turin; then a study of a block of gneiss at Chamouni, with the purple Aiguilles-Rouges behind it; another, of the towers of the Swiss Fribourg, with a cluster of pine forest behind them; then another Turner, Isola Bella, with the blue opening of the St. Gothard in the distance; and then a fair bit of thirteenth century illumination, depicting, at the top of the page, the Salutation; and beneath, the painter who painted it, sitting in his little convent cell, with a legend above him to this effect—

"ego jahes scpsi hunc librum."
I, John, wrote this book.

None of these things are bad pieces of art; and yet,—if it were offered to me to have, instead of them, so many windows, out of which I should see, first, the real chain of the Alps from the Superga; then the real block of gneiss, and Aiguilles-Rouges; then the real towers of Fribourg, and pine forest; the real Isola Bella; and, finally, the true Mary and Elizabeth; and beneath them, the actual old monk at work in his cell,—I would very unhesitatingly change my five pictures for the five windows; and so, I apprehend, would most people, not, it seems to me, unwisely.

"Well, then," the reader goes on to question me, "the126 more closely the picture resembles such a window the better it must be?"


"Then if Turner does not give me the impression of such a window, that is of Nature, there must be something wrong in Turner?"


"And if Constable and De Wint give me the impression of such a window, there must be something right in Constable and De Wint?"


"And something more right than in Turner?"


"Will you explain yourself?"

I have explained myself, long ago, and that fully; perhaps too fully for the simple sum of the explanation to be remembered. If the reader will glance back to, and in the present state of our inquiry, reconsider in the first volume, Part I. Sec. I. Chap. V., and Part II. Sec. I. Chap. VII., he will find our present difficulties anticipated. There are some truths, easily obtained, which give a deceptive resemblance to Nature; others only to be obtained with difficulty, which cause no deception, but give inner and deep resemblance. These two classes of truths cannot be obtained together; choice must be made between them. The bad painter gives the cheap deceptive resemblance. The good painter gives the precious non-deceptive resemblance. Constable perceives in a landscape that the grass is wet, the meadows flat, and the boughs shady; that is to say, about as much as, I suppose, might in general be apprehended, between them, by an intelligent fawn and a skylark. Turner perceives at a glance the whole sum of visible truth open to human intelligence. So Berghem perceives nothing in a figure, beyond the flashes of light on the folds of its dress; but Michael Angelo perceives every flash of thought that is passing through its spirit; and Constable and Berghem may imitate windows; Turner and Michael Angelo can by no means imitate windows. But Turner and Michael Angelo are nevertheless the best.

§ 4. "Well but," the reader persists, "you admitted just127 now that because Turner did not get his work to look like a window there was something wrong in him."

I did so; if he were quite right he would have all truth, low as well as high; that is, he would be Nature and not Turner; but that is impossible to man. There is much that is wrong in him; much that is infinitely wrong in all human effort. But, nevertheless, in some an infinity of Betterness above other human effort.

"Well, but you said you would change your Turners for windows, why not, therefore, for Constables?"

Nay, I did not say that I would change them for windows merely, but for windows which commanded the chain of the Alps and Isola Bella. That is to say, for all the truth that there is in Turner, and all the truth besides which is not in him; but I would not change them for Constables, to have a small piece of truth which is not in Turner, and none of the mighty truth which there is.

§ 5. Thus far, then, though the subject is one requiring somewhat lengthy explanation, it involves no real difficulty. There is not the slightest inconsistency in the mode in which throughout this work I have desired the relative merits of painters to be judged. I have always said, he who is closest to Nature is best. All rules are useless, all genius is useless, all labor is useless, if you do not give facts; the more facts you give the greater you are; and there is no fact so unimportant as to be prudently despised, if it be possible to represent it. Nor, but that I have long known the truth of Herbert's lines,

"Some men are
Full of themselves, and answer their own notion,"

would it have been without intense surprise that I heard querulous readers asking, "how it was possible" that I could praise Pre-Raphaelitism and Turner also. For, from the beginning of this book to this page of it, I have never praised Turner highly for any other cause than that he gave facts more delicately, more Pre-Raphaelitically, than other men. Careless readers, who dashed at the descriptions and missed the arguments, took up their own conceptions of the cause of my liking Turner, and said to themselves: "Turner cannot draw, Turner is generaliz128ing, vague, visionary; and the Pre-Raphaelites are hard and distinct. How can any one like both?"[46] But I never said that Turner could not draw. I never said that he was vague or visionary. What I said was, that nobody had ever drawn so well: that nobody was so certain, so un-visionary; that nobody had ever given so many hard and downright facts. Glance back to the first volume, and note the expressions now. "He is the only painter who ever drew a mountain or a stone;[47] the only painter who can draw the stem of a tree; the only painter who has ever drawn the sky, previous artists having only drawn it typically or partially, but he absolutely and universally." Note how he is praised in his rock drawing for "not selecting a pretty or interesting morsel here or there, but giving the whole truth, with all the relations of its parts."[48] Observe how the great virtue of the landscape of Cima da Conegliano and the early sacred painters is said to be giving "entire, exquisite, humble, realization—a strawberry-plant in the foreground with a blossom, and a berry just set, and one half ripe, and one ripe, all patiently and innocently painted from the real thing, and therefore most divine." Then re-read the following paragraph (§ 10.), carefully, and note its conclusion, that the thoroughly great men are those who have done everything thoroughly, and who have never despised anything, however small, of God's making; with the instance given of Wordsworth's daisy casting its shadow on a stone; and the following sentence, "Our painters must come to this before they have done their duty." And yet, when our painters did come to this, did do their duty, and did paint the daisy with its shadow (this passage having been written years before Pre-Raphaelitism was thought of), people wondered how I could possibly like what was neither more nor less than the precise fulfilment of my own most earnest exhortations and highest hopes.


§ 6. Thus far, then, all I have been saying is absolutely consistent, and tending to one simple end. Turner is praised for his truth and finish; that truth of which I am beginning to give examples. Pre-Raphaelitism is praised for its truth and finish; and the whole duty inculcated upon the artist is that of being in all respects as like Nature as possible.

And yet this is not all I have to do. There is more than this to be inculcated upon the student, more than this to be admitted or established before the foundations of just judgment can be laid.

For, observe, although I believe any sensible person would exchange his pictures, however good, for windows, he would not feel, and ought not to feel, that the arrangement was entirely gainful to him. He would feel it was an exchange of a less good of one kind, for a greater of another kind, but that it was definitely exchange, not pure gain, not merely getting more truth instead of less. The picture would be a serious loss; something gone which the actual landscape could never restore, though it might give something better in its place, as age may give to the heart something better than its youthful delusion, but cannot give again the sweetness of that delusion.

§ 7. What is this in the picture which is precious to us, and yet is not natural? Hitherto our arguments have tended, on the whole, somewhat to the depreciation of art; and the reader may every now and then, so far as he has been convinced by them, have been inclined to say, "Why not give up this whole130 science of Mockery at once, since its only virtue is in representing facts, and it cannot, at best, represent them completely, besides being liable to all manner of shortcomings and dishonesties,—why not keep to the facts, to real fields, and hills, and men, and let this dangerous painting alone?"

No, it would not be well to do this. Painting has its peculiar virtues, not only consistent with but even resulting from, its shortcomings and weaknesses. Let us see what these virtues are.

§ 8. I must ask permission, as I have sometimes done before, to begin apparently a long way from the point.

Not long ago, as I was leaving one of the towns of Switzerland early in the morning, I saw in the clouds behind the houses an Alp which I did not know, a grander Alp than any I knew, nobler than the Schreckhorn or the Mönch; terminated, as it seemed, on one side by a precipice of almost unimaginable height; on the other, sloping away for leagues in one field of lustrous ice, clear and fair and blue, flashing here and there into silver under the morning sun. For a moment I received a sensation of as much sublimity as any natural object could possibly excite; the next moment, I saw that my unknown Alp was the glass roof of one of the workshops of the town, rising above its nearer houses, and rendered aerial and indistinct by some pure blue wood smoke which rose from intervening chimneys.

It is evident, that so far as the mere delight of the eye was concerned, the glass roof was here equal, or at least equal for a moment, to the Alp. Whether the power of the object over the heart was to be small or great, depended altogether upon what it was understood for, upon its being taken possession of and apprehended in its full nature, either as a granite mountain or a group of panes of glass; and thus, always, the real majesty of the appearance of the thing to us, depends upon the degree in which we ourselves possess the power of understanding it,—that penetrating, possession taking power of the imagination, which has been long ago defined[49] as the very life of the man, considered as a seeing creature. For though the casement had indeed131 been an Alp, there are many persons on whose minds it would have produced no more effect than the glass roof. It would have been to them a glittering object of a certain apparent length and breadth, and whether of glass or ice, whether twenty feet in length, or twenty leagues, would have made no difference to them; or, rather, would not have been in any wise conceived or considered by them. Examine the nature of your own emotion (if you feel it) at the sight of the Alp, and you find all the brightness of that emotion hanging, like dew on gossamer, on a curious web of subtle fancy and imperfect knowledge. First, you have a vague idea of its size, coupled with wonder at the work of the great Builder of its walls and foundations, then an apprehension of its eternity, a pathetic sense of its perpetualness, and your own transientness, as of the grass upon its sides; then, and in this very sadness, a sense of strange companionship with past generations in seeing what they saw. They did not see the clouds that are floating over your head; nor the cottage wall on the other side of the field; nor the road by which you are travelling. But they saw that. The wall of granite in the heavens was the same to them as to you. They have ceased to look upon it; you will soon cease to look also, and the granite wall will be for others. Then, mingled with these more solemn imaginations, come the understandings of the gifts and glories of the Alps, the fancying forth of all the fountains that well from its rocky walls, and strong rivers that are born out of its ice, and of all the pleasant valleys that wind between its cliffs, and all the châlets that gleam among its clouds, and happy farmsteads couched upon its pastures; while together with the thoughts of these, rise strange sympathies with all the unknown of human life, and happiness, and death, signified by that narrow white flame of the everlasting snow, seen so far in the morning sky.

These images, and far more than these, lie at the root of the emotion which you feel at the sight of the Alp. You may not trace them in your heart, for there is a great deal more in your heart, of evil and good, than you ever can trace; but they stir you and quicken you for all that. Assuredly, so far as you feel more at beholding the snowy mountain than any other object of the same sweet silvery grey, these are the kind of images which132 cause you to do so; and, observe, these are nothing more than a greater apprehension of the facts of the thing. We call the power "Imagination," because it imagines or conceives; but it is only noble imagination if it imagines or conceives the truth. And, according to the degree of knowledge possessed, and of sensibility to the pathetic or impressive character of the things known, will be the degree of this imaginative delight.

§ 9. But the main point to be noted at present is, that if the imagination can be excited to this its peculiar work, it matters comparatively little what it is excited by. If the smoke had not cleared partially away, the glass roof might have pleased me as well as an alp, until I had quite lost sight of it; and if, in a picture, the imagination can be once caught, and, without absolute affront from some glaring fallacy, set to work in its own field, the imperfection of the historical details themselves is, to the spectator's enjoyment, of small consequence.

Hence it is, that poets and men of strong feeling in general, are apt to be among the very worst judges of painting. The slightest hint is enough for them. Tell them that a white stroke means a ship, and a black stain, a thunderstorm, and they will be perfectly satisfied with both, and immediately proceed to remember all that they ever felt about ships and thunderstorms, attributing the whole current and fulness of their own feelings to the painter's work; while probably, if the picture be really good, and full of stern fact, the poet, or man of feeling, will find some of its fact in his way, out of the particular course of his own thoughts,—be offended at it, take to criticising and wondering at it, detect, at last, some imperfection in it,—such as must be inherent in all human work,—and so finally quarrel with, and reject the whole thing. Thus, Wordsworth writes many sonnets to Sir George Beaumont and Haydon, none to Sir Joshua or to Turner.

§ 10. Hence also the error into which many superficial artists fall, in speaking of "addressing the imagination" as the only end of art. It is quite true that the imagination must be addressed; but it may be very sufficiently addressed by the stain left by an ink-bottle thrown at the wall. The thrower has little credit, though an imaginative observer may find, perhaps, more to amuse him in the erratic nigrescence than in many a labored133 picture. And thus, in a slovenly or ill-finished picture, it is no credit to the artist that he has "addressed the imagination;" nor is the success of such an appeal any criterion whatever of the merit of the work. The duty of an artist is not only to address and awaken, but to guide the imagination; and there is no safe guidance but that of simple concurrence with fact. It is no matter that the picture takes the fancy of A. or B., that C. writes sonnets to it, and D. feels it to be divine. This is still the only question for the artist, or for us:—"Is it a fact? Are things really so? Is the picture an Alp among pictures, full, firm, eternal; or only a glass house, frail, hollow, contemptible, demolishable; calling, at all honest hands, for detection and demolition?"

§ 11. Hence it is also that so much grievous difficulty stands in the way of obtaining real opinion about pictures at all. Tell any man, of the slightest imaginative power, that such and such a picture is good, and means this or that: tell him, for instance, that a Claude is good, and that it means trees, and grass, and water; and forthwith, whatever faith, virtue, humility, and imagination there are in the man, rise up to help Claude, and to declare that indeed it is all "excellent good, i'faith;" and whatever in the course of his life he has felt of pleasure in trees and grass, he will begin to reflect upon and enjoy anew, supposing all the while it is the picture he is enjoying. Hence, when once a painter's reputation is accredited, it must be a stubborn kind of person indeed whom he will not please, or seem to please; for all the vain and weak people pretend to be pleased with him, for their own credit's sake, and all the humble and imaginative people seriously and honestly fancy they are pleased with him, deriving indeed, very certainly, delight from his work, but a delight which, if they were kept in the same temper, they would equally derive (and, indeed, constantly do derive) from the grossest daub that can be manufactured in imitation by the pawnbroker. Is, therefore, the pawnbroker's imitation as good as the original? Not so. There is the certain test of goodness and badness, which I am always striving to get people to use. As long as they are satisfied if they find their feelings pleasantly stirred and their fancy gaily occupied, so long there is for them no134 good, no bad. Anything may please, or anything displease, them; and their entire manner of thought and talking about art is mockery, and all their judgments are laborious injustices. But let them, in the teeth of their pleasure or displeasure, simply put the calm question,—Is it so? Is that the way a stone is shaped, the way a cloud is wreathed, the way a leaf is veined? and they are safe. They will do no more injustice to themselves nor to other men; they will learn to whose guidance they may trust their imagination, and from whom they must for ever withhold its reins.

§ 12. "Well, but why have you dragged in this poor spectator's imagination at all, if you have nothing more to say for it than this; if you are merely going to abuse it, and go back to your tiresome facts?"

Nay; I am not going to abuse it. On the contrary, I have to assert, in a temper profoundly venerant of it, that though we must not suppose everything is right when this is aroused, we may be sure that something is wrong when this is not aroused. The something wrong may be in the spectator or in the picture; and if the picture be demonstrably in accordance with truth, the odds are, that it is in the spectator; but there is wrong somewhere; for the work of the picture is indeed eminently to get at this imaginative power in the beholder, and all its facts are of no use whatever if it does not. No matter how much truth it tells if the hearer be asleep. Its first work is to wake him, then to teach him.

§ 13. Now, observe, while, as it penetrates into the nature of things, the imagination is preeminently a beholder of things as they are, it is, in its creative function, an eminent beholder of things when and where they are NOT; a seer, that is, in the prophetic sense, calling "the things that are not as though they were," and for ever delighting to dwell on that which is not tangibly present. And its great function being the calling forth, or back, that which is not visible to bodily sense, it has of course been made to take delight in the fulfilment of its proper function, and preeminently to enjoy, and spend its energy, on things past and future, or out of sight, rather than things present, or in sight. So that if the imagination is to be called to take delight in any object, it will not be always well, if we135 can help it, to put the real object there, before it. The imagination would on the whole rather have it not there;—the reality and substance are rather in the imagination's way; it would think a good deal more of the thing if it could not see it. Hence, that strange and sometimes fatal charm, which there is in all things as long as we wait for them, and the moment we have lost them; but which fades while we possess them;—that sweet bloom of all that is far away, which perishes under our touch. Yet the feeling of this is not a weakness; it is one of the most glorious gifts of the human mind, making the whole infinite future, and imperishable past, a richer inheritance, if faithfully inherited, than the changeful, frail, fleeting present; it is also one of the many witnesses in us to the truth that these present and tangible things are not meant to satisfy us. The instinct becomes a weakness only when it is weakly indulged, and when the faculty which was intended by God to give back to us what we have lost, and gild for us what is to come, is so perverted as only to darken what we possess. But, perverted or pure, the instinct itself is everlasting, and the substantial presence even of the things which we love the best, will inevitably and for ever be found wanting in one strange and tender charm, which belonged to the dreams of them.

§ 14. Another character of the imagination is equally constant, and, to our present inquiry, of yet greater importance. It is eminently a weariable faculty, eminently delicate, and incapable of bearing fatigue; so that if we give it too many objects at a time to employ itself upon, or very grand ones for a long time together, it fails under the effort, becomes jaded, exactly as the limbs do by bodily fatigue, and incapable of answering any farther appeal till it has had rest. And this is the real nature of the weariness which is so often felt in travelling, from seeing too much. It is not that the monotony and number of the beautiful things seen have made them valueless, but that the imaginative power has been overtaxed; and, instead of letting it rest, the traveller, wondering to find himself dull, and incapable of admiration, seeks for something more admirable, excites, and torments, and drags the poor fainting imagination up by the shoulders: "Look at this, and look at that, and this more wonderful still!"—until the imaginative faculty faints utterly136 away, beyond all farther torment or pleasure, dead for many a day to come; and the despairing prodigal takes to horse-racing in the Campagna, good now for nothing else than that; whereas, if the imagination had only been laid down on the grass, among simple things, and left quiet for a little while, it would have come to itself gradually, recovered its strength and color, and soon been fit for work again. So that, whenever the imagination is tired, it is necessary to find for it something, not more admirable but less admirable; such as in that weak state it can deal with; then give it peace, and it will recover.

§ 15. I well recollect the walk on which I first found out this; it was on the winding road from Sallenche, sloping up the hills towards St. Gervais, one cloudless Sunday afternoon. The road circles softly between bits of rocky bank and mounded pasture; little cottages and chapels gleaming out from among the trees at every turn. Behind me, some leagues in length, rose the jagged range of the mountains of the Réposoir; on the other side of the valley, the mass of the Aiguille de Varens, heaving its seven thousand feet of cliff into the air at a single effort, its gentle gift of waterfall, the Nant d'Arpenaz, like a pillar of cloud at its feet; Mont Blanc and all its aiguilles, one silver flame, in front of me; marvellous blocks of mossy granite and dark glades of pine around me; but I could enjoy nothing, and could not for a long while make out what was the matter with me, until at last I discovered that if I confined myself to one thing,—and that a little thing,—a tuft of moss, or a single crag at the top of the Varens, or a wreath or two of foam at the bottom of the Nant d'Arpenaz, I began to enjoy it directly, because then I had mind enough to put into the thing, and the enjoyment arose from the quantity of the imaginative energy I could bring to bear upon it; but when I looked at or thought of all together, moss, stones, Varens, Nant d'Arpenaz, and Mont Blanc, I had not mind enough to give to all, and none were of any value. The conclusion which would have been formed, upon this, by a German philosopher, would have been that the Mont Blanc was of no value; that he and his imagination only were of value; that the Mont Blanc, in fact, except so far as he was able to look at it, could not be considered as having any existence. But the only conclusion which oc137curred to me as reasonable under the circumstances (I have seen no ground for altering it since) was, that I was an exceedingly small creature, much tired, and, at the moment, not a little stupid, for whom a blade of grass, or a wreath of foam, was quite food enough and to spare, and that if I tried to take any more, I should make myself ill. Whereupon, associating myself fraternally with some ants, who were deeply interested in the conveyance of some small sticks over the road, and rather, as I think they generally are, in too great a hurry about it, I returned home in a little while with great contentment, thinking how well it was ordered that, as Mont Blanc and his pine forests could not be everywhere, nor all the world come to see them, the human mind, on the whole, should enjoy itself most surely in an ant-like manner, and be happy and busy with the bits of stick and grains of crystal that fall in its way to be handled, in daily duty.

§ 16. It follows evidently from the first of these characters of the imagination, its dislike of substance and presence, that a picture has in some measure even an advantage with us in not being real. The imagination rejoices in having something to do, springs up with all its willing power, flattered and happy; and ready with its fairest colors and most tender pencilling, to prove itself worthy of the trust, and exalt into sweet supremacy the shadow that has been confided to its fondness. And thus, so far from its being at all an object to the painter to make his work look real, he ought to dread such a consummation as the loss of one of its most precious claims upon the heart. So far from striving to convince the beholder that what he sees is substance, his mind should be to what he paints as the fire to the body on the pile, burning away the ashes, leaving the unconquerable shade—an immortal dream. So certain is this, that the slightest local success in giving the deceptive appearance of reality—the imitation, for instance, of the texture of a bit of wood, with its grain in relief—will instantly destroy the charm of a whole picture; the imagination feels itself insulted and injured, and passes by with cold contempt; nay, however beautiful the whole scene may be, as of late in much of our highly wrought painting for the stage, the mere fact of its being deceptively real is enough to make us tire of it; we may be sur138prised and pleased for a moment, but the imagination will not on those terms be persuaded to give any of its help, and, in a quarter of an hour, we wish the scene would change.

§ 17. "Well, but then, what becomes of all these long dogmatic chapters of yours about giving nothing but the truth, and as much truth as possible?"

The chapters are all quite right. "Nothing but the Truth," I say still. "As much Truth as possible," I say still. But truth so presented, that it will need the help of the imagination to make it real. Between the painter and the beholder, each doing his proper part, the reality should be sustained; and after the beholding imagination has come forward and done its best, then, with its help, and in the full action of it, the beholder should be able to say, I feel as if I were at the real place, or seeing the real incident. But not without that help.

§ 18. Farther, in consequence of that other character of the imagination, fatiguableness, it is a great advantage to the picture that it need not present too much at once, and that what it does present may be so chosen and ordered as not only to be more easily seized, but to give the imagination rest, and, as it were, places to lie down and stretch its limbs in; kindly vacancies, beguiling it back into action, with pleasant and cautious sequence of incident; all jarring thoughts being excluded, all vain redundance denied, and all just and sweet transition permitted.

And thus it is that, for the most part, imperfect sketches, engravings, outlines, rude sculptures, and other forms of abstraction, possess a charm which the most finished picture frequently wants. For not only does the finished picture excite the imagination less, but, like nature itself, it taxes it more. None of it can be enjoyed till the imagination is brought to bear upon it; and the details of the completed picture are so numerous, that it needs greater strength and willingness in the beholder to follow them all out; the redundance, perhaps, being not too great for the mind of a careful observer, but too great for a casual or careless observer. So that although the perfection of art will always consist in the utmost acceptable completion, yet, as every added idea will increase the difficulty of apprehension, and every added touch advance the dangerous realism which139 makes the imagination languid, the difference between a noble and ignoble painter is in nothing more sharply defined than in this,—that the first wishes to put into his work as much truth as possible, and yet to keep it looking un-real; the second wishes to get through his work lazily, with as little truth as possible, and yet to make it look real; and, so far as they add color to their abstract sketch, the first realizes for the sake of the color, and the second colors for the sake of the realization.[50]

§ 19. And then, lastly, it is another infinite advantage possessed by the picture, that in these various differences from reality it becomes the expression of the power and intelligence of a companionable human soul. In all this choice, arrangement, penetrative sight, and kindly guidance, we recognize a supernatural operation, and perceive, not merely the landscape or incident as in a mirror, but, besides, the presence of what, after all, may perhaps be the most wonderful piece of divine work in the whole matter—the great human spirit through which it is manifested to us. So that, although with respect to many important scenes, it might, as we saw above, be one of the most precious gifts that could be given us to see them with our own eyes, yet also in many things it is more desirable to be permitted to see them with the eyes of others; and although, to the small, conceited, and affected painter displaying his narrow knowledge and tiny dexterities, our only word may be, "Stand aside from between that nature and me," yet to the great imaginative painter—greater a million times in every faculty of soul than we—our word may wisely be, "Come between this nature and me—this nature which is too great and too wonderful for me; temper it for me, interpret it to me; let me see with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and have help and strength from your great spirit."

All the noblest pictures have this character. They are true or inspired ideals, seen in a moment to be ideal; that is to say, the result of all the highest powers of the imagination, engaged in the discovery and apprehension of the purest truths, and having so arranged them as best to show their preciousness and exalt their clearness. They are always orderly, always one, ruled by one140 great purpose throughout, in the fulfilment of which every atom of the detail is called to help, and would be missed if removed; this peculiar oneness being the result, not of obedience to any teachable law, but of the magnificence of tone in the perfect mind, which accepts only what is good for its great purposes, rejects whatever is foreign or redundant, and instinctively and instantaneously ranges whatever it accepts, in sublime subordination and helpful brotherhood.

§ 20. Then, this being the greatest art, the lowest art is the mimicry of it,—the subordination of nothing to nothing; the elaborate arrangement of sightlessness and emptiness; the order which has no object; the unity which has no life, and the law which has no love; the light which has nothing to illumine, and shadow which has nothing to relieve.[51]

§ 21. And then, between these two, comes the wholesome, happy, and noble—though not noblest—art of simple transcript from nature; into which, so far as our modern Pre-Raphaelitism falls, it will indeed do sacred service in ridding us of the old fallacies and componencies, but cannot itself rise above the level of simple and happy usefulness. So far as it is to be great, it must add,—and so far as it is great, has already added,—the great imaginative element to all its faithfulness in transcript. And for this reason, I said in the close of my Edinburgh Lectures, that Pre-Raphaelitism, as long as it confined itself to the simple copying of nature, could not take the character of the highest class of art. But it has already, almost unconsciously, supplied the defect, and taken that character, in all its best results; and, so far as it ought, hereafter, it will assuredly do so, as soon as it is permitted to maintain itself in any other position than that of stern antagonism to the composition teachers around it. I say "so far as it ought," because, as already noticed in that same place, we have enough, and to spare, of noble inventful pictures; so many have we, that we let them moulder away on the walls and roofs of Italy without one regretful thought about them. But of simple transcripts from nature, till now we have had none; even Van Eyck and Albert Durer having been strongly filled with the spirit of grotesque idealism; so that the Pre-Raphaelites have, to the letter, fulfilled Steele's description of the author, who "determined to write in an entirely new manner, and describe things exactly as they took place."


§ 22. We have now, I believe, in some sort answered most of the questions which were suggested to us during our statement of the nature of great art. I could recapitulate the answers; but perhaps the reader is already sufficiently wearied of the recurrence of the terms "Ideal," "Nature," "Imagination," "Invention," and will hardly care to see them again interchanged among each other, in the formalities of a summary. What difficulties may yet occur to him will, I think, disappear as he either re-reads the passages which suggested them, or follows out the consideration of the subject for himself:—this very simple, but very precious, conclusion being continually remembered by him as the sum of all; that greatness in art (as assuredly in all other things, but more distinctly in this than in most of them,) is not a teachable nor gainable thing, but the expression of the mind of a God-made great man; that teach, or preach, or labor as you will, everlasting difference is set between one man's capacity and another's; and that this God-given supremacy is the priceless thing, always just as rare in the world at one time as another. What you can manufacture, or communicate, you can lower the price of, but this mental supremacy is incommunicable; you will never multiply its quantity, nor lower its price; and nearly the best thing that men can generally do is to set themselves, not to the attainment, but the discovery of this; learning to know gold, when we see it, from iron-glance, and diamonds from flint-sand, being for most of us a more profitable employment than trying to make diamonds out of our own charcoal. And for this God-made supremacy, I generally have used, and shall continue to142 use, the word Inspiration, not carelessly nor lightly, but in all logical calmness and perfect reverence. We English have many false ideas about reverence: we should be shocked, for instance, to see a market-woman come into church with a basket of eggs on her arm: we think it more reverent to lock her out till Sunday; and to surround the church with respectability of iron railings, and defend it with pacing inhabitation of beadles. I believe this to be irreverence; and that it is more truly reverent, when the market-woman, hot and hurried, at six in the morning, her head much confused with calculations of the probable price of eggs, can nevertheless get within church porch, and church aisle, and church chancel, lay the basket down on the very steps of the altar, and receive thereat so much of help and hope as may serve her for the day's work. In like manner we are solemnly, but I think not wisely, shocked at any one who comes hurriedly into church, in any figurative way, with his basket on his arm; and perhaps, so long as we feel it so, it is better to keep the basket out. But, as for this one commodity of high mental supremacy, it cannot be kept out, for the very fountain of it is in the church wall, and there is no other right word for it but this of Inspiration; a word, indeed, often ridiculously perverted, and irreverently used of fledgling poets and pompous orators—no one being offended then, and yet cavilled at when quietly used of the spirit that it is in a truly great man; cavilled at, chiefly, it seems to me, because we expect to know inspiration by the look of it. Let a man have shaggy hair, dark eyes, a rolling voice, plenty of animal energy, and a facility of rhyming or sentencing, and—improvisatore or sentimentalist—we call him "inspired" willingly enough; but let him be a rough, quiet worker, not proclaiming himself melodiously in any wise, but familiar with us, unpretending, and letting all his littlenesses and feeblenesses be seen, unhindered,—wearing an ill-cut coat withal, and, though he be such a man as is only sent upon the earth once in five hundred years, for some special human teaching, it is irreverent to call him "inspired." But, be it irreverent or not, this word I must always use; and the rest of what work I have here before me, is simply to prove the truth of it, with respect to the one among143 these mighty spirits whom we have just lost; who divided his hearers, as many an inspired speaker has done before now, into two great sects—a large and a narrow; these searching the Nature-scripture calmly, "whether those things were so," and those standing haughtily on their Mars hill, asking, "what will this babbler say?"

[46] People of any sense, however, confined themselves to wonder. I think it was only in the Art Journal of September 1st, 1854, that any writer had the meanness to charge me with insincerity. "The pictures of Turner and the works of the Pre-Raphaelites are the very antipodes of each other; it is, therefore, impossible that one and the same individual can with any show of sincerity [Note, by the way, the Art-Union has no idea that real sincerity is a thing existent or possible at all. All that it expects or hopes of human nature is, that it should have show of sincerity,] stand forth as the thick and thin [I perceive the writer intends to teach me English, as well as honesty,] eulogist of both. With a certain knowledge of art, such as may be possessed by the author of English Painters, [Note, farther, that the eminent critic does not so much as know the title of the book he is criticising,] it is not difficult to praise any bad or mediocre picture that may be qualified with extravagance or mysticism. This author owes the public a heavy debt of explanation, which a lifetime spent in ingenious reconciliations would not suffice to discharge. A fervent admiration of certain pictures by Turner, and, at the same time, of some of the severest productions of the Pre-Raphaelites, presents an insuperable problem to persons whose taste in art is regulated by definite principles."

[47] Part II. Sec. I. Chap. VII. § 46.

[48] Part II. Sec. IV. Chap. IV. § 23., and Part II. Sec. I. Chap. VII. § 9. The whole of the Preface to the Second Edition is written to maintain this one point of specific detail against the advocates of generalization.

[49] Vol. II. Chapter on Penetrative Imagination.

[50] Several other points connected with this subject have already been noticed in the last chapter of the Stones of Venice, § 21. &c.

[51] "Though my pictures should have nothing else, they shall have Chiaroscuro."—Constable (in Leslie's Life of him). It is singular to reflect what that fatal Chiaroscuro has done in art, in the full extent of its influence. It has been not only shadow, but shadow of Death: passing over the face of the ancient art, as death itself might over a fair human countenance; whispering, as it reduced it to the white projections and lightless orbits of the skull, "Thy face shall have nothing else, but it shall have Chiaroscuro."




§ 1. Having now obtained, I trust, clear ideas, up to a certain point, of what is generally right and wrong in all art, both in conception and in workmanship, we have to apply these laws of right to the particular branch of art which is the subject of our present inquiry, namely, landscape-painting. Respecting which, after the various meditations into which we have been led on the high duties and ideals of art, it may not improbably occur to us first to ask,—whether it be worth inquiring about at all.

That question, perhaps the reader thinks, should have been asked and answered before I had written, or he read, two volumes and a half about it. So I had answered it, in my own mind; but it seems time now to give the grounds for this answer. If, indeed, the reader has never suspected that landscape-painting was anything but good, right, and healthy work, I should be sorry to put any doubt of its being so into his mind; but if, as seems to me more likely, he, living in this busy and perhaps somewhat calamitous age, has some suspicion that landscape-painting is but an idle and empty business, not worth all our long talk about it, then, perhaps, he will be pleased to have such suspicion done away, before troubling himself farther with these disquisitions.

§ 2. I should rather be glad, than otherwise, that he had formed some suspicion on this matter. If he has at all admitted the truth of anything hitherto said respecting great art, and its choices of subject, it seems to me he ought, by this time, to be questioning with himself whether road-side weeds, old cottages, broken stones, and such other materials, be worthy matters for grave men to busy themselves in the imitation of. And I should like him to probe this doubt to the deep of it, and145 bring all his misgivings out to the broad light, that we may see how we are to deal with them, or ascertain if indeed they are too well founded to be dealt with.

§ 3. And to this end I would ask him now to imagine himself entering, for the first time in his life, the room of the Old Water-Color Society; and to suppose that he has entered it, not for the sake of a quiet examination of the paintings one by one, but in order to seize such ideas as it may generally suggest respecting the state and meaning of modern as compared with elder, art. I suppose him, of course, that he may be capable of such a comparison, to be in some degree familiar with the different forms in which art has developed itself within the periods historically known to us; but never, till that moment, to have seen any completely modern work. So prepared, and so unprepared, he would, as his ideas began to arrange themselves, be first struck by the number of paintings representing blue mountains, clear lakes, and ruined castles or cathedrals, and he would say to himself: "There is something strange in the mind of these modern people! Nobody ever cared about blue mountains before, or tried to paint the broken stones of old walls." And the more he considered the subject, the more he would feel the peculiarity; and, as he thought over the art of Greeks and Romans, he would still repeat, with increasing certainty of conviction: "Mountains! I remember none. The Greeks did not seem, as artists, to know that such things were in the world. They carved, or variously represented, men, and horses, and beasts, and birds, and all kinds of living creatures,—yes, even down to cuttle-fish; and trees, in a sort of way; but not so much as the outline of a mountain; and as for lakes, they merely showed they knew the difference between salt and fresh water by the fish they put into each." Then he would pass on to mediæval art: and still he would be obliged to repeat: "Mountains! I remember none. Some careless and jagged arrangements of blue spires or spikes on the horizon, and, here and there, an attempt at representing an overhanging rock with a hole through it; but merely in order to divide the light behind some human figure. Lakes! No, nothing of the kind,—only blue bays of sea put in to fill up the background when the painter could not think of anything else. Broken-146down buildings! No; for the most part very complete and well-appointed buildings, if any; and never buildings at all, but to give place or explanation to some circumstance of human conduct." And then he would look up again to the modern pictures, observing, with an increasing astonishment, that here the human interest had, in many cases, altogether disappeared. That mountains, instead of being used only as a blue ground for the relief of the heads of saints, were themselves the exclusive subjects of reverent contemplation; that their ravines, and peaks, and forests, were all painted with an appearance of as much enthusiasm as had formerly been devoted to the dimple of beauty, or the frowns of asceticism; and that all the living interest which was still supposed necessary to the scene, might be supplied by a traveller in a slouched hat, a beggar in a scarlet cloak, or, in default of these, even by a heron or a wild duck.

And if he could entirely divest himself of his own modern habits of thought, and regard the subjects in question with the feelings of a knight or monk of the middle ages, it might be a question whether those feelings would not rapidly verge towards contempt. "What!" he might perhaps mutter to himself, "here are human beings spending the whole of their lives in making pictures of bits of stone and runlets of water, withered sticks and flying frogs, and actually not a picture of the gods or the heroes! none of the saints or the martyrs! none of the angels and demons! none of councils or battles, or any other single thing worth the thought of a man! Trees and clouds indeed! as if I should not see as many trees as I cared to see, and more, in the first half of my day's journey to-morrow, or as if it mattered to any man whether the sky were clear or cloudy, so long as his armor did not get too hot in the sun!"

§ 5. There can be no question that this would have been somewhat the tone of thought with which either a Lacedæmonian, a soldier of Rome in her strength, or a knight of the thirteenth century, would have been apt to regard these particular forms of our present art. Nor can there be any question that, in many respects, their judgment would have been just. It is true that the indignation of the Spartan or Roman would have been equally excited against any appearance of luxurious147 industry; but the mediæval knight would, to the full, have admitted the nobleness of art; only he would have had it employed in decorating his church or his prayer-book, nor in imitating moors and clouds. And the feelings of all the three would have agreed in this,—that their main ground of offence must have been the want of seriousness and purpose in what they saw. They would all have admitted the nobleness of whatever conduced to the honor of the gods, or the power of the nation; but they would not have understood how the skill of human life could be wisely spent in that which did no honor either to Jupiter or to the Virgin; and which in no wise tended, apparently, either to the accumulation of wealth, the excitement of patriotism, or the advancement of morality.

§ 6. And exactly so far forth their judgment would be just, as the landscape-painting could indeed be shown, for others as well as for them, to be art of this nugatory kind; and so far forth unjust, as that painting could be shown to depend upon, or cultivate, certain sensibilities which neither the Greek nor mediæval knight possessed, and which have resulted from some extraordinary change in human nature since their time. We have no right to assume, without very accurate examination of it, that this change has been an ennobling one. The simple fact, that we are, in some strange way, different from all the great races that have existed before us, cannot at once be received as the proof of our own greatness; nor can it be granted, without any question, that we have a legitimate subject of complacency in being under the influence of feelings, with which neither Miltiades nor the Black Prince, neither Homer nor Dante, neither Socrates nor St. Francis, could for an instant have sympathized.

§ 7. Whether, however, this fact be one to excite our pride or not, it is assuredly one to excite our deepest interest. The fact itself is certain. For nearly six thousand years the energies of man have pursued certain beaten paths, manifesting some constancy of feeling throughout all that period, and involving some fellowship at heart, among the various nations who by turns succeeded or surpassed each other in the several aims of art or policy. So that, for these thousands of years, the whole human race might be to some extent described in general terms.148 Man was a creature separated from all others by his instinctive sense of an Existence superior to his own, invariably manifesting this sense of the being of a God more strongly in proportion to his own perfectness of mind and body; and making enormous and self-denying efforts, in order to obtain some persuasion of the immediate presence or approval of the Divinity. So that, on the whole, the best things he did were done as in the presence, or for the honor, of his gods; and, whether in statues, to help him to imagine them, or temples raised to their honor, or acts of self-sacrifice done in the hope of their love, he brought whatever was best and skilfullest in him into their service, and lived in a perpetual subjection to their unseen power. Also, he was always anxious to know something definite about them; and his chief books, songs, and pictures were filled with legends about them, or especially devoted to illustration of their lives and nature.

§ 8. Next to these gods he was always anxious to know something about his human ancestors; fond of exalting the memory, and telling or painting the history of old rulers and benefactors; yet full of an enthusiastic confidence in himself, as having in many ways advanced beyond the best efforts of past time; and eager to record his own doings for future fame. He was a creature eminently warlike, placing his principal pride in dominion; eminently beautiful, and having great delight in his own beauty: setting forth this beauty by every species of invention in dress, and rendering his arms and accoutrements superbly decorative of his form. He took, however, very little interest in anything but what belonged to humanity; caring in no wise for the external world, except as it influenced his own destiny; honoring the lightning because it could strike him, the sea because it could drown him, the fountains because they gave him drink, and the grass because it yielded him seed; but utterly incapable of feeling any special happiness in the love of such things, or any earnest emotion about them, considered as separate from man; therefore giving no time to the study of them;—knowing little of herbs, except only which were hurtful, and which healing; of stones, only which would glitter brightest in a crown, or last the longest in a wall; of the wild beasts, which were best for food, and which the stoutest quarry149 for the hunter;—thus spending only on the lower creatures and inanimate things his waste energy, his dullest thoughts, his most languid emotions, and reserving all his acuter intellect for researches into his own nature and that of the gods; all his strength of will for the acquirement of political or moral power; all his sense of beauty for things immediately connected with his own person and life; and all his deep affections for domestic or divine companionship.

Such, in broad light and brief terms, was man for five thousand years. Such he is no longer. Let us consider what he is now, comparing the descriptions clause by clause.

§ 9. I. He was invariably sensible of the existence of gods, and went about all his speculations or works holding this as an acknowledged fact, making his best efforts in their service. Now he is capable of going through life with hardly any positive idea on this subject,—doubting, fearing, suspecting, analyzing,—doing everything, in fact, but believing; hardly ever getting quite up to that point which hitherto was wont to be the starting point for all generations. And human work has accordingly hardly any reference to spiritual beings, but is done either from a patriotic or personal interest,—either to benefit mankind, or reach some selfish end, not (I speak of human work in the broad sense) to please the gods.

II. He was a beautiful creature, setting forth this beauty by all means in his power, and depending upon it for much of his authority over his fellows. So that the ruddy cheek of David, and the ivory skin of Atrides, and the towering presence of Saul, and the blue eyes of Cœur de Lion, were among the chief reasons why they should be kings; and it was one of the aims of all education, and of all dress, to make the presence of the human form stately and lovely. Now it has become the task of grave philosophy partly to depreciate or conceal this bodily beauty; and even by those who esteem it in their hearts, it is not made one of the great ends of education: man has become, upon the whole, an ugly animal, and is not ashamed of his ugliness.

III. He was eminently warlike. He is now gradually becoming more and more ashamed of all the arts and aims of battle. So that the desire of dominion, which was once frankly150 confessed or boasted of as a heroic passion, is now sternly reprobated or cunningly disclaimed.

IV. He used to take no interest in anything but what immediately concerned himself. Now, he has deep interest in the abstract natures of things, inquires as eagerly into the laws which regulate the economy of the material world, as into those of his own being, and manifests a passionate admiration of inanimate objects, closely resembling, in its elevation and tenderness, the affection which he bears to those living souls with which he is brought into the nearest fellowship.

§ 10. It is this last change only which is to be the subject of our present inquiry; but it cannot be doubted that it is closely connected with all the others, and that we can only thoroughly understand its nature by considering it in this connection. For, regarded by itself, we might, perhaps, too rashly assume it to be a natural consequence of the progress of the race. There appears to be a diminution of selfishness in it, and a more extended and heartfelt desire of understanding the manner of God's working; and this the more, because one of the permanent characters of this change is a greater accuracy in the statement of external facts. When the eyes of men were fixed first upon themselves, and upon nature solely and secondarily as bearing upon their interests, it was of less consequence to them what the ultimate laws of nature were, than what their immediate effects were upon human beings. Hence they could rest satisfied with phenomena instead of principles, and accepted without scrutiny every fable which seemed sufficiently or gracefully to account for those phenomena. But so far as the eyes of men are now withdrawn from themselves, and turned upon the inanimate things about them, the results cease to be of importance, and the laws become essential.

§ 11. In these respects, it might easily appear to us that this change was assuredly one of steady and natural advance. But when we contemplate the others above noted, of which it is clearly one of the branches or consequences, we may suspect ourselves of over-rashness in our self-congratulation, and admit the necessity of a scrupulous analysis both of the feeling itself and of its tendencies.

Of course a complete analysis, or anything like it, would151 involve a treatise on the whole history of the world. I shall merely endeavor to note some of the leading and more interesting circumstances bearing on the subject, and to show sufficient practical ground for the conclusion, that landscape painting is indeed a noble and useful art, though one not long known by man. I shall therefore examine, as best I can, the effect of landscape, 1st, on the Classical mind; 2ndly, on the Mediæval mind; and lastly, on the Modern mind. But there is one point of some interest respecting the effect of it on any mind, which must be settled first, and this I will endeavor to do in the next chapter.




§ 1. German dulness and English affectation, have of late much multiplied among us the use of two of the most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians,—namely, "Objective" and "Subjective."

No words can be more exquisitely, and in all points, useless; and I merely speak of them that I may, at once and for ever, get them out of my way and out of my reader's. But to get that done, they must be explained.

The word "Blue," say certain philosophers, means the sensation of color which the human eye receives in looking at the open sky, or at a bell gentian.

Now, say they farther, as this sensation can only be felt when the eye is turned to the object, and as, therefore, no such sensation is produced by the object when nobody looks at it, therefore the thing, when it is not looked at, is not blue; and thus (say they) there are many qualities of things which depend as much on something else as on themselves. To be sweet, a thing must have a taster; it is only sweet while it is being tasted, and if the tongue had not the capacity of taste, then the sugar would not have the quality of sweetness.

And then they agree that the qualities of things which thus depend upon our perception of them, and upon our human nature as affected by them, shall be called Subjective; and the qualities of things which they always have, irrespective of any other nature, as roundness or squareness, shall be called Objective.

From these ingenious views the step is very easy to a farther opinion, that it does not much matter what things are in themselves, but only what they are to us; and that the only real truth of them is their appearance to, or effect upon, us. From which position, with a hearty desire for mystification, and153 much egotism, selfishness, shallowness, and impertinence, a philosopher may easily go so far as to believe, and say, that everything in the world depends upon his seeing or thinking of it, and that nothing, therefore, exists, but what he sees or thinks of.

§ 2. Now, to get rid of all these ambiguities and troublesome words at once, be it observed that the word "Blue" does not mean the sensation caused by a gentian on the human eye; but it means the power of producing that sensation; and this power is always there, in the thing, whether we are there to experience it or not, and would remain there though there were not left a man on the face of the earth. Precisely in the same way gunpowder has a power of exploding. It will not explode if you put no match to it. But it has always the power of so exploding, and is therefore called an explosive compound, which it very positively and assuredly is, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary.

In like manner, a gentian does not produce the sensation of blueness if you don't look at it. But it has always the power of doing so; its particles being everlastingly so arranged by its Maker. And, therefore, the gentian and the sky are always verily blue, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary; and if you do not see them blue when you look at them, it is not their fault but yours.[52]

§ 3. Hence I would say to these philosophers: If, instead of using the sonorous phrase, "It is objectively so," you will use the plain old phrase, "It is so;" and if instead of the sonorous phrase, "It is subjectively so," you will say, in plain old English, "It does so," or "It seems so to me;" you will, on the whole, be more intelligible to your fellow-creatures: and be154sides, if you find that a thing which generally "does so" to other people (as a gentian looks blue to most men) does not so to you, on any particular occasion, you will not fall into the impertinence of saying that the thing is not so, or did not so, but you will say simply (what you will be all the better for speedily finding out) that something is the matter with you. If you find that you cannot explode the gunpowder, you will not declare that all gunpowder is subjective, and all explosion imaginary, but you will simply suspect and declare yourself to be an ill-made match. Which, on the whole, though there may be a distant chance of a mistake about it, is, nevertheless, the wisest conclusion you can come to until farther experiment.[53]

§ 4. Now, therefore, putting these tiresome and absurd words quite out of our way, we may go on at our ease to examine the point in question,—namely, the difference between the ordinary, proper, and true appearances of things to us; and the extraordinary, or false appearances, when we are under the influence of emotion, or contemplative fancy;[54] false appearances, I say, as being entirely unconnected with any real power or character in the object, and only imputed to it by us.


For instance—

"The spendthrift crocus, bursting through the mould
Naked and shivering, with his cup of gold." [55]

This is very beautiful and yet very untrue. The crocus is not a spendthrift, but a hardy plant; its yellow is not gold, but saffron. How is it that we enjoy so much the having it put into our heads that it is anything else than a plain crocus?

It is an important question. For, throughout our past reasonings about art, we have always found that nothing could be good or useful, or ultimately pleasurable, which was untrue. But here is something pleasurable in written poetry which is nevertheless untrue. And what is more, if we think over our favorite poetry, we shall find it full of this kind of fallacy, and that we like it all the more for being so.

§ 5. It will appear also, on consideration of the matter, that this fallacy is of two principal kinds. Either, as in this case of the crocus, it is the fallacy of wilful fancy, which involves no real expectation that it will be believed; or else it is a fallacy caused by an excited state of the feelings, making us, for the time, more or less irrational. Of the cheating of the fancy we shall have to speak presently; but, in this chapter, I want to examine the nature of the other error, that which the mind admits, when affected strongly by emotion. Thus, for instance, in Alton Locke,—

"They rowed her in across the rolling foam—
The cruel, crawling foam."

The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl. The state of mind which attributes to it these characters of a living creature is one in which the reason is unhinged by grief. All violent feelings have the same effect. They produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things, which I would generally characterize as the "Pathetic fallacy."

§ 6. Now we are in the habit of considering this fallacy as eminently a character of poetical description, and the temper of mind in which we allow it, as one eminently poetical, because156 passionate. But, I believe, if we look well into the matter, that we shall find the greatest poets do not often admit this kind of falseness,—that it is only the second order of poets who much delight in it.[56]

Thus, when Dante describes the spirits falling from the bank of Acheron "as dead leaves flutter from a bough," he gives the most perfect image possible of their utter lightness, feebleness, passiveness, and scattering agony of despair, without, however, for an instant losing his own clear perception that these are souls, and those are leaves: he makes no confusion of one with the other. But when Coleridge speaks of

"The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,"

he has a morbid, that is to say, a so far false, idea about the leaf: he fancies a life in it, and will, which there are not; con157fuses its powerlessness with choice, its fading death with merriment, and the wind that shakes it with music. Here, however, there is some beauty, even in the morbid passage; but take an instance in Homer and Pope. Without the knowledge of Ulysses, Elpenor, his youngest follower, has fallen from an upper chamber in the Circean palace, and has been left dead, unmissed by his leader, or companions, in the haste of their departure. They cross the sea to the Cimmerian land; and Ulysses summons the shades from Tartarus. The first which appears is that of the lost Elpenor. Ulysses, amazed, and in exactly the spirit of bitter and terrified lightness which is seen in Hamlet,[57] addresses the spirit with the simple, startled words:—

"Elpenor? How camest thou under the Shadowy darkness? Hast thou come faster on foot than I in my black ship?"

Which Pope renders thus:—

"O, say, what angry power Elpenor led
To glide in shades, and wander with the dead?
How could thy soul, by realms and seas disjoined,
Outfly the nimble sail, and leave the lagging wind?"

I sincerely hope the reader finds no pleasure here, either in the nimbleness of the sail, or the laziness of the wind! And yet how is it that these conceits are so painful now, when they have been pleasant to us in the other instances?

§ 7. For a very simple reason. They are not a pathetic fallacy at all, for they are put into the mouth of the wrong passion—a passion which never could possibly have spoken them—agonized curiosity. Ulysses wants to know the facts of the matter; and the very last thing his mind could do at the moment would be to pause, or suggest in any wise what was not a fact. The delay in the first three lines, and conceit in the last, jar upon us instantly, like the most frightful discord in music. No poet of true imaginative power could possibly have written the passage. It is worth while comparing the way a similar question is put by the exquisite sincerity of Keats:—

"He wept, and his bright tears
Went trickling down the golden bow he held.
158 Thus, with half-shut, suffused eyes, he stood;
While from beneath some cumb'rous boughs hard by,
With solemn step, an awful goddess came.
And there was purport in her looks for him,
Which he with eager guess began to read:
Perplexed the while, melodiously he said,
'How cam'st thou over the unfooted sea?'"

Therefore, we see that the spirit of truth must guide us in some sort, even in our enjoyment of fallacy. Coleridge's fallacy has no discord in it, but Pope's has set our teeth on edge. Without farther questioning, I will endeavor to state the main bearings of this matter.

§ 8. The temperament which admits the pathetic fallacy, is, as I said above, that of a mind and body in some sort too weak to deal fully with what is before them or upon them; borne away, or over-clouded, or over-dazzled by emotion; and it is a more or less noble state, according to the force of the emotion which has induced it. For it is no credit to a man that he is not morbid or inaccurate in his perceptions, when he has no strength of feeling to warp them; and it is in general a sign of higher capacity and stand in the ranks of being, that the emotions should be strong enough to vanquish, partly, the intellect, and make it believe what they choose. But it is still a grander condition when the intellect also rises, till it is strong enough to assert its rule against, or together with, the utmost efforts of the passions; and the whole man stands in an iron glow, white hot, perhaps, but still strong, and in no wise evaporating; even if he melts, losing none of his weight.

So, then, we have the three ranks: the man who perceives rightly, because he does not feel, and to whom the primrose is very accurately the primrose, because he does not love it. Then, secondly, the man who perceives wrongly, because he feels, and to whom the primrose is anything else than a primrose: a star, or a sun, or a fairy's shield, or a forsaken maiden. And then, lastly, there is the man who perceives rightly in spite of his feelings, and to whom the primrose is for ever nothing else than itself—a little flower, apprehended in the very plain and leafy fact of it, whatever and how many soever the associations and passions may be, that crowd around it. And, in159 general, these three classes may be rated in comparative order, as the men who are not poets at all, and the poets of the second order, and the poets of the first; only however great a man may be, there are always some subjects which ought to throw him off his balance; some, by which his poor human capacity of thought should be conquered, and brought into the inaccurate and vague state of perception, so that the language of the highest inspiration becomes broken, obscure, and wild in metaphor, resembling that of the weaker man, overborne by weaker things.

§ 9. And thus, in full, there are four classes: the men who feel nothing, and therefore see truly; the men who feel strongly, think weakly, and see untruly (second order of poets); the men who feel strongly, think strongly, and see truly (first order of poets); and the men who, strong as human creatures can be, are yet submitted to influences stronger than they, and see in a sort untruly, because what they see is inconceivably above them. This last is the usual condition of prophetic inspiration.

§ 10. I separate these classes, in order that their character may be clearly understood; but of course they are united each to the other by imperceptible transitions, and the same mind, according to the influences to which it is subjected, passes at different times into the various states. Still, the difference between the great and less man is, on the whole, chiefly in this point of alterability. That is to say, the one knows too much, and perceives and feels too much of the past and future, and of all things beside and around that which immediately affects him, to be in any wise shaken by it. His mind is made up; his thoughts have an accustomed current; his ways are steadfast; it is not this or that new sight which will at once unbalance him. He is tender to impression at the surface, like a rock with deep moss upon it; but there is too much mass of him to be moved. The smaller man, with the same degree of sensibility, is at once carried off his feet; he wants to do something he did not want to do before; he views all the universe in a new light through his tears; he is gay or enthusiastic, melancholy or passionate, as things come and go to him. Therefore the high creative poet might even be thought, to a great extent, impassive (as shallow people think Dante stern), receiving160 indeed all feelings to the full, but having a great centre of reflection and knowledge in which he stands serene, and watches the feeling, as it were, from far off.

Dante, in his most intense moods, has entire command of himself, and can look around calmly, at all moments, for the image or the word that will best tell what he sees to the upper or lower world. But Keats and Tennyson, and the poets of the second order, are generally themselves subdued by the feelings under which they write, or, at least, write as choosing to be so, and therefore admit certain expressions and modes of thought which are in some sort diseased or false.

§ 11. Now so long as we see that the feeling is true, we pardon, or are even pleased by, the confessed fallacy of sight which it induces: we are pleased, for instance, with those lines of Kingsley's, above quoted, not because they fallaciously describe foam, but because they faithfully describe sorrow. But the moment the mind of the speaker becomes cold, that moment every such expression becomes untrue, as being for ever untrue in the external facts. And there is no greater baseness in literature than the habit of using these metaphorical expressions in cool blood. An inspired writer, in full impetuosity of passion, may speak wisely and truly of "raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame;" but it is only the basest writer who cannot speak of the sea without talking of "raging waves," "remorseless floods," "ravenous billows," &c.; and it is one of the signs of the highest power in a writer to check all such habits of thought, and to keep his eyes fixed firmly on the pure fact, out of which if any feeling comes to him or his reader, he knows it must be a true one.

To keep to the waves, I forget who it is who represents a man in despair, desiring that his body may be cast into the sea,

"Whose changing mound, and foam that passed away,
Might mock the eye that questioned where I lay."

Observe, there is not a single false, or even overcharged, expression. "Mound" of the sea wave is perfectly simple and true; "changing" is as familiar as may be; "foam that passed away," strictly literal; and the whole line descriptive of the reality with a degree of accuracy which I know not any other161 verse, in the range of poetry, that altogether equals. For most people have not a distinct idea of the clumsiness and massiveness of a large wave. The word "wave" is used too generally of ripples and breakers, and bendings in light drapery or grass: it does not by itself convey a perfect image. But the word "mound" is heavy, large, dark, definite; there is no mistaking the kind of wave meant, nor missing the sight of it. Then the term "changing" has a peculiar force also. Most people think of waves as rising and falling. But if they look at the sea carefully, they will perceive that the waves do not rise and fall. They change. Change both place and form, but they do not fall; one wave goes on, and on, and still on; now lower, now higher, now tossing its mane like a horse, now building itself together like a wall, now shaking, now steady, but still the same wave, till at last it seems struck by something, and changes, one knows not how,—becomes another wave.

The close of the line insists on this image, and paints it still more perfectly,—"foam that passed away." Not merely melting, disappearing, but passing on, out of sight, on the career of the wave. Then, having put the absolute ocean fact as far as he may before our eyes, the poet leaves us to feel about it as we may, and to trace for ourselves the opposite fact,—the image of the green mounds that do not change, and the white and written stones that do not pass away; and thence to follow out also the associated images of the calm life with the quiet grave, and the despairing life with the fading foam:—

"Let no man move his bones."
"As for Samaria, her king is cut off like the foam upon the water."

But nothing of this is actually told or pointed out, and the expressions, as they stand, are perfectly severe and accurate, utterly uninfluenced by the firmly governed emotion of the writer. Even the word "mock" is hardly an exception, as it may stand merely for "deceive" or "defeat," without implying any impersonation of the waves.

§ 12. It may be well, perhaps, to give one or two more instances to show the peculiar dignity possessed by all passages which thus limit their expression to the pure fact, and leave the hearer to gather what he can from it. Here is a notable one162 from the Iliad. Helen, looking from the Scæan gate of Troy over the Grecian host, and telling Priam the names of its captains, says at last:—

"I see all the other dark-eyed Greeks; but two I cannot see,—Castor and Pollux,—whom one mother bore with me. Have they not followed from fair Lacedæmon, or have they indeed come in their sea-wandering ships, but now will not enter into the battle of men, fearing the shame and the scorn that is in me?"

Then Homer:—

"So she spoke. But them, already, the life-giving earth possessed, there in Lacedæmon, in the dear fatherland."

Note, here, the high poetical truth carried to the extreme. The poet has to speak of the earth in sadness, but he will not let that sadness affect or change his thoughts of it. No; though Castor and Pollux be dead, yet the earth is our mother still, fruitful, life-giving. These are the facts of the thing. I see nothing else than these. Make what you will of them.

§ 13. Take another very notable instance from Casimir de la Vigne's terrible ballad, "La Toilette de Constance." I must quote a few lines out of it here and there, to enable the reader who has not the book by him, to understand its close.

"Vite, Anna, vite; au miroir
Plus vite, Anna. L'heure s'avance,
Et je vais au bal ce soir
Chez l'ambassadeur de France.
Y pensez vous, ils sont fanés, ces nœuds,
Ils sont d'hier, mon Dieu, comme tout passe!
Que du réseau qui retient mes cheveux
Les glands d'azur retombent avec grâce.
Plus haut! Plus bas! Vous ne comprenez rien!
Que sur mon front ce saphir étincelle:
Vous me piquez, mal-adroite. Ah, c'est bien,
Bien,—chère Anna! Je t'aime, je suis belle.
Celui qu'en vain je voudrais oublier
(Anna, ma robe) il y sera, j'espère.
(Ah, fi, profane, est-ce là mon collier?
Quoi! ces grains d'or bénits par le Saint Père!)
Il y sera; Dieu, s'il pressait ma main
En y pensant, à peine je respire;
Père Anselmo doit m'entendre demain,
Comment ferai-je, Anna, pour tout lui dire?
Vite un coup d'œil au miroir,
Le dernier.——J'ai l'assurance
Qu'on va m'adorer ce soir
Chez l'ambassadeur de France.
Près du foyer, Constance s'admirait.
Dieu! sur sa robe il vole une étincelle!
Au feu. Courez; Quand l'espoir l'enivrait
Tout perdre ainsi! Quoi! Mourir,—et si belle!
L'horrible feu ronge avec volupté
Ses bras, son sein, et l'entoure, et s'élève,
Et sans pitie dévore sa beauté,
Ses dixhuit ans, hélas, et son doux rêve!
Adieu, bal, plaisir, amour!
On disait, Pauvre Constance!
Et on dansait, jusqu'au jour,
Chez l'ambassadeur de France."

Yes, that is the fact of it. Right or wrong, the poet does not say. What you may think about it, he does not know. He has nothing to do with that. There lie the ashes of the dead girl in her chamber. There they danced, till the morning, at the Ambassador's of France. Make what you will of it.

If the reader will look through the ballad, of which I have quoted only about the third part, he will find that there is not, from beginning to end of it, a single poetical (so called) expression, except in one stanza. The girl speaks as simple prose as may be; there is not a word she would not have actually used as she was dressing. The poet stands by, impassive as a statue, recording her words just as they come. At last the doom seizes her, and in the very presence of death, for an instant, his own emotions conquer him. He records no longer the facts only, but the facts as they seem to him. The fire gnaws with voluptuousness—without pity. It is soon past. The fate is fixed for ever; and he retires into his pale and crystalline atmosphere of truth. He closes all with the calm veracity,

"They said, 'Poor Constance!'"

§ 14. Now in this there is the exact type of the consummate poetical temperament. For, be it clearly and constantly remembered, that the greatness of a poet depends upon the two faculties, acuteness of feeling, and command of it. A poet is164 great, first in proportion to the strength of his passion, and then, that strength being granted, in proportion to his government of it; there being, however, always a point beyond which it would be inhuman and monstrous if he pushed this government, and, therefore, a point at which all feverish and wild fancy becomes just and true. Thus the destruction of the kingdom of Assyria cannot be contemplated firmly by a prophet of Israel. The fact is too great, too wonderful. It overthrows him, dashes him into a confused element of dreams. All the world is, to his stunned thought, full of strange voices. "Yea, the fir-trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, 'Since thou art gone down to the grave, no feller is come up against us.'" So, still more, the thought of the presence of Deity cannot be borne without this great astonishment. "The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands."

§ 15. But by how much this feeling is noble when it is justified by the strength of its cause, by so much it is ignoble when there is not cause enough for it; and beyond all other ignobleness is the mere affectation of it, in hardness of heart. Simply bad writing may almost always, as above noticed, be known by its adoption of these fanciful metaphorical expressions, as a sort of current coin; yet there is even a worse, at least a more harmful, condition of writing than this, in which such expressions are not ignorantly and feelinglessly caught up, but, by some master, skilful in handling, yet insincere, deliberately wrought out with chill and studied fancy; as if we should try to make an old lava stream look red-hot again, by covering it with dead leaves, or white-hot, with hoar-frost.

When Young is lost in veneration, as he dwells on the character of a truly good and holy man, he permits himself for a moment to be overborne by the feeling so far as to exclaim—

"Where shall I find him? angels, tell me where.
You know him; he is near you; point him out.
Shall I see glories beaming from his brow,
Or trace his footsteps by the rising flowers?"

This emotion has a worthy cause, and is thus true and right. But now hear the cold-hearted Pope say to a shepherd girl165

"Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade!
Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade;
Your praise the birds shall chant in every grove,
And winds shall waft it to the powers above.
But would you sing, and rival Orpheus' strain,
The wondering forests soon should dance again;
The moving mountains hear the powerful call,
And headlong streams hang, listening, in their fall."

This is not, nor could it for a moment be mistaken for, the language of passion. It is simple falsehood, uttered by hypocrisy; definite absurdity, rooted in affectation, and coldly asserted in the teeth of nature and fact. Passion will indeed go far in deceiving itself; but it must be a strong passion, not the simple wish of a lover to tempt his mistress to sing. Compare a very closely parallel passage in Wordsworth, in which the lover has lost his mistress:

"Three years had Barbara in her grave been laid,
When thus his moan he made:—

'Oh, move, thou cottage, from behind yon oak,
Or let the ancient tree uprooted lie,
That in some other way yon smoke
May mount into the sky.

If still behind yon pine-tree's ragged bough,
Headlong, the waterfall must come,
Oh, let it, then, be dumb—
Be anything, sweet stream, but that which thou art now.'"

Here is a cottage to be moved, if not a mountain, and a waterfall to be silent, if it is not to hang listening; but with what different relation to the mind that contemplates them! Here, in the extremity of its agony, the soul cries out wildly for relief, which at the same moment it partly knows to be impossible, but partly believes possible, in a vague impression that a miracle might be wrought to give relief even to a less sore distress,—that nature is kind, and God is kind, and that grief is strong; it knows not well what is possible to such grief. To silence a stream, to move a cottage wall,—one might think it could do as much as that!

§ 16. I believe these instances are enough to illustrate the main point I insist upon respecting the pathetic fallacy,—that166 so far as it is a fallacy, it is always the sign of a morbid state of mind, and comparatively of a weak one. Even in the most inspired prophet it is a sign of the incapacity of his human sight or thought to bear what has been revealed to it. In ordinary poetry, if it is found in the thoughts of the poet himself, it is at once a sign of his belonging to the inferior school; if in the thoughts of the characters imagined by him, it is right or wrong according to the genuineness of the emotion from which it springs; always, however, implying necessarily some degree of weakness in the character.

Take two most exquisite instances from master hands. The Jessy of Shenstone, and the Ellen of Wordsworth, have both been betrayed and deserted. Jessy, in the course of her most touching complaint, says:

"If through the garden's flowery tribes I stray,
Where bloom the jasmines that could once allure,
'Hope not to find delight in us,' they say,
'For we are spotless, Jessy; we are pure.'"

Compare with this some of the words of Ellen:

"'Ah, why,' said Ellen, sighing to herself,
'Why do not words, and kiss, and solemn pledge,
And nature, that is kind in woman's breast,
And reason, that in man is wise and good,
And fear of Him who is a righteous Judge,—
Why do not these prevail for human life,
To keep two hearts together, that began
Their springtime with one love, and that have need
Of mutual pity and forgiveness, sweet
To grant, or be received; while that poor bird—
O, come and hear him! Thou who hast to me
Been faithless, hear him;—though a lowly creature,
One of God's simple children, that yet know not
The Universal Parent, how he sings!
As if he wished the firmament of heaven
Should listen, and give back to him the voice
Of his triumphant constancy and love.
The proclamation that he makes, how far
His darkness doth transcend our fickle light.'"

The perfection of both these passages, as far as regards truth and tenderness of imagination in the two poets, is quite insu167perable. But, of the two characters imagined, Jessy is weaker than Ellen, exactly in so far as something appears to her to be in nature which is not. The flowers do not really reproach her. God meant them to comfort her, not to taunt her; they would do so if she saw them rightly.

Ellen, on the other hand, is quite above the slightest erring emotion. There is not the barest film of fallacy in all her thoughts. She reasons as calmly as if she did not feel. And, although the singing of the bird suggests to her the idea of its desiring to be heard in heaven, she does not for an instant admit any veracity in the thought. "As if," she says,—"I know he means nothing of the kind; but it does verily seem as if." The reader will find, by examining the rest of the poem, that Ellen's character is throughout consistent in this clear though passionate strength.

It then being, I hope, now made clear to the reader in all respects that the pathetic fallacy is powerful only so far as it is pathetic, feeble so far as it is fallacious, and, therefore, that the dominion of Truth is entire, over this, as over every other natural and just state of the human mind, we may go on to the subject for the dealing with which this prefatory inquiry became necessary; and why necessary, we shall see forthwith.[58]

[52] It is quite true, that in all qualities involving sensation, there may be a doubt whether different people receive the same sensation from the same thing (compare Part II. Sec. I. Chap. V. § 6.); but, though this makes such facts not distinctly explicable, it does not alter the facts themselves. I derive a certain sensation, which I call sweetness, from sugar. That is a fact. Another person feels a sensation, which he also calls sweetness, from sugar. That is also a fact. The sugar's power to produce these two sensations, which we suppose to be, and which are, in all probability, very nearly the same in both of us, and, on the whole, in the human race, is its sweetness.

[53] In fact (for I may as well, for once, meet our German friends in their own style), all that has been subjected to us on this subject seems object to this great objection; that the subjection of all things (subject to no exceptions) to senses which are, in us, both subject and abject, and objects of perpetual contempt, cannot but make it our ultimate object to subject ourselves to the senses, and to remove whatever objections existed to such subjection. So that, finally, that which is the subject of examination or object of attention, uniting thus in itself the characters of subness and obness (so that, that which has no obness in it should be called sub-subjective, or a sub-subject, and that which has no subness in it should be called upper or ober-objective, or an ob-object); and we also, who suppose ourselves the objects of every arrangement, and are certainly the subjects of every sensual impression, thus uniting in ourselves, in an obverse or adverse manner, the characters of obness and subness, must both become metaphysically dejected or rejected, nothing remaining in us objective, but subjectivity, and the very objectivity of the object being lost in the abyss of this subjectivity of the Human.

There is, however, some meaning in the above sentence, if the reader cares to make it out; but in a pure German sentence of the highest style there is often none whatever. See Appendix II. "German Philosophy."

[54] Contemplative, in the sense explained in Part III. Sec. II. Chap. IV.

[55] Holmes (Oliver Wendell), quoted by Miss Mitford in her Recollections of a Literary Life.

[56] I admit two orders of poets, but no third; and by these two orders I mean the Creative (Shakspere, Homer, Dante), and Reflective or Perceptive (Wordsworth, Keats, Tennyson). But both of these must be first-rate in their range, though their range is different; and with poetry second-rate in quality no one ought to be allowed to trouble mankind. There is quite enough of the best,—much more than we can ever read or enjoy in the length of a life; and it is a literal wrong or sin in any person to encumber us with inferior work. I have no patience with apologies made by young pseudo-poets, "that they believe there is some good in what they have written: that they hope to do better in time," etc. Some good! If there is not all good, there is no good. If they ever hope to do better, why do they trouble us now? Let them rather courageously burn all they have done, and wait for the better days. There are few men, ordinarily educated, who in moments of strong feeling could not strike out a poetical thought, and afterwards polish it so as to be presentable. But men of sense know better than so to waste their time; and those who sincerely love poetry, know the touch of the master's hand on the chords too well to fumble among them after him. Nay, more than this; all inferior poetry is an injury to the good, inasmuch as it takes away the freshness of rhymes, blunders upon and gives a wretched commonalty to good thoughts; and, in general, adds to the weight of human weariness in a most woful and culpable manner. There are few thoughts likely to come across ordinary men, which have not already been expressed by greater men in the best possible way; and it is a wiser, more generous, more noble thing to remember and point out the perfect words, than to invent poorer ones, wherewith to encumber temporarily the world.

[57] "Well said, Old mole! can'st work i' the ground so fast?"

[58] I cannot quit this subject without giving two more instances, both exquisite, of the pathetic fallacy, which I have just come upon, in Maude:

"For a great speculation had fail'd;
And ever he mutter'd and madden'd, and ever wann'd with despair;
And out he walk'd, when the wind like a broken worldling wail'd,
And the flying gold of the ruin'd woodlands drove thro' the air."
"There has fallen a splendid tear
From the passion-flower at the gate.
The red rose cries, 'She is near, she is near!'
And the white rose weeps, 'She is late.'
The larkspur listens, 'I hear, I hear!'
And the lily whispers, 'I wait.'"




§ 1. My reason for asking the reader to give so much of his time to the examination of the pathetic fallacy was, that, whether in literature or in art, he will find it eminently characteristic of the modern mind; and in the landscape, whether of literature or art, he will also find the modern painter endeavoring to express something which he, as a living creature, imagines in the lifeless object, while the classical and mediæval painters were content with expressing the unimaginary and actual qualities of the object itself. It will be observed that, according to the principle stated long ago, I use the words painter and poet quite indifferently, including in our inquiry the landscape of literature, as well as that of painting; and this the more because the spirit of classical landscape has hardly been expressed in any other way than by words.

§ 2. Taking, therefore, this wide field, it is surely a very notable circumstance, to begin with, that this pathetic fallacy is eminently characteristic of modern painting. For instance, Keats, describing a wave, breaking, out at sea, says of it—

"Down whose green back the short-lived foam, all hoar,
Bursts gradual, with a wayward indolence."

That is quite perfect, as an example of the modern manner. The idea of the peculiar action with which foam rolls down a long, large wave could not have been given by any other words so well as by this "wayward indolence." But Homer would never have written, never thought of, such words. He could not by any possibility have lost sight of the great fact that the wave, from the beginning to the end of it, do what it might, was still nothing else than salt water; and that salt water could169 not be either wayward or indolent. He will call the waves "over-roofed," "full-charged," "monstrous," "compact-black," "dark-clear," "violet-colored," "wine-colored," and so on. But every one of these epithets is descriptive of pure physical nature. "Over-roofed" is the term he invariably uses of anything—rock, house, or wave—that nods over at the brow; the other terms need no explanation; they are as accurate and intense in truth as words can be, but they never show the slightest feeling of anything animated in the ocean. Black or clear, monstrous or violet-colored, cold salt water it is always, and nothing but that.

§ 3. "Well, but the modern writer, by his admission of the tinge of fallacy, has given an idea of something in the action of the wave which Homer could not, and surely, therefore, has made a step in advance? Also there appears to be a degree of sympathy and feeling in the one writer, which there is not in the other; and as it has been received for a first principle that writers are great in proportion to the intensity of their feelings, and Homer seems to have no feelings about the sea but that it is black and deep, surely in this respect also the modern writer is the greater?"

Stay a moment. Homer had some feeling about the sea; a faith in the animation of it much stronger than Keats's. But all this sense of something living in it, he separates in his mind into a great abstract image of a Sea Power. He never says the waves rage, or the waves are idle. But he says there is somewhat in, and greater than, the waves, which rages, and is idle, and that he calls a god.

§ 4. I do not think we ever enough endeavor to enter into what a Greek's real notion of a god was. We are so accustomed to the modern mockeries of the classical religion, so accustomed to hear and see the Greek gods introduced as living personages, or invoked for help, by men who believe neither in them nor in any other gods, that we seem to have infected the Greek ages themselves with the breath, and dimmed them with the shade, of our hypocrisy; and are apt to think that Homer, as we know that Pope, was merely an ingenious fabulist; nay, more than this, that all the nations of past time were ingenious fabulists also, to whom the universe was a lyrical drama, and by whom170 whatsoever was said about it was merely a witty allegory, or a graceful lie, of which the entire upshot and consummation was a pretty statue in the middle of the court, or at the end of the garden.

This, at least, is one of our forms of opinion about Greek faith; not, indeed, possible altogether to any man of honesty or ordinary powers of thought; but still so venomously inherent in the modern philosophy that all the pure lightning of Carlyle cannot as yet quite burn it out of any of us. And then, side by side with this mere infidel folly, stands the bitter short-sightedness of Puritanism, holding the classical god to be either simply an idol,—a block of stone ignorantly, though sincerely, worshipped,—or else an actual diabolic or betraying power, usurping the place of god.

§ 5. Both these Puritanical estimates of Greek deity are of course to some extent true. The corruption of classical worship is barren idolatry; and that corruption was deepened, and variously directed to their own purposes, by the evil angels. But this was neither the whole, nor the principal part, of Pagan worship. Pallas was not, in the pure Greek mind, merely a powerful piece of ivory in a temple at Athens; neither was the choice of Leonidas between the alternatives granted him by the oracle, of personal death, or ruin to his country, altogether a work of the Devil's prompting.

§ 6. What, then, was actually the Greek god? In what way were these two ideas of human form, and divine power, credibly associated in the ancient heart, so as to become a subject of true faith, irrespective equally of fable, allegory, superstitious trust in stone, and demoniacal influence?

It seems to me that the Greek had exactly the same instinctive feeling about the elements that we have ourselves; that to Homer, as much as to Casimir de la Vigne, fire seemed ravenous and pitiless; to Homer, as much as to Keats, the sea-wave appeared wayward or idle, or whatever else it may be to the poetical passion. But then the Greek reasoned upon this sensation, saying to himself: "I can light the fire, and put it out; I can dry this water up, or drink it. It cannot be the fire or the water that rages, or that is wayward. But it must be something in this fire and in the water, which I cannot destroy by171 extinguishing the one, or evaporating the other, any more than I destroy myself by cutting off my finger; I was in my finger,—something of me at least was; I had a power over it, and felt pain in it, though I am still as much myself when it is gone. So there may be a power in the water which is not water, but to which the water is as a body;—which can strike with it, move in it, suffer in it, yet not be destroyed in it. This something, this great Water Spirit, I must not confuse with the waves, which are only its body. They may flow hither and thither, increase or diminish. That must be indivisible—imperishable—a god. So of fire also; those rays which I can stop, and in the midst of which I cast a shadow, cannot be divine, nor greater than I. They cannot feel, but there may be something in them that feels,—a glorious intelligence, as much nobler and more swift than mine, as these rays, which are its body, are nobler and swifter than my flesh;—the spirit of all light, and truth, and melody, and revolving hours."

§ 7. It was easy to conceive, farther, that such spirits should be able to assume at will a human form, in order to hold intercourse with men, or to perform any act for which their proper body, whether fire, earth, or air, was unfitted. And it would have been to place them beneath, instead of above, humanity, if, assuming the form of man, they could not also have tasted his pleasures. Hence the easy step to the more or less material ideas of deities, which are apt at first to shock us, but which are indeed only dishonorable so far as they represent the gods as false and unholy. It is not the materialism, but the vice, which degrades the conception; for the materialism itself is never positive or complete. There is always some sense of exaltation in the spiritual and immortal body; and of a power proceeding from the visible form through all the infinity of the element ruled by the particular god. The precise nature of the idea is well seen in the passage of the Iliad which describes the river Scamander defending the Trojans against Achilles. In order to remonstrate with the hero, the god assumes a human form, which nevertheless is in some way or other instantly recognized by Achilles as that of the river-god: it is addressed at once as a river, not as a man; and its voice is the voice of a172 river, "out of the deep whirlpools."[59] Achilles refuses to obey its commands; and from the human form it returns instantly into its natural or divine one, and endeavors to overwhelm him with waves. Vulcan defends Achilles, and sends fire against the river, which suffers in its water-body, till it is able to bear no more. At last even the "nerve of the river," or "strength of the river" (note the expression), feels the fire, and this "strength of the river" addresses Vulcan in supplications for respite. There is in this precisely the idea of a vital part of the river-body, which acted and felt, and which, if the fire reached it, was death, just as would be the case if it touched a vital part of the human body. Throughout the passage the manner of conception is perfectly clear and consistent; and if, in other places, the exact connection between the ruling spirit and the thing ruled is not so manifest, it is only because it is almost impossible for the human mind to dwell long upon such subjects without falling into inconsistencies, and gradually slackening its effort to grasp the entire truth; until the more spiritual part of it slips from its hold, and only the human form of the god is left, to be conceived and described as subject to all the errors of humanity. But I do not believe that the idea ever weakens itself down to mere allegory. When Pallas is said to attack and strike down Mars, it does not mean merely that Wisdom at that moment prevailed against Wrath. It means that there are indeed two great spirits, one entrusted to guide the human soul to wisdom and chastity, the other to kindle wrath and prompt to battle. It means that these two spirits, on the spot where, and at the moment when, a great contest was to be decided between all that they each governed in man, then and there assumed human form, and human weapons, and did verily and materially strike at each other, until the Spirit of Wrath was crushed. And when Diana is said to hunt with her nymphs in the woods, it does not mean merely as Wordsworth puts it, that the poet or shepherd saw the moon and stars glancing between the branches of the trees, and wished to say so figuratively. It173 means that there is a living spirit, to which the light of the moon is a body; which takes delight in glancing between the clouds and following the wild beasts as they wander through the night; and that this spirit sometimes assumes a perfect human form, and in this form, with real arrows, pursues and slays the wild beasts, which with its mere arrows of moonlight it could not slay; retaining, nevertheless, all the while, its power, and being in the moonlight, and in all else that it rules.

§ 8. There is not the smallest inconsistency or unspirituality in this conception. If there were, it would attach equally to the appearance of the angels to Jacob, Abraham, Joshua, or Manoah. In all those instances the highest authority which governs our own faith requires us to conceive divine power clothed with a human form (a form so real that it is recognized for superhuman only by its "doing wondrously"), and retaining, nevertheless, sovereignty and omnipresence in all the world. This is precisely, as I understand it, the heathen idea of a God; and it is impossible to comprehend any single part of the Greek mind until we grasp this faithfully, not endeavoring to explain it away in any wise, but accepting, with frank decision and definition, the tangible existence of its deities;—blue-eyed—white-fleshed—human-hearted,—capable at their choice of meeting man absolutely in his own nature—feasting with him—talking with him—fighting with him, eye to eye, or breast to breast, as Mars with Diomed; or else, dealing with him in a more retired spirituality, as Apollo sending the plague upon the Greeks, when his quiver rattles at his shoulders as he moves, and yet the darts sent forth of it strike not as arrows, but as plague; or, finally, retiring completely into the material universe which they properly inhabit, and dealing with man through that, as Scamander with Achilles through his waves.

§ 9. Nor is there anything whatever in the various actions recorded of the gods, however apparently ignoble, to indicate weakness of belief in them. Very frequently things which appear to us ignoble are merely the simplicities of a pure and truthful age. When Juno beats Diana about the ears with her own quiver, for instance, we start at first, as if Homer could not have believed that they were both real goddesses. But what should Juno have done? Killed Diana with a look? Nay, she174 neither wished to do so, nor could she have done so, by the very faith of Diana's goddess-ship. Diana is as immortal as herself. Frowned Diana into submission? But Diana has come expressly to try conclusions with her, and will by no means be frowned into submission. Wounded her with a celestial lance? That sounds more poetical, but it is in reality partly more savage, and partly more absurd, than Homer. More savage, for it makes Juno more cruel, therefore less divine; and more absurd, for it only seems elevated in tone, because we use the word "celestial," which means nothing. What sort of a thing is a "celestial" lance? Not a wooden one. Of what then? Of moonbeams, or clouds, or mist. Well, therefore, Diana's arrows were of mist too; and her quiver, and herself, and Juno, with her lance, and all, vanish into mist. Why not have said at once, if that is all you mean, that two mists met, and one drove the other back? That would have been rational and intelligible, but not to talk of celestial lances. Homer had no such misty fancy; he believed the two goddesses were there in true bodies, with true weapons, on the true earth; and still I ask, what should Juno have done? Not beaten Diana? No; for it is un-lady-like. Un-English-lady-like, yes; but by no means un-Greek-lady-like, nor even un-natural-lady-like. If a modern lady does not beat her servant or her rival about the ears, it is oftener because she is too weak, or too proud, than because she is of purer mind than Homer's Juno. She will not strike them; but she will overwork the one or slander the other without pity; and Homer would not have thought that one whit more goddess-like than striking them with her open hand.

§ 10. If, however, the reader likes to suppose that while the two goddesses in personal presence thus fought with arrow and quiver, there was also a broader and vaster contest supposed by Homer between the elements they ruled; and that the goddess of the heavens, as she struck the goddess of the moon on the flushing cheek, was at the same instant exercising omnipresent power in the heavens themselves, and gathering clouds, with which, filled with the moon's own arrows or beams, she was encumbering and concealing the moon; he is welcome to this out-carrying of the idea, provided that he does not pretend to make it an interpretation instead of a mere extension, nor think175 to explain away my real, running, beautiful beaten Diana, into a moon behind clouds.[60]

§ 11. It is only farther to be noted, that the Greek conception of Godhead, as it was much more real than we usually suppose, so it was much more bold and familiar than to a modern mind would be possible. I shall have something more to observe, in a little while, of the danger of our modern habit of endeavoring to raise ourselves to something like comprehension of the truth of divinity, instead of simply believing the words in which the Deity reveals Himself to us. The Greek erred rather on the other side, making hardly any effort to conceive divine mind as above the human; and no more shrinking from frank intercourse with a divine being, or dreading its immediate presence, than that of the simplest of mortals. Thus Atrides, enraged at his sword's breaking in his hand upon the helmet of Paris, after he had expressly invoked the assistance of Jupiter, exclaims aloud, as he would to a king who had betrayed him, "Jove, Father, there is not another god more evil-minded than thou!" and Helen, provoked at Paris's defeat, and oppressed with pouting shame both for him and for herself, when Venus appears at her side, and would lead her back to the delivered Paris, impatiently tells the goddess to "go and take care of Paris herself."

§ 12. The modern mind is naturally, but vulgarly and unjustly, shocked by this kind of familiarity. Rightly understood, it is not so much a sign of misunderstanding of the divine nature as of good understanding of the human. The Greek lived, in all things, a healthy, and, in a certain degree, a perfect life. He had no morbid or sickly feeling of any kind. He was accustomed to face death without the slightest shrinking, to undergo all kinds of bodily hardship without complaint, and to do what he supposed right and honorable, in most cases, as a matter of course. Confident of his own immortality, and of the power of abstract justice, he expected to be dealt with in176 the next world as was right, and left the matter much in his gods' hands; but being thus immortal, and finding in his own soul something which it seemed quite as difficult to master, as to rule the elements, he did not feel that it was an appalling superiority in those gods to have bodies of water, or fire, instead of flesh, and to have various work to do among the clouds and waves, out of his human way; or sometimes, even, in a sort of service to himself. Was not the nourishment of herbs and flowers a kind of ministering to his wants? were not the gods in some sort his husbandmen, and spirit-servants? Their mere strength or omnipresence did not seem to him a distinction absolutely terrific. It might be the nature of one being to be in two places at once, and of another to be only in one; but that did not seem of itself to infer any absolute lordliness of one nature above the other, any more than an insect must be a nobler creature than a man, because it can see on four sides of its head, and the man only in front. They could kill him or torture him, it was true; but even that not unjustly, or not for ever. There was a fate, and a Divine Justice, greater than they; so that if they did wrong, and he right, he might fight it out with them, and have the better of them at last. In a general way, they were wiser, stronger, and better than he; and to ask counsel of them, to obey them, to sacrifice to them, to thank them for all good, this was well; but to be utterly downcast before them, or not to tell them his mind in plain Greek if they seemed to him to be conducting themselves in an ungodly manner,—this would not be well.

§ 13. Such being their general idea of the gods, we can now easily understand the habitual tone of their feelings towards what was beautiful in nature. With us, observe, the idea of the Divinity is apt to get separated from the life of nature; and imagining our God upon a cloudy throne, far above the earth, and not in the flowers or waters, we approach those visible things with a theory that they are dead, governed by physical laws, and so forth. But coming to them, we find the theory fail; that they are not dead; that, say what we choose about them, the instinctive sense of their being alive is too strong for us; and in scorn of all physical law, the wilful fountain sings, and the kindly flowers rejoice. And then, puzzled, and yet happy;177 pleased, and yet ashamed of being so; accepting sympathy from nature, which we do not believe it gives, and giving sympathy to nature, which we do not believe it receives,—mixing, besides, all manner of purposeful play and conceit with these involuntary fellowships,—we fall necessarily into the curious web of hesitating sentiment, pathetic fallacy, and wandering fancy, which form a great part of our modern view of nature. But the Greek never removed his god out of nature at all; never attempted for a moment to contradict his instinctive sense that God was everywhere. "The tree is glad," said he, "I know it is; I can cut it down; no matter, there was a nymph in it. The water does sing," said he; "I can dry it up; but no matter, there was a naiad in it." But in thus clearly defining his belief, observe, he threw it entirely into a human form, and gave his faith to nothing but the image of his own humanity. What sympathy and fellowship he had, were always for the spirit in the stream, not for the stream; always for the dryad in the wood, not for the wood. Content with this human sympathy, he approached the actual waves and woody fibres with no sympathy at all. The spirit that ruled them, he received as a plain fact. Them, also, ruled and material, he received as plain facts; they, without their spirit, were dead enough. A rose was good for scent, and a stream for sound and coolness; for the rest, one was no more than leaves, the other no more than water; he could not make anything else of them; and the divine power, which was involved in their existence, having been all distilled away by him into an independent Flora or Thetis, the poor leaves or waves were left, in mere cold corporealness, to make the most of their being discernibly red and soft, clear and wet, and unacknowledged in any other power whatsoever.

§ 14. Then, observe farther, the Greeks lived in the midst of the most beautiful nature, and were as familiar with blue sea, clear air, and sweet outlines of mountain, as we are with brick walls, black smoke, and level fields. This perfect familiarity rendered all such scenes of natural beauty unexciting, if not indifferent, to them, by lulling and overwearying the imagination as far as it was concerned with such things; but there was another kind of beauty which they found it required effort to178 obtain, and which, when thoroughly obtained, seemed more glorious than any of this wild loveliness—the beauty of the human countenance and form. This, they perceived, could only be reached by continual exercise of virtue; and it was in Heaven's sight, and theirs, all the more beautiful because it needed this self-denial to obtain it. So they set themselves to reach this, and having gained it, gave it their principal thoughts, and set it off with beautiful dress as best they might. But making this their object, they were obliged to pass their lives in simple exercise and disciplined employments. Living wholesomely, giving themselves no fever fits, either by fasting or over-eating, constantly in the open air, and full of animal spirit and physical power, they became incapable of every morbid condition of mental emotion. Unhappy love, disappointed ambition, spiritual despondency, or any other disturbing sensation, had little power over the well-braced nerves, and healthy flow of the blood; and what bitterness might yet fasten on them was soon boxed or raced out of a boy, and spun or woven out of a girl, or danced out of both. They had indeed their sorrows, true and deep, but still, more like children's sorrows than ours, whether bursting into open cry of pain, or hid with shuddering under the veil, still passing over the soul as clouds do over heaven, not sullying it, not mingling with it;—darkening it perhaps long or utterly, but still not becoming one with it, and for the most part passing away in dashing rain of tears, and leaving the man unchanged; in nowise affecting, as our sorrow does, the whole tone of his thought and imagination thenceforward.

How far our melancholy may be deeper and wider than theirs, in its roots and view, and therefore nobler, we shall consider presently; but at all events, they had the advantage of us in being entirety free from all those dim and feverish sensations which result from unhealthy state of the body. I believe that a large amount of the dreamy and sentimental sadness, tendency to reverie, and general patheticalness of modern life results merely from derangement of stomach; holding to the Greek life the same relation that the feverish night of an adult does to a child's sleep.

§ 15. Farther. The human beauty, which, whether in its179 bodily being or in imagined divinity, had become, for the reasons we have seen, the principal object of culture and sympathy to these Greeks, was, in its perfection, eminently orderly, symmetrical, and tender. Hence, contemplating it constantly in this state, they could not but feel a proportionate fear of all that was disorderly, unbalanced, and rugged. Having trained their stoutest soldiers into a strength so delicate and lovely, that their white flesh, with their blood upon it, should look like ivory stained with purple;[61] and having always around them, in the motion and majesty of this beauty, enough for the full employment of their imagination, they shrank with dread or hatred from all the ruggedness of lower nature,—from the wrinkled forest bark, the jagged hill-crest, and irregular, inorganic storm of sky; looking to these for the most part as adverse powers, and taking pleasure only in such portions of the lower world as were at once conducive to the rest and health of the human frame, and in harmony with the laws of its gentler beauty.

§ 16. Thus, as far as I recollect, without a single exception, every Homeric landscape, intended to be beautiful, is composed of a fountain, a meadow, and a shady grove. This ideal is very interestingly marked, as intended for a perfect one, in the fifth book of the Odyssey; when Mercury himself stops for a moment, though on a message, to look at a landscape "which even an immortal might be gladdened to behold." This landscape consists of a cave covered with a running vine, all blooming into grapes, and surrounded by a grove of alder, poplar, and sweet-smelling cypress. Four fountains of white (foaming) water, springing in succession (mark the orderliness), and close to one another, flow away in different directions, through a meadow full of violets and parsley (parsley, to mark its moisture, being elsewhere called "marsh-nourished," and associated with the lotus);[62] the air is perfumed not only by these violets and by the sweet cypress, but by Calypso's fire of finely chopped cedar wood, which sends a smoke as of incense, through the island; Calypso herself is singing; and finally, upon the trees are resting, or roosting, owls, hawks, and "long-tongued sea-180crows." Whether these last are considered as a part of the ideal landscape, as marine singing-birds, I know not; but the approval of Mercury appears to be elicited chiefly by the fountains and violet meadow.

§ 17. Now the notable things in this description are, first, the evident subservience of the whole landscape to human comfort, to the foot, the taste, or the smell; and, secondly, that throughout the passage there is not a single figurative word expressive of the things being in any wise other than plain grass, fruit or flower. I have used the term "spring" of the fountains, because, without doubt, Homer means that they sprang forth brightly, having their source at the foot of the rocks (as copious fountains nearly always have); but Homer does not say "spring," he says simply flow, and uses only one word for "growing softly," or "richly," of the tall trees, the vine, and the violets. There is, however, some expression of sympathy with the sea-birds; he speaks of them in precisely the same terms, as in other places of naval nations, saying they "have care of the works of the sea."

§ 18. If we glance through the references to pleasant landscape which occur in other parts of the Odyssey, we shall always be struck by this quiet subjection of their every feature to human service, and by the excessive similarity in the scenes. Perhaps the spot intended, after this, to be most perfect, may be the garden of Alcinous, where the principal ideas are, still more definitely, order, symmetry, and fruitfulness; the beds being duly ranged between rows of vines, which, as well as the pear, apple, and fig-trees, bear fruit continually, some grapes being yet sour, while others are getting black; there are plenty of "orderly square beds of herbs," chiefly leeks, and two fountains, one running through the garden, and one under the pavement of the palace to a reservoir for the citizens. Ulysses, pausing to contemplate this scene, is described nearly in the same terms as Mercury pausing to contemplate the wilder meadow; and it is interesting to observe, that, in spite of all Homer's love of symmetry, the god's admiration is excited by the free fountains, wild violets, and wandering vine; but the mortal's, by the vines in rows, the leeks in beds, and the fountains in pipes.


Ulysses has, however, one touching reason for loving vines in rows. His father had given him fifty rows for himself, when he was a boy, with corn between them (just as it now grows in Italy). Proving his identity afterwards to his father, whom he finds at work in his garden, "with thick gloves on, to keep his hands from the thorns," he reminds him of these fifty rows of vines, and of the "thirteen pear-trees and ten apple-trees" which he had given him; and Laertes faints upon his neck.

§ 19. If Ulysses had not been so much of a gardener, it might have been received as a sign of considerable feeling for landscape beauty, that, intending to pay the very highest possible compliment to the Princess Nausicaa (and having indeed, the moment before, gravely asked her whether she was a goddess or not), he says that he feels, at seeing her, exactly as he did when he saw the young palm-tree growing at Apollo's shrine at Delos. But I think the taste for trim hedges and upright trunks has its usual influence over him here also, and that he merely means to tell the princess that she is delightfully tall and straight.

§ 20. The princess is, however, pleased by his address, and tells him to wait outside the town, till she can speak to her father about him. The spot to which she directs him is another ideal piece of landscape, composed of a "beautiful grove of aspen poplars, a fountain, and a meadow," near the road-side; in fact, as nearly as possible such a scene as meets the eye of the traveller every instant on the much-despised lines of road through lowland France; for instance, on the railway between Arras and Amiens;—scenes, to my mind, quite exquisite in the various grouping and grace of their innumerable poplar avenues, casting sweet, tremulous shadows over their level meadows and labyrinthine streams. We know that the princess means aspen poplars, because soon afterwards we find her fifty maid-servants at the palace, all spinning, and in perpetual motion, compared to the "leaves of the tall poplar;" and it is with exquisite feeling that it is made afterwards[63] the chief tree in the groves of Proserpine; its light and quivering leafage having exactly the melancholy expression of fragility, faintness, and182 inconstancy which the ancients attributed to the disembodied spirit.[64] The likeness to the poplars by the streams of Amiens is more marked still in the Iliad, where the young Simois, struck by Ajax, falls to the earth "like an aspen that has grown in an irrigated meadow, smooth-trunked, the soft shoots springing from its top, which some coach-making man has cut down with his keen iron, that he may fit a wheel of it to a fair chariot, and it lies parching by the side of the stream." It is sufficiently notable that Homer, living in mountainous and rocky countries, dwells thus delightedly on all the flat bits; and so I think invariably the inhabitants of mountain countries do, but the inhabitants of the plains do not, in any similar way, dwell delightedly on mountains. The Dutch painters are perfectly contented with their flat fields and pollards: Rubens, though he had seen the Alps, usually composes his landscapes of a hayfield or two, plenty of pollards and willows, a distant spire, a Dutch house with a moat about it, a windmill, and a ditch. The Flemish sacred painters are the only ones who introduce mountains in the distance, as we shall see presently; but rather in a formal way than with any appearance of enjoyment. So Shakspere never speaks of mountains with the slightest joy, but only of lowland flowers, flat fields, and Warwickshire streams. And if we talk to the mountaineer, he will usually characterize his own country to us as a "pays affreux," or in some equivalent, perhaps even more violent, German term: but the lowland peasant does not think his country frightful; he either will have no ideas beyond it, or about it; or will think it a very perfect country, and be apt to regard any deviation from its general principle of flatness with extreme disfavor; as the Lincolnshire farmer in Alton Locke: "I'll shaw 'ee some'at like a field o' beans, I wool—none o' this here darned ups and downs o' hills, to shake a body's victuals out of his inwards—all so vlat as a barn door, for vorty mile on end—there's the country to live in!"

I do not say whether this be altogether right (though certainly not wholly wrong), but it seems to me that there must be in the simple freshness and fruitfulness of level land, in its pale183 upright trees, and gentle lapse of silent streams, enough for the satisfaction of the human mind in general; and I so far agree with Homer, that if I had to educate an artist to the full perception of the meaning of the word "gracefulness" in landscape, I should send him neither to Italy nor to Greece, but simply to those poplar groves between Arras and Amiens.

§ 21. But to return more definitely to our Homeric landscape. When it is perfect, we have, as in the above instances, the foliage and meadows together; when imperfect, it is always either the foliage or the meadow; preëminently the meadow, or arable field. Thus, meadows of asphodel are prepared for the happier dead; and even Orion, a hunter among the mountains in his lifetime, pursues the ghosts of beasts in these asphodel meadows after death.[65] So the sirens sing in a meadow; and throughout the Odyssey there is a general tendency to the depreciation of poor Ithaca, because it is rocky, and only fit for goats, and has "no meadows;" for which reason Telemachus refuses Atrides's present of horses, congratulating the Spartan king at the same time on ruling over a plain which has "plenty of lotus in it, and rushes," with corn and barley. Note this constant dwelling on the marsh plants, or, at least, those which grow in flat and well-irrigated land, or beside streams: when Scamander, for instance, is restrained by Vulcan, Homer says, very sorrowfully, that "all his lotus, and reeds, and rushes were burnt;" and thus Ulysses, after being shipwrecked and nearly drowned, and beaten about the sea for many days and nights, on raft and mast, at last getting ashore at the mouth of a large river, casts himself down first upon its rushes, and then, in thankfulness, kisses the "corn-giving land," as most opposed, in his heart, to the fruitless and devouring sea.[66]

§ 22. In this same passage, also, we find some peculiar expressions of the delight which the Greeks had in trees, for, when Ulysses first comes in sight of land, which gladdens him, "as the reviving of a father from his sickness gladdens his children," it is not merely the sight of the land itself which184 gives him such pleasure, but of the "land and wood." Homer never throws away any words, at least in such a place as this; and what in another poet would have been merely the filling up of the deficient line with an otherwise useless word, is in him the expression of the general Greek sense, that land of any kind was in nowise grateful or acceptable till there was wood upon it (or corn; but the corn, in the flats, could not be seen so far as the black masses of forest on the hill sides), and that, as in being rushy and corn-giving, the low land, so in being woody, the high land, was most grateful to the mind of the man who for days and nights had been wearied on the engulphing sea. And this general idea of wood and corn, as the types of the fatness of the whole earth, is beautifully marked in another place of the Odyssey,[67] where the sailors in a desert island, having no flour or corn to offer as a meat offering with their sacrifices, take the leaves of the trees, and scatter them over the burnt offering instead.

§ 23. But still, every expression of the pleasure which Ulysses has in this landing and resting, contains uninterruptedly the reference to the utility and sensible pleasantness of all things, not to their beauty. After his first grateful kiss given to the corn-growing land, he considers immediately how he is to pass the night: for some minutes hesitating whether it will be best to expose himself to the misty chill from the river, or run the risk of wild beasts in the wood. He decides for the wood, and finds in it a bower formed by a sweet and a wild olive tree, interlacing their branches, or—perhaps more accurately translating Homer's intensely graphic expression—"changing their branches with each other" (it is very curious how often, in an entanglement of wood, one supposes the branches to belong to the wrong trees), and forming a roof penetrated by neither rain, sun, nor wind. Under this bower Ulysses collects the "vain (or frustrate) outpouring of the dead leaves"—another exquisite expression, used elsewhere of useless grief or shedding of tears;—and, having got enough together, makes his bed of them, and goes to sleep, having covered himself up with them, "as embers are covered up with ashes."


Nothing can possibly be more intensely possessive of the facts than this whole passage; the sense of utter deadness and emptiness, and frustrate fall in the leaves; of dormant life in the human body,—the fire, and heroism, and strength of it, lulled under the dead brown heap, as embers under ashes, and the knitting of interchanged and close strength of living boughs above. But there is not the smallest apparent sense of there being beauty elsewhere than in the human being. The wreathed wood is admired simply as being a perfect roof for it; the fallen leaves only as being a perfect bed for it; and there is literally no more excitement of emotion in Homer, as he describes them, nor does he expect us to be more excited or touched by hearing about them, than if he had been telling us how the chamber-maid at the Bull aired the four-poster, and put on two extra blankets.

§ 24. Now, exactly this same contemplation of subservience to human use makes the Greek take some pleasure in rocks, when they assume one particular form, but one only—that of a cave. They are evidently quite frightful things to him under any other condition, and most of all if they are rough and jagged; but if smooth, looking "sculptured," like the sides of a ship, and forming a cave or shelter for him, he begins to think them endurable. Hence, associating the ideas of rich and sheltering wood, sea, becalmed and made useful as a port by projecting promontories of rock, and smoothed caves or grottoes in the rocks themselves, we get the pleasantest idea which the Greek could form of a landscape, next to a marsh with poplars in it; not, indeed, if possible, ever to be without these last: thus, in commending the Cyclops' country as one possessed of every perfection, Homer first says: "They have soft marshy meadows near the sea, and good, rich, crumbling, ploughing-land, giving fine deep crops, and vines always giving fruit;" then, "a port so quiet, that they have no need of cables in it; and at the head of the port, a beautiful clear spring just under a cave, and aspen poplars all round it."[68]


§ 25. This, it will be seen, is very nearly Homer's usual "ideal;" but, going into the middle of the island, Ulysses comes on a rougher and less agreeable bit, though still fulfilling certain required conditions of endurableness; a "cave shaded with laurels," which, having no poplars about it, is, however, meant to be somewhat frightful, and only fit to be inhabited by a Cyclops. So in the country of the Læstrygons, Homer, preparing his reader gradually for something very disagreeable, represents the rocks as bare and "exposed to the sun;" only with some smooth and slippery roads over them, by which the trucks bring down wood from the higher hills. Any one familiar with Swiss slopes of hills must remember how often he has descended, sometimes faster than was altogether intentional, by these same slippery woodman's track roads.

And thus, in general, whenever the landscape is intended to be lovely, it verges towards the ploughed land and poplars; or, at worst, to woody rocks; but, if intended to be painful, the rocks are bare and "sharp." This last epithet, constantly used by Homer for mountains, does not altogether correspond, in Greek, to the English term, nor is it intended merely to characterize the sharp mountain summits; for it never would be applied simply to the edge or point of a sword, but signifies rather "harsh," "bitter," or "painful," being applied habitually to fate, death, and in Od. ii. 333. to a halter; and, as expressive of general objectionableness and unpleasantness, to all high, dangerous, or peaked mountains, as the Maleian promontory (a much dreaded one), the crest of Parnassus, the Tereian mountain, and a grim or untoward, though, by keeping off the force of the sea, protective, rock at the mouth of the Jardanus; as well as habitually to inaccessible or impregnable fortresses built on heights.

§ 26. In all this I cannot too strongly mark the utter absence of any trace of the feeling for what we call the picturesque, and the constant dwelling of the writer's mind on what was available, pleasant, or useful; his ideas respecting all landscape being not uncharacteristically summed, finally, by Pallas herself; when, meeting Ulysses, who after his long wandering does not recognize his own country, and meaning to describe it187 as politely and soothingly as possible, she says:[69] —"This Ithaca of ours is, indeed, a rough country enough, and not good for driving in; but, still, things might be worse: it has plenty of corn, and good wine, and always rain, and soft nourishing dew; and it has good feeding for goats and oxen, and all manner of wood, and springs fit to drink at all the year round."

We shall see presently how the blundering, pseudo-picturesque, pseudo-classical minds of Claude and the Renaissance landscape painters, wholly missing Homer's practical common sense, and equally incapable of feeling the quiet natural grace and sweetness of his asphodel meadows, tender aspen poplars, or running vines,—fastened on his ports and caves, as the only available features of his scenery; and appointed the type of "classical landscape" thenceforward to consist in a bay of insipid sea, and a rock with a hole through it.[70]

§ 27. It may indeed be thought that I am assuming too hastily that this was the general view of the Greeks respecting landscape, because it was Homer's. But I believe the true mind of a nation, at any period, is always best ascertainable by examining that of its greatest men; and that simpler and truer results will be attainable for us by simply comparing Homer, Dante, and Walter Scott, than by attempting (what my limits must have rendered absurdly inadequate, and in which, also, both my time and knowledge must have failed me) an analysis of the landscape in the range of contemporary literature. All that I can do, is to state the general impression which has been made upon me by my desultory reading, and to mark accurately the grounds for this impression, in the works of the greatest men. Now it is quite true that in others of the Greeks, especially in Æschylus and Aristophanes, there is infinitely more of modern feeling, of pathetic fallacy, love of picturesque or beautiful form, and other such elements, than there is in Homer; but then these appear to me just the parts of them which were not Greek, the elements of their minds by which (as one division of the human race always must be with subsequent188 ones) they are connected with the mediævals and moderns. And without doubt, in his influence over future mankind, Homer is eminently the Greek of Greeks; if I were to associate any one with him it would be Herodotus, and I believe all I have said of the Homeric landscape will be found equally true of the Herodotean, as assuredly it will be of the Platonic; the contempt, which Plato sometimes expresses by the mouth of Socrates, for the country in general, except so far as it is shady, and has cicadas and running streams to make pleasant noises in it, being almost ludicrous. But Homer is the great type, and the more notable one because of his influence on Virgil, and, through him, on Dante, and all the after ages: and in like manner, if we can get the abstract of mediæval landscape out of Dante, it will serve us as well as if we had read all the songs of the troubadours, and help us to the farther changes in derivative temper, down to all modern time.

§ 28. I think, therefore, the reader may safely accept the conclusions about Greek landscape which I have got for him out of Homer; and in these he will certainly perceive something very different from the usual imaginations we form of Greek feelings. We think of the Greeks as poetical, ideal, imaginative, in the way that a modern poet or novelist is; supposing that their thoughts about their mythology and world were as visionary and artificial as ours are: but I think the passages I have quoted show that it was not so, although it may be difficult for us to apprehend the strange minglings in them of the elements of faith, which, in our days, have been blended with other parts of human nature in a totally different guise. Perhaps the Greek mind may be best imagined by taking, as its groundwork, that of a good, conscientious, but illiterate, Scotch Presbyterian Border farmer of a century or two back, having perfect faith in the bodily appearances of Satan and his imps; and in all kelpies, brownies, and fairies. Substitute for the indignant terrors in this man's mind, a general persuasion of the Divinity, more or less beneficent, yet faultful, of all these beings; that is to say, take away his belief in the demoniacal malignity of the fallen spiritual world, and lower, in the same degree, his conceptions of the angelical, retaining for him the same firm faith in both; keep his ideas about flowers and189 beautiful scenery much as they are,—his delight in regular ploughed land and meadows, and a neat garden (only with rows of gooseberry bushes instead of vines,) being, in all probability, about accurately representative of the feelings of Ulysses; then, let the military spirit that is in him, glowing against the Border forager, or the foe of old Flodden and Chevy-Chase, be made more principal, with a higher sense of nobleness in soldiership, not as a careless excitement, but a knightly duty; and increased by high cultivation of every personal quality, not of mere shaggy strength, but graceful strength, aided by a softer climate, and educated in all proper harmony of sight and sound: finally, instead of an informed Christian, suppose him to have only the patriarchal Jewish knowledge of the Deity, and even this obscured by tradition, but still thoroughly solemn and faithful, requiring his continual service as a priest of burnt sacrifice and meat offering; and I think we shall get a pretty close approximation to the vital being of a true old Greek; some slight difference still existing in a feeling which the Scotch farmer would have of a pleasantness in blue hills and running streams, wholly wanting in the Greek mind; and perhaps also some difference of views on the subjects of truth and honesty. But the main points, the easy, athletic, strongly logical and argumentative, yet fanciful and credulous, characters of mind, would be very similar in both; and the most serious change in the substance of the stuff among the modifications above suggested as necessary to turn the Scot into the Greek, is that effect of softer climate and surrounding luxury, inducing the practice of various forms of polished art,—the more polished, because the practical and realistic tendency of the Hellenic mind (if my interpretation of it be right) would quite prevent it from taking pleasure in any irregularities of form, or imitations of the weeds and wildnesses of that mountain nature with which it thought itself born to contend. In its utmost refinement of work, it sought eminently for orderliness; carried the principle of the leeks in squares, and fountains in pipes, perfectly out in its streets and temples; formalized whatever decoration it put into its minor architectural mouldings, and reserved its whole heart and power to represent190 the action of living men, or gods, though not unconscious meanwhile, of

"The simple, the sincere delight;
The habitual scene of hill and dale
The rural herds, the vernal gale;
The tangled vetches' purple bloom;
The fragrance of the bean's perfume,—
Theirs, theirs alone, who cultivate the soil,
And drink the cup of thirst, and eat the bread of toil."

[59] Compare Lay of the Last Minstrel, canto i. stanza 15., and canto v. stanza 2. In the first instance, the river-spirit is accurately the Homeric god, only Homer would have believed in it,—Scott did not; at least not altogether.

[60] Compare the exquisite lines of Longfellow on the sunset in the Golden Legend:—

"The day is done, and slowly from the scene
The stooping sun upgathers his spent shafts,
And puts them back into his golden quiver."

[61] Iliad iv. 141.

[62] Iliad ii. 776.

[63] Odyssey, x. 510.

[64] Compare the passage in Dante referred to above, Chap. XII. § 6.

[65] Odyssey, xi. 571. xxiv. 13. The couch of Ceres, with Homer's usual faithfulness, is made of a ploughed field, v. 127.

[66] Odyssey, v. 398.

[67] Odyssey, xii. 357.

[68] Odyssey, ix. 132. &c. Hence Milton's

"From haunted spring, and dale,
Edged with poplar pale."

[69] Odyssey, xiii. 236. &c.

[70] Educated, as we shall see hereafter, first in this school, Turner gave the hackneyed composition a strange power and freshness, in his Glaucus and Scylla.




§ 1. IN our examination of the spirit of classical landscape, we were obliged to confine ourselves to what is left to us in written description. Some interesting results might indeed have been obtained by examining the Egyptian and Ninevite landscape sculpture, but in nowise conclusive enough to be worth the pains of the inquiry; for the landscape of sculpture is necessarily confined in range, and usually inexpressive of the complete feelings of the workman, being introduced rather to explain the place and circumstances of events, than for its own sake. In the Middle Ages, however, the case is widely different. We have written landscape, sculptured landscape, and painted landscape, all bearing united testimony to the tone of the national mind in almost every remarkable locality of Europe.

§ 2. That testimony, taken in its breadth, is very curiously conclusive. It marks the mediæval mind as agreeing altogether with the ancients, in holding that flat land, brooks, and groves of aspens, compose the pleasant places of the earth, and that rocks and mountains are, for inhabitation, altogether to be reprobated and detested; but as disagreeing with the classical mind totally in this other most important respect, that the pleasant flat land is never a ploughed field, nor a rich lotus meadow good for pasture, but garden ground covered with flowers, and divided by fragrant hedges, with a castle in the middle of it. The aspens are delighted in, not because they are good for "coach-making men" to make cart-wheels of, but because they are shady and graceful; and the fruit-trees, covered with delicious fruit, especially apple and orange, occupy still more important positions in the scenery. Singing-birds—not "sea-crows," but nightingales[71] —perch on every bough;192 and the ideal occupation of mankind is not to cultivate either the garden or the meadow, but to gather roses and eat oranges in the one, and ride out hawking over the other.

Finally, mountain scenery, though considered as disagreeable for general inhabitation, is always introduced as being proper to meditate in, or to encourage communion with higher beings; and in the ideal landscape of daily life, mountains are considered agreeable things enough, so that they be far enough away.

In this great change there are three vital points to be noticed.

§ 3. Three essential characters: 1. Pride in idleness.

The first, the disdain of agricultural pursuits by the nobility; a fatal change, and one gradually bringing about the ruin of that nobility. It is expressed in the mediæval landscape by the eminently pleasurable and horticultural character of everything; by the fences, hedges, castle walls, and masses of useless, but lovely flowers, especially roses. The knights and ladies are represented always as singing, or making love, in these pleasant places. The idea of setting an old knight, like Laertes (whatever his state of fallen fortune), "with thick gloves on to keep his hands from the thorns," to prune a row of vines, would have been regarded as the most monstrous violation of the decencies of life; and a senator, once detected in the home employments of Cincinnatus, could, I suppose, thenceforward hardly have appeared in society.

§ 4. 2. Poetical observance of nature.

The second vital point is the evidence of a more sentimental enjoyment of external nature. A Greek, wishing really to enjoy himself, shut himself into a beautiful atrium, with an excellent dinner, and a society of philosophical or musical friends. But a mediæval knight went into his pleasance, to gather roses and hear the birds sing; or rode out hunting or hawking. His evening feast, though riotous enough sometimes, was not the height of his day's enjoyment; and if the attractions of the world are to be shown typically to him, as opposed to the horrors of death, they are never represented by a full feast in a chamber, but by a delicate dessert in an orange grove, with musicians under the trees; or a ride on a May morning, hawk on fist.

This change is evidently a healthy, and a very interesting one.

§ 5. 3. Disturbed conscience.

The third vital point is the marked sense that this hawking and apple-eating are not altogether right; that there is something else to be done in the world than that; and that the mountains, as opposed to the pleasant garden-ground, are places where that other something may best be learned;—which is evidently a piece of infinite and new respect for the mountains, and another healthy change in the tone of the human heart.

Let us glance at the signs and various results of these changes, one by one.

§ 6. Derivative characters: 1. Love of flowers.

The two first named, evil and good as they are, are very closely connected. The more poetical delight in external nature proceeds just from the fact that it is no longer looked upon with the eye of the farmer; and in proportion as the herbs and flowers cease to be regarded as useful, they are felt to be charming. Leeks are not now the most important objects in the garden, but lilies and roses; the herbage which a Greek would have looked at only with a view to the number of horses it would feed, is regarded by the mediæval knight as a green carpet for fair feet to dance upon, and the beauty of its softness and color is proportionally felt by him; while the brook, which the Greek rejoiced to dismiss into a reservoir under the palace threshold, would be, by the mediæval, distributed into pleasant pools, or forced into fountains; and regarded alternately as a mirror for fair faces, and a witchery to ensnare the sunbeams and the rainbow.

§ 7. 2. Less definite gratitude to God.

And this change of feeling involves two others, very important. When the flowers and grass were regarded as means of life, and therefore (as the thoughtful laborer of the soil must always regard them) with the reverence due to those gifts of God which were most necessary to his existence; although their own beauty was less felt, their proceeding from the Divine hand was more seriously acknowledged, and the herb yielding seed, and fruit-tree yielding fruit, though in themselves less admired, were yet solemnly connected in the heart with the reverence of Ceres, Pomona, or Pan. But when the sense of these necessary uses was more or less lost, among the upper classes, by the delegation of the art of husbandry to the hands of the peasant, the flower and fruit,194 whose bloom or richness thus became a mere source of pleasure, were regarded with less solemn sense of the Divine gift in them; and were converted rather into toys than treasures, chance gifts for gaiety, rather than promised rewards of labor; so that while the Greek could hardly have trodden the formal furrow, or plucked the clusters from the trellised vine, without reverent thoughts of the deities of field and leaf, who gave the seed to fructify, and the bloom to darken, the mediæval knight plucked the violet to wreathe in his lady's hair, or strewed the idle rose on the turf at her feet, with little sense of anything in the nature that gave them, but a frail, accidental, involuntary exuberance; while also the Jewish sacrificial system being now done away, as well as the Pagan mythology, and, with it, the whole conception of meat offering or firstfruits offering, the chiefest seriousness of all the thoughts connected with the gifts of nature faded from the minds of the classes of men concerned with art and literature; while the peasant, reduced to serf level, was incapable of imaginative thought, owing to his want of general cultivation. But on the other hand, exactly in proportion as the idea of definite spiritual presence in material nature was lost, the mysterious sense of unaccountable life in the things themselves would be increased, and the mind would instantly be laid open to all those currents of fallacious, but pensive and pathetic sympathy, which we have seen to be characteristic of modern times.

S 8. 3. Gloom, caused by enforced solitude.

Farther: a singular difference would necessarily result from the far greater loneliness of baronial life, deprived as it was of all interest in agricultural pursuits. The palace of a Greek leader in early times might have gardens, fields, and farms around it, but was sure to be near some busy city or sea-port: in later times, the city itself became the principal dwelling-place, and the country was visited only to see how the farm went on, or traversed in a line of march. Far other was the life of the mediæval baron, nested on his solitary jut of crag; entering into cities only occasionally for some grave political or warrior's purpose, and, for the most part, passing the years of his life in lion-like isolation; the village inhabited by his retainers straggling indeed about the slopes of the rocks at his feet, but his own dwelling195 standing gloomily apart, between them and the uncompanionable clouds, commanding, from sunset to sunrise, the flowing flame of some calm unvoyaged river, and the endless undulation of the untraversable hills. How different must the thoughts about nature have been, of the noble who lived among the bright marble porticos of the Greek groups of temple or palace,—in the midst of a plain covered with corn and olives, and by the shore of a sparkling and freighted sea,—from those of the master of some mountain promontory in the green recesses of Northern Europe, watching night by night, from amongst his heaps of storm-broken stone, rounded into towers, the lightning of the lonely sea flash round the sands of Harlech, or the mists changing their shapes forever, among the changeless pines, that fringe the crests of Jura.

§9. And frequent pilgrimage.

Nor was it without similar effect on the minds of men that their journeyings and pilgrimages became more frequent than those of the Greek, the extent of ground traversed in the course of them larger, and the mode of travel more companionless. To the Greek, a voyage to Egypt, or the Hellespont, was the subject of lasting fame and fable, and the forests of the Danube and the rocks of Sicily closed for him the gates of the intelligible world. What parts of that narrow world he crossed were crossed with fleets or armies; the camp always populous on the plain, and the ships drawn in cautious symmetry around the shore. But to the mediæval knight, from Scottish moor to Syrian sand, the world was one great exercise ground, or field of adventure; the staunch pacing of his charger penetrated the pathlessness of outmost forest, and sustained the sultriness of the most secret desert. Frequently alone,—or, if accompanied, for the most part only by retainers of lower rank, incapable of entering into complete sympathy with any of his thoughts,—he must have been compelled often to enter into dim companionship with the silent nature around him, and must assuredly sometimes have talked to the wayside flowers of his love, and to the fading clouds of his ambition.

4. Dread of mountains.

§ 10. But, on the other hand, the idea of retirement from the world for the sake of self-mortification, of combat with demons, or communion with angels, and with their King,196 —authoritatively commended as it was to all men by the continual practice of Christ Himself,—gave to all mountain solitude at once a sanctity and a terror, in the mediæval mind, which were altogether different from anything that it had possessed in the un-Christian periods. On the one side, there was an idea of sanctity attached to rocky wilderness, because it had always been among hills that the Deity had manifested himself most intimately to men, and to the hills that His saints had nearly always retired for meditation, for especial communion with Him, and to prepare for death. Men acquainted with the history of Moses, alone at Horeb, or with Israel at Sinai,—of Elijah by the brook Cherith, and in the Horeb cave; of the deaths of Moses and Aaron on Hor and Nebo; of the preparation of Jephthah's daughter for her death among the Judea Mountains; of the continual retirement of Christ Himself to the mountains for prayer, His temptation in the desert of the Dead Sea, His sermon on the hills of Capernaum, His transfiguration on the crest of Tabor, and his evening and morning walks over Olivet for the four or five days preceding His crucifixion,—were not likely to look with irreverent or unloving eyes upon the blue hills that girded their golden horizon, or drew upon them the mysterious clouds out of the height of the darker heaven. But with this impression of their greater sanctity was involved also that of a peculiar terror. In all this,—their haunting by the memories of prophets, the presences of angels, and the everlasting thoughts and words of the Redeemer,—the mountain ranges seemed separated from the active world, and only to be fitly approached by hearts which were condemnatory of it. Just in so much as it appeared necessary for the noblest men to retire to the hill-recesses before their missions could be accomplished or their spirits perfected, in so far did the daily world seem by comparison to be pronounced profane and dangerous; and to those who loved that world, and its work, the mountains were thus voiceful with perpetual rebuke, and necessarily contemplated with a kind of pain and fear, such as a man engrossed by vanity feels at being by some accident forced to hear a startling sermon, or to assist at a funeral service. Every association of this kind was deepened by the practice and the precept of the time; and thousands of197 hearts, which might otherwise have felt that there was loveliness in the wild landscape, shrank from it in dread, because they knew that the monk retired to it for penance, and the hermit for contemplation. The horror which the Greek had felt for hills only when they were uninhabitable and barren, attached itself now to many of the sweetest spots of earth; the feeling was conquered by political interests, but never by admiration; military ambition seized the frontier rock, or maintained itself in the unassailable pass; but it was only for their punishment, or in their despair, that men consented to tread the crocused slopes of the Chartreuse, or the soft glades and dewy pastures of Vallombrosa.

§ 11. In all these modifications of temper and principle there appears much which tends to passionate, affectionate, or awe-struck observance of the features of natural scenery, closely resembling, in all but this superstitious dread of mountains, our feelings at the present day. But one character which the mediævals had in common with the ancients, and that exactly the most eminent character in both, opposed itself steadily to all the feelings we have hitherto been examining,—the admiration, namely, and constant watchfulness, of human beauty. Exercised in nearly the same manner as the Greeks, from their youth upwards, their countenances were cast even in a higher mould; for, although somewhat less regular in feature, and affected by minglings of Northern bluntness and stolidity of general expression, together with greater thinness of lip and shaggy formlessness of brow, these less sculpturesque features were, nevertheless, touched with a seriousness and refinement proceeding first from the modes of thought inculcated by the Christian religion, and secondly from their more romantic and various life. Hence a degree of personal beauty, both male and female, was attained in the Middle Ages, with which classical periods could show nothing for a moment comparable; and this beauty was set forth by the most perfect splendor, united with grace, in dress, which the human race have hitherto invented. The strength of their art-genius was directed in great part to this object; and their best workmen and most brilliant fanciers were employed in wreathing the mail or embroidering the robe. The exquisite arts of enamelling and chasing metal enabled them198 to make the armor as radiant and delicate as the plumage of a tropical bird; and the most various and vivid imaginations were displayed in the alternations of color, and fiery freaks of form, on shield and crest; so that of all the beautiful things which the eyes of men could fall upon, in the world about them, the most beautiful must have been a young knight riding out in morning sunshine, and in faithful hope.

"His broad, clear brow in sunlight glowed;
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed
His coal-black curls, as on he rode.
All in the blue, unclouded weather,
Thick jewelled shone the saddle leather;
The helmet and the helmet feather
Burned like one burning flame together;
And the gemmy bridle glittered free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden galaxy."
§ 12. 5. care for human beauty.

Now, the effect of this superb presence of human beauty on men in general was, exactly as it had been in Greek times, first, to turn their thoughts and glances in great part away from all other beauty but that, and to make the grass of the field take to them always more or less the aspect of a carpet to dance upon, a lawn to tilt upon, or a serviceable crop of hay; and, secondly, in what attention they paid to this lower nature, to make them dwell exclusively on what was graceful, symmetrical, and bright in color. All that was rugged, rough, dark, wild, unterminated, they rejected at once, as the domain of "salvage men" and monstrous giants: all that they admired was tender, bright, balanced, enclosed, symmetrical—only symmetrical in the noble and free sense: for what we moderns call "symmetry," or "balance," differs as much from mediæval symmetry as the poise of a grocer's scales, or the balance of an Egyptian mummy with its hands tied to its sides, does from the balance of a knight on his horse, striking with the battle-axe, at the gallop; the mummy's balance looking wonderfully perfect, and yet sure to be one-sided if you weigh the dust of it,—the knight's balance swaying and changing like the wind, and yet as true and accurate as the laws of life.

§ 13. 6. Symmetrical government of design.

And this love of symmetry was still farther enhanced by the peculiar duties required of art at the time; for, in order to fit a flower or leaf for inlaying in armor, or showing clearly in glass, it was absolutely necessary to take away its complexity, and reduce it to the condition of a disciplined and orderly pattern; and this the more, because, for all military purposes, the device, whatever it was, had to be distinctly intelligible at extreme distance. That it should be a good imitation of nature, when seen near, was of no moment; but it was of highest moment that when first the knight's banner flashed in the sun at the turn of the mountain road, or rose, torn and bloody, through the drift of the battle dust, it should still be discernible what the bearing was.

"At length, the freshening western blast
Aside the shroud of battle cast;
And first the ridge of mingled spears
Above the brightening cloud appears;
And in the smoke the pennons flew,
As in the storm the white sea-mew;
Then marked they, dashing broad and far
The broken billows of the war.
Wide raged the battle on the plain;
Spears shook, and falchions flashed amain,
Fell England's arrow-flight like rain;
Crests rose, and stooped, and rose again,
Wild and disorderly.
Amidst the scene of tumult, high,
They saw Lord Marmion's falcon fly,
And stainless Tunstall's banner white,
And Edmund Howard's lion bright."

It was needed, not merely that they should see it was a falcon, but Lord Marmion's falcon; not only a lion, but the Howard's lion. Hence, to the one imperative end of intelligibility, every minor resemblance to nature was sacrificed, and above all, the curved, which are chiefly the confusing lines; so that the straight, elongated back, doubly elongated tail, projected and separate claws, and other rectilinear unnaturalnesses of form, became the means by which the leopard was, in midst of the mist and storm of battle, distinguished from the dog, or the lion from the wolf; the most admirable fierceness and vital200ity being, in spite of these necessary changes (so often shallowly sneered at by the modern workman), obtained by the old designer.

Farther, it was necessary to the brilliant harmony of color, and clear setting forth of everything, that all confusing shadows, all dim and doubtful lines should be rejected: hence at once an utter denial of natural appearances by the great body of workmen; and a calm rest in a practice of representation which would make either boar or lion blue, scarlet, or golden, according to the device of the knight, or the need of such and such a color in that place of the pattern; and which wholly denied that any substance ever cast a shadow, or was affected by any kind of obscurity.

§ 14. 7. Therefore, inaccurate rendering of nature.

All this was in its way, and for its end, absolutely right, admirable, and delightful; and those who despise it, laugh at it, or derive no pleasure from it, are utterly ignorant of the highest principles of art, and are mere tyros and beginners in the practice of color. But, admirable though it might be, one necessary result of it was a farther withdrawal of the observation of men from the refined and subtle beauty of nature; so that the workman who first was led to think lightly of natural beauty, as being subservient to human, was next led to think inaccurately of natural beauty, because he had continually to alter and simplify it for his practical purposes.

§ 15. Now, assembling all these different sources of the peculiar mediæval feeling towards nature in one view, we have:

1st. Love of the garden instead of love of the farm, leading to a sentimental contemplation of nature, instead of a practical and agricultural one. (§§ 3. 4. 6.)

2nd. Loss of sense of actual Divine presence, leading to fancies of fallacious animation, in herbs, flowers, clouds, &c. (§ 7.)

3rd. Perpetual, and more or less undisturbed, companionship with wild nature. (§§ 8. 9.)

4th. Apprehension of demoniacal and angelic presence among mountains, leading to a reverent dread of them. (§ 10.)

5th. Principalness of delight in human beauty, leading to comparative contempt of natural objects. (§ 11.)201

6th. Consequent love of order, light, intelligibility, and symmetry, leading to dislike of the wildness, darkness, and mystery of nature. (§ 12.)

7th. Inaccuracy of observance of nature, induced by the habitual practice of change on its forms. (§ 13.)

From these mingled elements, we should necessarily expect to find resulting, as the characteristic of mediæval landscape art, compared with Greek, a far higher sentiment about it, and affection for it, more or less subdued by still greater respect for the loveliness of man, and therefore subordinated entirely to human interests; mingled with curious traces of terror, piety, or superstition, and cramped by various formalisms,—some wise and necessary, some feeble, and some exhibiting needless ignorance and inaccuracy.

Under these lights, let us examine the facts.

§ 16. The landscape of the Middle Ages is represented in a central manner by the illuminations of the MSS. of Romances, executed about the middle of the fifteenth century. On one side of these stands the earlier landscape work, more or less treated as simple decoration; on the other, the later landscape work, becoming more or less affected with modern ideas and modes of imitation.

These central fifteenth century landscapes are almost invariably composed of a grove or two of tall trees, a winding river, and a castle, or a garden: the peculiar feature of both these last being trimness; the artist always dwelling especially on the fences; wreathing the espaliers indeed prettily with sweet-briar, and putting pots of orange-trees on the tops of the walls, but taking great care that there shall be no loose bricks in the one, nor broken stakes in the other,—the trouble and ceaseless warfare of the times having rendered security one of the first elements of pleasantness, and making it impossible for any artist to conceive Paradise but as surrounded by a moat, or to distinguish the road to it better than by its narrow wicket gate, and watchful porter.

§ 17. One of these landscapes is thus described by Macaulay: "We have an exact square, enclosed by the rivers Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel, and Euphrates, each with a convenient bridge in the centre; rectangular beds of flowers; a long canal neatly bricked202 and railed in; the tree of knowledge, clipped like one of the limes behind the Tuileries, standing in the centre of the grand alley; the snake turned round it, the man on the right hand, the woman on the left, and the beasts drawn up in an exact circle round them."

All this is perfectly true; and seems in the description very curiously foolish. The only curious folly, however, in the matter is the exquisite naïveté of the historian, in supposing that the quaint landscape indicates in the understanding of the painter so marvellous an inferiority to his own; whereas, it is altogether his own wit that is at fault, in not comprehending that nations, whose youth had been decimated among the sands and serpents of Syria, knew probably nearly as much about Eastern scenery as youths trained in the schools of the modern Royal Academy; and that this curious symmetry was entirely symbolic, only more or less modified by the various instincts which I have traced above. Mr. Macaulay is evidently quite unaware that the serpent with the human head, and body twisted round the tree, was the universally accepted symbol of the evil angel, from the dawn of art up to Michael Angelo; that the greatest sacred artists invariably place the man on the one side of the tree, the woman on the other, in order to denote the enthroned and balanced dominion about to fall by temptation; that the beasts are ranged (when they are so, though this is much more seldom the case,) in a circle round them, expressly to mark that they were then not wild, but obedient, intelligent, and orderly beasts; and that the four rivers are trenched and enclosed on the four sides, to mark that the waters which now wander in waste, and destroy in fury, had then for their principal office to "water the garden" of God. The description is, however, sufficiently apposite and interesting, as bearing upon what I have noted respecting the eminent fence-loving spirit of the mediævals.

§18. Together with this peculiar formality, we find an infinite delight in drawing pleasant flowers, always articulating and outlining them completely; the sky is always blue, having only a few delicate white clouds in it, and in the distance are blue mountains, very far away, if the landscape is to be simply delightful; but brought near, and divided into quaint over203hanging rocks, if it is intended to be meditative, or a place of saintly seclusion. But the whole of it always,—flowers, castles, brooks, clouds, and rocks,—subordinate to the human figures in the foreground, and painted for no other end than that of explaining their adventures and occupations.

7. Botany of 13th Century.
(Apple-tree and Cyclamen)

§ 19. Before the idea of landscape had been thus far developed, the representations of it had been purely typical; the objects which had to be shown in order to explain the scene of the event, being firmly outlined, usually on a pure golden or chequered color background, not on sky. The change from the golden background, (characteristic of the finest thirteenth century work) and the colored chequer (which in like manner belongs to the finest fourteenth) to the blue sky, gradated to the horizon, takes place early in the fifteenth century, and is the crisis of change in the spirit of mediæval art. Strictly speaking, we might divide the art of Christian times into two great masses—Symbolic and Imitative;—the symbolic, reaching from the earliest periods down to the close of the fourteenth century, and the imitative from that close to the present time; and, then, the most important circumstance indicative of the culminating point, or turn of tide, would be this of the change from chequered background to sky background. The uppermost figure in Plate 7. opposite, representing the tree of knowledge, taken from a somewhat late thirteenth century Hebrew manuscript (Additional 11,639) in the British Museum, will at once illustrate Mr. Macaulay's "serpent turned round the tree," and the mode of introducing the chequer background, will enable the reader better to understand the peculiar feeling of the period, which no more intended the formal walls or streams for an imitative representation of the Garden of Eden, than these chequers for an imitation of sky.

§ 20. The moment the sky is introduced (and it is curious how perfectly it is done at once, many manuscripts presenting, in alternate pages, chequered backgrounds, and deep blue skies exquisitely gradated to the horizon)—the moment, I say, the sky is introduced, the spirit of art becomes for evermore changed, and thenceforward it gradually proposes imitation more and more as an end, until it reaches the Turnerian landscape. This broad division into two schools would therefore be204 the most true and accurate we could employ, but not the most convenient. For the great mediæval art lies in a cluster about the culminating point, including symbolism on one side, and imitation on the other, and extending like a radiant cloud upon the mountain peak of ages, partly down both sides of it, from the year 1200 to 1500; the brightest part of the cloud leaning a little backwards, and poising itself between 1250 and 1350. And therefore the most convenient arrangement is into Romanesque and barbaric art, up to 1200,—mediæval art, 1200 to 1500,—and modern art, from 1500 downwards. But it is only in the earlier or symbolic mediæval art, reaching up to the close of the fourteenth century, that the peculiar modification of natural forms for decorative purposes is seen in its perfection, with all its beauty, and all its necessary shortcomings; the minds of men being accurately balanced between that honor for the superior human form which they shared with the Greek ages, and the sentimental love of nature which was peculiar to their own. The expression of the two feelings will be found to vary according to the material and place of the art; in painting, the conventional forms are more adopted, in order to obtain definition, and brilliancy of color, while in sculpture the life of nature is often rendered with a love and faithfulness which put modern art to shame. And in this earnest contemplation of the natural facts, united with an endeavor to simplify, for clear expression, the results of that contemplation, the ornamental artists arrived at two abstract conclusions about form, which are highly curious and interesting.

§ 21. They saw, first, that a leaf might always be considered as a sudden expansion of the stem that bore it; an uncontrollable expression of delight, on the part of the twig, that spring had come, shown in a fountain-like expatiation of its tender green heart into the air. They saw that in this violent proclamation of its delight and liberty, whereas the twig had, until that moment, a disposition only to grow quietly forwards, it expressed its satisfaction and extreme pleasure in sunshine by springing out to right and left. Let a b, Fig. 1. Plate 8., be the twig growing forward in the direction from a to b. It reaches the point b, and then—spring coming,—not being able to contain itself, it bursts out in every direction, even springing205 backwards at first for joy; but as this backward direction is contrary to its own proper fate and nature, it cannot go on so long, and the length of each rib into which it separates is proportioned accurately to the degree in which the proceedings of that rib are in harmony with the natural destiny of the plant. Thus the rib c, entirely contradictory, by the direction of his life and energy, of the general intentions to the tree, is but a short-lived rib; d, not quite so opposite to his fate, lives longer; e, accommodating himself still more to the spirit of progress, attains a greater length still; and the largest rib of all is the one who has not yielded at all to the erratic disposition of the others when spring came, but, feeling quite as happy about the spring as they did, nevertheless took no holiday, minded his business, and grew straightforward.

8. The Growth of Leaves.

§ 22. Fig. 6. in the same plate, which shows the disposition of the ribs in the leaf of an American Plane, exemplifies the principle very accurately; it is indeed more notably seen in this than in most leaves, because the ribs at the base have evidently had a little fraternal quarrel about their spring holiday; and the more gaily-minded ones, getting together into trios on each side, have rather pooh-poohed and laughed at the seventh brother in the middle, who wanted to go on regularly, and attend to his work. Nevertheless, though thus starting quite by himself in life, this seventh brother, quietly pushing on in the right direction, lives longest, and makes the largest fortune, and the triple partnerships on the right and left meet with a very minor prosperity.

§ 23. Now if we inclose Fig. 1. in Plate 8. with two curves passing through the extremities of the ribs, we get Fig. 2., the central type of all leaves. Only this type is modified of course in a thousand ways by the life of the plant. If it be marsh or aquatic, instead of springing out in twigs, it is almost certain to expand in soft currents, as the liberated stream does at its mouth into the ocean, Fig. 3. (Alisma Plantago); if it be meant for one of the crowned and lovely trees of the earth, it will separate into stars, and each ray of the leaf will form a ray of light in the crown, Fig. 5. (Horsechestnut); and if it be a commonplace tree, rather prudent and practical than imaginative, it will not expand all at once, but throw out the ribs every now206 and then along the central rib, like a merchant taking his occasional and restricted holiday, Fig. 4. (Elm).

§ 24. Now in the bud, where all these proceedings on the leaf's part are first imagined, the young leaf is generally (always?) doubled up in embryo, so as to present the profile of the half-leaves, as Fig. 7., only in exquisite complexity of arrangement; Fig. 9., for instance, is the profile of the leaf-bud of a rose. Hence the general arrangement of line represented by Fig. 8. (in which the lower line is slightly curved to express the bending life in the spine) is everlastingly typical of the expanding powers of joyful vegetative youth; and it is of all simple forms the most exquisitely delightful to the human mind. It presents itself in a thousand different proportions and variations in the buds and profiles of leaves; those being always the loveliest in which, either by accidental perspective of position, or inherent character in the tree, it is most frequently presented to the eye. The branch of bramble, for instance, Fig. 10. at the bottom of Plate 8., owes its chief beauty to the perpetual recurrence of this typical form; and we shall find presently the enormous importance of it, even in mountain ranges, though, in these, falling force takes the place of vital force.

Fig. 3.

§ 25. This abstract conclusion the great thirteenth century artists were the first to arrive at; and whereas, before their time, ornament had been constantly refined into intricate and207 subdivided symmetries, they were content with this simple form as the termination of its most important features. Fig. 3., which is a scroll out of a Psalter executed in the latter half of the thirteenth century, is a sufficient example of a practice at that time absolutely universal.

Botany of the 14th Century.
From the Prayer-book of Yolande of Navarre.

§ 26. The second great discovery of the Middle Ages in floral ornament, was that, in order completely to express the law of subordination among the leaf-ribs, two ribs were necessary, and no more, on each side of the leaf, forming a series of three with the central one, because proportion is between three terms at least.

Fig. 4.

That is to say, when they had only three ribs altogether, as a, Fig. 4., no law of relation was discernible between the ribs, or the leaflets they bore; but by the addition of a third on each side as at b, proportion instantly was expressible, whether arithmetical or geometrical, or of any other kind. Hence the adoption of forms more or less approximating to that at c (young ivy), or d (wild geranium), as the favorite elements of their floral ornament, those leaves being in their disposition of masses, the simplest which can express a perfect law of proportion, just as the outline Fig. 7. Plate 8. is the simplest which can express a perfect law of growth.

Plate 9. opposite gives, in rude outline, the arrangement of208 the border of one of the pages of a missal in my own possession, executed for the Countess Yolande of Flanders,[72] in the latter half of the fourteenth century, and furnishing, in exhaustless variety, the most graceful examples I have ever seen of the favorite decoration at the period, commonly now known as the "Ivy leaf" pattern.

§ 27. In thus reducing these two everlasting laws of beauty to their simplest possible exponents, the mediæval workmen were the first to discern and establish the principles of decorative art to the end of time, nor of decorative art merely, but of mass arrangement in general. For the members of any great composition, arranged about a centre, are always reducible to the law of the ivy leaf, the best cathedral entrances having five porches corresponding in proportional purpose to its five lobes (three being an imperfect, and seven a superfluous number); while the loveliest groups of lines attainable in any pictorial composition are always based on the section of the leaf-bud, Fig. 7. Plate 8., or on the relation of its ribs to the convex curve enclosing them.

§ 28. These discoveries of ultimate truth are, I believe, never made philosophically, but instinctively; so that wherever we find a high abstract result of the kind, we may be almost sure it has been the work of the penetrative imagination, acting under the influence of strong affection. Accordingly, when we enter on our botanical inquiries, I shall have occasion to show with what tender and loving fidelity to nature the masters of the thirteenth century always traced the leading lines of their decorations, either in missal-painting or sculpture, and how totally in this respect their methods of subduing, for the sake of distinctness, the natural forms they loved so dearly, differ from the iron formalisms to which the Greeks, careless of all that was not completely divine or completely human, reduced the thorn of the acanthus, and softness of the lily. Nevertheless, in all this perfect and loving decorative art, we have hardly any careful references to other landscape features than herbs and flowers; mountains, water, and clouds are introduced so rudely, that the representations of them can never be received for any209thing else than letters or signs. Thus the sign of clouds, in the thirteenth century, is an undulating band, usually in painting, of blue edged with white, in sculpture, wrought so as to resemble very nearly the folds of a curtain closely tied, and understood for clouds only by its position, as surrounding angels or saints in heaven, opening to souls ascending at the Last Judgment, or forming canopies over the Saviour or the Virgin. Water is represented by zigzag lines, nearly resembling those employed for clouds, but distinguished, in sculpture, by having fish in it; in painting, both by fish and a more continuous blue or green color. And when these unvaried symbols are associated under the influence of that love of firm fence, moat, and every other means of definition which we have seen to be one of the prevailing characteristics of the mediæval mind, it is not possible for us to conceive, through the rigidity of the signs employed, what were the real feelings of the workman or spectator about the natural landscape. We see that the thing carved or painted is not intended in any wise to imitate the truth, or convey to us the feelings which the workman had in contemplating the truth. He has got a way of talking about it so definite and cold, and tells us with his chisel so calmly that the knight had a castle to attack, or the saint a river to cross dryshod, without making the smallest effort to describe pictorially either castle or river, that we are left wholly at fault as to the nature of the emotion with which he contemplated the real objects. But that emotion, as the intermediate step between the feelings of the Grecian and the Modern, it must be our aim to ascertain as clearly as possible; and, therefore, finding it not at this period completely expressed in visible art, we must, as we did with the Greeks, take up the written landscape instead, and examine this mediæval sentiment as we find it embodied in the poem of Dante.

§ 29. The thing that must first strike us in this respect, as we turn our thoughts to the poem, is, unquestionably, the formality of its landscape.

Milton's effort, in all that he tells us of his Inferno, is to make it indefinite; Dante's, to make it definite. Both, indeed, describe it as entered through gates; but, within the gate, all is wild and fenceless with Milton, having indeed its four rivers,210—the last vestige of the mediæval tradition,—but rivers which flow through a waste of mountain and moorland, and by "many a frozen, many a fiery Alp." But Dante's Inferno is accurately separated into circles drawn with well-pointed compasses; mapped and properly surveyed in every direction, trenched in a thoroughly good style of engineering from depth to depth, and divided in the "accurate middle" (dritto mezzo) of its deepest abyss, into a concentric series of ten moats and embankments, like those about a castle, with bridges from each embankment to the next; precisely in the manner of those bridges over Hiddekel and Euphrates, which Mr. Macaulay thinks so innocently designed, apparently not aware that he is also laughing at Dante. These larger fosses are of rock, and the bridges also; but as he goes further into detail, Dante tells us of various minor fosses and embankments, in which he anxiously points out to us not only the formality, but the neatness and perfectness, of the stonework. For instance, in describing the river Phlegethon, he tells us that it was "paved with stone at the bottom, and at the sides, and over the edges of the sides," just as the water is at the baths of Bulicame; and for fear we should think this embankment at all larger than it really was, Dante adds, carefully, that it was made just like the embankments of Ghent or Bruges against the sea, or those in Lombardy which bank the Brenta, only "not so high, nor so wide," as any of these. And besides the trenches, we have two well-built castles; one like Ecbatana, with seven circuits of wall (and surrounded by a fair stream), wherein the great poets and sages of antiquity live; and another, a great fortified city with walls of iron, red-hot, and a deep fosse round it, and full of "grave citizens,"—the city of Dis.

§ 30. Now, whether this be in what we moderns call "good taste," or not, I do not mean just now to inquire—Dante having nothing to do with taste, but with the facts of what he had seen; only, so far as the imaginative faculty of the two poets is concerned, note that Milton's vagueness is not the sign of imagination, but of its absence, so far as it is significative in the matter. For it does not follow, because Milton did not map out his Inferno as Dante did, that he could not have done so if he had chosen; only, it was the easier and less imaginative process to211 leave it vague than to define it. Imagination is always the seeing and asserting faculty; that which obscures or conceals may be judgment, or feeling, but not invention. The invention, whether good or bad, is in the accurate engineering, not in the fog and uncertainty.

§ 31. When we pass with Dante from the Inferno to Purgatory, we have indeed more light and air, but no more liberty; being now confined on various ledges cut into a mountain side, with a precipice on one hand and a vertical wall on the other; and, lest here also we should make any mistake about magnitudes, we are told that the ledges were eighteen feet wide,[73] and that the ascent from one to the other was by steps, made like those which go up from Florence to the church of San Minieto.[74]

Lastly, though in the Paradise there is perfect freedom and infinity of space, though for trenches we have planets, and for cornices constellations, yet there is more cadence, procession, and order among the redeemed souls than any others; they fly, so as to describe letters and sentences in the air, and rest in circles, like rainbows, or determinate figures, as of a cross and an eagle; in which certain of the more glorified natures are so arranged as to form the eye of the bird, while those most highly blessed are arranged with their white crowds in leaflets, so as to form the image of a white rose in the midst of heaven.

§ 32. Thus, throughout the poem, I conceive that the first striking character of its scenery is intense definition; precisely the reflection of that definiteness which we have already traced in pictorial art. But the second point which seems noteworthy is, that the flat ground and embanked trenches are reserved for the Inferno; and that the entire territory of the Purgatory is a mountain, thus marking the sense of that purifying and perfecting influence in mountains which we saw the mediæval mind was so ready to suggest. The same general idea is indicated at the very commencement of the poem, in which Dante is overwhelmed by fear and sorrow in passing through a dark forest, but revives on seeing the sun touch the top of a hill, afterwards called by Virgil "the pleasant mount—the cause and source of all delight."


§ 33. While, however, we find this greater honor paid to mountains, I think we may perceive a much greater dread and dislike of woods. We saw that Homer seemed to attach a pleasant idea, for the most part, to forests; regarding them as sources of wealth and places of shelter; and we find constantly an idea of sacredness attached to them, as being haunted especially by the gods; so that even the wood which surrounds the house of Circe is spoken of as a sacred thicket, or rather, as a sacred glade, or labyrinth of glades (of the particular word used I shall have more to say presently); and so the wood is sought as a kindly shelter by Ulysses, in spite of its wild beasts; and evidently regarded with great affection by Sophocles, for, in a passage which is always regarded by readers of Greek tragedy with peculiar pleasure, the aged and blind Œdipus, brought to rest in "the sweetest resting-place" in all the neighborhood of Athens, has the spot described to him as haunted perpetually by nightingales, which sing "in the green glades and in the dark ivy, and in the thousand-fruited, sunless, and windless thickets of the god" (Bacchus); the idea of the complete shelter from wind and sun being here, as with Ulysses, the uppermost one. After this come the usual staples of landscape,—narcissus, crocus, plenty of rain, olive trees; and last, and the greatest boast of all,—"it is a good country for horses, and conveniently by the sea;" but the prominence and pleasantness of the thick wood in the thoughts of the writer are very notable; whereas to Dante the idea of a forest is exceedingly repulsive, so that, as just noticed, in the opening of his poem, he cannot express a general despair about life more strongly than by saying he was lost in a wood so savage and terrible, that "even to think or speak of it is distress,—it was so bitter,—it was something next door to death;" and one of the saddest scenes in all the Inferno is in a forest, of which the trees are haunted by lost souls; while (with only one exception,) whenever the country is to be beautiful, we find ourselves coming out into open air and open meadows.

It is quite true that this is partly a characteristic, not merely of Dante, or of mediæval writers, but of southern writers; for the simple reason that the forest, being with them higher upon the hills, and more out of the way than in the north was generally a type of lonely and savage places; while in England,213 the "greenwood," coming up to the very walls of the towns, it was possible to be "merry in the good greenwood," in a sense which an Italian could not have understood. Hence Chaucer, Spenser, and Shakspere send their favorites perpetually to the woods for pleasure or meditation; and trust their tender Canace, or Rosalind, or Helena, or Silvia, or Belphoebe, where Dante would have sent no one but a condemned spirit. Nevertheless, there is always traceable in the mediæval mind a dread of thick foliage, which was not present to that of a Greek; so that, even in the north, we have our sorrowful "children in the wood," and black huntsmen of the Hartz forests, and such other wood terrors; the principal reason for the difference being that a Greek, being by no means given to travelling, regarded his woods as so much valuable property; and if he ever went into them for pleasure expected to meet one or two gods in the course of his walk, but no banditti; while a mediæval, much more of a solitary traveller, and expecting to meet with no gods in the thickets, but only with thieves, or a hostile ambush, or a bear, besides a great deal of troublesome ground for his horse, and a very serious chance, next to a certainty, of losing his way, naturally kept in the open ground as long as he could, and regarded the forests, in general, with anything but an eye of favor.

§ 34. These, I think, are the principal points which must strike us, when we first broadly think of the poem as compared with classical work. Let us now go a little more into detail.

As Homer gave us an ideal landscape, which even a god might have been pleased to behold, so Dante gives us, fortunately, an ideal landscape, which is specially intended for the terrestrial paradise. And it will doubtless be with some surprise, after our reflections above on the general tone of Dante's feelings, that we find ourselves here first entering a forest, and that even a thick forest. But there is a peculiar meaning in this. With any other poet than Dante, it might have been regarded as a wanton inconsistency. Not so with him: by glancing back to the two lines which explain the nature of Paradise, we shall see what he means by it. Virgil tells him, as he enters it, "Henceforward, take thine own pleasure for guide; thou art beyond the steep ways, and beyond all Art;"—meaning, that the perfectly purified and noble human creature, having no214 pleasure but in right, is past all effort, and past all rule. Art has no existence for such a being. Hence, the first aim of Dante, in his landscape imagery, is to show evidence of this perfect liberty, and of the purity and sinlessness of the new nature, converting pathless ways into happy ones. So that all those fences and formalisms which had been needed for him in imperfection, are removed in this paradise; and even the pathlessness of the wood, the most dreadful thing possible to him in his days of sin and shortcoming, is now a joy to him in his days of purity. And as the fencelessness and thicket of sin led to the fettered and fearful order of eternal punishment, so the fencelessness and thicket of the free virtue lead to the loving and constellated order of eternal happiness.

§ 35. This forest, then, is very like that of Colonos in several respects—in its peace and sweetness, and number of birds; it differs from it only in letting a light breeze through it, being therefore somewhat thinner than the Greek wood; the tender lines which tell of the voices of the birds mingling with the wind, and of the leaves all turning one way before it, have been more or less copied by every poet since Dante's time. They are, so far as I know, the sweetest passage of wood description which exists in literature.

Before, however, Dante has gone far in this wood,—that is to say, only so far as to have lost sight of the place where he entered it, or rather, I suppose, of the light under the boughs of the outside trees, and it must have been a very thin wood indeed if he did not do this in some quarter of a mile's walk,—he comes to a little river, three paces over, which bends the blades of grass to the left, with a meadow on the other side of it; and in this meadow

"A lady, graced with solitude, who went
Singing, and setting flower by flower apart,
By which the path she walked on was besprent.
'Ah, lady beautiful, that basking art
In beams of love, if I may trust thy face,
Which useth to bear witness of the heart,
Let liking come on thee,' said I, 'to trace
Thy path a little closer to the shore,
Where I may reap the hearing of thy lays.
215 Thou mindest me, how Proserpine of yore
Appeared in such a place, what time her mother
Lost her, and she the spring, for evermore.'
As, pointing downwards and to one another
Her feet, a lady bendeth in the dance,
And barely setteth one before the other,
Thus, on the scarlet and the saffron glance
Of flowers, with motion maidenlike she bent
(Her modest eyelids drooping and askance);
And there she gave my wishes their content,
Approaching, so that her sweet melodies
Arrived upon mine ear with what they meant.
When first she came amongst the blades, that rise,
Already wetted, from the goodly river,
She graced me by the lifting of her eyes."

§ 36. I have given this passage at length, because, for our purposes, it is by much the most important, not only in Dante, but in the whole circle of poetry. This lady, observe, stands on the opposite side of the little stream, which, presently, she explains to Dante is Lethe, having power to cause forgetfulness of all evil, and she stands just among the bent blades of grass at its edge. She is first seen gathering flower from flower, then "passing continually the multitudinous flowers through her hands," smiling at the same time so brightly, that her first address to Dante is to prevent him from wondering at her, saying, "if he will remember the verse of the ninety-second Psalm, beginning. 'Delectasti,' he will know why she is so happy."

And turning to the verse of the Psalm, we find it written, "Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy works. I will triumph in the works of Thy hands;" or, in the very words in which Dante would read it,—

"Quia delectasti me, Domine, in factura tua,
Et in operibus manuum Tuarum exultabo."

§ 37. Now we could not for an instant have had any difficulty in understanding this, but that, some way farther on in the poem, this lady is called Matilda, and it is with reason supposed by the commentators to be the great Countess Matilda of the eleventh century; notable equally for her ceaseless activity, her brilliant political genius, her perfect piety, and her deep reverence for the see of Rome. This Countess Matilda is therefore Dante's guide216 in the terrestrial paradise, as Beatrice is afterwards in the celestial; each of them having a spiritual and symbolic character in their glorified state, yet retaining their definite personality.

The question is, then, what is the symbolic character of the Countess Matilda, as the guiding spirit of the terrestrial paradise? Before Dante had entered this paradise he had rested on a step of shelving rock, and as he watched the stars he slept, and dreamed, and thus tells us what he saw:—

"A lady, young and beautiful, I dreamed,
Was passing o'er a lea; and, as she came,
Methought I saw her ever and anon
Bending to cull the flowers; and thus she sang:
'Know ye, whoever of my name would ask,
That I am Leah; for my brow to weave
A garland, these fair hands unwearied ply;
To please me at the crystal mirror, here
I deck me. But my sister Rachel, she
Before her glass abides the livelong day,
Her radiant eyes beholding, charmed no less
Than I with this delightful task. Her joy
In contemplation, as in labor mine.'"

This vision of Rachel and Leah has been always, and with unquestionable truth, received as a type of the Active and Contemplative life, and as an introduction to the two divisions of the paradise which Dante is about to enter. Therefore the unwearied spirit of the Countess Matilda is understood to represent the Active life, which forms the felicity of Earth; and the spirit of Beatrice the Contemplative life, which forms the felicity of Heaven. This interpretation appears at first straightforward and certain; but it has missed count of exactly the most important fact in the two passages which we have to explain. Observe: Leah gathers the flowers to decorate herself, and delights in Her Own Labor. Rachel sits silent, contemplating herself, and delights in Her Own Image. These are the types of the Unglorified Active and Contemplative powers of Man. But Beatrice and Matilda are the same powers, Glorified. And how are they Glorified? Leah took delight in her own labor; but Matilda—"in operibus manuum Tuarum"—in God's labor: Rachel in the sight of her own face; Beatrice in the sight of God's face.


§ 38. And thus, when afterwards Dante sees Beatrice on her throne, and prays her that, when he himself shall die, she would receive him with kindness, Beatrice merely looks down for an instant, and answers with a single smile, then "towards the eternal fountain turns."

Therefore it is evident that Dante distinguishes in both cases, not between earth and heaven, but between perfect and imperfect happiness, whether in earth or heaven. The active life which has only the service of man for its end, and therefore gathers flowers, with Leah, for its own decoration, is indeed happy, but not perfectly so; it has only the happiness of the dream, belonging essentially to the dream of human life, and passing away with it. But the active life which labors for the more and more discovery of God's work, is perfectly happy, and is the life of the terrestrial paradise, being a true foretaste of heaven, and beginning in earth, as heaven's vestibule. So also the contemplative life which is concerned with human feeling and thought and beauty—the life which is in earthly poetry and imagery of noble earthly emotion—is happy, but it is the happiness of the dream; the contemplative life which has God's person and love in Christ for its object, has the happiness of eternity. But because this higher happiness is also begun here on earth, Beatrice descends to earth; and when revealed to Dante first, he sees the image of the twofold personality of Christ reflected in her eyes; as the flowers, which are, to the mediæval heart, the chief work of God, are for ever passing through Matilda's hands.

§ 39. Now, therefore, we see that Dante, as the great prophetic exponent of the heart of the Middle Ages, has, by the lips of the spirit of Matilda, declared the mediæval faith,—that all perfect active life was "the expression of man's delight in God's work;" and that all their political and warlike energy, as fully shown in the mortal life of Matilda, was yet inferior and impure,—the energy of the dream,—compared with that which on the opposite bank of Lethe stood "choosing flower from flower." And what joy and peace there were in this work is marked by Matilda's being the person who draws Dante through the stream of Lethe, so as to make him forget all sin, and all sorrow: throwing her arms round him, she plunges his head218 under the waves of it; then draws him through, crying to him, "hold me, hold me" (tiemmi, tiemmi), and so presents him, thus bathed, free from all painful memory, at the feet of the spirit of the more heavenly contemplation.

§ 40. The reader will, I think, now see, with sufficient distinctness, why I called this passage the most important, for our present purposes, in the whole circle of poetry. For it contains the first great confession of the discovery by the human race (I mean as a matter of experience, not of revelation), that their happiness was not in themselves, and that their labor was not to have their own service as its chief end. It embodies in a few syllables the sealing difference between the Greek and the mediæval, in that the former sought the flower and herb for his own uses, the latter for God's honor; the former, primarily and on principle, contemplated his own beauty and the workings of his own mind, and the latter, primarily and on principle, contemplated Christ's beauty and the workings of the mind of Christ.

§ 41. I will not at present follow up this subject any farther; it being enough that we have thus got to the root of it, and have a great declaration of the central mediæval purpose, whereto we may return for solution of all future questions. I would only, therefore, desire the reader now to compare the Stones of Venice, vol. i. chap. xx. §§ 15. 16.; the Seven Lamps of Architecture, chap. iv. § 3.; and the second volume of this work, Chap. II. §§ 9. 10., and Chap. III. § 10.; that he may, in these several places, observe how gradually our conclusions are knitting themselves together as we are able to determine more and more of the successive questions that come before us: and, finally, to compare the two interesting passages in Wordsworth, which, without any memory of Dante, nevertheless, as if by some special ordaining, describe in matters of modern life exactly the soothing or felicitous powers of the two active spirits of Dante—Leah and Matilda, Excursion, book v. line 608. to 625., and book vi. line 102. to 214.

§ 42. Having thus received from Dante this great lesson, as to the spirit in which mediæval landscape is to be understood, what else we have to note respecting it, as seen in his poem, will be comparatively straightforward and easy. And first, we have to observe the place occupied in his mind by color. It has219 already been shown, in the Stones of Venice, vol. ii. chap. v. §§ 30—34, that color is the most sacred element of all visible things. Hence, as the mediæval mind contemplated them first for their sacredness, we should, beforehand, expect that the first thing it would seize would be the color; and that we should find its expressions and renderings of color infinitely more loving and accurate than among the Greeks.

§ 43. Accordingly, the Greek sense of color seems to have been so comparatively dim and uncertain, that it is almost impossible to ascertain what the real idea was which they attached to any word alluding to hue: and above all, color, though pleasant to their eyes, as to those of all human beings, seems never to have been impressive to their feelings. They liked purple, on the whole, the best; but there was no sense of cheerfulness or pleasantness in one color, and gloom in another, such as the mediævals had.

For instance, when Achilles goes, in great anger and sorrow, to complain to Thetis of the scorn done him by Agamemnon, the sea appears to him "wine-colored." One might think this meant that the sea looked dark and reddish-purple to him, in a kind of sympathy with his anger. But we turn to the passage of Sophocles, which has been above quoted—a passage peculiarly intended to express peace and rest—and we find that the birds sing among "wine-colored" ivy. The uncertainty of conception of the hue itself, and entire absence of expressive character in the word, could hardly be more clearly manifested.

§ 44. Again: I said the Greek liked purple, as a general source of enjoyment, better than any other color. So he did, and so all healthy persons who have eye for color, and are unprejudiced about it, do; and will to the end of time, for a reason presently to be noted. But so far was this instinctive preference for purple from giving, in the Greek mind, any consistently cheerful or sacred association to the color, that Homer constantly calls death "purple death."

§ 45. Again: in the passage of Sophocles, so often spoken of, I said there was some difficulty respecting a word often translated "thickets." I believe, myself, it means glades; literally, "going places" in the woods,—that is to say, places where, either naturally or by force, the trees separate, so as to220 give some accessible avenue. Now, Sophocles tells us the birds sang in these "green going places;" and we take up the expression gratefully, thinking the old Greek perceived and enjoyed, as we do, the sweet fall of the eminently green light through the leaves when they are a little thinner than in the heart of the wood. But we turn to the tragedy of Ajax, and are much shaken in our conclusion about the meaning of the word, when we are told that the body of Ajax is to lie unburied, and be eaten by sea-birds on the "green sand." The formation, geologically distinguished by that title, was certainly not known to Sophocles; and the only conclusion which, it seems to me, we can come to under the circumstances,—assuming Ariel's[75] authority as to the color of pretty sand, and the ancient mariner's (or, rather, his hearer's[76]) as to the color of ugly sand, to be conclusive,—is that Sophocles really did not know green from yellow or brown.

§ 46. Now, without going out of the terrestrial paradise, in which Dante last left us, we shall be able at once to compare with this Greek incertitude the precision of the mediæval eye for color. Some three arrowflights further up into the wood we come to a tall tree, which is at first barren, but, after some little time, visibly opens into flowers, of a color "less than that of roses, but more than that of violets."

It certainly would not be possible, in words, to come nearer to the definition of the exact hue which Dante meant—that of the apple-blossom. Had he employed any simple color-phrase, as a "pale pink," or "violet-pink," or any other such combined expression, he still could not have completely got at the delicacy of the hue; he might perhaps have indicated its kind, but not its tenderness; but by taking the rose-leaf as the type of the delicate red, and then enfeebling this with the violet grey, he gets, as closely as language can carry him, to the complete rendering of the vision, though it is evidently felt by him to be in its perfect beauty ineffable; and rightly so felt, for of all lovely things which grace the spring time in our fair temperate221 zone, I am not sure but this blossoming of the apple-tree is the fairest. At all events, I find it associated in my mind with four other kinds of color, certainly principal among the gifts of the northern earth, namely:

1st. Bell gentians growing close together, mixed with lilies of the valley, on the Jura pastures.

2nd. Alpine roses with dew upon them, under low rays of morning sunshine, touching the tops of the flowers.

3rd. Bell heather in mass, in full light, at sunset.

4th. White narcissus (red-centred) in mass, on the Vevay pastures, in sunshine, after rain.

And I know not where in the group to place the wreaths of apple-blossoms, in the Vevay orchards, with the far-off blue of the lake of Geneva seen between the flowers.

A Greek, however, would have regarded this blossom simply with the eyes of a Devonshire farmer, as bearing on the probable price of cider, and would have called it red, cerulean, purple, white, hyacinthine, or generally "aglaos," agreeable, as happened to suit his verse.

§ 47. Again: we have seen how fond the Greek was of composing his paradises of rather damp grass; but that in this fondness for grass there was always an undercurrent of consideration for his horses; and the characters in it which pleased him most were its depth and freshness; not its color. Now, if we remember carefully the general expressions, respecting grass, used in modern literature, I think nearly the commonest that occurs to us will be that of "enamelled" turf or sward. This phrase is usually employed by our pseudo-poets, like all their other phrases, without knowing what it means, because it has been used by other writers before them, and because they do not know what else to say of grass. If we were to ask them what enamel was, they could not tell us; and if we asked why grass was like enamel, they could not tell us. The expression has a meaning, however, and one peculiarly characteristic of mediæval and modern temper.

§ 48. The first instance I know of its right use, though very probably it had been so employed before, is in Dante. The righteous spirits of the pre-Christian ages are seen by him, though222 in the Inferno, yet in a place open, luminous, and high, walking upon the "green enamel."

I am very sure that Dante did not use this phrase as we use it. He knew well what enamel was; and his readers, in order to understand him thoroughly, must remember what it is,—a vitreous paste, dissolved in water, mixed with metallic oxides, to give it the opacity and the color required, spread in a moist state on metal, and afterwards hardened by fire, so as never to change. And Dante means, in using this metaphor of the grass of the Inferno, to mark that it is laid as a tempering and cooling substance over the dark, metallic, gloomy ground; but yet so hardened by the fire, that it is not any more fresh or living grass, but a smooth, silent, lifeless bed of eternal green. And we know how hard Dante's idea of it was; because afterwards, in what is perhaps the most awful passage of the whole Inferno, when the three furies rise at the top of the burning tower, and catching sight of Dante, and not being able to get at him, shriek wildly for the Gorgon to come up too, that they may turn him into stone,—the word stone is not hard enough for them. Stone might crumble away after it was made, or something with life might grow upon it; no, it shall not be stone; they will make enamel of him; nothing can grow out of that; it is dead for ever.[77]

"Venga Medusa, si lo farem di Smalto."

§ 49. Now, almost in the opening of the Purgatory, as there at the entrance of the Inferno, we find a company of great ones resting in a grassy place. But the idea of the grass now is very different. The word now used is not "enamel," but "herb," and instead of being merely green, it is covered with flowers of many colors. With the usual mediæval accuracy, Dante insists on telling us precisely what these colors were, and how bright; which he does by naming the actual pigments used in illumination,—"Gold, and fine silver, and cochineal, and white lead, and Indian wood, serene and lucid, and fresh emerald, just broken, would have been excelled, as less is by greater, by the flowers and grass of the place." It is evident that the "emerald" here means the emerald green of the illuminators; for223 a fresh emerald is no brighter than one which is not fresh, and Dante was not one to throw away his words thus. Observe, then, we have here the idea of the growth, life, and variegation of the "green herb," as opposed to the smalto of the Inferno; but the colors of the variegation are illustrated and defined by the reference to actual pigments; and, observe, because the other colors are rather bright, the blue ground (Indian wood, indigo?) is sober; lucid, but serene; and presently two angels enter, who are dressed in green drapery, but of a paler green than the grass, which Dante marks, by telling us that it was "the green of leaves just budded."

§ 50. In all this, I wish the reader to observe two things: first, the general carefulness of the poet in defining color, distinguishing it precisely as a painter would (opposed to the Greek carelessness about it); and, secondly, his regarding the grass for its greenness and variegation, rather than, as a Greek would have done, for its depth and freshness. This greenness or brightness, and variegation, are taken up by later and modern poets, as the things intended to be chiefly expressed by the word "enamelled;" and, gradually, the term is taken to indicate any kind of bright and interchangeable coloring; there being always this much of propriety about it, when used of greensward, that such sward is indeed, like enamel, a coat of bright color on a comparatively dark ground; and is thus a sort of natural jewelry and painter's work, different from loose and large vegetation. The word is often awkwardly and falsely used, by the later poets, of all kinds of growth and color; as by Milton of the flowers of Paradise showing themselves over its wall; but it retains, nevertheless, through all its jaded inanity, some half-unconscious vestige of the old sense, even to the present day.

§ 51. There are, it seems to me, several important deductions to be made from these facts. The Greek, we have seen, delighted in the grass for its usefulness; the mediæval, as also we moderns, for its color and beauty. But both dwell on it as the first element of the lovely landscape; we saw its use in Homer, we see also that Dante thinks the righteous spirits of the heathen enough comforted in Hades by having even the image of green grass put beneath their feet; the happy resting-place in Purgatory has no other delight than its grass and flowers; and,224 finally, in the terrestrial paradise, the feet of Matilda pause where the Lethe stream first bends the blades of grass. Consider a little what a depth there is in this great instinct of the human race. Gather a single blade of grass, and examine for a minute, quietly, its narrow sword-shaped strip of fluted green. Nothing, as it seems there, of notable goodness or beauty. A very little strength, and a very little tallness, and a few delicate long lines meeting in a point,—not a perfect point neither, but blunt and unfinished, by no means a creditable or apparently much cared for example of Nature's workmanship; made, as it seems, only to be trodden on to-day, and to-morrow to be cast into the oven; and a little pale and hollow stalk, feeble and flaccid, leading down to the dull brown fibres of roots. And yet, think of it well, and judge whether of all the gorgeous flowers that beam in summer air, and of all strong and goodly trees, pleasant to the eyes and good for food,—stately palm and pine, strong ash and oak, scented citron, burdened vine,—there be any by man so deeply loved, by God so highly graced, as that narrow point of feeble green. It seems to me not to have been without a peculiar significance, that our Lord, when about to work the miracle which, of all that He showed, appears to have been felt by the multitude as the most impressive,—the miracle of the loaves,—commanded the people to sit down by companies "upon the green grass." He was about to feed them with the principal produce of earth and the sea, the simplest representations of the food of mankind. He gave them the seed of the herb; He bade them sit down upon the herb itself, which was as great a gift, in its fitness for their joy and rest, as its perfect fruit, for their sustenance; thus, in this single order and act, when rightly understood, indicating for evermore how the Creator had entrusted the comfort, consolation, and sustenance of man, to the simplest and most despised of all the leafy families of the earth. And well does it fulfil its mission. Consider what we owe merely to the meadow grass, to the covering of the dark ground by that glorious enamel, by the companies of those soft, and countless, and peaceful spears. The fields! Follow but forth for a little time the thoughts of all that we ought to recognise in those words. All spring and summer is in them,—the walks by silent, scented paths,—the rests in noon-225day heat,—the joy of herds and flocks,—the power of all shepherd life and meditation,—the life of sunlight upon the world, falling in emerald streaks, and falling in soft blue shadows, where else it would have struck upon the dark mould, or scorching dust,—pastures beside the pacing brooks,—soft banks and knolls of lowly hills,—thymy slopes of down overlooked by the blue line of lifted sea,—crisp lawns all dim with early dew, or smooth in evening warmth of barred sunshine, dinted by happy feet, and softening in their fall the sound of loving voices: all these are summed in those simple words; and these are not all. We may not measure to the full the depth of this heavenly gift, in our own land; though still, as we think of it longer, the infinite of that meadow sweetness, Shakspere's peculiar joy, would open on us more and more, yet we have it but in part. Go out, in the spring time, among the meadows that slope from the shores of the Swiss lakes to the roots of their lower mountains. There, mingled with the taller gentians and the white narcissus, the grass grows deep and free; and as you follow the winding mountain paths, beneath arching boughs all veiled and dim with blossom,—paths that for ever droop and rise over the green banks and mounds sweeping down in scented undulation, steep to the blue water, studded here and there with new mown heaps, filling all the air with fainter sweetness,—look up towards the higher hills, where the waves of everlasting green roll silently into their long inlets among the shadows of the pines; and we may, perhaps, at last know the meaning of those quiet words of the 147th Psalm, "He maketh grass to grow upon the mountains."

§ 52. There are also several lessons symbolically connected with this subject, which we must not allow to escape us. Observe, the peculiar characters of the grass, which adapt it especially for the service of man, are its apparent humility, and cheerfulness. Its humility, in that it seems created only for lowest service,—appointed to be trodden on, and fed upon. Its cheerfulness, in that it seems to exult under all kinds of violence and suffering. You roll it, and it is stronger the next day; you mow it, and it multiplies its shoots, as if it were grateful; you tread upon it, and it only sends up richer perfume. Spring comes, and it rejoices with all the earth,—glowing with varie226gated flame of flowers,—waving in soft depth of fruitful strength. Winter comes, and though it will not mock its fellow plants by growing then, it will not pine and mourn, and turn colorless or leafless as they. It is always green; and is only the brighter and gayer for the hoar-frost.

§ 53. Now, these two characters—of humility, and joy under trial—are exactly those which most definitely distinguish the Christian from the Pagan spirit. Whatever virtue the pagan possessed was rooted in pride, and fruited with sorrow. It began in the elevation of his own nature; it ended but in the "verde smalto"—the hopeless green—of the Elysian fields. But the Christian virtue is rooted in self-debasement, and strengthened under suffering by gladness of hope. And remembering this, it is curious to observe how utterly without gladness the Greek heart appears to be in watching the flowering grass, and what strange discords of expression arise sometimes in consequence. There is one, recurring once or twice in Homer, which has always pained me. He says, "the Greek army was on the fields, as thick as flowers in the spring." It might be so; but flowers in spring time are not the image by which Dante would have numbered soldiers on their path of battle. Dante could not have thought of the flowering of the grass but as associated with happiness. There is a still deeper significance in the passage quoted, a little while ago, from Homer, describing Ulysses casting himself down on the rushes and the corn-giving land at the river shore,—the rushes and corn being to him only good for rest and sustenance,—when we compare it with that in which Dante tells us he was ordered to descend to the shore of the lake as he entered Purgatory, to gather a rush, and gird himself with it, it being to him the emblem not only of rest, but of humility under chastisement, the rush (or reed) being the only plant which can grow there;—"no plant which bears leaves, or hardens its bark, can live on that shore, because it does not yield to the chastisement of its waves." It cannot but strike the reader singularly how deep and harmonious a significance runs through all these words of Dante—how every syllable of them, the more we penetrate it, becomes a seed of farther thought! For, follow up this image of the girding with the reed, under trial, and see to whose feet it will lead us. As the grass of the earth, thought of227 as the herb yielding seed, leads us to the place where our Lord commanded the multitude to sit down by companies upon the green grass; so the grass of the waters, thought of as sustaining itself among the waters of affliction, leads us to the place where a stem of it was put into our Lord's hand for his sceptre; and in the crown of thorns, and the rod of reed, was foreshown the everlasting truth of the Christian ages—that all glory was to be begun in suffering, and all power in humility.

Assembling the images we have traced, and adding the simplest of all, from Isaiah xl. 6., we find, the grass and flowers are types, in their passing, of the passing of human life, and, in their excellence, of the excellence of human life; and this in a twofold way; first, by their Beneficence, and then, by their endurance:—the grass of the earth, in giving the seed of corn, and in its beauty under tread of foot and stroke of scythe; and the grass of the waters, in giving its freshness for our rest, and in its bending before the wave.[78] But understood in the broad human and Divine sense, the "herb yielding seed" (as opposed to the fruit-tree yielding fruit) includes a third family of plants, and fulfils a third office to the human race. It includes the great family of the lints and flaxes, and fulfils thus the three offices of giving food, raiment, and rest. Follow out this fulfilment; consider the association of the linen garment and the linen embroidery, with the priestly office, and the furniture of the tabernacle: and consider how the rush has been, in all time, the first natural carpet thrown under the human foot. Then next observe the three virtues definitely set forth by the three families of plants; not arbitrarily or fancifully associated with them, but in all the three cases marked for us by Scriptural words:

1st. Cheerfulness, or joyful serenity; in the grass for food and beauty.—"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin."

2nd. Humility; in the grass for rest.—"A bruised reed shall He not break."228

3rd. Love; in the grass for clothing (because of its swift kindling),—"The smoking flax shall He not quench."

And then, finally, observe the confirmation of these last two images in, I suppose, the most important prophecy, relating to the future state of the Christian Church, which occurs in the Old Testament, namely, that contained in the closing chapters of Ezekiel. The measures of the Temple of God are to be taken; and because it is only by charity and humility that those measures ever can be taken, the angel has "a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed." The use of the line was to measure the land, and of the reed to take the dimensions of the buildings; so the buildings of the church, or its labors, are to be measured by humility, and its territory or land, by love.

The limits of the Church have, indeed, in later days, been measured, to the world's sorrow, by another kind of flaxen line, burning with the fire of unholy zeal, not with that of Christian charity; and perhaps the best lesson which we can finally take to ourselves, in leaving these sweet fields of the mediæval landscape, is the memory that, in spite of all the fettered habits of thought of his age, this great Dante, this inspired exponent of what lay deepest at the heart of the early Church, placed his terrestrial paradise where there had ceased to be fence or division, and where the grass of the earth was bowed down, in unity of direction, only by the soft waves that bore with them the forgetfulness of evil.

[71] The peculiar dislike felt by the mediævals for the sea, is so interesting a subject of inquiry, that I have reserved it for separate discussion in another work, in present preparation, "Harbors of England."

[72] Married to Philip, younger son of the King of Navarre, in 1352. She died in 1394.

[73] "Three times the length of a human body."—Purg. x. 24.

[74] Purg. xii. 102.

[75] "Come unto these yellow sands."


"And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea sand."

[77] Compare parallel passage, making Dante hard or changeless in good Purg. viii. 114.

[78] So also in Isa. xxxv. 7., the prevalence of righteousness and peace over all evil is thus foretold:

"In the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass, with reeds and rushes."




§ 1. I closed the last chapter, not because our subject was exhausted, but to give the reader breathing time, and because I supposed he would hardly care to turn back suddenly from the subjects of thought last suggested, to the less pregnant matters of inquiry connected with mediæval landscape. Nor was the pause mistimed even as respects the order of our subjects; for hitherto we have been arrested chiefly by the beauty of the pastures and fields, and have followed the mediæval mind in its fond regard of leaf and flower. But now we have some hard hill-climbing to do; and the remainder of our investigation must be carried on, for the most part, on hands and knees, so that it is not ill done of us first to take breath.

§ 2. It will be remembered that in the last chapter, § 14., we supposed it probable that there would be considerable inaccuracies in the mediæval mode of regarding nature. Hitherto, however, we have found none; but, on the contrary, intense accuracy, precision, and affection. The reason of this is, that all floral and foliaged beauty might be perfectly represented, as far as its form went, in the sculpture and ornamental painting of the period; hence the attention of men was thoroughly awakened to that beauty. But as mountains and clouds and large features of natural scenery could not be accurately represented, we must be prepared to find them not so carefully contemplated,— more carefully, indeed, than by the Greeks, but still in no wise as the things themselves deserve.

§ 3. It was besides noticed that mountains, though regarded with reverence by the mediæval, were also the subjects of a certain dislike and dread. And we have seen already that in fact the place of the soul's purification, though a mountain, is yet by Dante subdued, whenever there is any pleasantness to be230 found upon it, from all mountainous character into grassy recesses, or slopes to rushy shore; and, in his general conception of it, resembles much more a castle mound, surrounded by terraced walks,—in the manner, for instance, of one of Turner's favorite scenes, the bank under Richmond Castle (Yorkshire); or, still more, one of the hill slopes divided by terraces, above the Rhine, in which the picturesqueness of the ground has been reduced to the form best calculated for the growing of costly wine, than any scene to which we moderns should naturally attach the term "Mountainous." On the other hand, although the Inferno is just as accurately measured and divided as the Purgatory, it is nevertheless cleft into rocky chasms which possess something of true mountain nature—nature which we moderns of the north should most of us seek with delight, but which, to the great Florentine, appeared adapted only for the punishment of lost spirits, and which, on the mind of nearly all his countrymen, would to this day produce a very closely correspondent effect; so that their graceful language, dying away on the north side of the Alps, gives its departing accents to proclaim its detestation of hardness and ruggedness; and is heard for the last time, as it bestows on the noblest defile in all the Grisons, if not in all the Alpine chain, the name of the "evil way"—"la Via Mala."

§ 4. This "evil way," though much deeper and more sublime, corresponds closely in general character to Dante's "Evil-pits," just as the banks of Richmond do to his mountain of Purgatory; and it is notable that Turner has been led to illustrate, with his whole strength, the character of both; having founded, as it seems to me, his early dreams of mountain form altogether on the sweet banks of the Yorkshire streams, and rooted his hardier thoughts of it in the rugged clefts of the Via Mala.

§ 5. Nor of the Via Mala only: a correspondent defile on the St. Gothard,—so terrible in one part of it, that it can, indeed, suggest no ideas but those of horror to minds either of northern or southern temper, and whose wild bridge, cast from rock to rock over a chasm as utterly hopeless and escapeless as any into which Dante gazed from the arches of Malebolge, has been, therefore, ascribed both by northern and southern lips to the231 master-building of the great spirit of evil—supplied to Turner the element of his most terrible thoughts in mountain vision, even to the close of his life. The noblest plate in the series of the Liber Studiorum,[79] one engraved by his own hand, is of that bridge; the last mountain journey he ever took was up the defile; and a rocky bank and arch, in the last mountain drawing which he ever executed with his perfect power, are remembrances of the path by which he had traversed in his youth this Malebolge of the St. Gothard.

§ 6. It is therefore with peculiar interest, as bearing on our own proper subject, that we must examine Dante's conception of the rocks of the eighth circle. And first, as to general tone of color: from what we have seen of the love of the mediæval for bright and variegated color, we might guess that his chief cause of dislike to rocks would be, in Italy, their comparative colorlessness. With hardly an exception, the range of the Apennines is composed of a stone of which some special account is given hereafter in the chapters on Materials of Mountains, and of which one peculiarity, there noticed, is its monotony of hue. Our slates and granites are often of very lovely colors; but the Apennine limestone is so grey and toneless, that I know not any mountain district so utterly melancholy as those which are composed of this rock, when unwooded. Now, as far as I can discover from the internal evidence in his poem, nearly all Dante's mountain wanderings had been upon this ground. He had journeyed once or twice among the Alps, indeed, but seems to have been impressed chiefly by the road from Garda to Trent, and that along the Corniche, both of which are either upon those limestones, or a dark serpentine, which shows hardly any color till it is polished. It is not ascertainable that he had ever seen rocky scenery of the finely colored kind, aided by the Alpine mosses: I do not know the fall at Forli (Inferno, xvi. 99.), but every other scene to which he alludes is among these Apennine limestones; and when he wishes to give the idea of enormous mountain size, he names Tabernicch and Pietra-pana,—the one clearly chosen only for the sake of the last syllable of its name, in order to make a sound as of cracking ice, with the two se232quent rhymes of the stanza,—and the other is an Apennine near Lucca.

§ 7. His idea, therefore, of rock color, founded on these experiences, is that of a dull or ashen grey, more or less stained by the brown of iron ochre, precisely as the Apennine limestones nearly always are; the grey being peculiarly cold and disagreeable. As we go down the very hill which stretches out from Pietra-pana towards Lucca, the stones laid by the road-side to mend it are of this ashen grey, with efflorescences of manganese and iron in the fissures. The whole of Malebolge is made of this rock, "All wrought in stone of iron-colored grain."[80]

Perhaps the iron color may be meant to predominate in Evil-pits; but the definite grey limestone color is stated higher up, the river Styx flowing at the base of "malignant grey cliffs"[81] (the word malignant being given to the iron-colored Malebolge also); and the same whitish-grey idea is given again definitely in describing the robe of the purgatorial or penance angel, which is "of the color of ashes, or earth dug dry." Ashes necessarily mean wood-ashes in an Italian mind, so that we get the tone very pale; and there can be no doubt whatever about the hue meant, because it is constantly seen on the sunny sides of the Italian hills, produced by the scorching of the ground, a dusty and lifeless whitish grey, utterly painful and oppressive; and I have no doubt that this color, assumed eminently also by limestone crags in the sun, is the quality which Homer means to express by a term he applies often to bare rocks, and which is usually translated "craggy," or "rocky." Now Homer is indeed quite capable of talking of "rocky rocks," just as he talks sometimes of "wet water;" but I think he means more by this word: it sounds as if it were derived from another, meaning "meal," or "flour," and I have little doubt it means "mealy white;" the Greek limestones being for the most part brighter in effect than the Apennine ones.

§ 8. And the fact is, that the great and preeminent fault of southern, as compared with northern scenery, is this rock-233whiteness, which gives to distant mountain ranges, lighted by the sun, sometimes a faint and monotonous glow, hardly detaching itself from the whiter parts of the sky, and sometimes a speckled confusion of white light with blue shadow, breaking up the whole mass of the hills, and making them look near and small; the whiteness being still distinct at the distance of twenty or twenty-five miles. The inferiority and meagreness of such effects of hill, compared with the massive purple and blue of our own heaps of crags and morass, or the solemn grass-green and pine-purples of the Alps, have always struck me most painfully; and they have rendered it impossible for any poet or painter studying in the south, to enter with joy into hill scenery. Imagine the difference to Walter Scott, if instead of the single lovely color which, named by itself alone, was enough to describe his hills,—

"Their southern rapine to renew,
Far in the distant Cheviot's blue,"—

a dusty whiteness had been the image that first associated itself with a hill range, and he had been obliged, instead of "blue" Cheviots, to say, "barley-meal-colored" Cheviots.

§ 9. But although this would cause a somewhat painful shock even to a modern mind, it would be as nothing when compared with the pain occasioned by absence of color to a mediæval one. We have been trained, by our ingenious principles of Renaissance architecture, to think that meal-color and ash-color are the properest colors of all; and that the most aristocratic harmonies are to be deduced out of grey mortar and creamy stucco. Any of our modern classical architects would delightedly "face" a heathery hill with Roman cement; and any Italian sacristan would, but for the cost of it, at once whitewash the Cheviots. But the mediævals had not arrived at these abstract principles of taste. They liked fresco better than whitewash; and, on the whole, thought that Nature was in the right in painting her flowers yellow, pink, and blue;—not grey. Accordingly, this absence of color from rocks, as compared with meadows and trees, was in their eyes an unredeemable defect; nor did it matter to them whether its place was supplied by the grey neutral tint, or the iron-colored stain;234 for both colors, grey and brown, were, to them, hues of distress, despair, and mortification, hence adopted always for the dresses of monks; only the word "brown" bore, in their color vocabulary, a still gloomier sense than with us. I was for some time embarrassed by Dante's use of it with respect to dark skies and water. Thus, in describing a simple twilight—not a Hades twilight, but an ordinarily fair evening—(Inf. ii. 1.) he says, the "brown" air took the animals of earth away from their fatigues;—the waves under Charon's boat are "brown" (Inf. iii. 117.); and Lethe, which is perfectly clear and yet dark, as with oblivion, is "bruna-bruna," "brown, exceeding brown." Now, clearly in all these cases no warmth is meant to be mingled in the color. Dante had never seen one of our bog-streams, with its porter-colored foam; and there can be no doubt that, in calling Lethe brown, he means that it was dark slate grey, inclining to black; as, for instance, our clear Cumberland lakes, which, looked straight down upon where they are deep, seem to be lakes of ink. I am sure this is the color he means; because no clear stream or lake on the Continent ever looks brown, but blue or green; and Dante, by merely taking away the pleasant color, would get at once to this idea of grave clear grey. So, when he was talking of twilight, his eye for color was far too good to let him call it brown in our sense. Twilight is not brown, but purple, golden, or dark grey; and this last was what Dante meant. Farther, I find that this negation of color is always the means by which Dante subdues his tones. Thus the fatal inscription on the Hades gate is written in "obscure color," and the air which torments the passionate spirits is "aer nero" black air (Inf. v. 51.), called presently afterwards (line 81.) malignant air, just as the grey cliffs are called malignant cliffs.

§ 10. I was not, therefore, at a loss to find out what Dante meant by the word; but I was at a loss to account for his not, as it seemed, acknowledging the existence of the color of brown at all; for if he called dark neutral tint "brown," it remained a question what term he would use for things of the color of burnt umber. But, one day, just when I was puzzling myself about this, I happened to be sitting by one of our best living modern colorists, watching him at his work, when he said,235 suddenly, and by mere accident, after we had been talking of other things, "Do you know I have found that there is no brown in Nature? What we call brown is always a variety either of orange or purple. It never can be represented by umber, unless altered by contrast."

§ 11. It is curious how far the significance of this remark extends, how exquisitely it illustrates and confirms the mediæval sense of hue;—how far, on the other hand, it cuts into the heart of the old umber idolatries of Sir George Beaumont and his colleagues, the "where do you put your brown tree" system; the code of Cremona-violin-colored foregrounds, of brown varnish and asphaltum; and all the old night-owl science, which, like Young's pencil of sorrow,

"In melancholy dipped, embrowns the whole."

Nay, I do Young an injustice by associating his words with the asphalt schools; for his eye for color was true, and like Dante's; and I doubt not that he means dark grey, as Byron purple-grey in that night piece in the Siege of Corinth, beginning

"'Tis midnight; on the mountains brown
The cold, round moon looks deeply down;"

and, by the way, Byron's best piece of evening color farther certifies the hues of Dante's twilight,—it

"Dies like the dolphin, when it gasps away—
The last still loveliest; till 'tis gone, and all is grey."

§ 12. Let not, however, the reader confuse the use of brown, as an expression of a natural tint, with its use as a means of getting other tints. Brown is often an admirable ground, just because it is the only tint which is not to be in the finished picture, and because it is the best basis of many silver greys and purples, utterly opposite to it in their nature. But there is infinite difference between laying a brown ground as a representation of shadow,—and as a base for light; and also an infinite difference between using brown shadows, associated with colored lights—always the characteristic of false schools of color—and using brown as a warm neutral tint for general study. I shall have to pursue this subject farther hereafter, in noticing how236 brown is used by great colorists in their studies, not as color, but as the pleasantest negation of color, possessing more transparency than black, and having more pleasant and sunlike warmth. Hence Turner, in his early studies, used blue for distant neutral tint, and brown for foreground neutral tint; while, as he advanced in color science, he gradually introduced, in the place of brown, strange purples, altogether peculiar to himself, founded, apparently, on Indian red and vermilion, and passing into various tones of russet and orange.[82] But, in the meantime, we must go back to Dante and his mountains.

§ 13. We find, then, that his general type of rock color was meant, whether pale or dark, to be a colorless grey—the most melancholy hue which he supposed to exist in Nature (hence the synonym for it, subsisting even till late times, in mediæval appellatives of dress, "sad-colored")—with some rusty stain from iron; or perhaps the "color ferrigno" of the Inferno does not involve even so much of orange, but ought to be translated "iron grey."

This being his idea of the color of rocks, we have next to observe his conception of their substance. And I believe it will be found that the character on which he fixes first in them is frangibility—breakableness to bits, as opposed to wood, which can be sawn or rent, but not shattered with a hammer, and to metal, which is tough and malleable.

Thus, at the top of the abyss of the seventh circle, appointed for the "violent," or souls who had done evil by force, we are told, first, that the edge of it was composed of "great broken stones in a circle;" then, that the place was "Alpine;" and, becoming hereupon attentive, in order to hear what an Alpine place is like, we find that it was "like the place beyond Trent, where the rock, either by earthquake, or failure of support, has broken down to the plain, so that it gives any one at the top some means of getting down to the bottom." This is not a very elevated or enthusiastic description of an Alpine scene;237 and it is far from mended by the following verses, in which we are told that Dante "began to go down by this great unloading of stones," and that they moved often under his feet by reason of the new weight. The fact is that Dante, by many expressions throughout the poem, shows himself to have been a notably bad climber; and being fond of sitting in the sun, looking at his fair Baptistery, or walking in a dignified manner on flat pavement in a long robe, it puts him seriously out of his way when he has to take to his hands and knees, or look to his feet; so that the first strong impression made upon him by any Alpine scene whatever, is, clearly, that it is bad walking. When he is in a fright and hurry, and has a very steep place to go down, Virgil has to carry him altogether, and is obliged to encourage him, again and again, when they have a steep slope to go up,—the first ascent of the purgatorial mountain. The similes by which he illustrates the steepness of that ascent are all taken from the Riviera of Genoa, now traversed by a good carriage road under the name of the Corniche; but as this road did not exist in Dante's time, and the steep precipices and promontories were then probably traversed by footpaths, which, as they necessarily passed in many places over crumbling and slippery limestone, were doubtless not a little dangerous, and as in the manner they commanded the bays of sea below, and lay exposed to the full blaze of the south-eastern sun, they corresponded precisely to the situation of the path by which he ascends above the purgatorial sea, the image could not possibly have been taken from a better source for the fully conveying his idea to the reader: nor, by the way, is there reason to discredit, in this place, his powers of climbing; for, with his usual accuracy, he has taken the angle of the path for us, saying it was considerably more than forty-five. Now a continuous mountain slope of forty-five degrees is already quite unsafe either for ascent or descent, except by zigzag paths; and a greater slope than this could not be climbed, straightforward, but by help of crevices or jags in the rock, and great physical exertion besides.

§ 14. Throughout these passages, however, Dante's thoughts are clearly fixed altogether on the question of mere accessibility or inaccessibility. He does not show the smallest interest in the rocks, except as things to be conquered; and his description of238 their appearance is utterly meagre, involving no other epithets than "erto" (steep or upright), Inf. xix. 131., Purg. iii. 48. &c.; "sconcio" (monstrous), Inf. xix. 131.; "stagliata" (cut), Inf. xvii. 134.; "maligno" (malignant), Inf. vii. 108; "duro" (hard), xx. 25.; with "large" and "broken" (rotto) in various places. No idea of roundness, massiveness, or pleasant form of any kind appears for a moment to enter his mind; and the different names which are given to the rocks in various places seem merely to refer to variations in size: thus a "rocco" is a part of a "scoglio," Inf. xx. 25. and xxvi. 27.; a "scheggio" (xxi. 69. and xxvi. 17.) is a less fragment yet; a "petrone," or "sasso," is a large stone or boulder (Purg. iv. 101. 104.), and "pietra," a less stone,—both of these last terms, especially "sasso," being used for any large mountainous mass, as in Purg. xxi. 106.; and the vagueness of the word "monte" itself, like that of the French "montagne," applicable either to a hill on a post-road requiring the drag to be put on,—or to the Mont Blanc, marks a peculiar carelessness in both nations, at the time of the formation of their languages, as to the sublimity of the higher hills; so that the effect produced on an English ear by the word "mountain," signifying always a mass of a certain large size, cannot be conveyed either in French or Italian.

§ 15. In all these modes of regarding rocks we find (rocks being in themselves, as we shall see presently, by no means monstrous or frightful things) exactly that inaccuracy in the mediæval mind which we had been led to expect, in its bearings on things contrary to the spirit of that symmetrical and perfect humanity which had formed its ideal; and it is very curious to observe how closely in the terms he uses, and the feelings they indicate, Dante here agrees with Homer. For the word stagliata (cut) corresponds very nearly to a favorite term of Homer's respecting rocks "sculptured," used by him also of ships' sides; and the frescoes and illuminations of the Middle Ages enable us to ascertain exactly what this idea of "cut" rock was.

§ 16. In Plate 10. I have assembled some examples, which will give the reader a sufficient knowledge of mediæval rock-drawing, by men whose names are known. They are chiefly taken from engravings, with which the reader has it in his239 power to compare them,[83] and if, therefore, any injustice is done to the original paintings the fault is not mine; but the general impression conveyed is quite accurate, and it would not have been worth while, where work is so deficient in first conception, to lose time in insuring accuracy of facsimile. Some of the crags may be taller here, or broader there, than in the original paintings; but the character of the work is perfectly preserved, and that is all with which we are at present concerned.

10. Geology of the Middle Ages.

Figs. 1. and 5. are by Ghirlandajo; 2. by Filippo Pesellino; 4. by Leonardo da Vinci; and 6. by Andrea del Castagno. All these are indeed workmen of a much later period than Dante, but the system of rock-drawing remains entirely unchanged from Giotto's time to Ghirlandajo's;—is then altered only by an introduction of stratification indicative of a little closer observance of nature, and so remains until Titian's time. Fig 1. is exactly representative of one of Giotto's rocks, though actually by Ghirlandajo; and Fig. 2. is rather less skilful than Giotto's ordinary work. Both these figures indicate precisely what Homer and Dante meant by "cut" rocks. They had observed the concave smoothness of certain rock fractures as eminently distinctive of rock from earth, and use the term "cut" or "sculptured" to distinguish the smooth surface from the knotty or sandy one, having observed nothing more respecting its real contours than is represented in Figs. 1. and 2., which look as if they had been hewn out with an adze. Lorenzo Ghiberti preserves the same type, even in his finest work.

Fig. 3., from an interesting sixteenth century MS. in the British Museum (Cotton, Augustus, A. 5.), is characteristic of the best later illuminators' work; and Fig. 5., from Ghirlandajo, is pretty illustrative of Dante's idea of terraces on the purgatorial mountain. It is the road by which the Magi descend in his picture of their Adoration, in the Academy of Florence. Of the other examples I shall have more to say in the chapter on Precipices; meanwhile we have to return to the landscape of the poem.

§ 17. Inaccurate as this conception of rock was, it seems to have been the only one which, in mediæval art had place as re240presentative of mountain scenery. To Dante, mountains are inconceivable except as great broken stones or crags; all their broad contours and undulations seem to have escaped his eye. It is, indeed, with his usual undertone of symbolic meaning that he describes the great broken stones, and the fall of the shattered mountain, as the entrance to the circle appointed for the punishment of the violent; meaning that the violent and cruel, notwithstanding all their iron hardness of heart, have no true strength, but, either by earthquake, or want of support, fall at last into desolate ruin, naked, loose, and shaking under the tread. But in no part of the poem do we find allusion to mountains in any other than a stern light; nor the slightest evidence that Dante cared to look at them. From that hill of San Miniato, whose steps he knew so well, the eye commands, at the farther extremity of the Val d'Arno, the whole purple range of the mountains of Carrara, peaked and mighty, seen always against the sunset light in silent outline, the chief forms that rule the scene as twilight fades away. By this vision Dante seems to have been wholly unmoved, and, but for Lucan's mention of Aruns at Luna, would seemingly not have spoken of the Carrara hills in the whole course of his poem: when he does allude to them, he speaks of their white marble, and their command of stars and sea, but has evidently no regard for the hills themselves. There is not a single phrase or syllable throughout the poem which indicates such a regard. Ugolino, in his dream, seemed to himself to be in the mountains, "by cause of which the Pisan cannot see Lucca;" and it is impossible to look up from Pisa to that hoary slope without remembering the awe that there is in the passage; nevertheless, it was as a hunting-ground only that he remembered those hills. Adam of Brescia, tormented with eternal thirst, remembers the hills of Romena, but only for the sake of their sweet waters:

"The rills that glitter down the grassy slopes
Of Casentino, making fresh and soft
The banks whereby they glide to Arno's stream,
Stand ever in my view."

And, whenever hills are spoken of as having any influence on character, the repugnance to them is still manifest; they are always causes of rudeness or cruelty:

"But that ungrateful and malignant race,
Who in old times came down from Fesole,
Ay, and still smack of their rough mountain flint,
Will, for thy good deeds, show thee enmity.
Take heed thou cleanse thee of their ways."

So again—

"As one mountain-bred,
Rugged, and clownish, if some city's walls
He chance to enter, round him stares agape."

§ 18. Finally, although the Carrara mountains are named as having command of the stars and sea, the Alps are never specially mentioned but in bad weather, or snow. On the sand of the circle of the blasphemers—

"Fell slowly wafting down
Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow
On Alpine summit, when the wind is hushed."

So the Paduans have to defend their town and castles against inundation,

"Ere the genial warmth be felt,
On Chiarentana's top."

The clouds of anger, in Purgatory, can only be figured to the reader who has

"On an Alpine height been ta'en by cloud,
Through which thou sawest no better than the mole
Doth through opacous membrane."

And in approaching the second branch of Lethe, the seven ladies pause,—

"Arriving at the verge
Of a dim umbrage hoar, such as is seen
Beneath green leaves and gloomy branches oft
To overbrow a bleak and Alpine cliff."

§ 19. Truly, it is unfair of Dante, that when he is going to use snow for a lovely image, and speak of it as melting away under heavenly sunshine, he must needs put it on the Apennines, not on the Alps:

"As snow that lies
242 Amidst the living rafters, on the back
Of Italy, congealed, when drifted high
And closely piled by rough Sclavonian blasts,
Breathe but the land whereon no shadow falls,
And straightway melting, it distils away,
Like a fire-washed taper; thus was I,
Without a sigh, or tear, consumed in heart."

The reader will thank me for reminding him, though out of its proper order, of the exquisite passage of Scott which we have to compare with this:

"As snow upon the mountain's breast
Slides from the rock that gave it rest,
Sweet Ellen glided from her stay,
And at the monarch's feet she lay."

Examine the context of this last passage, and its beauty is quite beyond praise; but note the northern love of rocks in the very first words I have to quote from Scott, "The rocks that gave it rest." Dante could not have thought of his "cut rocks" as giving rest even to snow. He must put it on the pine branches, if it is to be at peace.

§ 20. There is only one more point to be noticed in the Dantesque landscape; namely, the feeling entertained by the poet towards the sky. And the love of mountains is so closely connected with the love of clouds, the sublimity of both depending much on their association, that having found Dante regardless of the Carrara mountains as seen from San Miniato, we may well expect to find him equally regardless of the clouds in which the sun sank behind them. Accordingly, we find that his only pleasure in the sky depends on its "white clearness,"—that turning into "bianca aspette di celestro" which is so peculiarly characteristic of fine days in Italy. His pieces of pure pale light are always exquisite. In the dawn on the purgatorial mountain, first, in its pale white, he sees the "tremola della marina"—trembling of the sea; then it becomes vermilion; and at last, near sunrise, orange. These are precisely the changes of a calm and perfect dawn. The scenery of Paradise begins with "Day added to day," the light of the sun so flooding the heavens, that "never rain nor river made lake so wide;" and throughout the Paradise all the beauty depends on spheres of light, or stars, never on clouds. But the pit of the Inferno243 is at first sight obscure, deep, and so cloudy that at its bottom nothing could be seen. When Dante and Virgil reach the marsh in which the souls of those who have been angry and sad in their lives are for ever plunged, they find it covered with thick fog; and the condemned souls say to them,—

"We once were sad,
In the sweet air, made gladsome by the sun.
Now in these murky settlings are we sad."

Even the angel crossing the marsh to help them is annoyed by this bitter marsh smoke, "fummo acerbo," and continually sweeps it with his hand from before his face.

Anger, on the purgatorial mountain, is in like manner imaged, because of its blindness and wildness, by the Alpine clouds. As they emerge from its mist they see the white light radiated through the fading folds of it; and, except this appointed cloud, no other can touch the mountain of purification.

"Tempest none, shower, hail, or snow,
Hoar-frost, or dewy moistness, higher falls,
Than that brief scale of threefold steps. Thick clouds,
Nor scudding rack, are ever seen, swift glance
Ne'er lightens, nor Thaumantian iris gleams."

Dwell for a little while on this intense love of Dante for light,—taught, as he is at last by Beatrice, to gaze on the sun itself like an eagle,—and endeavor to enter into his equally intense detestation of all mist, rack of cloud, or dimness of rain; and then consider with what kind of temper he would have regarded a landscape of Copley Fielding's or passed a day in the Highlands. He has, in fact, assigned to the souls of the gluttonous no other punishment in the Inferno than perpetuity of Highland weather:

Ceaseless, accursed, heavy and cold, unchanged
For ever, both in kind and in degree,—
Large hail, discolored water, sleety flaw,
Through the dim midnight air streamed down amain."

§ 21. However, in this immitigable dislike of clouds, Dante goes somewhat beyond the general temper of his age. For although the calm sky was alone loved, and storm and rain were244 dreaded by all men, yet the white horizontal clouds of serene summer were regarded with great affection by all early painters, and considered as one of the accompaniments of the manifestation of spiritual power; sometimes, for theological reasons which we shall soon have to examine, being received, even without any other sign, as the types of blessing or Divine acceptance: and in almost every representation of the heavenly paradise, these level clouds are set by the early painters for its floor, or for thrones of its angels; whereas Dante retains steadily, through circle after circle, his cloudless thought, and concludes his painting of heaven, as he began it upon the purgatorial mountain, with the image of shadowless morning:

"I raised my eyes, and as at morn is seen
The horizon's eastern quarter to excel,
So likewise, that pacific Oriflamb
Glowed in the midmost, and toward every part,
With like gradation paled away its flame."

But the best way of regarding this feeling of Dante's is as the ultimate and most intense expression of the love of light, color, and clearness, which, as we saw above, distinguished the mediæval from the Greek on one side, and, as we shall presently see, distinguished him from the modern on the other. For it is evident that precisely in the degree in which the Greek was agriculturally inclined, in that degree the sight of clouds would become to him more acceptable than to the mediæval knight, who only looked for the fine afternoons in which he might gather the flowers in his garden, and in no wise shared or imagined the previous anxieties of his gardener. Thus, when we find Ulysses comforted about Ithaca, by being told it had "plenty of rain," and the maids of Colonos boasting of their country for the same reason, we may be sure that they had some regard for clouds; and accordingly, except Aristophanes, of whom more presently, all the Greek poets speak fondly of the clouds, and consider them the fitting resting-places of the gods; including in their idea of clouds not merely the thin clear cirrus, but the rolling and changing volume of the thunder-cloud; nor even these only, but also the dusty whirlwind cloud of the earth, as in that noble chapter of Herodotus which tells us of245 the cloud, full of mystic voices, that rose out of the dust of Eleusis, and went down to Salamis. Clouds and rain were of course regarded with a like gratitude by the eastern and southern nations—Jews and Egyptians; and it is only among the northern mediævals, with whom fine weather was rarely so prolonged as to occasion painful drought, or dangerous famine, and over whom the clouds broke coldly and fiercely when they came, that the love of serene light assumes its intense character, and the fear of tempest is gloomiest; so that the powers of the clouds which to the Greek foretold his conquest at Salamis, and with whom he fought in alliance, side by side with their lightnings, under the crest of Parnassus, seemed, in the heart of the Middle Ages, to be only under the dominion of the spirit of evil. I have reserved, for our last example of the landscape of Dante, the passage in which this conviction is expressed; a passage not less notable for its close description of what the writer feared and disliked, than for the ineffable tenderness, in which Dante is always raised as much above all other poets, as in softness the rose above all other flowers. It is the spirit of Buonconte da Montefeltro who speaks:

"Then said another: 'Ah, so may thy wish,
That takes thee o'er the mountain, be fulfilled,
As thou shalt graciously give aid to mine!
Of Montefeltro I; Buonconte I:
Giovanna, nor none else, have care for me;
Sorrowing with these I therefore go.' I thus:
From Campaldino's field what force or chance
Drew thee, that ne'er thy sepulchre was known?'
'Oh!' answered he, 'at Casentino's foot
A stream there courseth, named Archiano, sprung
In Apennine, above the hermit's seat.
E'en where its name is cancelled, there came I,
Pierced in the throat, fleeing away on foot,
And bloodying the plain. Here sight and speech
failed me; and finishing with Mary's name,
I fell, and tenantless my flesh remained.
That evil will, which in his intellect
Still follows evil, came;
... the valley, soon
As day was spent, he covered o'er with cloud.
246 From Pratomagno to the mountain range,
And stretched the sky above; so that the air,
Impregnate, changed to water. Fell the rain;
And to the fosses came all that the land
Contained not; and as mightiest streams are wont.
To the great river, with such headlong sweep,
Rushed, that nought stayed its course. My stiffened frame,
Laid at his mouth, the fell Archiano found,
And dashed it into Arno; from my breast
Loosening the cross, that of myself I made
When overcome with pain. He hurled me on,
Along the banks and bottom of his course;
Then in his muddy spoils encircling wrapt.'"

Observe, Buonconte, as he dies, crosses his arms over his breast, pressing them together, partly in his pain, partly in prayer. His body thus lies by the river shore, as on a sepulchral monument, the arms folded into a cross. The rage of the river, under the influence of the evil demon, unlooses this cross, dashing the body supinely away, and rolling it over and over by bank and bottom. Nothing can be truer to the action of a stream in fury than these lines. And how desolate is it all! The lonely flight,—the grisly wound, "pierced in the throat,"—the death, without help or pity,—only the name of Mary on the lips,-and the cross folded over the heart. Then the rage of the demon and the river,—the noteless grave,—and, at last, even she who had been most trusted forgetting him,—

"Giovanna, none else have care for me."

There is, I feel assured, nothing else like it in all the range of poetry; a faint and harsh echo of it, only, exists in one Scottish ballad, "The Twa Corbies."

Here, then, I think, we may close our inquiry into the nature of the mediæval landscape; not but that many details yet require to be worked out; but these will be best observed by recurrence to them, for comparison with similar details in modern landscape,—our principal purpose, the getting at the governing tones and temper of conception, being, I believe, now sufficiently accomplished. And I think that our subject may be best pursued by immediately turning from the mediæval to the perfectly modern landscape; for although I have much to say respecting the transitional state of mind exhibited in the six247teenth and seventeenth centuries, I believe the transitions may be more easily explained after we have got clear sight of the extremes; and that by getting perfect and separate hold of the three great phases of art,—Greek, mediæval, and modern,—we shall be enabled to trace, with least chance of error, those curious vacillations which brought us to the modern temper while vainly endeavoring to resuscitate the Greek. I propose, therefore, in the next chapter, to examine the spirit of modern landscape, as seen generally in modern painting, and especially in the poetry of Scott.

[79] It is an unpublished plate. I know only two impressions of it.

[80] (Cayley.) "Tutto di pietra, e di color ferrigno"—Inf. xviii. 2.

[81] "Maligne piagge grige."—Inf. vii. 108.

[82] It is in these subtle purples that even the more elaborate passages of the earlier drawings are worked; as, for instance, the Highland streams, spoken of in Pre-Raphaelitism. Also, Turner could, by opposition, get what color he liked out of a brown. I have seen cases in which he had made it stand for the purest rose light.

[83] The references are in Appendix I.




§ 1. We turn our eyes, therefore, as boldly and as quickly as may be, from these serene fields and skies of mediæval art, to the most characteristic examples of modern landscape. And, I believe, the first thing that will strike us, or that ought to strike us, is their cloudiness.

Out of perfect light and motionless air, we find ourselves on a sudden brought under sombre skies, and into drifting wind; and, with fickle sunbeams flashing in our face, or utterly drenched with sweep of rain, we are reduced to track the changes of the shadows on the grass, or watch the rents of twilight through angry cloud. And we find that whereas all the pleasure of the mediæval was in stability, definiteness, and luminousness, we are expected to rejoice in darkness, and triumph in mutability; to lay the foundation of happiness in things which momentarily change or fade; and to expect the utmost satisfaction and instruction from what is impossible to arrest, and difficult to comprehend.

§ 2. We find, however, together with this general delight in breeze and darkness, much attention to the real form of clouds, and careful drawing of effects of mist: so that the appearance of objects, as seen through it, becomes a subject of science with us: and the faithful representation of that appearance is made of primal importance, under the name of aerial perspective. The aspects of sunset and sunrise, with all their attendant phenomena of cloud and mist, are watchfully delineated; and in ordinary daylight landscape, the sky is considered of so much importance, that a principal mass of foliage, or a whole foreground, is unhesitatingly thrown into shade merely to bring out the form of a white cloud. So that, if a general and characteristic name were needed for modern landscape art, none better could be invented than "the service of clouds."


§ 3. And this name would, unfortunately, be characteristic of our art in more ways than one. In the last chapter, I said that all the Greeks spoke kindly about the clouds, except Aristophanes; and he, I am sorry to say (since his report is so unfavorable), is the only Greek who had studied them attentively. He tells us, first, that they are "great goddesses to idle men;" then, that they are "mistresses of disputings, and logic, and monstrosities, and noisy chattering;" declares that whoso believes in their divinity must first disbelieve in Jupiter, and place supreme power in the hands of an unknown god "Whirlwind;" and, finally, he displays their influence over the mind of one of their disciples, in his sudden desire "to speak ingeniously concerning smoke."

There is, I fear, an infinite truth in this Aristophanic judgment applied to our modern cloud-worship. Assuredly, much of the love of mystery in our romances, our poetry, our art, and, above all, in our metaphysics, must come under that definition so long ago given by the great Greek, "speaking ingeniously concerning smoke." And much of the instinct, which, partially developed in painting, may be now seen throughout every mode of exertion of mind,—the easily encouraged doubt, easily excited curiosity, habitual agitation, and delight in the changing and the marvellous, as opposed to the old quiet serenity of social custom and religious faith,—is again deeply defined in those few words, the "dethroning of Jupiter," the "coronation of the whirlwind."

§ 4. Nor of whirlwind merely, but also of darkness or ignorance respecting all stable facts. That darkening of the foreground to bring out the white cloud, is, in one aspect of it, a type of the subjection of all plain and positive fact, to what is uncertain and unintelligible. And as we examine farther into the matter, we shall be struck by another great difference between the old and modern landscape, namely, that in the old no one ever thought of drawing anything but as well as he could. That might not be well, as we have seen in the case of rocks; but it was as well as he could, and always distinctly. Leaf, or stone, or animal, or man, it was equally drawn with care and clearness, and its essential characters shown. If it was an oak tree, the acorns were drawn; if a flint pebble, its250 veins were drawn; if an arm of the sea, its fish were drawn; if a group of figures, their faces and dresses were drawn—to the very last subtlety of expression and end of thread that could be got into the space, far off or near. But now our ingenuity is all "concerning smoke." Nothing is truly drawn but that; all else is vague, slight, imperfect; got with as little pains as possible. You examine your closest foreground, and find no leaves; your largest oak, and find no acorns; your human figure, and find a spot of red paint instead of a face; and in all this, again and again, the Aristophanic words come true, and the clouds seem to be "great goddesses to idle men."

§ 5. The next thing that will strike us, after this love of clouds, is the love of liberty. Whereas the mediæval was always shutting himself into castles, and behind fosses, and drawing brickwork neatly, and beds of flowers primly, our painters delight in getting to the open fields and moors; abhor all hedges and moats; never paint anything but free-growing trees, and rivers gliding "at their own sweet will;" eschew formality down to the smallest detail; break and displace the brickwork which the mediæval would have carefully cemented; leave unpruned the thickets he would have delicately trimmed; and, carrying the love of liberty even to license, and the love of wildness even to ruin, take pleasure at last in every aspect of age and desolation which emancipates the objects of nature from the government of men;—on the castle wall displacing its tapestry with ivy, and spreading, through the garden, the bramble for the rose.

§ 6. Connected with this love of liberty we find a singular manifestation of love of mountains, and see our painters traversing the wildest places of the globe in order to obtain subjects with craggy foregrounds and purple distances. Some few of them remain content with pollards and flat land; but these are always men of third-rate order; and the leading masters, while they do not reject the beauty of the low grounds, reserve their highest powers to paint Alpine peaks or Italian promontories. And it is eminently noticeable, also, that this pleasure in the mountains is never mingled with fear, or tempered by a spirit of meditation, as with the mediæval; but it is always free and fearless, brightly exhilarating, and wholly unreflective; so that251 the painter feels that his mountain foreground may be more consistently animated by a sportsman than a hermit; and our modern society in general goes to the mountains, not to fast, but to feast, and leaves their glaciers covered with chicken-bones and egg-shells.

§ 7. Connected with this want of any sense of solemnity in mountain scenery, is a general profanity of temper in regarding all the rest of nature; that is to say, a total absence of faith in the presence of any deity therein. Whereas the mediæval never painted a cloud, but with the purpose of placing an angel in it; and a Greek never entered a wood without expecting to meet a god in it; we should think the appearance of an angel in the cloud wholly unnatural, and should be seriously surprised by meeting a god anywhere. Our chief ideas about the wood are connected with poaching. We have no belief that the clouds contain more than so many inches of rain or hail, and from our ponds and ditches expect nothing more divine than ducks and watercresses.

§ 8. Finally: connected with this profanity of temper is a strong tendency to deny the sacred element of color, and make our boast in blackness. For though occasionally glaring, or violent, modern color is on the whole eminently sombre, tending continually to grey or brown, and by many of our best painters consistently falsified, with a confessed pride in what they call chaste or subdued tints; so that, whereas a mediæval paints his sky bright blue, and his foreground bright green, gilds the towers of his castles, and clothes his figures with purple and white, we paint our sky grey, our foreground black, and our foliage brown, and think that enough is sacrificed to the sun in admitting the dangerous brightness of a scarlet cloak or a blue jacket.

§ 9. These, I believe, are the principal points which would strike us instantly, if we were to be brought suddenly into an exhibition of modern landscapes out of a room filled with mediæval work. It is evident that there are both evil and good in this change; but how much evil, or how much good, we can only estimate by considering, as in the former divisions of our inquiry, what are the real roots of the habits of mind which have caused them.

Distinctive characters of the modern mind:

And first, it is evident that the title "Dark Ages," given to the mediæval centuries, is, respecting art, wholly inapplicable. They were, on the contrary, the bright ages; ours are the dark ones. I do not mean metaphysically, but literally. They were the ages of gold: ours are the ages of umber.

1. Despondency arising from faithlessness.

This is partly mere mistake in us; we build brown brick walls, and wear brown coats, because we have been blunderingly taught to do so, and go on doing so mechanically. There is, however, also some cause for the change in our own tempers. On the whole, these are much sadder ages than the early ones; not sadder in a noble and deep way, but in a dim, wearied way,—the way of ennui, and jaded intellect, and uncomfortableness of soul and body. The Middle Ages had their wars and agonies, but also intense delights. Their gold was dashed with blood; but ours is sprinkled with dust. Their life was interwoven with white and purple; ours is one seamless stuff of brown. Not that we are without apparent festivity, but festivity more or less forced, mistaken, embittered, incomplete—not of the heart. How wonderfully, since Shakspere's time, have we lost the power of laughing at bad jests! The very finish of our wit belies our gaiety.

§ 10. The profoundest reason of this darkness of heart is, I believe, our want of faith. There never yet was a generation of men (savage or civilized) who, taken as a body, so wofully fulfilled the words, "having no hope, and without God in the world," as the present civilized European race. A Red Indian or Otaheitan savage has more sense of a Divine existence round him, or government over him, than the plurality of refined Londoners and Parisians; and those among us who may in some sense be said to believe, are divided almost without exception into two broad classes, Romanist and Puritan; who, but for the interference of the unbelieving portions of society, would, either of them, reduce the other sect as speedily as possible to ashes; the Romanist having always done so whenever he could, from the beginning of their separation, and the Puritan at this time holding himself in complacent expectation of the destruction of Rome by volcanic fire. Such division as this between253 persons nominally of one religion, that is to say, believing in the same God, and the same Revelation, cannot but become a stumbling-block of the gravest kind to all thoughtful and far-sighted men,—a stumbling-block which they can only surmount under the most favorable circumstances of early education. Hence, nearly all our powerful men in this age of the world are unbelievers; the best of them in doubt and misery; the worst in reckless defiance; the plurality in plodding hesitation, doing, as well as they can, what practical work lies ready to their hands. Most of our scientific men are in this last class; our popular authors either set themselves definitely against all religious form, pleading for simple truth and benevolence (Thackeray, Dickens), or give themselves up to bitter and fruitless statement of facts (De Balzac), or surface-painting (Scott), or careless blasphemy, sad or smiling (Byron, Beranger). Our earnest poets, and deepest thinkers, are doubtful and indignant (Tennyson, Carlyle); one or two, anchored, indeed, but anxious, or weeping (Wordsworth, Mrs. Browning); and of these two, the first is not so sure of his anchor, but that now and then it drags with him, even to make him cry out,—

"Great God, I had rather be
A Pagan suckled in some creed outworn:
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn."

In politics, religion is now a name; in art, a hypocrisy or affectation. Over German religious pictures the inscription, "See how Pious I am," can be read at a glance by any clear-sighted person. Over French and English religious pictures, the inscription, "See how Impious I am," is equally legible. All sincere and modest art is, among us, profane.[84]

§ 11. 2. Levity from the same cause.

This faithlessness operates among us according to our tempers, producing either sadness or levity, and being the ultimate root alike of our discontents and of our wantonnesses. It is marvellous how full of contradiction it makes us; we are first dull, and seek for wild and lonely places because we have no heart for the garden;254 presently we recover our spirits, and build an assembly room among the mountains, because we have no reverence for the desert. I do not know if there be game on Sinai, but I am always expecting to hear of some one's shooting over it.

§ 12. There is, however, another, and a more innocent root of our delight in wild scenery.

3. Reactionary love of inanimate beauty.

All the Renaissance principles of art tended, as I have before often explained, to the setting Beauty above Truth, and seeking for it always at the expense of truth. And the proper punishment of such pursuit—the punishment which all the laws of the universe rendered inevitable—was, that those who thus pursued beauty should wholly lose sight of beauty. All the thinkers of the age, as we saw previously, declared that it did not exist. The age seconded their efforts, and banished beauty, so far as human effort could succeed in doing so, from the face of the earth, and the form of man. To powder the hair, to patch the cheek, to hoop the body, to buckle the foot, were all part and parcel of the same system which reduced streets to brick walls, and pictures to brown stains. One desert of Ugliness was extended before the eyes of mankind; and their pursuit of the beautiful, so recklessly continued, received unexpected consummation in high-heeled shoes and periwigs,—Gower Street, and Gaspar Poussin.

§ 13. Reaction from this state was inevitable, if any true life was left in the races of mankind; and, accordingly, though still forced, by rule and fashion, to the producing and wearing all that is ugly, men steal out, half-ashamed of themselves for doing so, to the fields and mountains; and, finding among these the color, and liberty, and variety, and power, which are for ever grateful to them, delight in these to an extent never before known; rejoice in all the wildest shattering of the mountain side, as an opposition to Gower Street; gaze in a rapt manner at sunsets and sunrises, to see there the blue, and gold, and purple, which glow for them no longer on knight's armor or temple porch; and gather with care out of the fields, into their blotted herbaria, the flowers which the five orders of architecture have banished from their doors and casements.

§ 14. 4. Disdain of beauty in man.

The absence of care for personal beauty, which is another great characteristic of the age, adds to this feeling in a twofold255 way: first, by turning all reverent thoughts away from human nature; and making us think of men as ridiculous or ugly creatures, getting through the world as well as they can, and spoiling it in doing so; not ruling it in a kingly way and crowning all its loveliness. In the Middle Ages hardly anything but vice could be caricatured, because virtue was always visibly and personally noble; now virtue itself is apt to inhabit such poor human bodies, that no aspect of it is invulnerable to jest; and for all fairness we have to seek to the flowers, for all sublimity, to the hills.

The same want of care operates, in another way, by lowering the standard of health, increasing the susceptibility to nervous or sentimental impressions, and thus adding to the other powers of nature over us whatever charm may be felt in her fostering the melancholy fancies of brooding idleness.

§ 15. 5. Romantic imagination of the past.

It is not, however, only to existing inanimate nature that our want of beauty in person and dress has driven us. The imagination of it, as it was seen in our ancestors, haunts us continually; and while we yield to the present fashions, or act in accordance with the dullest modern principles of economy and utility, we look fondly back to the manners of the ages of chivalry, and delight in painting, to the fancy, the fashions we pretend to despise, and the splendors we think it wise to abandon. The furniture and personages of our romance are sought, when the writer desires to please most easily, in the centuries which we profess to have surpassed in everything; the art which takes us into the present times is considered as both daring and degraded; and while the weakest words please us, and are regarded as poetry, which recall the manners of our forefathers, or of strangers, it is only as familiar and vulgar that we accept the description of our own.

In this we are wholly different from all the races that preceded us. All other nations have regarded their ancestors with reverence as saints or heroes; but have nevertheless thought their own deeds and ways of life the fitting subjects for their arts of painting or of verse. We, on the contrary, regard our ancestors as foolish and wicked, but yet find our chief artistic pleasures in descriptions of their ways of life.


The Greeks and mediævals honored, but did not imitate, their forefathers; we imitate, but do not honor.

§ 16. 6. Interest in science.
7. Fear of war.

With this romantic love of beauty, forced to seek in history, and in external nature, the satisfaction it cannot find in ordinary life, we mingle a more rational passion, the due and just result of newly awakened powers of attention. Whatever may first lead us to the scrutiny of natural objects, that scrutiny never fails of its reward. Unquestionably they are intended to be regarded by us with both reverence and delight; and every hour we give to them renders their beauty more apparent, and their interest more engrossing. Natural science—which can hardly be considered to have existed before modern times—rendering our knowledge fruitful in accumulation and exquisite in accuracy, has acted for good or evil, according to the temper of the mind which received it; and though it has hardened the faithlessness of the dull and proud, has shown new grounds for reverence to hearts which were thoughtful and humble. The neglect of the art of war, while it has somewhat weakened and deformed the body,[85] has given us leisure and opportunity for studies to which, before, time and space were equally wanting; lives which once were early wasted on the battle field are now passed usefully in the study; nations which exhausted themselves in annual warfare now dispute with each other the discovery of new planets; and the serene philosopher dissects the plants, and analyzes the dust, of lands which were of old only traversed by the knight in hasty march, or by the borderer in heedless rapine.

§ 17. The elements of progress and decline being thus strangely mingled in the modern mind, we might beforehand anticipate that one of the notable characters of our art would be its inconsistency; that efforts would be made in every direction, and arrested by every conceivable cause and manner of failure; that in all we did, it would become next to impossible to distin257guish accurately the grounds for praise or for regret; that all previous canons of practice and methods of thought would be gradually overthrown, and criticism continually defied by successes which no one had expected, and sentiments which no one could define.

§ 18. Accordingly, while, in our inquiries into Greek and mediæval art, I was able to describe, in general terms, what all men did or felt, I find now many characters in many men; some, it seems to me, founded on the inferior and evanescent principles of modernism, on its recklessness, impatience, or faithlessness; others founded on its science, its new affection for nature, its love of openness and liberty. And among all these characters, good or evil, I see that some, remaining to us from old or transitional periods, do not properly belong to us, and will soon fade away; and others, though not yet distinctly developed, are yet properly our own, and likely to grow forward into greater strength.

For instance: our reprobation of bright color is, I think, for the most part, mere affectation, and must soon be done away with. Vulgarity, dulness, or impiety, will indeed always express themselves through art in brown and grey, as in Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Salvator; but we are not wholly vulgar, dull, or impious; nor, as moderns, are we necessarily obliged to continue so in any wise. Our greatest men, whether sad or gay, still delight, like the great men of all ages, in brilliant hues. The coloring of Scott and Byron is full and pure; that of Keats and Tennyson rich even to excess. Our practical failures in coloring are merely the necessary consequences of our prolonged want of practice during the periods of Renaissance affectation and ignorance; and the only durable difference between old and modern coloring, is the acceptance of certain hues, by the modern, which please him by expressing that melancholy peculiar to his more reflective or sentimental character, and the greater variety of them necessary to express his greater science.

§ 19. Again: if we ever become wise enough to dress consistently and gracefully, to make health a principal object in education, and to render our streets beautiful with art, the external charm of past history will in great measure disappear.258 There is no essential reason, because we live after the fatal seventeenth century, that we should never again be able to confess interest in sculpture, or see brightness in embroidery; nor, because now we choose to make the night deadly with our pleasures, and the day with our labors, prolonging the dance till dawn, and the toil to twilight, that we should never again learn how rightly to employ the sacred trusts of strength, beauty, and time. Whatever external charm attaches itself to the past, would then be seen in proper subordination to the brightness of present life; and the elements of romance would exist, in the earlier ages, only in the attraction which must generally belong to whatever is unfamiliar; in the reverence which a noble nation always pays to its ancestors; and in the enchanted light which races, like individuals, must perceive in looking back to the days of their childhood.

§ 20. Again: the peculiar levity with which natural scenery is regarded by a large number of modern minds cannot be considered as entirely characteristic of the age, inasmuch as it never can belong to its greatest intellects. Men of any high mental power must be serious, whether in ancient or modern days: a certain degree of reverence for fair scenery is found in all our great writers without exception,—even the one who has made us laugh oftenest, taking us to the valley of Chamouni, and to the sea beach, there to give peace after suffering, and change revenge into pity.[86] It is only the dull, the uneducated, or the worldly, whom it is painful to meet on the hill sides; and levity, as a ruling character, cannot be ascribed to the whole nation, but only to its holiday-making apprentices, and its House of Commons.

§ 21. We need not, therefore, expect to find any single poet or painter representing the entire group of powers, weaknesses, and inconsistent instincts which govern or confuse our modern life. But we may expect that in the man who seems to be given by Providence as the type of the age (as Homer and Dante were given, as the types of classical and mediæval mind), we shall find whatever is fruitful and substantial to be completely present, together with those of our weaknesses, which are in259deed nationally characteristic, and compatible with general greatness of mind; just as the weak love of fences, and dislike of mountains, were found compatible with Dante's greatness in other respects.

§ 22. Farther: as the admiration of mankind is found, in our times, to have in great part passed from men to mountains, and from human emotion to natural phenomena, we may anticipate that the great strength of art will also be warped in this direction; with this notable result for us, that whereas the greatest painters or painter of classical and mediæval periods, being wholly devoted to the representation of humanity, furnished us with but little to examine in landscape, the greatest painters or painter of modern times will in all probability be devoted to landscape principally; and farther, because in representing human emotion words surpass painting, but in representing natural scenery painting surpasses words, we may anticipate also that the painter and poet (for convenience' sake I here use the words in opposition) will somewhat change their relations of rank in illustrating the mind of the age; that the painter will become of more importance, the poet of less; and that the relations between the men who are the types and firstfruits of the age in word and work,—namely, Scott and Turner,—will be, in many curious respects, different from those between Homer and Phidias, or Dante and Giotto.

It is this relation which we have now to examine.

§ 23. And, first, I think it probable that many readers may be surprised at my calling Scott the great representative of the mind of the age in literature. Those who can perceive the intense penetrative depth of Wordsworth, and the exquisite finish and melodious power of Tennyson, may be offended at my placing in higher rank that poetry of careless glance, and reckless rhyme, in which Scott poured out the fancies of his youth; and those who are familiar with the subtle analysis of the French novelists, or who have in any wise submitted themselves to the influence of German philosophy, may be equally indignant at my ascribing a principality to Scott among the literary men of Europe, in an age which has produced De Balzac and Goethe.

So also in painting, those who are acquainted with the sentimental efforts made at present by the German religious and his260torical schools, and with the disciplined power and learning of the French, will think it beyond all explanation absurd to call a painter of light water-color landscapes, eighteen inches by twelve, the first representative of the arts of the age. I can only crave the reader's patience, and his due consideration of the following reasons for my doing so, together with those advanced in the farther course of the work.

§ 24. I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean, by humility, doubt of his own power, or hesitation in speaking of his opinions; but a right understanding of the relation between what he can do and say, and the rest of the world's sayings and doings. All great men not only know their business, but usually know that they know it; and are not only right in their main opinions, but they usually know that they are right in them; only, they do not think much of themselves on that account. Arnolfo knows he can build a good dome at Florence; Albert Durer writes calmly to one who had found fault with his work, "It cannot be better done;" Sir Isaac Newton knows that he has worked out a problem or two that would have puzzled anybody else;—only they do not expect their fellow-men therefore to fall down and worship them; they have a curious under-sense of powerlessness, feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God-made them. And they see something divine and God-made in every other man they meet, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.

§ 25. Now, I find among the men of the present age, as far as I know them, this character in Scott and Turner preeminently; I am not sure if it is not in them alone. I do not find Scott talking about the dignity of literature, nor Turner about the dignity of painting. They do their work, feeling that they cannot well help it; the story must be told, and the effect put down; and if people like it, well and good; and if not, the world will not be much the worse.

I believe a very different impression of their estimate of themselves and their doings will be received by any one who reads the conversations of Wordsworth or Goethe. The slightest manifestation of jealousy or self-complacency is enough to261 mark a second-rate character of the intellect; and I fear that especially in Goethe, such manifestations are neither few nor slight.

§ 26. Connected with this general humility is the total absence of affectation in these men,—that is to say, of any assumption of manner or behavior in their work, in order to attract attention. Not but that they are mannerists both. Scott's verse is strongly mannered, and Turner's oil painting; but the manner of it is necessitated by the feelings of the men, entirely natural to both, never exaggerated for the sake of show. I hardly know any other literary or pictorial work of the day which is not in some degree affected. I am afraid Wordsworth was often affected in his simplicity, and De Balzac in his finish. Many fine French writers are affected in their reserve, and full of stage tricks in placing of sentences. It is lucky if in German writers we ever find so much as a sentence without affectation. I know no painters without it, except one or two Pre-Raphaelites (chiefly Holman Hunt), and some simple water-color painters, as William Hunt, William Turner of Oxford, and the late George Robson; but these last have no invention, and therefore by our fourth canon, Chap. III. sec. 21., are excluded from the first rank of artists; and of the Pre-Raphaelites there is here no question, as they in no wise represent the modern school.

§ 27. Again: another very important, though not infallible, test of greatness is, as we have often said, the appearance of Ease with which the thing is done. It may be that, as with Dante and Leonardo, the finish given to the work effaces the evidence of ease; but where the ease is manifest, as in Scott, Turner, and Tintoret; and the thing done is very noble, it is a strong reason for placing the men above those who confessedly work with great pains. Scott writing his chapter or two before breakfast—not retouching, Turner finishing a whole drawing in a forenoon before he goes out to shoot (providing always the chapter and drawing be good), are instantly to be set above men who confessedly have spent the day over the work, and think the hours well spent if it has been a little mended between sunrise and sunset. Indeed, it is no use for men to think to appear great by working fast, dashing, and scrawling; the thing262 they do must be good and great, cost what time it may; but if it be so, and they have honestly and unaffectedly done it with no effort, it is probably a greater and better thing than the result of the hardest efforts of others.

§ 28. Then, as touching the kind of work done by these two men, the more I think of it I find this conclusion more impressed upon me,—that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion,—all in one.

Therefore, finding the world of Literature more or less divided into Thinkers and Seers, I believe we shall find also that the Seers are wholly the greater race of the two. A true Thinker, who has practical purpose in his thinking, and is sincere, as Plato, or Carlyle, or Helps, becomes in some sort a seer, and must be always of infinite use in his generation; but an affected Thinker, who supposes his thinking of any other importance than as it tends to work, is about the vainest kind of person that can be found in the occupied classes. Nay, I believe that metaphysicians and philosophers are, on the whole, the greatest troubles the world has got to deal with; and that while a tyrant or bad man is of some use in teaching people submission or indignation, and a thoroughly idle man is only harmful in setting an idle example, and communicating to other lazy people his own lazy misunderstandings, busy metaphysicians are always entangling good and active people, and weaving cobwebs among the finest wheels of the world's business; and are as much as possible, by all prudent persons, to be brushed out of their way, like spiders, and the meshed weed that has got into the Cambridgeshire canals, and other such impediments to barges and business. And if we thus clear the metaphysical element out of modern literature, we shall find its bulk amazingly diminished, and the claims of the remaining writers, or of those whom we have thinned by this abstraction of their straw stuffing, much more easily adjusted.[87]


§ 29. Again: the mass of sentimental literature, concerned with the analysis and description of emotion, headed by the poetry of Byron, is altogether of lower rank than the literature which merely describes what it saw. The true Seer always feels as intensely as any one else; but he does not much describe his feelings. He tells you whom he met, and what they said; leaves you to make out, from that, what they feel, and what he feels, but goes into little detail. And, generally speaking, pathetic writing and careful explanation of passion are quite easy, compared with this plain recording of what people said or did, or with the right invention of what they are likely to say and do; for this reason, that to invent a story, or admirably and thoroughly tell any part of a story, it is necessary to grasp the entire mind of every personage concerned in it, and know precisely how they would be affected by what happens; which to do requires a colossal intellect; but to describe a separate emotion delicately, it is only needed that one should feel it oneself; and thousands of people are capable of feeling this or that noble emotion, for one who is able to enter into all the feelings of somebody sitting on the other side of the table. Even, therefore, when this sentimental literature is first rate, as in passages of Byron, Tennyson, and Keats, it ought not to be ranked so high as the Creative; and though perfection, even in narrow fields, is perhaps as rare as in the wider, and it may be as long before we have another In Memoriam as another Guy Mannering, I unhesitatingly receive as a greater manifestation of power the right invention of a few sentences spoken by Pleydell and Mannering across their supper-table, than the most tender and passionate melodies of the self-examining verse.

§ 30. Having, therefore, cast metaphysical writers out of our way, and sentimental writers into the second rank, I do not think Scott's supremacy among those who remain will any more be doubtful; nor would it, perhaps, have been doubtful before, had it not been encumbered by innumerable faults and weaknesses. But it is preeminently in these faults and weaknesses264 that Scott is representative of the mind of his age: and because he is the greatest man born amongst us, and intended for the enduring type of us, all our principal faults must be laid on his shoulders, and he must bear down the dark marks to the latest ages; while the smaller men, who have some special work to do, perhaps not so much belonging to this age as leading out of it to the next, are often kept providentially quit of the encumbrances which they had not strength to sustain, and are much smoother and pleasanter to look at, in their way; only that is a smaller way.

§ 31. Thus, the most startling fault of the age being its faithlessness, it is necessary that its greatest man should be faithless. Nothing is more notable or sorrowful in Scott's mind than its incapacity of steady belief in anything. He cannot even resolve hardily to believe in a ghost, or a water-spirit; always explains them away in an apologetic manner, not believing, all the while, even his own explanation. He never can clearly ascertain whether there is anything behind the arras but rats; never draws sword, and thrusts at it for life or death; but goes on looking at it timidly, and saying, "it must be the wind." He is educated a Presbyterian, and remains one, because it is the most sensible thing he can do if he is to live in Edinburgh; but he thinks Romanism more picturesque, and profaneness more gentlemanly: does not see that anything affects human life but love, courage, and destiny; which are, indeed, not matters of faith at all, but of sight. Any gods but those are very misty in outline to him; and when the love is laid ghastly in poor Charlotte's coffin; and the courage is no more of use,—the pen having fallen from between the fingers; and destiny is sealing the scroll,—the God-light is dim in the tears that fall on it.

He is in all this the epitome of his epoch.

§ 32. Again: as another notable weakness of the age is its habit of looking back, in a romantic and passionate idleness, to the past ages, not understanding them all the while, nor really desiring to understand them, so Scott gives up nearly the half of his intellectual power to a fond, yet purposeless, dreaming over the past, and spends half his literary labors in endeavors to revive it, not in reality, but on the stage of fiction; endeav265ors which were the best of the kind that modernism made, but still successful only so far as Scott put, under the old armor, the everlasting human nature which he knew; and totally unsuccessful, so far as concerned the painting of the armor itself, which he knew not. The excellence of Scott's work is precisely in proportion to the degree in which it is sketched from present nature. His familiar life is inimitable; his quiet scenes of introductory conversation, as the beginning of Rob Roy and Redgauntlet, and all his living Scotch characters, mean or noble, from Andrew Fairservice to Jeanie Deans, are simply right, and can never be bettered. But his romance and antiquarianism, his knighthood and monkery, are all false, and he knows them to be false; does not care to make them earnest; enjoys them for their strangeness, but laughs at his own antiquarianism, all through his own third novel,—with exquisite modesty indeed, but with total misunderstanding of the function of an Antiquary. He does not see how anything is to be got out of the past but confusion, old iron on drawingroom chairs, and serious inconvenience to Dr. Heavysterne.

§ 33. Again: more than any age that had preceded it, ours had been ignorant of the meaning of the word "Art." It had not a single fixed principle, and what unfixed principles it worked upon were all wrong. It was necessary that Scott should know nothing of art. He neither cared for painting nor sculpture, and was totally incapable of forming a judgment about them. He had some confused love of Gothic architecture, because it was dark, picturesque, old, and like nature; but could not tell the worst from the best, and built for himself perhaps the most incongruous and ugly pile that gentlemanly modernism ever designed; marking, in the most curious and subtle way, that mingling of reverence with irreverence which is so striking in the age; he reverences Melrose, yet casts one of its piscinas, puts a modern steel grate into it, and makes it his fireplace. Like all pure moderns, he supposes the Gothic barbarous, notwithstanding his love of it; admires, in an equally ignorant way, totally opposite styles; is delighted with the new town of Edinburgh; mistakes its dulness for purity of taste, and actually compares it, in its deathful formality of street, as266 contrasted with the rudeness of the old town, to Britomart taking off her armor.

§ 34. Again: as in reverence and irreverence, so in levity and melancholy, we saw that the spirit of the age was strangely interwoven. Therefore, also, it is necessary that Scott should be light, careless, unearnest, and yet eminently sorrowful. Throughout all his work there is no evidence of any purpose but to while away the hour. His life had no other object than the pleasure of the instant, and the establishing of a family name. All his thoughts were, in their outcome and end, less than nothing, and vanity. And yet, of all poetry that I know, none is so sorrowful as Scott's. Other great masters are pathetic in a resolute and predetermined way, when they choose; but, in their own minds, are evidently stern, or hopeful, or serene; never really melancholy. Even Byron is rather sulky and desperate than melancholy; Keats is sad because he is sickly; Shelley because he is impious; but Scott is inherently and consistently sad. Around all his power, and brightness, and enjoyment of eye and heart, the far-away Æolian knell is for ever sounding; there is not one of those loving or laughing glances of his but it is brighter for the film of tears; his mind is like one of his own hill rivers,—it is white, and flashes in the sun fairly, careless, as it seems, and hasty in its going, but

"Far beneath, where slow they creep
From pool to eddy, dark and deep,
Where alders moist, and willows weep,
You hear her streams repine."

Life begins to pass from him very early; and while Homer sings cheerfully in his blindness, and Dante retains his courage, and rejoices in hope of Paradise, through all his exile, Scott, yet hardly past his youth, lies pensive in the sweet sunshine and among the harvest of his native hills.

"Blackford, on whose uncultured breast,
Among the broom, and thorn, and whin,
A truant boy, I sought the nest,
Or listed as I lay at rest,
While rose on breezes thin
The murmur of the city crowd,
And, from his steeple jangling loud,
267 St. Giles's mingling din!
Now, from the summit to the plain,
Waves all the hill with yellow grain;
And on the landscape as I look,
Nought do I see unchanged remain,
Save the rude cliffs and chiming brook;
To me they make a heavy moan
Of early friendships past and gone."

§ 35. Such, then, being the weaknesses which it was necessary that Scott should share with his age, in order that he might sufficiently represent it, and such the grounds for supposing him, in spite of all these weaknesses, the greatest literary man whom that age produced, let us glance at the principal points in which his view of landscape differs from that of the mediævals.

I shall not endeavor now, as I did with Homer and Dante, to give a complete analysis of all the feelings which appear to be traceable in Scott's allusions to landscape scenery,—for this would require a volume,—but only to indicate the main points of differing character between his temper and Dante's. Then we will examine in detail, not the landscape of literature, but that of painting, which must, of course, be equally, or even in a higher degree, characteristic of the age.

§ 36. And, first, observe Scott's habit of looking at nature neither as dead, or merely material, in the way that Homer regards it, nor as altered by his own feelings, in the way that Keats and Tennyson regard it, but as having an animation and pathos of its own, wholly irrespective of human presence or passion,—an animation which Scott loves and sympathizes with, as he would with a fellow creature, forgetting himself altogether, and subduing his own humanity before what seems to him the power of the landscape.

"Yon lonely thorn,—would he could tell
The changes of his parent dell,
Since he, so grey and stubborn now,
Waved in each breeze a sapling bough!
Would he could tell, how deep the shade
A thousand mingled branches made,
How broad the shadows of the oak,
How clung the rowan to the rock,
And through the foliage showed his head,
With narrow leaves and berries red!"

Scott does not dwell on the grey stubbornness of the thorn, because he himself is at that moment disposed to be dull, or stubborn; neither on the cheerful peeping forth of the rowan, because he himself is that moment cheerful or curious: but he perceives them both with the kind of interest that he would take in an old man, or a climbing boy; forgetting himself, in sympathy with either age or youth.

"And from the grassy slope he sees
The Greta flow to meet the Tees,
Where issuing from her darksome bed,
She caught the morning's eastern red,
And through the softening vale below
Rolled her bright waves in rosy glow,
All blushing to her bridal bed,
Like some shy maid, in convent bred;
While linnet, lark, and blackbird gay
Sing forth her nuptial roundelay."

Is Scott, or are the persons of his story, gay at this moment? Far from it. Neither Scott nor Risingham are happy, but the Greta is; and all Scott's sympathy is ready for the Greta, on the instant.

§ 37. Observe, therefore, this is not pathetic fallacy; for there is no passion in Scott which alters nature. It is not the lover's passion, making him think the larkspurs are listening for his lady's foot; it is not the miser's passion, making him think that dead leaves are falling coins; but it is an inherent and continual habit of thought, which Scott shares with the moderns in general, being, in fact, nothing else than the instinctive sense which men must have of the Divine presence, not formed into distinct belief. In the Greek it created, as we saw, the faithfully believed gods of the elements: in Dante and the mediævals, it formed the faithfully believed angelic presence; in the modern, it creates no perfect form, does not apprehend distinctly any Divine being or operation; but only a dim, slightly credited animation in the natural object, accompanied with great interest and affection for it. This feeling is quite universal with us, only varying in depth according to the greatness of the heart that holds it; and in Scott, being more than usually intense, and accompanied with infinite affection269 and quickness of sympathy, it enables him to conquer all tendencies to the pathetic fallacy, and, instead of making Nature anywise subordinate to himself, he makes himself subordinate to her—follows her lead simply—does not venture to bring his own cares and thoughts into her pure and quiet presence—paints her in her simple and universal truth, adding no result of momentary passion or fancy, and appears, therefore, at first shallower than other poets, being in reality wider and healthier. "What am I?" he says continually, "that I should trouble this sincere nature with my thoughts. I happen to be feverish and depressed, and I could see a great many sad and strange things in those waves and flowers; but I have no business to see such things. Gay Greta! sweet harebells! you are not sad nor strange to most people; you are but bright water and blue blossoms; you shall not be anything else to me, except that I cannot help thinking you are a little alive,—no one can help thinking that." And thus, as Nature is bright, serene, or gloomy, Scott takes her temper, and paints her as she is; nothing of himself being ever intruded, except that far-away Eolian tone, of which he is unconscious; and sometimes a stray syllable or two, like that about Blackford Hill, distinctly stating personal feeling, but all the more modestly for that distinctness and for the clear consciousness that it is not the chiming brook, nor the cornfields, that are sad, but only the boy that rests by them; so returning on the instant to reflect, in all honesty, the image of Nature as she is meant by all to be received; nor that in fine words, but in the first that come; nor with comment of far-fetched thoughts, but with easy thoughts, such as all sensible men ought to have in such places, only spoken sweetly; and evidently also with an undercurrent of more profound reflection, which here and there murmurs for a moment, and which I think, if we choose, we may continually pierce down to, and drink deeply from, but which Scott leaves us to seek, or shun, at our pleasure.

§ 38. And in consequence of this unselfishness and humility, Scott's enjoyment of Nature is incomparably greater than that of any other poet I know. All the rest carry their cares to her, and begin maundering in her ears about their own affairs. Tennyson goes out on a furzy common, and sees it is270 calm autumn sunshine, but it gives him no pleasure. He only remembers that it is

"Dead calm in that noble breast
Which heaves but with the heaving deep."

He sees a thunder-cloud in the evening, and would have "doted and pored" on it, but cannot, for fear it should bring the ship bad weather. Keats drinks the beauty of Nature violently; but has no more real sympathy with her than he has with a bottle of claret. His palate is fine; but he "bursts joy's grape against it," gets nothing but misery, and a bitter taste of dregs out of his desperate draught.

Byron and Shelley are nearly the same, only with less truth of perception, and even more troublesome selfishness. Wordsworth is more like Scott, and understands how to be happy, but yet cannot altogether rid himself of the sense that he is a philosopher, and ought always to be saying something wise. He has also a vague notion that Nature would not be able to get on well without Wordsworth; and finds a considerable part of his pleasure in looking at himself as well as at her. But with Scott the love is entirely humble and unselfish. "I, Scott, am nothing, and less than nothing; but these crags, and heaths, and clouds, how great they are, how lovely, how for ever to be beloved, only for their own silent, thoughtless sake!"

§ 39. This pure passion for nature in its abstract being, is still increased in its intensity by the two elements above taken notice of,—the love of antiquity, and the love of color and beautiful form, mortified in our streets, and seeking for food in the wilderness and the ruin: both feelings, observe, instinctive in Scott from his childhood, as everything that makes a man great is always.

"And well the lonely infant knew
Recesses where the wallflower grew,
And honeysuckle loved to crawl
Up the long crag and ruined wall.
I deemed such nooks the sweetest shade
The sun in all its round surveyed."

Not that these could have been instinctive in a child in the Middle Ages. The sentiments of a people increase or diminish271 in intensity from generation to generation,—every disposition of the parents affecting the frame of the mind in their offspring: the soldier's child is born to be yet more a soldier, and the politician's to be still more a politician; even the slightest colors of sentiment and affection are transmitted to the heirs of life; and the crowning expression of the mind of a people is given when some infant of highest capacity, and sealed with the impress of this national character, is born where providential circumstances permit the full development of the powers it has received straight from Heaven, and the passions which it has inherited from its fathers.

§ 40. This love of ancientness, and that of natural beauty, associate themselves also in Scott with the love of liberty, which was indeed at the root even of all his Jacobite tendencies in politics. For, putting aside certain predilections about landed property, and family name, and "gentlemanliness" in the club sense of the word,—respecting which I do not now inquire whether they were weak or wise,—the main element which makes Scott like Cavaliers better than Puritans is, that he thinks the former free and masterful as well as loyal; and the latter formal and slavish. He is loyal, not so much in respect for law, as in unselfish love for the king; and his sympathy is quite as ready for any active borderer who breaks the law, or fights the king, in what Scott thinks a generous way, as for the king himself. Rebellion of a rough, free, and bold kind he is always delighted by; he only objects to rebellion on principle and in form: bare-headed and open-throated treason he will abet to any extent, but shrinks from it in a peaked hat and starched collar: nay, politically, he only delights in kingship itself, because he looks upon it as the head and centre of liberty; and thinks that, keeping hold of a king's hand, one may get rid of the cramps and fences of law; and that the people may be governed by the whistle, as a Highland clan on the open hill-side, instead of being shut up into hurdled folds or hedged fields, as sheep or cattle left masterless.

§ 41. And thus nature becomes dear to Scott in a threefold way: dear to him, first, as containing those remains or memories of the past, which he cannot find in cities, and giving hope of Prætorian mound or knight's grave, in every green slope and272 shade of its desolate places;—dear, secondly, in its moorland liberty, which has for him just as high a charm as the fenced garden had for the mediæval:

"For I was wayward, bold, and wild,
A self-willed imp—a grandame's child;
But, half a plague, and half a jest,
Was still endured, beloved, caressed.
For me, thus nurtured, dost thou ask
The classic poet's well-conned task?
Nay, Erskine, nay. On the wild hill
Let the wild heathbell flourish still;
Cherish the tulip, prune the vine;
But freely let the woodbine twine,
And leave untrimmed the eglantine;"

—and dear to him, finally, in that perfect beauty, denied alike in cities and in men, for which every modern heart had begun at last to thirst, and Scott's, in its freshness and power, of all men's, most earnestly.

§ 42. And in this love of beauty, observe, that (as I said we might except) the love of color is a leading element, his healthy mind being incapable of losing, under any modern false teaching, its joy in brilliancy of hue. Though not so subtle a colorist as Dante, which, under the circumstances of the age, he could not be, he depends quite as much upon color for his power or pleasure. And, in general, if he does not mean to say much about things, the one character which he will give is color, using it with the most perfect mastery and faithfulness, up to the point of possible modern perception. For instance, if he has a sea-storm to paint in a single line, he does not, as a feebler poet would probably have done, use any expression about the temper or form of the waves; does not call them angry or mountainous. He is content to strike them out with two dashes of Tintoret's favorite colors:

"The blackening wave edged with white;
To inch and rock the seamews fly."

There is no form in this. Nay, the main virtue of it is, that it gets rid of all form. The dark raging of the sea—what form has that? But out of the cloud of its darkness those lightning273 flashes of the foam, coming at their terrible intervals—you need no more.

Again: where he has to describe tents mingled among oaks, he says nothing about the form of either tent or tree, but only gives the two strokes of color:

"Thousand pavilions, white as snow,
Chequered the borough moor below,
Oft giving way, where still there stood
Some relics of the old oak wood,
That darkly huge did intervene,
And tamed the glaring white with green."

Again: of tents at Flodden:

"Next morn the Baron climbed the tower,
To view, afar, the Scottish power,
Encamped on Flodden edge.
The white pavilions made a show,
Like remnants of the winter snow,
Along the dusky ridge."

Again: of trees mingled with dark rocks:

"Until, where Teith's young waters roll
Betwixt him and a wooded knoll,
That graced the sable strath with green,
The chapel of St. Bride was seen."

Again: there is hardly any form, only smoke and color, in his celebrated description of Edinburgh:

"The wandering eye could o'er it go,
And mark the distant city glow
With gloomy splendor red;
For on the smoke-wreaths, huge and slow,
That round her sable turrets flow,
The morning beams were shed,
And tinged them with a lustre proud,
Like that which streaks a thunder-cloud.
Such dusky grandeur clothed the height,
Where the huge castle holds its state,
And all the steep slope down,
Whose ridgy back heaves to the sky,
Piled deep and massy, close and high,
274 Mine own romantic town!
But northward far with purer blaze,
On Ochil mountains fell the rays,
And as each heathy top they kissed,
It gleamed a purple amethyst.
Yonder the shores of Fife you saw;
Here Preston Bay and Berwick Law:
And, broad between them rolled,
The gallant Frith the eye might note,
Whose islands on its bosom float,
Like emeralds chased in gold."

I do not like to spoil a fine passage by italicizing it; but observe, the only hints at form, given throughout, are in the somewhat vague words, "ridgy," "massy," "close," and "high;" the whole being still more obscured by modern mystery, in its most tangible form of smoke. But the colors are all definite; note the rainbow band of them—gloomy or dusky red, sable (pure black), amethyst (pure purple), green, and gold—a noble chord throughout; and then, moved doubtless less by the smoky than the amethystine part of the group,

"Fitz Eustace' heart felt closely pent,
The spur he to his charger lent,
And raised his bridle hand.
And making demivolte in air,
Cried, 'Where's the coward would not dare
To fight for such a laud?'"

I need not multiply examples: the reader can easily trace for himself, through verse familiar to us all, the force of these color instincts. I will therefore add only two passages, not so completely known by heart as most of the poems in which they occur.

"'Twas silence all. He laid him down
Where purple heath profusely strown,
And throatwort, with its azure bell,
And moss and thyme his cushion swell.
There, spent with toil, he listless eyed
The course of Greta's playful tide;
Beneath her banks, now eddying dun,
Now brightly gleaming to the sun,
As, dancing over rock and stone,
In yellow light her currents shone,
Matching in hue the favorite gem
275 Of Albin's mountain diadem.
Then tired to watch the current play,
He turned his weary eyes away
To where the bank opposing showed
Its huge square cliffs through shaggy wood.
One, prominent above the rest,
Reared to the sun its pale grey breast;
Around its broken summit grew
The hazel rude, and sable yew;
A thousand varied lichens dyed
Its waste and weather-beaten side;
And round its rugged basis lay,
By time or thunder rent away,
Fragments, that, from its frontlet torn,
Were mantled now by verdant thorn."

§ 43. Note, first, what an exquisite chord of color is given in the succession of this passage. It begins with purple and blue; then passes to gold, or cairngorm color (topaz color); then to pale grey, through which the yellow passes into black; and the black, through broken dyes of lichen, into green. Note, secondly,—what is indeed so manifest throughout Scott's landscape as hardly to need pointing out,—the love of rocks, and true understanding of their colors and characters, opposed as it is in every conceivable way to Dante's hatred and misunderstanding of them.

I have already traced, in various places, most of the causes of this great difference: namely, first, the ruggedness of northern temper (compare § 8. of the chapter on the Nature of Gothic in the Stones of Venice); then the really greater beauty of the northern rocks, as noted when we were speaking of the Apennine limestone; then the need of finding beauty among them, if it were to be found anywhere,—no well-arranged colors being any more to be seen in dress, but only in rock lichens; and, finally, the love of irregularity, liberty, and power, springing up in glorious opposition to laws of prosody, fashion, and the five orders.

§ 44. The other passage I have to quote is still more interesting; because it has no form in it at all except in one word (chalice), but wholly composes its imagery either of color, or of that delicate half-believed life which we have seen to be so important an element in modern landscape.

"The summer dawn's reflected hue
To purple changed Loch Katrine blue;
Mildly and soft the western breeze
Just kissed the lake; just stirred the trees;
And the pleased lake, like maiden coy,
Trembled, but dimpled not, for joy;
The mountain-shadows on her breast
Were neither broken nor at rest;
In bright uncertainty they lie,
Like future joys to Fancy's eye.
The water-lily to the light
Her chalice reared of silver bright:
The doe awoke, and to the lawn,
Begemmed with dew-drops, led her fawn;
The grey mist left the mountain side;
The torrent showed its glistening pride;
Invisible in fleckëd sky,
The lark sent down her revelry;
The blackbird and the speckled thrush
Good-morrow gave from brake and bush;
In answer cooed the cushat dove
Her notes of peace, and rest, and love."

Two more considerations are, however, suggested by the above passage. The first, that the love of natural history, excited by the continual attention now given to all wild landscape, heightens reciprocally the interest of that landscape, and becomes an important element in Scott's description, leading him to finish, down to the minutest speckling of breast, and slightest shade of attributed emotion, the portraiture of birds and animals; in strange opposition to Homer's slightly named "sea-crows, who have care of the works of the sea," and Dante's singing-birds, of undefined species. Compare carefully a passage, too long to be quoted,—the 2nd and 3rd stanzas of canto VI. of Rokeby.

§ 45. The second, and the last point I have to note, is Scott's habit of drawing a slight moral from every scene, just enough to excuse to his conscience his want of definite religious feeling; and that this slight moral is almost always melancholy. Here he has stopped short without entirely expressing it—

"The mountain shadows ...
... lie
Like future joys to Fancy's eye."

His completed thought would be, that those future joys, like the mountain shadows, were never to be attained. It occurs fully uttered in many other places. He seems to have been constantly rebuking his own worldly pride and vanity, but never purposefully:

"The foam-globes on her eddies ride,
Thick as the schemes of human pride
That down life's current drive amain,
As frail, as frothy, and as vain."
"Foxglove, and nightshade, side by side,
Emblems of punishment and pride."
"Her dark eye flashed; she paused and sighed;—
'Ah, what have I to do with pride!'"

And hear the thought he gathers from the sunset (noting first the Turnerian color,—as usual, its principal element):

"The sultry summer day is done.
The western hills have hid the sun,
But mountain peak and village spire
Retain reflection of his fire.
Old Barnard's towers are purple still,
To those that gaze from Toller Hill;
Distant and high the tower of Bowes
Like steel upon the anvil glows;
And Stanmore's ridge, behind that lay,
Rich with the spoils of parting day,
In crimson and in gold arrayed,
Streaks yet awhile the closing shade;
Then slow resigns to darkening heaven
The tints which brighter hours had given
Thus, aged men, full loth and slow,
The vanities of life forego,
And count their youthful follies o'er
Till Memory lends her light no more."

That is, as far as I remember, one of the most finished pieces of sunset he has given; and it has a woful moral; yet one which, with Scott, is inseparable from the scene.

Hark, again:

"'Twere sweet to mark the setting day
278 On Bourhope's lonely top decay;
And, as it faint and feeble died
On the broad lake and mountain's side,
To say, 'Thus pleasures fade away;
Youth, talents, beauty, thus decay,
And leave us dark, forlorn, and grey.'"

And again, hear Bertram:

"Mine be the eve of tropic sun:
With disk like battle target red,
He rushes to his burning bed,
Dyes the wide wave with bloody light,
Then sinks at once; and all is night."

In all places of this kind, where a passing thought is suggested by some external scene, that thought is at once a slight and sad one. Scott's deeper moral sense is marked in the conduct of his stories, and in casual reflections or exclamations arising out of their plot, and therefore sincerely uttered; as that of Marmion:

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!"

But the reflections which are founded, not on events, but on scenes, are, for the most part, shallow, partly insincere, and, as far as sincere, sorrowful. This habit of ineffective dreaming and moralizing over passing scenes, of which the earliest type I know is given in Jaques, is, as aforesaid, usually the satisfaction made to our modern consciences for the want of a sincere acknowledgment of God in nature: and Shakspere has marked it as the characteristic of a mind "compact of jars" (Act II. Sc. VII., As You Like It). That description attaches but too accurately to all the moods which we have traced in the moderns generally, and in Scott as the first representative of them; and the question now is, what this love of landscape, so composed, is likely to lead us to, and what use can be made of it.

We began our investigation, it will be remembered, in order to determine whether landscape-painting was worth studying or not. We have now reviewed the three principal phases of temper in the civilized human race, and we find that landscape has been mostly disregarded by great men, or cast into a second place, until now; and that now it seems dear to us, partly in279 consequence of our faults, and partly owing to accidental circumstances, soon, in all likelihood, to pass away: and there seems great room for question still, whether our love of it is a permanent and healthy feeling, or only a healthy crisis in a generally diseased state of mind. If the former, society will for ever hereafter be affected by its results; and Turner, the first great landscape painter, must take a place in the history of nations corresponding in art accurately to that of Bacon in philosophy;—Bacon having first opened the study of the laws of material nature, when, formerly, men had thought only of the laws of human mind; and Turner having first opened the study of the aspect of material nature, when, before, men had thought only of the aspect of the human form. Whether, therefore, the love of landscape be trivial and transient, or important and permanent, it now becomes necessary to consider. We have, I think, data enough before us for the solution of the question, and we will enter upon it, accordingly, in the following chapter.

[84] Pre-Raphaelitism, of course, excepted, which is a new phase of art, in no wise considered in this chapter. Blake was sincere, but full of wild creeds, and somewhat diseased in brain.

[85] Of course this is only meant of the modern citizen or country gentleman, as compared with a citizen of Sparta or old Florence. I leave it to others to say whether the "neglect of the art of war" may or may not, in a yet more fatal sense, be predicated of the English nation. War, without art, we seem, with God's help, able still to wage nobly.

[86] See David Copperfield, chap. lv. and lviii.

[87] Observe, I do not speak thus of metaphysics because I have no pleasure in them. When I speak contemptuously of philology, it may be answered me, that I am a bad scholar; but I cannot be so answered touching metaphysics, for every one conversant with such subjects may see that I have strong inclination that way, which would, indeed, have led me far astray long ago, if I had not learned also some use of my hands, eyes, and feet.




§ 1. SUPPOSING then the preceding conclusions correct, respecting the grounds and component elements of the pleasure which the moderns take in landscape, we have here to consider what are the probable or usual effects of this pleasure. Is it a safe or a seductive one? May we wisely boast of it, and unhesitatingly indulge it? or is it rather a sentiment to be despised when it is slight, and condemned when it is intense; a feeling which disinclines us to labor, and confuses us in thought; a joy only to the inactive and the visionary, incompatible with the duties of life, and the accuracies of reflection?

§ 2. It seems to me that, as matters stand at present, there is considerable ground for the latter opinion. We saw, in the preceding chapter, that our love of nature had been partly forced upon us by mistakes in our social economy, and led to no distinct issues of action or thought. And when we look to Scott—the man who feels it most deeply—for some explanation of its effect upon him, we find a curious tone of apology (as if for involuntary folly) running through his confessions of such sentiment, and a still more curious inability to define, beyond a certain point, the character of this emotion. He has lost the company of his friends among the hills, and turns to these last for comfort. He says, "there is a pleasure in the pain" consisting in such thoughts

"As oft awake
By lone St. Mary's silent lake;"

but, when we look for some definition of these thoughts, all that we are told is, that they compose

"A mingled sentiment
Of resignation and content!"[88]

a sentiment which, I suppose, many people can attain to on the loss of their friends, without the help of lakes or mountains; while Wordsworth definitely and positively affirms that thought has nothing whatever to do with the matter, and that though, in his youth, the cataract and wood "haunted him like a passion," it was without the help of any "remoter charm, by thought supplied."

§ 3. There is not, however, any question, but that both Scott and Wordsworth are here mistaken in their analysis of their feelings. Their delight, so far from being without thought, is more than half made up of thought, but of thought in so curiously languid and neutralized a condition that they cannot trace it. The thoughts are beaten to a powder so small that they know not what they are; they know only that in such a state they are not good for much, and disdain to call them thoughts. But the way in which thought, even thus broken, acts in producing the delight will be understood by glancing back to §§ 9. and 10. of the tenth chapter, in which we observed the power of the imagination in exalting any visible object, by gathering round it, in farther vision, all the facts properly connected with it; this being, as it were, a spiritual or second sight, multiplying the power of enjoyment according to the fulness of the vision. For, indeed, although in all lovely nature there is, first, an excellent degree of simple beauty, addressed to the eye alone, yet often what impresses us most will form but a very small portion of that visible beauty. That beauty may, for instance, be composed of lovely flowers and glittering streams, and blue sky, and white clouds; and yet the thing that impresses us most, and which we should be sorriest to lose, may be a thin grey film on the extreme horizon, not so large, in the space of the scene it occupies, as a piece of gossamer on a near at hand bush, nor in any wise prettier to the eye than the gossamer; but, because the gossamer is known by us for a little bit of spider's work, and the other grey film is known to mean a mountain ten thousand feet high, inhabited by a race of noble mountaineers, we are solemnly impressed by the aspect of it; and yet, all the while the thoughts and knowledge which cause us to receive this impression are so obscure that we are not conscious of them; we think we are only enjoying the visible scene;282 and the very men whose minds are fullest of such thoughts absolutely deny, as we have just heard, that they owe their pleasure to anything but the eye, or that the pleasure consists in anything else than "Tranquillity."

§ 4. And observe, farther, that this comparative Dimness and Untraceableness of the thoughts which are the sources of our admiration, is not a fault in the thoughts, at such a time. It is, on the contrary, a necessary condition of their subordination to the pleasure of Sight. If the thoughts were more distinct we should not see so well; and beginning definitely to think, we must comparatively cease to see. In the instance just supposed, as long as we look at the film of mountain or Alp, with only an obscure consciousness of its being the source of mighty rivers, that consciousness adds to our sense of its sublimity; and if we have ever seen the Rhine or the Rhone near their mouths, our knowledge, so long as it is only obscurely suggested, adds to our admiration of the Alp; but once let the idea define itself,—once let us begin to consider seriously what rivers flow from that mountain, to trace their course, and to recall determinately our memories of their distant aspects,—and we cease to behold the Alp; or, if we still behold it, it is only as a point in a map which we are painfully designing, or as a subordinate object which we strive to thrust aside, in order to make room for our remembrances of Avignon or Rotterdam.

Again: so long as our idea of the multitudes who inhabit the ravines at its foot remains indistinct, that idea comes to the aid of all the other associations which increase our delight. But let it once arrest us, and entice us to follow out some clear course of thought respecting the causes of the prosperity or misfortune of the Alpine villagers, and the snowy peak again ceases to be visible, or holds its place only as a white spot upon the retina, while we pursue our meditations upon the religion or the political economy of the mountaineers.

§ 5. It is thus evident that a curiously balanced condition of the powers of mind is necessary to induce full admiration of any natural scene. Let those powers be themselves inert, and the mind vacant of knowledge, and destitute of sensibility, and the external object becomes little more to us than it is to birds or insects; we fall into the temper of the clown. On the other283 hand, let the reasoning powers be shrewd in excess, the knowledge vast, or sensibility intense, and it will go hard but that the visible object will suggest so much that it shall be soon itself forgotten, or become, at the utmost, merely a kind of key-note to the course of purposeful thought. Newton, probably, did not perceive whether the apple which suggested his meditations on gravity was withered or rosy; nor could Howard be affected by the picturesqueness of the architecture which held the sufferers it was his occupation to relieve.

§ 6. This wandering away in thought from the thing seen to the business of life, is not, however, peculiar to men of the highest reasoning powers, or most active benevolence. It takes place more or less in nearly all persons of average mental endowment. They see and love what is beautiful, but forget their admiration of it in following some train of thought which it suggested, and which is of more personal interest to them. Suppose that three or four persons come in sight of a group of pine-trees, not having seen pines for some time. One, perhaps an engineer, is struck by the manner in which their roots hold the ground, and sets himself to examine their fibres, in a few minutes retaining little more consciousness of the beauty of the trees than if he were a rope-maker untwisting the strands of a cable: to another, the sight of the trees calls up some happy association, and presently he forgets them, and pursues the memories they summoned: a third is struck by certain groupings of their colors, useful to him as an artist, which he proceeds immediately to note mechanically for future use, with as little feeling as a cook setting down the constituents of a newly discovered dish; and a fourth, impressed by the wild coiling of boughs and roots, will begin to change them in his fancy into dragons and monsters, and lose his grasp of the scene in fantastic metamorphosis: while, in the mind of the man who has most the power of contemplating the thing itself, all these perceptions and trains of idea are partially present, not distinctly, but in a mingled and perfect harmony. He will not see the colors of the tree so well as the artist, nor its fibres so well as the engineer; he will not altogether share the emotion of the sentimentalist, nor the trance of the idealist; but fancy, and feeling, and perception, and imagination, will all obscurely meet and balance284 themselves in him, and he will see the pine-trees somewhat in this manner:

"Worthier still of note
Are those fraternal Four of Borrowdale,
Joined in one solemn and capacious grove;
Huge trunks! and each particular trunk a growth
Of intertwisted fibres serpentine
Up-coiling, and inveterately convolved;
Nor uniformed with Phantasy, and looks
That threaten the profane; a pillared shade,
Upon whose grassless floor of red-brown hue,
By sheddings from the pining umbrage tinged
Perennially,—beneath whose sable roof
Of boughs, as if for festal purpose, decked
With unrejoicing berries, ghostly Shapes
May meet at noontide; Fear and trembling Hope,
Silence and Foresight; Death the Skeleton,
And Time the Shadow; there to celebrate,
As in a natural temple scattered o'er
With altars undisturbed of mossy stone,
United worship."

§ 7. The power, therefore, of thus fully perceiving any natural object depends on our being able to group and fasten all our fancies about it as a centre, making a garland of thoughts for it, in which each separate thought is subdued and shortened of its own strength, in order to fit it for harmony with others; the intensity of our enjoyment of the object depending, first, on its own beauty, and then on the richness of the garland. And men who have this habit of clustering and harmonizing their thoughts are a little too apt to look scornfully upon the harder workers who tear the bouquet to pieces to examine the stems. This was the chief narrowness of Wordsworth's mind; he could not understand that to break a rock with a hammer in search of crystal may sometimes be an act not disgraceful to human nature, and that to dissect a flower may sometimes be as proper as to dream over it; whereas all experience goes to teach us, that among men of average intellect the most useful members of society are the dissectors, not the dreamers. It is not that they love nature or beauty less, but that they love result, effect, and progress more; and when we glance broadly along the starry crowd of benefactors to the human race, and guides of human285 thought, we shall find that this dreaming love of natural beauty—or at least its expression—has been more or less checked by them all, and subordinated either to hard work or watching of human nature. Thus in all the classical and mediæval periods, it was, as we have seen, subordinate to agriculture, war, and religion; and in the modern period, in which it has become far more powerful, observe in what persons it is chiefly manifested.

(1.)It is subordinate in                       (2.)It is intense in
Bacon. Mrs. Radclyffe.
Milton. St. Pierre.
Johnson. Shenstone.
Richardson. Byron.
Goldsmith. Shelley.
Young. Keats.
Newton. Burns.
Howard. Eugene Sue.
Fenelon. George Sand.
Pascal. Dumas.

§ 8. I have purposely omitted the names of Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Scott, in the second list, because, glancing at the two columns as they now stand, we may, I think, draw some useful conclusions from the high honorableness and dignity of the names on one side, and the comparative slightness of those on the other,—conclusions which may help us to a better understanding of Scott and Tennyson themselves. Glancing, I say, down those columns in their present form, we shall at once perceive that the intense love of nature is, in modern times, characteristic of persons not of the first order of intellect, but of brilliant imagination, quick sympathy, and undefined religious principle, suffering also usually under strong and ill-governed passions: while in the same individual it will be found to vary at different periods, being, for the most part, strongest in youth, and associated with force of emotion, and with indefinite and feeble powers of thought; also, throughout life, perhaps developing itself most at times when the mind is slightly unhinged by love, grief, or some other of the passions.

§ 9. But, on the other hand, while these feelings of delight in natural objects cannot be construed into signs of the highest286 mental powers, or purest moral principles, we see that they are assuredly indicative of minds above the usual standard of power, and endowed with sensibilities of great preciousness to humanity; so that those who find themselves entirely destitute of them, must make this want a subject of humiliation, not of pride. The apathy which cannot perceive beauty is very different from the stern energy which disdains it; and the coldness of heart which receives no emotion from external nature, is not to be confounded with the wisdom of purpose which represses emotion in action. In the case of most men, it is neither acuteness of the reason, nor breadth of humanity, which shields them from the impressions of natural scenery, but rather low anxieties, vain discontents, and mean pleasures; and for one who is blinded to the works of God by profound abstraction or lofty purpose, tens of thousands have their eyes sealed by vulgar selfishness, and their intelligence crushed by impious care.

Observe, then: we have, among mankind in general, the three orders of being;—the lowest, sordid and selfish, which neither sees nor feels; the second, noble and sympathetic, but which sees and feels without concluding or acting; the third and highest, which loses sight in resolution, and feeling in work.[89]


Thus, even in Scott and Wordsworth themselves, the love of nature is more or less associated with their weaknesses. Scott shows it most in the cruder compositions of his youth, his perfect powers of mind being displayed only in dialogues with which description has nothing whatever to do. Wordsworth's distinctive work was a war with pomp and pretence, and a display of the majesty of simple feelings and humble hearts, together with high reflective truth in his analysis of the courses of politics and ways of men; without these, his love of nature would have been comparatively worthless.

§ 10. "If this be so, it is not well to encourage the observance of landscape, any more than other ways of dreamily and ineffectually spending time?"

Stay a moment. We have hitherto observed this love of natural beauty only as it distinguishes one man from another, not as it acts for good or evil on those minds to which it necessarily belongs. It may, on the whole, distinguish weaker men from stronger men, and yet in those weaker men may be of some notable use. It may distinguish Byron from St. Bernard, and Shelley from Sir Isaac Newton, and yet may, perhaps, be the best thing that Byron and Shelley possess—a saving element in them; just as a rush may be distinguished from an oak by its bending, and yet the bending may be the saving element288 in the rush, and an admirable gift in its place and way. So that, although St. Bernard journeys all day by the Lake of Geneva, and asks at evening "where it is," and Byron learns by it "to love earth only for its earthly sake,"[90] it does not follow that Byron, hating men, was the worse for loving the earth, nor that St. Bernard, loving men, was the better or wiser for being blind to it. And this will become still more manifest if we examine somewhat farther into the nature of this instinct, as characteristic especially of youth.

§ 11. We saw above that Wordsworth described the feeling as independent of thought, and, in the particular place then quoted, he therefore speaks of it depreciatingly. But in other places he does not speak of it depreciatingly, but seems to think the absence of thought involves a certain nobleness:

"In such high hour
Of visitation from the living God
Thought was not."

And he refers to the intense delight which he himself felt, and which he supposes other men feel, in nature, during their thoughtless youth, as an intimation of their immortality, and a joy which indicates their having come fresh from the hand of God.

Now, if Wordsworth be right in supposing this feeling to be in some degree common to all men, and most vivid in youth, we may question if it can be entirely explained as I have now tried to explain it. For if it entirely depended on multitudes of ideas, clustering about a beautiful object, it might seem that the youth could not feel it so strongly as the man, because the man knows more, and must have more ideas to make the garland of. Still less can we suppose the pleasure to be of that melancholy and languid kind, which Scott defines as "Resignation" and "Content;" boys being not distinguished for either of those characters, but for eager effort and delightsome discontent. If Wordsworth is at all right in this matter, therefore, there must surely be some other element in the feeling not yet detected.

§ 12. Now, in a question of this subtle kind, relating to a289 period of life when self-examination is rare, and expression imperfect, it becomes exceedingly difficult to trace, with any certainty, the movements of the minds of others, nor always easy to remember those of our own. I cannot, from observation, form any decided opinion as to the extent in which this strange delight in nature influences the hearts of young persons in general; and, in stating what has passed in my own mind, I do not mean to draw any positive conclusion as to the nature of the feeling in other children; but the inquiry is clearly one in which personal experience is the only safe ground to go upon, though a narrow one; and I will make no excuse for talking about myself with reference to this subject, because, though there is much egotism in the world, it is often the last thing a man thinks of doing,—and, though there is much work to be done in the world, it is often the best thing a man can do,—to tell the exact truth about the movements of his own mind; and there is this farther reason, that, whatever other faculties I may or may not possess, this gift of taking pleasure in landscape I assuredly possess in a greater degree than most men; it having been the ruling passion of my life, and the reason for the choice of its field of labor.

§ 13. The first thing which I remember as an event in life, was being taken by my nurse to the brow of Friar's Crag on Derwentwater; the intense joy, mingled with awe, that I had in looking through the hollows in the mossy roots, over the crag, into the dark lake, has associated itself more or less with all twining roots of trees ever since. Two other things I remember, as, in a sort, beginnings of life;—crossing Shapfells (being let out of the chaise to run up the hills), and going through Glenfarg, near Kinross, in a winter's morning, when the rocks where hung with icicles; these being culminating points in an early life of more travelling than is usually indulged to a child. In such journeyings, whenever they brought me near hills, and in all mountain ground and scenery, I had a pleasure, as early as I can remember, and continuing till I was eighteen or twenty, infinitely greater than any which has been since possible to me in anything; comparable for intensity only to the joy of a lover in being near a noble and kind mistress, but no more explicable or definable than that feeling of love itself. Only thus much290 I can remember, respecting it, which is important to our present subject.

§ 14. First: it was never independent of associated thought. Almost as soon as I could see or hear, I had got reading enough to give me associations with all kinds of scenery; and mountains, in particular, were always partly confused with those of my favorite book, Scott's Monastery; so that Glenfarg and all other glens were more or less enchanted to me, filled with forms of hesitating creed about Christie of the Clint Hill, and the monk Eustace; and with a general presence of White Lady everywhere. I also generally knew, or was told by my father and mother, such simple facts of history as were necessary to give more definite and justifiable association to other scenes which chiefly interested me, such as the ruins of Lochleven and Kenilworth; and thus my pleasure in mountains or ruins was never, even in earliest childhood, free from a certain awe and melancholy, and general sense of the meaning of death, though in its principal influence, entirely exhilarating and gladdening.

§ 15. Secondly: it was partly dependent on contrast with a very simple and unamused mode of general life; I was born in London, and accustomed, for two or three years, to no other prospect than that of the brick walls over the way; had no brothers, nor sisters, nor companions; and though I could always make myself happy in a quiet way, the beauty of the mountains had an additional charm of change and adventure which a country-bred child would not have felt.

§ 16. Thirdly: there was no definite religious feeling mingled with it. I partly believed in ghosts and fairies; but supposed that angels belonged entirely to the Mosaic dispensation, and cannot remember any single thought or feeling connected with them. I believed that God was in heaven, and could hear me and see me; but this gave me neither pleasure nor pain, and I seldom thought of it at all. I never thought of nature as God's work, but as a separate fact or existence.

§ 17. Fourthly: it was entirely unaccompanied by powers of reflection or invention. Every fancy that I had about nature was put into my head by some book; and I never reflected about anything till I grew older; and then, the more I reflected, the less nature was precious to me: I could then make myself hap291py, by thinking, in the dark, or in the dullest scenery; and the beautiful scenery became less essential to my pleasure.

§ 18. Fifthly: it was, according to its strength, inconsistent with every evil feeling, with spite, anger, covetousness, discontent, and every other hateful passion; but would associate itself deeply with every just and noble sorrow, joy, or affection. It had not, however, always the power to repress what was inconsistent with it; and, though only after stout contention, might at last be crushed by what it had partly repressed. And as it only acted by setting one impulse against another, though it had much power in moulding the character, it had hardly any in strengthening it; it formed temperament, but never instilled principle; it kept me generally good-humored and kindly, but could not teach me perseverance or self-denial: what firmness or principle I had was quite independent of it; and it came itself nearly as often in the form of a temptation as of a safeguard, leading me to ramble over hills when I should have been learning lessons, and lose days in reveries which I might have spent in doing kindnesses.

§ 19. Lastly: although there was no definite religious sentiment mingled with it, there was a continual perception of Sanctity in the whole of nature, from the slightest thing to the vastest:—an instinctive awe, mixed with delight; an indefinable thrill, such as we sometimes imagine to indicate the presence of a disembodied spirit. I could only feel this perfectly when I was alone; and then it would often make me shiver from head to foot with the joy and fear of it, when after being some time away from the hills, I first got to the shore of a mountain river, where the brown water circled among the pebbles, or when I saw the first swell of distant land against the sunset, or the first low broken wall, covered with mountain moss. I cannot in the least describe the feeling; but I do not think this is my fault, nor that of the English language, for, I am afraid, no feeling is describable. If we had to explain even the sense of bodily hunger to a person who had never felt it, we should be hard put to it for words; and this joy in nature seemed to me to come of a sort of heart-hunger, satisfied with the presence of a Great and Holy Spirit. These feelings remained in their full intensity till I was eighteen or twenty, and then, as the reflective and practi292cal power increased, and the "cares of this world" gained upon me, faded gradually away, in the manner described by Wordsworth in his Intimations of Immortality.

§ 20. I cannot, of course, tell how far I am justified in supposing that these sensations may be reasoned upon as common to children in general. In the same degree they are not of course common, otherwise children would be, most of them, very different from what they are in their choice of pleasures. But, as far as such feelings exist, I apprehend they are more or less similar in their nature and influence; only producing different characters according to the elements with which they are mingled. Thus, a very religious child may give up many pleasures to which its instincts lead it, for the sake of irksome duties; and an inventive child would mingle its love of nature with watchfulness of human sayings and doings: but I believe the feelings I have endeavored to describe are the pure landscape-instinct; and the likelihoods of good or evil resulting from them may be reasoned upon as generally indicating the usefulness or danger of the modern love and study of landscape.

§ 21. And, first, observe that the charm of romantic association (§ 14.) can be felt only by the modern European child. It rises eminently out of the contrast of the beautiful past with the frightful and monotonous present; and it depends for its force on the existence of ruins and traditions, on the remains of architecture, the traces of battlefields, and the precursorship of eventful history. The instinct to which it appeals can hardly be felt in America, and every day that either beautifies our present architecture and dress, or overthrows a stone of mediæval monument, contributes to weaken it in Europe. Of its influence on the mind of Turner and Prout, and the permanent results which, through them, it is likely to effect, I shall have to speak presently.

§ 22. Again: the influence of surprise in producing the delight, is to be noted as a suspicious or evanescent element in it. Observe, my pleasure was chiefly (§ 19.) when I first got into beautiful scenery, out of London. The enormous influence of novelty—the way in which it quickens observation, sharpens sensation, and exalts sentiment—is not half enough taken note of by us, and is to me a very sorrowful matter. I think that what293 Wordsworth speaks of as a glory in the child, because it has come fresh from God's hands, is in reality nothing more than the freshness of all things to its newly opened sight. I find that by keeping long away from hills, I can in great part still restore the old childish feeling about them; and the more I live and work among them, the more it vanishes.

§ 23. This evil is evidently common to all minds; Wordsworth himself mourning over it in the same poem:

"Custom hangs upon us, with a weight
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life."

And if we grow impatient under it, and seek to recover the mental energy by more quickly repeated and brighter novelty, it is all over with our enjoyment. There is no cure for this evil, any more than for the weariness of the imagination already described, but in patience and rest: if we try to obtain perpetual change, change itself will become monotonous; and then we are reduced to that old despair, "If water chokes, what will you drink after it?" And the two points of practical wisdom in this matter are, first, to be content with as little novelty as possible at a time; and, secondly, to preserve, as much as possible in the world, the sources of novelty.

§ 24. I say, first, to be content with as little change as possible. If the attention is awake, and the feelings in proper train, a turn of a country road, with a cottage beside it, which we have not seen before, is as much as we need for refreshment; if we hurry past it, and take two cottages at a time, it is already too much: hence, to any person who has all his senses about him, a quiet walk along not more than ten or twelve miles of road a day, is the most amusing of all travelling; and all travelling becomes dull in exact proportion to its rapidity. Going by railroad I do not consider as travelling at all; it is merely "being sent" to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel; the next step to it would of course be telegraphic transport, of which, however, I suppose it has been truly said by Octave Feuillet,

"Il y aurait des gens assez bêtes pour trouver ça amusant." [91]


If we walk more than ten or twelve miles, it breaks up the day too much; leaving no time for stopping at the stream sides or shady banks, or for any work at the end of the day; besides that the last few miles are apt to be done in a hurry, and may then be considered as lost ground. But if, advancing thus slowly, after some days we approach any more interesting scenery, every yard of the changeful ground becomes precious and piquant; and the continual increase of hope, and of surrounding beauty, affords one of the most exquisite enjoyments possible to the healthy mind; besides that real knowledge is acquired of whatever it is the object of travelling to learn, and a certain sublimity given to all places, so attained, by the true sense of the spaces of earth that separate them. A man who really loves travelling would as soon consent to pack a day of such happiness into an hour of railroad, as one who loved eating would agree, if it were possible, to concentrate his dinner into a pill.

§ 25. And, secondly, I say that it is wisdom to preserve as much as possible the innocent sources of novelty;—not definite inferiorities of one place to another, if such can be done away; but differences of manners and customs, of language and architecture. The greatest effort ought especially to be made by all wise and far-sighted persons, in the present crisis of civilization, to enforce the distinction between wholesome reform, and heartless abandonment of ancestral custom; between kindly fellowship of nation with nation, and ape-like adoption, by one, of the habits of another. It is ludicrously awful to see the luxurious inhabitants of London and Paris rushing over the Continent (as they say, to see it), and transposing every place, as far as lies in their power, instantly into a likeness of Regent Street and the Rue de la Paix, which they need not certainly have come so far to see. Of this evil I shall have more to say hereafter; meantime I return to our main subject.

§ 26. The next character we have to note in the landscape-instinct (and on this much stress is to be laid), is its total inconsistency with all evil passion; its absolute contrariety (whether in the contest it were crushed or not) to all care, hatred, envy, anxiety, and moroseness. A feeling of this kind is assuredly not one to be lightly repressed, or treated with contempt.


But how, if it be so, the reader asks, can it be characteristic of passionate and unprincipled men, like Byron, Shelley, and such others, and not characteristic of the noblest and most highly principled men?

First, because it is itself a passion, and therefore likely to be characteristic of passionate men. Secondly, because it is (§ 18) wholly a separate thing from moral principle, and may or may not be joined to strength of will, or rectitude of purpose[92]; only, this much is always observable in the men whom it characterizes, that, whatever their faults or failings, they always understand and love noble qualities of character; they can conceive (if not certain phases of piety), at all events, self-devotion of the highest kind; they delight in all that is good, gracious, and noble; and though warped often to take delight also in what is dark or degraded, that delight is mixed with bitter self-reproach; or else is wanton, careless, or affected, while their delight in noble things is constant and sincere.

§ 27. Look back to the two lists given above, § 7. I have not lately read anything by Mrs. Radclyffe or George Sand, and cannot, therefore, take instances from them; Keats hardly introduced human character into his work; but glance over the others, and note the general tone of their conceptions. Take St. Pierre's Virginia, Byron's Myrrha, Angiolina, and Marina, and Eugene Sue's Fleur de Marie; and out of the other lists you will only be able to find Pamela, Clementina, and, I suppose, Clarissa,[93] to put beside them; and these will not more than match Myrrha and Marina; leaving Fleur de Marie and296 Virginia rivalless. Then meditate a little, with all justice and mercy, over the two groups of names; and I think you will, at last, feel that there is a pathos and tenderness of heart among the lovers of nature in the second list, of which it is nearly impossible to estimate either the value or the danger; that the sterner consistency of the men in the first may, in great part, have arisen only from the, to them, most merciful, appointment of having had religious teaching or disciplined education in their youth; while their want of love for nature, whether that love be originally absent, or artificially repressed, is to none of them an advantage. Johnson's indolence, Goldsmith's improvidence, Young's worldliness, Milton's severity, and Bacon's servility, might all have been less, if they could in any wise have sympathized with Byron's lonely joy in a Jura storm,[94] or with Shelley's interest in floating paper boats down the Serchio.

§ 28. And then observe, farther, as I kept the names of Wordsworth and Scott out of the second list, I withdrew, also, certain names from the first; and for this reason, that in all the men who are named in that list, there is evidently some degree of love for nature, which may have been originally of more power than we suppose, and may have had an infinitely hallowing and protective influence upon them. But there also lived certain men of high intellect in that age who had no love of nature whatever. They do not appear ever to have received the smallest sensation of ocular delight from any natural scene, but would have lived happily all their lives in drawingrooms or studies. And, therefore, in these men we shall be able to determine, with the greatest chance of accuracy, what the real influence of natural beauty is, and what the character of a mind destitute of its love. Take, as conspicuous instances, Le Sage and Smollett, and you will find, in meditating over their works, that they are utterly incapable of conceiving a human soul as endowed with any nobleness whatever; their heroes are simply beasts endowed with some degree of human intellect;—297 cunning, false, passionate, reckless, ungrateful, and abominable, incapable of noble joy, of noble sorrow, of any spiritual perception or hope. I said, "beasts with human intellect;" but neither Gil Blas nor Roderick Random reach, morally, anything near the level of dogs; while the delight which the writers themselves feel in mere filth and pain, with an unmitigated foulness and cruelty of heart, is just as manifest in every sentence as the distress and indignation which with pain and injustice are seen by Shelley and Byron.

§ 29. Distinguished from these men by some evidence of love for nature, yet an evidence much less clear than that for any of those named even in the first list, stand Cervantes, Pope, and Molière. It is not easy to say how much the character of these last depended on their epoch and education; but it is noticeable that the first two agree thus far in temper with Le Sage and Smollett,—that they delight in dwelling upon vice, misfortune, or folly, as subjects of amusement; while yet they are distinguished from Le Sage and Smollett by capacity of conceiving nobleness of character, only in a humiliating and hopeless way; the one representing all chivalry as insanity, the other placing the wisdom of man in a serene and sneering reconciliation of good with evil. Of Molière I think very differently. Living in the blindest period of the world's history, in the most luxurious city, and the most corrupted court, of the time, he yet manifests through all his writings an exquisite natural wisdom; a capacity for the most simple enjoyment; a high sense of all nobleness, honor, and purity, variously marked throughout his slighter work, but distinctly made the theme of his two perfect plays—the Tartuffe and Misanthrope; and in all that he says of art or science he has an unerring instinct for what is useful and sincere, and uses his whole power to defend it, with as keen a hatred of everything affected and vain. And, singular as it may seem, the first definite lesson read to Europe, in that school of simplicity of which Wordsworth was the supposed originator among the mountains of Cumberland, was, in fact, given in the midst of the court of Louis XIV., and by Molière. The little canzonet "J'aime mieux ma mie," is, I believe, the first Wordsworthian poem298 brought forward on philosophical principles to oppose the schools of art and affectation.

§ 30. I do not know if, by a careful analysis, I could point out any evidences of a capacity for the love of natural scenery in Molière stealing forth through the slightness of his pastorals; but, if not, we must simply set him aside as exceptional, as a man uniting Wordsworth's philosophy with Le Sage's wit, turned by circumstances from the observance of natural beauty to that of human frailty. And thus putting him aside for the moment, I think we cannot doubt of our main conclusion, that, though the absence of the love of nature is not an assured condemnation, its presence is an invariable sign of goodness of heart and justness of moral perception, though by no means of moral practice; that in proportion to the degree in which it is felt, will probably be the degree in which all nobleness and beauty of character will also be felt; that when it is originally absent from any mind, that mind is in many other respects hard, worldly, and degraded; that where, having been originally present, it is repressed by art or education, that repression appears to have been detrimental to the person suffering it; and that wherever the feeling exists, it acts for good on the character to which it belongs, though, as it may often belong to characters weak in other respects, it may carelessly be mistaken for a source of evil in them.

§ 31. And having arrived at this conclusion by a review of facts, which I hope it will be admitted, whether accurate or not, has at least been candid, these farther considerations may confirm our belief in its truth. Observe: the whole force of education, until very lately, has been directed in every possible way to the destruction of the love of nature. The only knowledge which has been considered essential among us is that of words, and, next after it, of the abstract sciences; while every liking shown by children for simple natural history has been either violently checked, (if it took an inconvenient form for the housemaids,) or else scrupulously limited to hours of play: so that it has really been impossible for any child earnestly to study the works of God but against its conscience; and the love of nature has become inherently the characteristic of truants and idlers. While also the art of drawing, which is of299 more real importance to the human race than that of writing (because people can hardly draw anything without being of some use both to themselves and others, and can hardly write anything without wasting their own time and that of others),—this art of drawing, I say, which on plain and stern system should be taught to every child, just as writing is,—has been so neglected and abused, that there is not one man in a thousand, even of its professed teachers, who knows its first principles: and thus it needs much ill-fortune or obstinacy—much neglect on the part of his teachers, or rebellion on his own—before a boy can get leave to use his eyes or his fingers; so that those who can use them are for the most part neglected or rebellious lads—runaways and bad scholars—passionate, erratic, self-willed, and restive against all forms of education; while your well-behaved and amiable scholars are disciplined into blindness and palsy of half their faculties. Wherein there is at once a notable ground for what difference we have observed between the lovers of nature and its despisers; between the somewhat immoral and unrespectable watchfulness of the one, and the moral and respectable blindness of the other.

§ 32. One more argument remains, and that, I believe, an unanswerable one. As, by the accident of education, the love of nature has been, among us, associated with wilfulness, so, by the accident of time, it has been associated with faithlessness. I traced, above, the peculiar mode in which this faithlessness was indicated; but I never intended to imply, therefore, that it was an invariable concomitant of the love. Because it happens that, by various concurrent operations of evil, we have been led, according to those words of the Greek poet already quoted, "to dethrone the gods, and crown the whirlwind," it is no reason that we should forget there was once a time when "the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind." And if we now take final and full view of the matter, we shall find that the love of nature, wherever it has existed, has been a faithful and sacred element of human feeling; that is to say, supposing all circumstances otherwise the same with respect to two individuals, the one who loves nature most will be always found to have more faith in God than the other. It is intensely difficult, owing to the confusing and counter influences which always300 mingle in the data of the problem, to make this abstraction fairly; but so far as we can do it, so far, I boldly assert, the result is constantly the same: the nature-worship will be found to bring with it such a sense of the presence and power of a Great Spirit as no mere reasoning can either induce or controvert; and where that nature-worship is innocently pursued,—i.e. with due respect to other claims on time, feeling, and exertion, and associated with the higher principles of religion,—it becomes the channel of certain sacred truths, which by no other means can be conveyed.

§ 33. This is not a statement which any investigation is needed to prove. It comes to us at once from the highest of all authority. The greater number of the words which are recorded in Scripture, as directly spoken to men by the lips of the Deity, are either simple revelations of His law, or special threatenings, commands, and promises relating to special events. But two passages of God's speaking, one in the Old and one in the New Testament, possess, it seems to me, a different character from any of the rest, having been uttered, the one to effect the last necessary change in the mind of a man whose piety was in other respects perfect; and the other, as the first statement to all men of the principles of Christianity by Christ Himself—I mean the 38th to 41st chapters of the book of Job, and the Sermon on the Mount. Now the first of these passages is, from beginning to end, nothing else than a direction of the mind which was to be perfected to humble observance of the works of God in nature. And the other consists only in the inculcation of three things: 1st, right conduct; 2nd, looking for eternal life; 3rd, trusting God, through watchfulness of His dealings with His creation: and the entire contents of the book of Job, and of the Sermon on the Mount, will be found resolvable simply into these three requirements from all men,—that they should act rightly, hope for heaven, and watch God's wonders and work in the earth; the right conduct being always summed up under the three heads of justice, mercy, and truth, and no mention of any doctrinal point whatsoever occurring in either piece of divine teaching.

§ 34. As far as I can judge of the ways of men, it seems to me that the simplest and most necessary truths are always the301 last believed; and I suppose that well-meaning people in general would rather regulate their conduct and creed by almost any other portion of Scripture whatsoever, than by that Sermon on the Mount, which contains the things that Christ thought it first necessary for all men to understand. Nevertheless, I believe the time will soon come for the full force of these two passages of Scripture to be accepted. Instead of supposing the love of nature necessarily connected with the faithlessness of the age, I believe it is connected properly with the benevolence and liberty of the age; that it is precisely the most healthy element which distinctively belongs to us; and that out of it, cultivated no longer in levity or ignorance, but in earnestness and as a duty, results will spring of an importance at present inconceivable; and lights arise, which, for the first time in man's history, will reveal to him the true nature of his life, the true field for his energies, and the true relations between him and his Maker.

§ 35. I will not endeavor here to trace the various modes in which these results are likely to be effected, for this would involve an essay on education, on the uses of natural history, and the probable future destiny of nations. Somewhat on these subjects I have spoken in other places; and I hope to find time, and proper place, to say more. But one or two observations maybe made merely to suggest the directions in which the reader may follow out the subject for himself.

The great mechanical impulses of the age, of which most of us are so proud, are a mere passing fever, half-speculative, half-childish. People will discover at last that royal roads to anything can no more be laid in iron than they can in dust; that there are, in fact, no royal roads to anywhere worth going to; that if there were, it would that instant cease to be worth going to,—I mean so far as the things to be obtained are in any way estimable in terms of price. For there are two classes of precious things in the world: those that God gives us for nothing—sun, air, and life (both mortal life and immortal); and the secondarily precious things which he gives us for a price: these secondarily precious things, worldly wine and milk, can only be bought for definite money; they never can be cheapened. No cheating nor bargaining will ever get a single thing out of302 nature's "establishment" at half-price. Do we want to be strong?—we must work. To be hungry?—we must starve. To be happy?—we must be kind. To be wise?—we must look and think. No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour, nor making of stuffs a thousand yards a minute, will make us one whit stronger, happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. And they will at last, and soon too, find out that their grand inventions for conquering (as they think) space and time, do, in reality, conquer nothing; for space and time are, in their own essence, unconquerable, and besides did not want any sort of conquering; they wanted using. A fool always wants to shorten space and time: a wise man wants to lengthen both. A fool wants to kill space and kill time: a wise man, first to gain them, then to animate them. Your railroad, when you come to understand it, is only a device for making the world smaller: and as for being able to talk from place to place, that is, indeed, well and convenient; but suppose you have, originally, nothing to say.[95] We shall be obliged at last to confess, what we should long ago have known, that the really precious things are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast; and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being.

§ 36. "Well; but railroads and telegraphs are so useful for communicating knowledge to savage nations." Yes, if you have any to give them. If you know nothing but railroads, and can communicate nothing but aqueous vapor and gunpowder,—what then? But if you have any other thing than those to give, then the railroad is of use only because it communicates that other thing and the question is—what that other thing may be. Is it religion? I believe if we had really wanted to communicate that, we could have done it in less than 1800 years, without steam. Most of the good religious communication that I remember has been done on foot; and it cannot be easily done faster than at foot pace. Is it science? But what sci303 ence—of motion, meat, and medicine? Well; when you have moved your savage, and dressed your savage, fed him with white bread, and shown him how to set a limb,—what next? Follow out that question. Suppose every obstacle overcome; give your savage every advantage of civilization to the full: suppose that you have put the Red Indian in tight shoes; taught the Chinese how to make Wedgwood's ware, and to paint it with colors that will rub off; and persuaded all Hindoo women that it is more pious to torment their husbands into graves than to burn themselves at the burial,—what next? Gradually, thinking on from point to point, we shall come to perceive that all true happiness and nobleness are near us, and yet neglected by us; and that till we have learned how to be happy and noble, we have not much to tell, even to Red Indians. The delights of horse-racing and hunting, of assemblies in the night instead of the day, of costly and wearisome music, of costly and burdensome dress, of chagrined contention for place or power, or wealth, or the eyes of the multitude; and all the endless occupation without purpose, and idleness without rest, of our vulgar world, are not, it seems to me, enjoyments we need be ambitious to communicate. And all real and wholesome enjoyments possible to man have been just as possible to him, since first he was made of the earth, as they are now; and they are possible to him chiefly in peace. To watch the corn grow, and the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think, to love, to hope, to pray,—these are the things that make men happy; they have always had the power of doing these, they never will have power to do more. The world's prosperity or adversity depends upon our knowing and teaching these few things: but upon iron, or glass, or electricity, or steam, in no wise.

§ 37. And I am Utopian and enthusiastic enough to believe, that the time will come when the world will discover this. It has now made its experiments in every possible direction but the right one; and it seems that it must, at last, try the right one, in a mathematical necessity. It has tried fighting, and preaching, and fasting, buying and selling, pomp and parsimony, pride and humiliation,—every possible manner of existence in which it could conjecture there was any happiness or304 dignity; and all the while, as it bought, sold, and fought, and fasted, and wearied itself with policies, and ambitions, and self-denials, God had placed its real happiness in the keeping of the little mosses of the wayside, and of the clouds of the firmament. Now and then a weary king, or a tormented slave, found out where the true kingdoms of the world were, and possessed himself, in a furrow or two of garden ground, of a truly infinite dominion. But the world would not believe their report, and went on trampling down the mosses, and forgetting the clouds, and seeking happiness in its own way, until, at last, blundering and late, came natural science; and in natural science not only the observation of things, but the finding out of new uses for them. Of course the world, having a choice left to it, went wrong as usual, and thought that these mere material uses were to be the sources of its happiness. It got the clouds packed into iron cylinders, and made it carry its wise self at their own cloud pace. It got weavable fibres out of the mosses, and made clothes for itself, cheap and fine,—here was happiness at last. To go as fast as the clouds, and manufacture everything out of anything,—here was paradise, indeed!

§ 38. And now, when, in a little while, it is unparadised again, if there were any other mistake that the world could make, it would of course make it. But I see not that there is any other; and, standing fairly at its wits' end, having found that going fast, when it is used to it, is no more paradisiacal than going slow; and that all the prints and cottons in Manchester cannot make it comfortable in its mind, I do verily believe it will come, finally, to understand that God paints the clouds and shapes the moss-fibres, that men may be happy in seeing Him at His work, and that in resting quietly beside Him, and watching His working, and—according to the power He has communicated to ourselves, and the guidance He grants,—in carrying out His purposes of peace and charity among all His creatures, are the only real happinesses that ever were, or will be, possible to mankind.

§ 39. How far art is capable of helping us in such happiness we hardly yet know; but I hope to be able, in the subsequent parts of this work, to give some data for arriving at a conclusion in the matter. Enough has been advanced to relieve the305 reader from any lurking suspicion of unworthiness in our subject, and to induce him to take interest in the mind and work of the great painter who has headed the landscape school among us. What farther considerations may, within any reasonable limits, be put before him, respecting the effect of natural scenery on the human heart, I will introduce in their proper places either as we examine, under Turner's guidance, the different classes of scenery, or at the close of the whole work; and therefore I have only one point more to notice here, namely, the exact relation between landscape-painting and natural science, properly so-called.

§ 40. For it may be thought that I have rashly assumed that the Scriptural authorities above quoted apply to that partly superficial view of nature which is taken by the landscape-painter, instead of to the accurate view taken by the man of science. So far from there being rashness in such an assumption, the whole language, both of the book of Job and the Sermon on the Mount, gives precisely the view of nature which is taken by the uninvestigating affection of a humble, but powerful mind. There is no dissection of muscles or counting of elements, but the boldest and broadest glance at the apparent facts, and the most magnificent metaphor in expressing them. "His eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him." And in the often repeated, never obeyed, command, "Consider the lilies of the field," observe there is precisely the delicate attribution of life which we have seen to be the characteristic of the modern view of landscape,—"They toil not," There is no science, or hint of science; no counting of petals, nor display of provisions for sustenance: nothing but the expression of sympathy, at once the most childish, and the most profound,—"They toil not."

§ 41. And we see in this, therefore, that the instinct which leads us thus to attribute life to the lowest forms of organic nature, does not necessarily spring from faithlessness, nor the deducing a moral out of them from an irregular and languid conscientiousness. In this, as in almost all things connected with moral discipline, the same results may follow from contrary causes; and as there are a good and evil contentment, a good and evil discontent, a good and evil care, fear, ambition, and so on,306 there are also good and evil forms of this sympathy with nature, and disposition to moralize over it.[96] In general, active men, of strong sense and stern principle, do not care to see anything in a leaf, but vegetable tissue, and are so well convinced of useful moral truth, that it does not strike them as a new or notable thing when they find it in any way symbolized by material nature; hence there is a strong presumption, when first we perceive a tendency in any one to regard trees as living, and enunciate moral aphorisms over every pebble they stumble against, that such tendency proceeds from a morbid temperament, like Shelley's, or an inconsistent one, like Jaques's. But when the active life is nobly fulfilled, and the mind is then raised beyond it into clear and calm beholding of the world around us, the same tendency again manifests itself in the most sacred way: the simplest forms of nature are strangely animated by the sense of the Divine presence; the trees and flowers seem all, in a sort, children of God; and we ourselves, their fellows, made out of the same dust, and greater than they only in having a greater portion of the Divine power exerted on our frame, and all the common uses and palpably visible forms of things, become subordinate in our minds to their inner glory,—to the mysterious voices in which they talk to us about God, and the changeful and typical aspects by which they witness to us of holy truth, and fill us with obedient, joyful, and thankful emotion.

§ 42. It is in raising us from the first state of inactive reverie to the second of useful thought, that scientific pursuits are to be chiefly praised. But in restraining us at this second stage, and checking the impulses towards higher contemplation, they are to be feared or blamed. They may in certain minds be consistent with such contemplation; but only by an effort: in their nature they are always adverse to it, having a tendency to chill and subdue the feelings, and to resolve all things into atoms and numbers. For most men, an ignorant enjoyment is better than307 an informed one; it is better to conceive the sky as a blue dome than a dark cavity, and the cloud as a golden throne than a sleety mist. I much question whether any one who knows optics, however religious he may be, can feel in equal degree the pleasure or reverence which an unlettered peasant may feel at the sight of a rainbow. And it is mercifully thus ordained, since the law of life, for a finite being, with respect to the works of an infinite one, must be always an infinite ignorance. We cannot fathom the mystery of a single flower, nor is it intended that we should; but that the pursuit of science should constantly be stayed by the love of beauty, and accuracy of knowledge by tenderness of emotion.

§ 43. Nor is it even just to speak of the love of beauty as in all respects unscientific; for there is a science of the aspects of things as well as of their nature; and it is as much a fact to be noted in their constitution, that they produce such and such an effect upon the eye or heart (as, for instance, that minor scales of sound cause melancholy), as that they are made up of certain atoms or vibrations of matter.

It is as the master of this science of Aspects, that I said, some time ago, Turner must eventually be named always with Bacon, the master of the science of Essence. As the first poet who has, in all their range, understood the grounds of noble emotion which exist in Landscape, his future influence will be of a still more subtle and important character. The rest of this work will therefore be dedicated to the explanation of the principles on which he composed, and of the aspects of nature which he was the first to discern.

[88] Marmion, Introduction to canto II.

[89] The investigation of this subject becomes, therefore, difficult beyond all other parts of our inquiry, since precisely the same sentiments may arise in different minds from totally opposite causes; and the extreme of frivolity may sometimes for a moment desire the same things as the extreme of moral power and dignity. In the following extract from "Marriage," the sentiment expressed by Lady Juliana (the ineffably foolish and frivolous heroine of the story) is as nearly as possible what Dante would have felt, under the same circumstances:

"The air was soft and genial; not a cloud stained the bright azure of the heavens; and the sun shone out in all his splendor, shedding life and beauty even over the desolate heath-clad hills of Glenfern. But, after they had journeyed a few miles, suddenly emerging from the valley, a scene of matchless beauty burst at once upon the eye. Before them lay the dark blue waters of Lochmarlie, reflecting, as in a mirror, every surrounding object, and bearing on its placid, transparent bosom a fleet of herring-boats, the drapery of whose black, suspended nets contrasted, with picturesque effect, the white sails of the larger vessels, which were vainly spread to catch a breeze. All around, rocks, meadows, woods, and hills mingled in wild and lovely irregularity.

"Not a breath was stirring, not a sound was heard, save the rushing of a waterfall, the tinkling of some silver rivulet, or the calm rippling of the tranquil lake; now and then, at intervals, the fisherman's Gaelic ditty, chanted as he lay stretched on the sand in some sunny nook; or the shrill, distant sound of childish glee. How delicious to the feeling heart to behold so fair a scene of unsophisticated nature, and to listen to her voice alone, breathing the accents of innocence and joy! But none of the party who now gazed on it had minds capable of being touched with the emotions it was calculated to inspire.

"Henry, indeed, was rapturous in his expressions of admiration; but he concluded his panegyrics by wondering his brother did not keep a cutter, and resolving to pass a night on board one of the herring-boats, that he might eat the fish in perfection.

"Lady Juliana thought it might be very pretty, if, instead of those frightful rocks and shabby cottages, there could be villas, and gardens, and lawns, and conservatories, and summer-houses, and statues.

"Miss Bella observed, if it was hers she would cut down the woods, and level the hills, and have races."

[90] Childe Harold, canto iii. st. 71.

[91] Scènes et Proverbes. La Crise; (Scène en calèche, hors Paris.)

[92] Compare the characters of Fleur de Marie and Rigolette, in the Mystères de Paris. I know no other instance in which the two tempers are so exquisitely delineated and opposed. Read carefully the beautiful pastoral, in the eighth chapter of the first Part, where Fleur de Marie is first taken into the fields under Montmartre, and compare it with the sixth of the second Part, its accurately traced companion sketch, noting carefully Rigolette's "Non, je déteste la campagne." She does not, however, dislike flowers or birds: "Cette caisse de bois, que Rigolette appellait le jardin de ses oiseaux, était remplie de terre recouverte de mousse, pendant l'hiver. Elle travaillait auprès de la fenêtre ouverte, à-demi-voilée par un verdoyant rideau de pois de senteur roses, de capucines oranges, de volubilis bleus et blancs."

[93] I have not read Clarissa.

[94] It might be thought that Young could have sympathized with it. He would have made better use of it, but he would not have had the same delight in it. He turns his solitude to good account; but this is because, to him, solitude is sorrow, and his real enjoyment would have been of amiable society, and a place at court.


"The light-outspeeding telegraph
Bears nothing on its beam."

See Appendix III., Plagiarism.

[96] Compare what is said before in various places of good and bad finish, good and bad mystery, &c. If a man were disposed to system-making, he could easily throw together a counter-system to Aristotle's, showing that in all things there were two extremes which exactly resembled each other, but of which one was bad, the other good; and a mean, resembling neither, but better than the one, and worse than the other.




§ 1. The first step to the understanding either the mind or position of a great man ought, I think, to be an inquiry into the elements of his early instruction, and the mode in which he was affected by the circumstances of surrounding life. In making this inquiry, with respect to Turner, we shall be necessarily led to take note of the causes which had brought landscape-painting into the state in which he found it; and, therefore, of those transitions of style which, it will be remembered, we overleaped (hoping for a future opportunity of examining them) at the close of the fifteenth chapter.

§ 2. And first, I said, it will be remembered, some way back, that the relations between Scott and Turner would probably be found to differ very curiously from those between Dante and Giotto. They differ primarily in this,—that Dante and Giotto, living in a consistent age, were subjected to one and the same influence, and maybe reasoned about almost in similar terms. But Scott and Turner, living in an inconsistent age, became subjected to inconsistent influences; and are at once distinguished by notable contrarieties, requiring separate examination in each.

§ 3. Of these, the chief was that Scott, having had the blessing of a totally neglected education, was able early to follow most of his noble instincts; but Turner, having suffered under the instruction of the Royal Academy, had to pass nearly thirty years of his life in recovering from its consequences;[97] this permanent result following for both,—that Scott never was led into309 any fault foreign to his nature, but spoke what was in him, in rugged or idle simplicity; erring only where it was natural to err, and failing only where it was impossible to succeed. But Turner, from the beginning, was led into constrained and unnatural error; diligently debarred from every ordinary help to success. The one thing which the Academy ought to have taught him (namely, the simple and safe use of oil color), it never taught him; but it carefully repressed his perceptions of truth, his capacities of invention, and his tendencies of choice. For him it was impossible to do right but in the spirit of defiance; and the first condition of his progress in learning, was the power to forget.

§ 4. One most important distinction in their feelings throughout life was necessitated by this difference in early training. Scott gathered what little knowledge of architecture he possessed, in wanderings among the rocky walls of Crichtoun, Lochleven, and Linlithgow, and among the delicate pillars of Holyrood, Roslin, and Melrose. Turner acquired his knowledge of architecture at the desk, from academical elevations of the Parthenon and St. Paul's; and spent a large portion of his early years in taking views of gentlemen's seats, temples of the Muses, and other productions of modern taste and imagination; being at the same time directed exclusively to classical sources for information as to the proper subjects of art. Hence, while Scott was at once directed to the history of his native land, and to the Gothic fields of imagination; and his mind was fed in a consistent, natural, and felicitous way from his youth up, poor Turner for a long time knew no inspiration but that of Twickenham; no sublimity but that of Virginia Water. All the history and poetry presented to him at the age when the mind receives its dearest associations, were those of the gods and nations of long ago; and his models of sentiment and style were the worst and last wrecks of the Renaissance affectations.

§ 5. Therefore (though utterly free from affectation), his early works are full of an enforced artificialness, and of things ill-done and ill-conceived, because foreign to his own instincts; and, throughout life, whatever he did, because he thought he ought to do it, was wrong; all that he planned on any principle,310 or in supposed obedience to canons of taste, was false and abortive: he only did right when he ceased to reflect; was powerful only when he made no effort, and successful only when he had taken no aim.

§ 6. And it is one of the most interesting things connected with the study of his art, to watch the way in which his own strength of English instinct breaks gradually through fetter and formalism; how from Egerian wells he steals away to Yorkshire streamlets; how from Homeric rocks, with laurels at the top and caves in the bottom, he climbs, at last, to Alpine precipices fringed with pine, and fortified with the slopes of their own ruins; and how from Temples of Jupiter and Gardens of the Hesperides, a spirit in his feet guides him, at last, to the lonely arches of Whitby, and bleak sands of Holy Isle.

§ 7. As, however, is the case with almost all inevitable evil, in its effect on great minds, a certain good rose even out of this warped education; namely, his power of more completely expressing all the tendencies of his epoch, and sympathizing with many feelings and many scenes which must otherwise have been entirely profitless to him. Scott's mind was just as large and full of sympathy as Turner's; but having been permitted always to take his own choice among sources of enjoyment, Scott was entirely incapable of entering into the spirit of any classical scene. He was strictly a Goth and a Scot, and his sphere of sensation may be almost exactly limited by the growth of heather. But Turner had been forced to pay early attention to whatever of good and right there was even in things naturally distasteful to him. The charm of early association had been cast around much that to other men would have been tame: while making drawings of flower-gardens and Palladian mansions, he had been taught sympathy with whatever grace or refinement the garden or mansion could display, and to the close of life could enjoy the delicacy of trellis and parterre, as well as the wildness of the wood and the moorland; and watch the staying of the silver fountain at its appointed height in the sky, with an interest as earnest, if not as intense, as that with which he followed the crash of the Alpine cataract into its clouds of wayward rage.

§ 8. The distinct losses to be weighed against this gain are,311 first, the waste of time during youth in painting subjects of no interest whatsoever,—parks, villas, and ugly architecture in general: secondly, the devotion of its utmost strength in later years to meaningless classical compositions, such as the Fall and Rise of Carthage, Bay of Baiæ, Daphne and Leucippus, and such others, which, with infinite accumulation of material, are yet utterly heartless and emotionless, dead to the very root of thought, and incapable of producing wholesome or useful effect on any human mind, except only as exhibitions of technical skill and graceful arrangement: and, lastly, his incapacity, to the close of life, of entering heartily into the spirit of any elevated architecture; for those Palladian and classical buildings which he had been taught that it was right to admire, being wholly devoid of interest, and in their own formality and barrenness quite unmanageable, he was obliged to make them manageable in his pictures by disguising them, and to use all kinds of playing shadows and glittering lights to obscure their ugly details; and as in their best state such buildings are white and colorless, he associated the idea of whiteness with perfect architecture generally, and was confused and puzzled when he found it grey. Hence he never got thoroughly into the feeling of Gothic; its darkness and complexity embarrassed him; he was very apt to whiten by way of idealizing it, and to cast aside its details in order to get breadth of delicate light. In Venice, and the towns of Italy generally, he fastened on the wrong buildings, and used those which he chose merely as kind of white clouds, to set off his brilliant groups of boats, or burning spaces of lagoon. In various other minor ways, which we shall trace in their proper place, his classical education hindered or hurt him; but I feel it very difficult to say how far the loss was balanced by the general grasp it gave his mind; nor am I able to conceive what would have been the result, if his aims had been made at once narrower and more natural, and he had been led in his youth to delight in Gothic legends instead of classical mythology; and, instead of the porticos of the Parthenon, had studied in the aisles of Notre Dame.

§ 9. It is still more difficult to conjecture whether he gathered most good or evil from the pictorial art which surrounded him in his youth. What that art was, and how the European312 schools had arrived at it, it now becomes necessary briefly to inquire.

It will be remembered that, in the 14th chapter, we left our mediæval landscape (§ 18.) in a state of severe formality, and perfect subordination to the interest of figure subject. I will now rapidly trace the mode and progress of its emancipation.

§ 10. The formalized conception of scenery remained little altered until the time of Raphael, being only better executed as the knowledge of art advanced; that is to say, though the trees were still stiff, and often set one on each side of the principal figures, their color and relief on the sky were exquisitely imitated, and all groups of near leaves and flowers drawn with the most tender care, and studious botanical accuracy. The better the subjects were painted, however, the more logically absurd they became: a background wrought in Chinese confusion of towers and rivers, was in early times passed over carelessly, and forgiven for the sake of its pleasant color; but it appealed somewhat too far to imaginative indulgence when Ghirlandajo drew an exquisite perspective view of Venice and her lagoons behind an Adoration of the Magi;[98] and the impossibly small boats which might be pardoned in a mere illumination, representing the miraculous draught of fishes, became, whatever may be said to the contrary, inexcusably absurd in Raphael's fully realized landscape; so as at once to destroy the credibility of every circumstance of the event.

§ 11. A certain charm, however, attached itself to many forms of this landscape, owing to their very unnaturalness, as I have endeavored to explain already in the last chapter of the second volume, §§ 9. to 12.; noting, however, there, that it was in no wise to be made a subject of imitation; a conclusion which I have since seen more and more ground for holding finally. The longer I think over the subject, the more I perceive that the pleasure we take in such unnatural landscapes is intimately connected with our habit of regarding the New Testament as a beautiful poem, instead of a statement of plain facts. He who believes thoroughly that the events are true will expect, and ought to expect, real olive copse behind real Madonna, and no sentimental absurdities in either.

11. Latest Purism.

§ 12. Nor am I at all sure how far the delight which we take (when I say we, I mean, in general, lovers of old sacred art) in such quaint landscape, arises from its peculiar falsehood, and how far from its peculiar truth. For as it falls into certain errors more boldly, so, also, what truth it states, it states more firmly than subsequent work. No engravings, that I know, render the backgrounds of sacred pictures with sufficient care to enable the reader to judge of this matter unless before the works themselves. I have, therefore, engraved, on the opposite page, a bit of the background of Raphael's Holy Family, in the Tribune of the Uffizii, at Florence. I copied the trees leaf for leaf, and the rest of the work with the best care I could; the engraver, Mr. Armytage, has admirably rendered the delicate atmosphere which partly veils the distance. Now I do not know how far it is necessary to such pleasure as we receive from this landscape, that the trees should be both so straight and formal in stem, and should have branches no thicker than threads; or that the outlines of the distant hills should approximate so closely to those on any ordinary Wedgewood's china pattern. I know that, on the contrary, a great part of the pleasure arises from the sweet expression of air and sunshine; from the traceable resemblance of the city and tower to Florence and Fésole; from the fact that, though the boughs are too thin, the lines of ramification are true and beautiful; and from the expression of continually varied form in the clusters of leafage. And although all lovers of sacred art would shrink in horror from the idea of substituting for such a landscape a bit of Cuyp or Rubens, I do not think that the horror they feel is because Cuyp and Rubens's landscape is truer, but because it is coarser and more vulgar in associated idea than Raphael's; and I think it possible that the true forms of hills, and true thicknesses of boughs, might be tenderly stolen into this background of Raphael's without giving offence to any one.

Fig. 5.

§ 13. Take a somewhat more definite instance. The rock in Fig. 5., at the side, is one put by Ghirlandajo into the background of his Baptism of Christ. I have no doubt Ghirlandajo's own rocks and trees are better, in several respects, than those here represented, since I have copied them from one of Lasinio's execrable engravings; still, the harsh outline, and314 generally stiff and uninventful blankness of the design are true enough, and characteristic of all rock-painting of the period. In the plate below I have etched[99] the outline of a fragment of one of Turner's cliffs, out of his drawing of Bolton Abbey; and it does not seem to me that, supposing them properly introduced in the composition, the substitution of the soft natural lines for the hard unnatural ones would make Ghirlandajo's background one whit less sacred.

§ 14. But be this as it may, the fact is, as ill luck would have it, that profanity of feeling, and skill in art, increased together; so that we do not find the backgrounds rightly painted till the figures become irreligious and feelingless; and hence we associate necessarily the perfect landscape with want of feeling. The first great innovator was either Masaccio or Filippino Lippi: their works are so confused together in the Chapel of the Carmine, that I know not to whom I may attribute,—or whether, without being immediately quarrelled with, and contradicted, I may attribute to anybody,—the landscape background of the fresco of the Tribute Money. But that background, with one or315 two other fragments in the same chapel, is far in advance of all other work I have seen of the period, in expression of the rounded contours and large slopes of hills, and the association of their summits with the clouds. The opposite engraving will give some better idea of its character than can be gained from the outlines commonly published; though the dark spaces, which in the original are deep blue, come necessarily somewhat too harshly on the eye when translated into light and shade. I shall have occasion to speak with greater speciality of this background in examining the forms of hills; meantime, it is only as an isolated work that it can be named in the history of pictorial progress, for Masaccio died too young to carry out his purposes; and the men around him were too ignorant of landscape to understand or take advantage of the little he had done. Raphael, though he borrowed from him in the human figure, never seems to have been influenced by his landscape, and retains either, as in Plate 11., the upright formalities of Perugino; or, by way of being natural, expands his distances into flattish flakes of hill, nearly formless, as in the backgrounds of the Charge to Peter and Draught of Fishes; and thenceforward the Tuscan and Roman schools grew more and more artificial, and lost themselves finally under round-headed niches and Corinthian porticos.

12. The Shores of Wharfe.

13. First Mountain Naturalism.

14. The Lombard Apennine.

15. St. George of the Seaweed.

§ 15. It needed, therefore, the air of the northern mountains and of the sea to brace the hearts of men to the development of the true landscape schools. I sketched by chance one evening the line of the Apennines from the ramparts of Parma, and I have put the rough note of it, and the sky that was over it, in Plate 14., and next to this (Plate 15.) a moment of sunset, behind the Euganean hills at Venice. I shall have occasion to refer to both hereafter; but they have some interest here as types of the kind of scenes which were daily set before the eyes of Correggio and Titian, and of the sweet free spaces of sky through which rose and fell, to them, the colored rays of the morning and evening.

§ 16. And they are connected, also, with the forms of landscape adopted by the Lombardic masters, in a very curious way. We noticed that the Flemings, educated entirely in flat land, seemed to be always contented with the scenery it supplied; and316 we should naturally have expected that Titian and Correggio, living in the midst of the levels of the lagoons, and of the plain of Lombardy, would also have expressed, in their backgrounds, some pleasure in such level scenery, associated, of course, with the sublimity of the far-away Apennine, Euganean, or Alp. But not a whit. The plains of mulberry and maize, of sea and shoal, by which they were surrounded, never occur in their backgrounds but in cases of necessity; and both of them, in all their important landscapes, bury themselves in wild wood; Correggio delighting to relieve with green darkness of oak and ivy the golden hair and snowy flesh of his figures; and Titian, whenever the choice of a scene was in his power, retiring to the narrow glens and forests of Cadore.

§ 17. Of the vegetation introduced by both, I shall have to speak at length in the course of the chapters on Foliage; meantime, I give in Plate 16. one of Titian's slightest bits of background, from one of the frescoes in the little chapel behind St. Antonio, at Padua, which may be compared more conveniently than any of his more elaborate landscapes with the purist work from Raphael. For in both these examples the trees are equally slender and delicate, only the formality of mediæval art is, by Titian, entirely abandoned, and the old conception of the aspen grove and meadow done away with for ever. We are now far from cities: the painter takes true delight in the desert; the trees grow wild and free; the sky also has lost its peace, and is writhed into folds of motion, closely impendent upon earth, and somewhat threatening, through its solemn light.

§ 18. Although, however, this example is characteristic of Titian in its wildness, it is not so in its looseness. It is only in the distant backgrounds of the slightest work, or when he is in a hurry, that Titian is vague: in all his near and studied work he completes every detail with scrupulous care. The next Plate, 17., a background of Tintoret's, from his picture of the Entombment at Parma, is more entirely characteristic of the Venetians. Some mistakes made in the reduction of my drawing during the course of engraving have cramped the curves of the boughs and leaves, of which I will give the true outline farther on; meantime the subject, which is that described in § 16. of the chapter on Penetrative Imagination, Vol. II., will just as317 well answer the purpose of exemplifying the Venetian love of gloom and wildness, united with perfect definition of detail. Every leaf and separate blade of grass is drawn; but observe how the blades of grass are broken, how completely the aim at expression of faultlessness and felicity has been withdrawn, as contrary to the laws of the existent world.

16. Early Naturalism.

17. Advanced Naturalism.

§ 19. From this great Venetian school of landscape Turner received much important teaching,—almost the only healthy teaching which he owed to preceding art. The designs of the Liber Studiorum are founded first on nature, but in many cases modified by forced imitation of Claude, and fond imitation of Titian. All the worst and feeblest studies in the book—as the pastoral with the nymph playing the tambourine, that with the long bridge seen through trees, and with the flock of goats on the walled road—owe the principal part of their imbecilities to Claude; another group (Solway Moss, Peat Bog, Lauffenbourg, &c.) is taken with hardly any modification by pictorial influence, straight from nature; and the finest works in the book—the Grande Chartreuse, Rizpah, Jason, Cephalus, and one or two more—are strongly under the influence of Titian.

§ 20. The Venetian school of landscape expired with Tintoret, in the year 1594; and the sixteenth century closed, like a grave, over the great art of the world. There is no entirely sincere or great art in the seventeenth century. Rubens and Rembrandt are its two greatest men, both deeply stained by the errors and affectations of their age. The influence of the Venetians hardly extended to them; the tower of the Titianesque art fell southwards; and on the dust of its ruins grew various art-weeds, such as Domenichino and the Carraccis. Their landscape, which may in few words be accurately defined as "Scum of Titian," possesses no single merit, nor any ground for the forgiveness of demerit; they are to be named only as a link through which the Venetian influence came dimly down to Claude and Salvator.

§ 21. Salvator possessed real genius, but was crushed by misery in his youth, and by fashionable society in his age. He had vigorous animal life, and considerable invention, but no depth either of thought or perception. He took some hints directly from nature, and expressed some conditions of the318 grotesque of terror with original power; but his baseness of thought, and bluntness of sight, were unconquerable; and his works possess no value whatsoever for any person versed in the walks of noble art. They had little, if any, influence on Turner; if any, it was in blinding him for some time to the grace of tree trunks, and making him tear them too much into splinters.

§ 22. Not so Claude, who may be considered as Turner's principal master. Claude's capacities were of the most limited kind; but he had tenderness of perception, and sincerity of purpose, and he effected a revolution in art. This revolution consisted mainly in setting the sun in heaven.[100] Till Claude's time no one had seriously thought of painting the sun but conventionally; that is to say, as a red or yellow star, (often) with a face in it, under which type it was constantly represented in illumination; else it was kept out of the picture, or introduced in fragmentary distances, breaking through clouds with almost definite rays. Perhaps the honor of having first tried to represent the real effect of the sun in landscape belongs to Bonifazio, in his pictures of the camps of Israel.[101] Rubens followed in a kind of bravado, sometimes making the rays issue from anything but the orb of the sun;—here, for instance, Fig. 6., is an outline of the position of the sun (at s) with respect to his own rays, in a sunset behind a tournament in the Louvre: and various interesting effects of sunlight issuing from the conventional face-filled orb occur in contemporary missal-painting; for instance, very richly in the Harleian MS. Brit. Mus. 3469. But all this was merely indicative of the tendency to transition which may always be traced in any age before the man comes who is to accomplish the transition. Claude took up the new idea seriously, made the sun his subject, and painted the effects of misty shadows cast by his rays over the landscape, and other delicate aerial transitions, as no one had ever done before, and, in some respects, as no one has done in oil color since.


§ 23. "But, how, if this were so, could his capacities be of the meanest order?" Because doing one thing well, or better than others have done it, does not necessarily imply large capacity. Capacity means breadth of glance, understanding of the relations of things, and invention, and these are rare and precious; but there are very few men who have not done something, in the course of their lives, better than other people. I could point out many engravers, draughtsmen, and artists, who have each a particular merit in their manner, or particular field of perception, that nobody else has, or ever had. But this does not make them great men, it only indicates a small special capacity of some kind: and all the smaller if the gift be very peculiar and single; for a great man never so limits himself to one thing, as that we shall be able to say, "That's all he can do." If Claude had been a great man he would not have been so steadfastly set on painting effects of sun; he would have looked at all nature, and at all art, and would have painted sun effects somewhat worse, and nature universally much better.

Fig. 6.

§ 24. Such as he was, however, his discovery of the way to make pictures look warm was very delightful to the shallow connoisseurs of the age. Not that they cared for sunshine; but they liked seeing jugglery. They could not feel Titian's noble color, nor Veronese's noble composition; but they thought it highly amusing to see the sun brought into a picture: and320 Claude's works were bought and delighted in by vulgar people then, for their real-looking suns, as pictures are now by vulgar people for having real timepieces in their church towers.

§ 25. But when Turner arose, with an earnest desire to paint the whole of nature, he found that the existence of the sun was an important fact, and by no means an easily manageable one. He loved sunshine for its own sake; but he could not at first paint it. Most things else, he would more or less manage without much technical difficulty; but the burning orb and the golden haze could not, somehow, be got out of the oil paint. Naturally he went to Claude, who really had got them out of oil paint; approached him with great reverence, as having done that which seemed to Turner most difficult of all technical matters, and he became his faithful disciple. How much he learned from him of manipulation, I cannot tell; but one thing is certain, that he never quite equalled him in that particular forte of his. I imagine that Claude's way of laying on oil color was so methodical that it could not possibly be imitated by a man whose mechanism was interfered with by hundreds of thoughts and aims totally different from Claude's; and, besides, I suppose that certain useful principles in the management of paint, of which our schools are now wholly ignorant, had come down as far as Claude, from the Venetians. Turner at last gave up the attempt, and adopted a manipulation of his own, which indeed effected certain objects attainable in no other way, but which still was in many respects unsatisfactory, dangerous, and deeply to be regretted.

Fig. 7.

§ 26. But meantime his mind had been strongly warped by Claude's futilities of conception. It was impossible to dwell on such works for any length of time without being grievously harmed by them; and the style of Turner's compositions was for ever afterwards weakened or corrupted. For, truly, it is almost beyond belief into what depth of absurdity Claude plunges continually in his most admired designs. For instance; undertaking to paint Moses at the Burning Bush, he represents a graceful landscape with a city, a river, and a bridge, and plenty of tall trees, and the sea, and numbers of people going about their business and pleasure in every direction; and the bush burning quietly upon a bank in the corner; rather in the321 dark, and not to be seen without close inspection. It would take some pages of close writing to point out, one by one, the inanities of heart, soul, and brain which such a conception involves; the ineffable ignorance of the nature of the event, and of the scene of it; the incapacity of conceiving anything even in ignorance, which should be impressive; the dim, stupid, serene, leguminous enjoyment of his sunny afternoon—burn the bushes as much as they liked—these I leave the reader to think over at his leisure, either before the picture in Lord Ellesmere's gallery, or the sketch of it in the Liber Veritatis. But all these kinds of fallacy sprung more or less out of the vices of the time in which Claude lived; his own peculiar character reaches beyond these, to an incapacity of understanding the main point in anything he had to represent, down to the minutest detail, which is quite unequalled, as far as I know, in human nugatoriness. For instance; here, in Fig. 7., is the head, with half the body, of Eneas drawing his Bow, from No. 180. of the Liber Veritatis. Observe, the string is too long by half; for if the bow were unbent, it would be two feet longer than the whole bow. Then the arrow is too long by half, has too heavy a head by half; and finally, it actually is under the bow-hand, instead of above it. Of the ideal and heroic refinement of the head and drapery I will say nothing; but look only at the wretched archery, and consider if it would be possible for any child to draw the thing with less understanding, or to make more mistakes in the given compass.[102]

Fig. 8.

§ 27. And yet, exquisite as is Claude's instinct for blunder, he has not strength of mind enough to blunder in a wholly original manner, but he must needs falter out of his way to pick up other people's puerilities, and be absurd at second-hand. I have been obliged to laugh a little—though I hope reverently—at Ghirlandajo's landscapes, which yet we saw had a certain charm of quaintness in them when contrasted with his grand figures; but could any one have believed that Claude, with all the noble landscapes of Titian set before him, and all nature round about him, should yet go back to Ghirlandajo for types of form. Yet such is the case. I said that the Venetian influence came dimly down to Claude; but the old Florentine influence came clearly. The Claudesque landscape is not, as so commonly supposed, an idealized abstract of the nature about Rome. It is an ultimate condition of the Florentine conventional landscape, more or less softened by reference to nature. Fig. 8., from No. 145. of the Liber Veritatis, is sufficiently characteristic of Claude's rock-drawing; and compared with Fig. 5. (p. 314), will show exactly the kind of modification he made on old and received types. We shall see other instances of it hereafter.


Imagine this kind of reproduction of whatever other people had done worst, and this kind of misunderstanding of all that he saw himself in nature, carried out in Claude's trees, rocks, ships—in everything that he touched,—and then consider what kind of school this work was for a young and reverent disciple. As I said, Turner never recovered the effects of it; his compositions were always mannered, lifeless, and even foolish; and he only did noble things when the immediate presence of nature had overpowered the reminiscences of his master.

§ 28. Of the influence of Gaspar and Nicolo Poussin on Turner, there is hardly anything to be said, nor much respecting that which they had on landscape generally. Nicolo Poussin had noble powers of design, and might have been a thoroughly great painter had he been trained in Venice; but his Roman education kept him tame; his trenchant severity was contrary to the tendencies of the age, and had few imitators compared to the dashing of Salvator, and the mist of Claude. Those few imitators adopted his manner without possessing either his science or invention; and the Italian school of landscape soon expired. Reminiscences of him occur sometimes in Turner's compositions of sculptured stones for foreground; and the beautiful Triumph of Flora, in the Louvre, probably first showed Turner the use of definite flower, or blossom-painting, in landscape. I doubt if he took anything from Gaspar; whatever he might have learned from him respecting masses of foliage and golden distances, could have been learned better, and, I believe, was learned, from Titian.

§ 29. Meantime, a lower, but more living school had developed itself in the north; Cuyp had painted sunshine as truly as Claude, gilding with it a more homely, but far more honestly conceived landscape; and the effects of light of De Hooghe and Rembrandt presented examples of treatment to which southern art could show no parallel. Turner evidently studied these with the greatest care, and with great benefit in every way; especially this, that they neutralized the idealisms of Claude, and showed the young painter what power might be in plain truth, even of the most familiar kind. He painted several pictures in imitation of these masters; and those in which he tried to rival Cuyp are healthy and noble works, being, in fact, just what324 most of Cuyp's own pictures are—faithful studies of Dutch boats in calm weather, on smooth water. De Hooghe was too precise, and Rembrandt too dark, to be successfully or affectionately followed by him; but he evidently learned much from both.

§ 30. Finally, he painted many pictures in the manner of Vandevelde (who was the accepted authority of his time in sea painting), and received much injury from him. To the close of his life, Turner always painted the sea too grey, and too opaque, in consequence of his early study of Vandevelde. He never seemed to perceive color so truly in the sea as he saw it elsewhere. But he soon discovered the poorness of Vandevelde's forms of waves, and raised their meanly divided surfaces into massive surge, effecting rapidly other changes, of which more in another place.

Such was the art to which Turner, in early years, devoted his most earnest thoughts. More or less respectful contemplation of Reynolds, Loutherbourg, Wilson, Gainsborough, Morland, and Wilkie, was incidentally mingled with his graver study; and he maintained a questioning watchfulness of even the smallest successes of his brother artists of the modern landscape school. It remains for us only to note the position of that living school when Turner, helped or misled, as the case may be, by the study of the older artists, began to consider what remained for him to do, or design.

§ 31. The dead schools of landscape, composed of the works we have just been examining, were broadly divisible into northern and southern: the Dutch schools, more or less natural, but vulgar; the Italian, more or less elevated, but absurd. There was a certain foolish elegance in Claude, and a dull dignity in Gaspar; but then their work resembled nothing that ever existed in the world. On the contrary, a canal or cattle piece of Cuyp's had many veracities about it; but they were, at best, truths of the ditch and dairy. The grace of nature, or her gloom, her tender and sacred seclusions, or her reach of power and wrath, had never been painted; nor had anything been painted yet in true love of it; for both Dutch and Italians agreed in this, that they always painted for the picture's sake, to show how well they could imitate sunshine, arrange masses, or articu325late straws,—never because they loved the scene, or wanted to carry away some memory of it.

And thus, all that landscape of the old masters is to be considered merely as a struggle of expiring skill to discover some new direction in which to display itself. There was no love of nature in the age; only a desire for something new. Therefore those schools expired at last, leaving the chasm of nearly utter emptiness between them and the true moderns, out of which chasm the new school rises, not engrafted on that old one, but, from the very base of all things, beginning with mere washes of Indian ink, touched upon with yellow and brown; and gradually feeling its way to color.

But this infant school differed inherently from that ancienter one, in that its motive was love. However feeble its efforts might be, they were for the sake of the nature, not of the picture, and therefore, having this germ of true life, it grew and throve. Robson did not paint purple hills because he wanted to show how he could lay on purple; but because he truly loved their dark peaks. Fielding did not paint downs to show how dexterously he could sponge out mists; but because he loved downs.

This modern school, therefore, became the only true school of landscape which had yet existed; the artificial Claude and Gaspar work may be cast aside out of our way,—as I have said in my Edinburgh lectures, under the general title of "pastoralism,"—and from the last landscape of Tintoret, if we look for life, we must pass at once to the first of Turner.

§ 32. What help Turner received from this or that companion of his youth is of no importance to any one now. Of course every great man is always being helped by everybody,[103] for his gift is to get good out of all things and all persons; and also there were two men associated with him in early study, who showed high promise in the same field, Cousen and Girtin (especially the former), and there is no saying what these men might have done had they lived; there might, perhaps, have been a326 struggle between one or other of them and Turner, as between Giorgione and Titian. But they lived not; and Turner is the only great man whom the school has yet produced,—quite great enough, as we shall see, for all that needed to be done. To him, therefore, we now finally turn, as the sole object of our inquiry. I shall first reinforce, with such additions as they need, those statements of his general principles which I made in the first volume, but could not then demonstrate fully, for want of time to prepare pictorial illustration; and then proceed to examine, piece by piece, his representations of the facts of nature, comparing them, as it may seem expedient, with what had been accomplished by others.

I cannot close this volume without alluding briefly to a subject of different interest from any that have occupied us in its pages. For it may, perhaps, seem to a general reader heartless and vain to enter zealously into questions about our arts and pleasures in a time of so great public anxiety as this.

But he will find, if he looks back to the sixth paragraph of the opening chapter of the last volume, some statement of feelings, which, as they made me despondent in a time of apparent national prosperity, now cheer me in one which, though of stern trial, I will not be so much a coward as to call one of adversity. And I derive this encouragement first from the belief that the War itself, with all its bitterness, is, in the present state of the European nations, productive of more good than evil; and, secondly, because I have more confidence than others generally entertain, in the justice of its cause.

I say, first, because I believe the war is at present productive of good more than of evil. I will not argue this hardly and coldly, as I might, by tracing in past history some of the abundant evidence that nations have always reached their highest virtue, and wrought their most accomplished works, in times of straitening and battle; as, on the other hand, no nation ever yet enjoyed a protracted and triumphant peace without receiving in its own bosom ineradicable seeds of future decline. I will not so argue this matter; but I will appeal at once to the testimony of those whom the war has cost the dearest. I know what would be told me, by those who have suffered nothing;327 whose domestic happiness has been unbroken; whose daily comfort undisturbed; whose experience of calamity consists, at its utmost, in the incertitude of a speculation, the dearness of a luxury, or the increase of demands upon their fortune which they could meet fourfold without inconvenience. From these, I can well believe, be they prudent economists, or careless pleasure-seekers, the cry for peace will rise alike vociferously, whether in street or senate. But I ask their witness, to whom the war has changed the aspect of the earth, and imagery of heaven, whose hopes it has cut off like a spider's web, whose treasure it has placed, in a moment, under the seals of clay. Those who can never more see sunrise, nor watch the climbing light gild the Eastern clouds, without thinking what graves it has gilded, first, far down behind the dark earth-line,—who never more shall see the crocus bloom in spring, without thinking what dust it is that feeds the wild flowers of Balaclava. Ask their witness, and see if they will not reply that it is well with them, and with theirs; that they would have it no otherwise; would not, if they might, receive back their gifts of love and life, nor take again the purple of their blood out of the cross on the breastplate of England. Ask them: and though they should answer only with a sob, listen if it does not gather upon their lips into the sound of the old Seyton war-cry—"Set on."

And this not for pride—not because the names of their lost ones will be recorded to all time, as of those who held the breach and kept the gate of Europe against the North, as the Spartans did against the East; and lay down in the place they had to guard, with the like home message, "Oh, stranger, go and tell the English that we are lying here, having obeyed their words;"—not for this, but because, also, they have felt that the spirit which has discerned them for eminence in sorrow—the helmed and sworded skeleton that rakes with its white fingers the sands of the Black Sea beach into grave-heap after grave-heap, washed by everlasting surf of tears—has been to them an angel of other things than agony; that they have learned, with those hollow, undeceivable eyes of his, to see all the earth by the sunlight of deathbeds;—no inch-high stage for foolish griefs and feigned pleasures; no dream, neither, as its dull moralists told them;—Anything but that: a place of328 true, marvellous, inextricable sorrow and power; a question-chamber of trial by rack and fire, irrevocable decision recording continually; and no sleep, nor folding of hands, among the demon-questioners; none among the angel-watchers, none among the men who stand or fall beside those hosts of God. They know now the strength of sacrifice, and that its flames can illumine as well as consume; they are bound by new fidelities to all that they have saved,—by new love to all for whom they have suffered; every affection which seemed to sink with those dim life-stains into the dust, has been delegated, by those who need it no more, to the cause for which they have expired; and every mouldering arm, which will never more embrace the beloved ones, has bequeathed to them its strength and its faithfulness.

For the cause of this quarrel is no dim, half-avoidable involution of mean interests and errors, as some would have us believe. There never was a great war caused by such things. There never can be. The historian may trace it, with ingenious trifling, to a courtier's jest or a woman's glance; but he does not ask—(and it is the sum of questions)—how the warring nations had come to found their destinies on the course of the sneer, or the smile. If they have so based them, it is time for them to learn, through suffering, how to build on other foundations—for great, accumulated, and most righteous cause, their foot slides in due time; and against the torpor, or the turpitude, of their myriads, there is loosed the haste of the devouring sword and the thirsty arrow. But if they have set their fortunes on other than such ground, then the war must be owing to some deep conviction or passion in their own hearts,—a conviction which, in resistless flow, or reckless ebb, or consistent stay, is the ultimate arbiter of battle, disgrace, or conquest.

Wherever there is war, there must be injustice on one side or the other, or on both. There have been wars which were little more than trials of strength between friendly nations, and in which the injustice was not to each other, but to the God who gave them life. But in a malignant war of these present ages there is injustice of ignobler kind, at once to God and man, which must be stemmed for both their sakes. It may, indeed, be so involved with national prejudices, or ignorances, that329 neither of the contending nations can conceive it as attaching to their cause; nay, the constitution of their governments, and the clumsy crookedness of their political dealings with each other, may be such as to prevent either of them from knowing the actual cause for which they have gone to war. Assuredly this is, in a great degree, the state of things with us; for I noticed that there never came news by telegraph of the explosion of a powder-barrel, or of the loss of thirty men by a sortie, but the Parliament lost confidence immediately in the justice of the war; reopened the question whether we ever should have engaged in it, and remained in a doubtful and repentant state of mind until one of the enemy's powder-barrels blew up also; upon which they were immediately satisfied again that the war was a wise and necessary one. How far, therefore, the calamity may have been brought upon us by men whose political principles shoot annually like the leaves, and change color at every autumn frost:—how loudly the blood that has been poured out round the walls of that city, up to the horse-bridles, may now be crying from the ground against men who did not know, when they first bade shed it, exactly what war was, or what blood was, or what life was, or truth, or what anything else was upon the earth; and whose tone of opinions touching the destinies of mankind depended entirely upon whether they were sitting on the right or left side of the House of Commons;—this, I repeat, I know not, nor (in all solemnity I say it) do I care to know. For if it be so, and the English nation could at the present period of its history be betrayed into a war such as this by the slipping of a wrong word into a protocol, or bewitched into unexpected battle under the budding hallucinations of its sapling senators, truly it is time for us to bear the penalty of our baseness, and learn, as the sleepless steel glares close upon us, how to choose our governors more wisely, and our ways more warily. For that which brings swift punishment in war, must have brought slow ruin in peace; and those who have now laid down their lives for England, have doubly saved her; they have humbled at once her enemies and herself; and have done less for her, in the conquest they achieve, than in the sorrow that they claim.

But it is not altogether thus: we have not been cast into330 this war by mere political misapprehensions, or popular ignorances. It is quite possible that neither we nor our rulers may clearly understand the nature of the conflict; and that we may be dealing blows in the dark, confusedly, and as a soldier suddenly awakened from slumber by an unknown adversary. But I believe the struggle was inevitable, and that the sooner it came, the more easily it was to be met, and the more nobly concluded. France and England are both of them, from shore to shore, in a state of intense progression, change, and experimental life. They are each of them beginning to examine, more distinctly than ever nations did yet in the history of the world, the dangerous question respecting the rights of governed, and the responsibilities of governing, bodies; not, as heretofore; foaming over them in red frenzy, with intervals of fetter and straw crown, but in health, quietness, and daylight, with the help of a good Queen and a great Emperor; and to determine them in a way which, by just so much as it is more effective and rational, is likely to produce more permanent results than ever before on the policy of neighboring States, and to force, gradually, the discussion of similar questions into their places of silence. To force it,—for true liberty, like true religion, is always aggressive or persecuted; but the attack is generally made upon it by the nation which is to be crushed,—by Persian on Athenian, Tuscan on Roman, Austrian on Swiss; or, as now, by Russia upon us and our allies: her attack appointed, it seems to me, for confirmation of all our greatness, trial of our strength, purging and punishment of our futilities, and establishment for ever, in our hands, of the leadership in the political progress of the world.

Whether this its providential purpose be accomplished, must depend on its enabling France and England to love one another, and teaching these, the two noblest foes that ever stood breast to breast among the nations, first to decipher the law of international charities; first to discern that races, like individuals, can only reach their true strength, dignity, or joy, in seeking each the welfare, and exulting each in the glory, of the other. It is strange how far we still seem from fully perceiving this. We know that two men, cast on a desert island, could not thrive in dispeace; we can understand that four, or twelve,331 might still find their account in unity; but that a multitude should thrive otherwise than by the contentions of its classes, or two multitudes hold themselves in anywise bound by brotherly law to serve, support, rebuke, rejoice in one another, this seems still as far beyond our conception, as the clearest of commandments, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth," is beyond our habitual practice. Yet, if once we comprehend that precept in its breadth, and feel that what we now call jealousy for our country's honor, is, so far as it tends to other countries' dishonor, merely one of the worst, because most complacent and self-gratulatory, forms of irreligion,—a newly breathed strength will, with the newly interpreted patriotism, animate and sanctify the efforts of men. Learning, unchecked by envy, will be accepted more frankly, throned more firmly, guided more swiftly; charity, unchilled by fear, will dispose the laws of each State without reluctance to advantage its neighbor by justice to itself; and admiration, unwarped by prejudice, possess itself continually of new treasure in the arts and the thoughts of the stranger.

If France and England fail of this, if again petty jealousies or selfish interests prevail to unknit their hands from the armored grasp, then, indeed, their faithful children will have fallen in vain; there will be a sound as of renewed lamentation along those Euxine waves, and a shaking among the bones that bleach by the mounds of Sebastopol. But if they fail not of this,—if we, in our love of our queens and kings, remember how France gave to the cause of early civilization, first the greatest, then the holiest, of monarchs;[104] and France, in her love of liberty, remembers how we first raised the standard of Commonwealth, trusted to the grasp of one good and strong hand, witnessed for by victory; and so join in perpetual compact of our different strengths, to contend for justice, mercy, and truth throughout the world,—who dares say that one soldier has died in vain? The scarlet of the blood that has sealed this covenant will be poured along the clouds of a new aurora, glorious in that Eastern heaven; for every sob of wreck-fed breaker round332 those Pontic precipices, the floods shall clap their hands between the guarded mounts of the Prince-Angel; and the spirits of those lost multitudes, crowned with the olive and rose among the laurel, shall haunt, satisfied, the willowy brooks and peaceful vales of England, and glide, triumphant, by the poplar groves and sunned coteaux of Seine.

[97] The education here spoken of is, of course, that bearing on the main work of life. In other respects, Turner's education was more neglected than Scott's, and that not beneficently. See the close of the third of my Edinburgh Lectures.

[98] The picture is in the Uffizii of Florence.

[99] This etching is prepared for receiving mezzotint in the next volume; it is therefore much heavier in line, especially in the water, than I should have made it, if intended to be complete as it is.

[100] Compare Vol. I. Part II. Sec. I. Chap. VII. I repeat here some things that were then said; but it is necessary now to review them in connection with Turner's education, as well as for the sake of enforcing them by illustration.

[101] Now in the old library of Venice.

[102] My old friend Blackwood complains bitterly, in his last number, of my having given this illustration at one of my late lectures, saying, that I "have a disagreeable knack of finding out the joints in my opponent's armor," and that "I never fight for love." I never do. I fight for truth, earnestly, and in no wise for jest; and against all lies, earnestly, and in no wise for love. They complain that "a noble adversary is not in Mr. Ruskin's way." No; a noble adversary never was, never will be. With all that is noble I have been, and shall be, in perpetual peace, with all that is ignoble and false everlastingly at war. And as for these Scotch bourgeois gentilshommes with their "Tu n'as pas la patience que je pare," let them look to their fence. But truly, if they will tell me where Claude's strong points are, I will strike there, and be thankful.

[103] His first drawing master was, I believe, that Mr. Lowe, whose daughters, now aged and poor, have, it seems to me, some claim on public regard, being connected distantly with the memory of Johnson, and closely with that of Turner.

[104] Charlemagne and St. Louis.



I. Claude's Tree-drawing.

The reader may not improbably hear it said, by persons who are incapable of maintaining an honest argument, and therefore incapable of understanding or believing the honesty of an adversary, that I have caricatured, or unfairly chosen, the examples I give of the masters I depreciate. It is evident, in the first place, that I could not, if I were even cunningly disposed, adopt a worse policy than in so doing; for the discovery of caricature or falsity in my representations, would not only invalidate the immediate statement, but the whole book; and invalidate it in the most fatal way, by showing that all I had ever said about "truth" was hypocrisy, and that in my own affairs I expected to prevail by help of lies. Nevertheless it necessarily happens, that in endeavors to facsimile any work whatsoever, bad or good, some changes are induced from the exact aspect of the original. These changes are, of course, sometimes harmful, sometimes advantageous; the bad thing generally gains; the good thing always loses: so that I am continually tormented by finding, in my plates of contrasts, the virtue and vice I exactly wanted to talk about, eliminated from both examples. In some cases, however, the bad thing will lose also, and then I must either cancel the plate, or increase the cost of the work by preparing another (at a similar risk), or run the chance of incurring the charge of dishonest representation. I desire, therefore, very earnestly, and once for all, to have it understood that whatever I say in the text, bearing on questions of comparison, refers always to the original works; and that, if the reader has it in his power, I would far rather he should look at those works than334 at my plates of them; I only give the plates for his immediate help and convenience: and I mention this, with respect to my plate of Claude's ramification, because, if I have such a thing as a prejudice at all, (and, although I do not myself think I have, people certainly say so,) it is against Claude; and I might, therefore, be sooner suspected of some malice in this plate than in others. But I simply gave the original engravings from the Liber Veritatis to Mr. Le Keux, earnestly requesting that the portions selected might be faithfully copied; and I think he is much to be thanked for so carefully and successfully accomplishing the task. The figures are from the following plates:—

  No.1.Part of the central tree in No.134.of the Liber Veritatis.
  2.From the largest tree " 158. 
  3.Bushes at root of tree " 134. 
  4.Tree on the left " 183. 
  5.Tree on the left " 95.  
  6.Tree on the left " 72.  
  7.Principal tree " 92.  
  8.Tree on the right " 32.  

If, in fact, any change be effected in the examples in this plate, it is for the better; for, thus detached, they all look like small boughs, in which the faults are of little consequence; in the original works they are seen to be intended for large trunks of trees, and the errors are therefore pronounced on a much larger scale.

The plate of mediæval rocks (10.) has been executed with much less attention in transcript, because the points there to be illustrated were quite indisputable, and the instances were needed merely to show the kind of thing spoken of, not the skill of particular masters. The example from Leonardo was, however, somewhat carefully treated. Mr. Cuff copied it accurately from the only engraving of the picture which I believe exists, and with which, therefore, I suppose the world is generally content. That engraving, however, in no respect seems to me to give the look of the light behind Leonardo's rocks; so I afterwards darkened the rocks, and put some light into the sky and lily; and the effect is certainly more like that of the picture than it is in the same portion of the old engraving.

Of the other masters represented in the plates of this vol335ume, the noblest, Tintoret, has assuredly suffered the most (Plate 17.); first, in my too hasty drawing from the original, picture; and, secondly, through some accidental errors of outline which occurred in the reduction to the size of the page; lastly, and chiefly, in the withdrawal of the heads of the four figures underneath, in the shadow, on which the composition entirely depends. This last evil is unavoidable. It is quite impossible to make extracts from the great masters without partly spoiling every separated feature; the very essence of a noble composition being, that none should bear separation from the rest.

The plate from Raphael (11) is, I think, on the whole, satisfactory. It cost me much pains, as I had to facsimile the irregular form of every leaf; each being, in the original picture, executed with a somewhat wayward pencil-stroke of vivid brown on the clear sky.

Of the other plates it would be tedious to speak in detail. Generally, it will be found that I have taken most pains to do justice to the masters of whom I have to speak depreciatingly; and that, if there be calumny at all, it is always of Turner, rather than of Claude.

The reader might, however, perhaps suspect me of ill-will towards Constable, owing to my continually introducing him for depreciatory comparison. So far from this being the case, I had, as will be seen in various passages of the first volume, considerable respect for the feeling with which he worked; but I was compelled to do harsh justice upon him now, because Mr. Leslie, in his unadvised and unfortunate réchauffé of the fallacious art-maxims of the last century, has suffered his personal regard for Constable so far to prevail over his judgment as to bring him forward as a great artist, comparable in some kind with Turner. As Constable's reputation was, even before this, most mischievous, in giving countenance to the blotting and blundering of Modernism, I saw myself obliged, though unwillingly, to carry the suggested comparison thoroughly out.


II. German Philosophy.

The reader must have noticed that I never speak of German art, or German philosophy, but in depreciation. This, however, is not because I cannot feel, or would not acknowledge, the value and power, within certain limits, of both; but because I also feel that the immediate tendency of the English mind is to rate them too highly; and, therefore, it becomes a necessary task, at present, to mark what evil and weakness there are in them, rather than what good. I also am brought continually into collision with certain extravagances of the German mind, by my own steady pursuit of Naturalism as opposed to Idealism; and, therefore, I become unfortunately cognizant of the evil, rather than of the good; which evil, so far as I feel it, I am bound to declare. And it is not to the point to protest, as the Chevalier Bunsen and other German writers have done, against the expression of opinions respecting their philosophy by persons who have not profoundly or carefully studied it; for the very resolution to study any system of metaphysics profoundly, must be based, in any prudent man's mind, on some preconceived opinion of its worthiness to be studied; which opinion of German metaphysics the naturalistic English cannot be led to form. This is not to be murmured against,—it is in the simple necessity of things. Men who have other business on their hands must be content to choose what philosophy they have occasion for, by the sample; and when, glancing into the second volume of "Hippolytus," we find the Chevalier Bunsen himself talking of a "finite realization of the infinite" (a phrase considerably less rational than "a black realization of white"), and of a triad composed of God, Man, and Humanity[105] (which is a parallel thing to talking of a triad composed of man, dog, and canineness), knowing those expressions to be pure, definite, and highly finished nonsense, we do not in general trouble ourselves337 to look any farther. Some one will perhaps answer that if one always judged thus by the sample,—as, for instance, if one judged of Turner's pictures by the head of a figure cut out of one of them,—very precious things might often be despised. Not, I think, often. If any one went to Turner, expecting to learn figure-drawing from him, the sample of his figure-drawing would accurately and justly inform him that he had come to the wrong master. But if he came to be taught landscape, the smallest fragment of Turner's work would justly exemplify his power. It may sometimes unluckily happen that, in such short trial, we strike upon an accidentally failing part of the thing to be tried, and then we may be unjust; but there is, nevertheless, in multitudes of cases, no other way of judging or acting; and the necessity of occasionally being unjust is a law of life,—like that of sometimes stumbling, or being sick. It will not do to walk at snail's pace all our lives for fear of stumbling, nor to spend years in the investigation of everything which, by specimen, we must condemn. He who seizes all that he plainly discerns to be valuable, and never is unjust but when he honestly cannot help it, will soon be enviable in his possessions, and venerable in his equity.

Nor can I think that the risk of loss is great in the matter under discussion. I have often been told that any one who will read Kant, Strauss, and the rest of the German metaphysicians and divines, resolutely through, and give his whole strength to the study of them, will, after ten or twelve years' labor, discover that there is very little harm in them; and this I can well believe; but I believe also that the ten or twelve years may be better spent; and that any man who honestly wants philosophy not for show, but for use, and knowing the Proverbs of Solomon, can, by way of Commentary, afford to buy, in convenient editions, Plato, Bacon, Wordsworth, Carlyle, and Helps, will find that he has got as much as will be sufficient for him and his household during life, and of as good quality as need be.

It is also often declared necessary to study the German controversialists, because the grounds of religion "must be inquired into." I am sorry to hear they have not been inquired into yet; but if it be so, there are two ways of pursuing that inquiry: one for scholarly men, who have leisure on their hands, by read338ing all that they have time to read, for and against, and arming themselves at all points for controversy with all persons; the other,—a shorter and simpler way,—for busy and practical men, who want merely to find out how to live and die. Now for the learned and leisurely men I am not writing; they know what and how to read better than I can tell them. For simple and busy men, concerned much with art, which is eminently a practical matter, and fatigues the eyes, so as to render much reading inexpedient, I am writing; and such men I do, to the utmost of my power, dissuade from meddling with German books; not because I fear inquiry into the grounds of religion, but because the only inquiry which is possible to them must be conducted in a totally different way. They have been brought up as Christians, and doubt if they should remain Christians. They cannot ascertain, by investigation, if the Bible be true; but if it be, and Christ ever existed, and was God, then, certainly, the Sermon which He has permitted for 1800 years to stand recorded as first of all His own teaching in the New Testament, must be true. Let them take that Sermon and give it fair practical trial: act out every verse of it, with no quibbling or explaining away, except the reduction of such evidently metaphorical expressions as "cut off thy foot," "pluck the beam out of thine eye," to their effectively practical sense. Let them act out, or obey, every verse literally for a whole year, so far as they can,—a year being little enough time to give to an inquiry into religion; and if, at the end of the year, they are not satisfied, and still need to prosecute the inquiry, let them try the German system if they choose.

III. Plagiarism.

Some time after I had written the concluding chapter of this work, the interesting and powerful poems of Emerson were brought under my notice by one of the members of my class at the Working Men's College. There is much in some of these poems so like parts of the chapter in question, even in turn of expression, that though I do not usually care to justify myself339 from the charge of plagiarism, I felt that a few words were necessary in this instance.

I do not, as aforesaid, justify myself, in general, because I know there is internal evidence in my work of its originality, if people care to examine it; and if they do not, or have not skill enough to know genuine from borrowed work, my simple assertion would not convince them, especially as the charge of plagiarism is hardly ever made but by plagiarists, and persons of the unhappy class who do not believe in honesty but on evidence. Nevertheless, as my work is so much out of doors, and among pictures, that I have time to read few modern books, and am therefore in more danger than most people of repeating, as if it were new, what others have said, it may be well to note, once for all, that any such apparent plagiarism results in fact from my writings being more original than I wish them to be, from my having worked out my whole subject in unavoidable, but to myself hurtful, ignorance of the labors of others. On the other hand, I should be very sorry if I had not been continually taught and influenced by the writers whom I love; and am quite unable to say to what extent my thoughts have been guided by Wordsworth, Carlyle, and Helps; to whom (with Dante and George Herbert, in olden time) I owe more than to any other writers;—most of all, perhaps, to Carlyle, whom I read so constantly, that, without wilfully setting myself to imitate him, I find myself perpetually falling into his modes of expression, and saying many things in a "quite other," and, I hope, stronger, way, than I should have adopted some years ago; as also there are things which I hope are said more clearly and simply than before, owing to the influence upon me of the beautiful quiet English of Helps. It would be both foolish and wrong to struggle to cast off influences of this kind; for they consist mainly in a real and healthy help;—the master, in writing as in painting, showing certain methods of language which it would be ridiculous, and even affected, not to employ, when once shown; just as it would have been ridiculous in Bonifacio to refuse to employ Titian's way of laying on color, if he felt it the best, because he had not himself discovered it. There is all the difference in the world between this receiving of guidance, or allowing of influence, and wilful imitation, much more, plagia340rism; nay, the guidance may even innocently reach into local tones of thought, and must do so to some extent; so that I find Carlyle's stronger thinking coloring mine continually; and should be very sorry if I did not; otherwise I should have read him to little purpose. But what I have of my own is still all there, and, I believe, better brought out, by far, than it would have been otherwise. Thus, if we glance over the wit and satire of the popular writers of the day, we shall find that the manner of it, so far as it is distinctive, is always owing to Dickens; and that out of his first exquisite ironies branched innumerable other forms of wit, varying with the disposition of the writers; original in the matter and substance of them, yet never to have been expressed as they now are, but for Dickens.

Many people will suppose that for several ideas in the chapters on Landscape I was indebted to Humboldt's Kosmos, and Howitt's Rural Scenery. I am indebted to Mr. Howitt's book for much pleasure, but for no suggestion, as it was not put into my hands till the chapters in question were in type. I wish it had been; as I should have been glad to have taken farther note on the landscape of Theocritus, on which Mr. Howitt dwells with just delight. Other parts of the book will be found very suggestive and helpful to the reader who cares to pursue the subject. Of Humboldt's Kosmos I heard much talk when it first came out, and looked through it cursorily; but thinking it contained no material (connected with my subject)[106] which I had not already possessed myself of, I have never since referred to the work. I may be mistaken in my estimate of it, but certainly owe it absolutely nothing.

It is also often said that I borrow from Pugin. I glanced at Pugin's Contrasts once, in the Oxford architectural reading-room, during an idle forenoon. His "Remarks on Articles in the Rambler" were brought under my notice by some of the reviews. I never read a word of any other of his works, not feeling, from the style of his architecture, the smallest interest in his opinions.

I have so often spoken, in the preceding pages, of Holman Hunt's picture of the Light of the World, that I may as well, in341 this place, glance at the envious charge against it, of being plagiarized from a German print.

It is indeed true that there was a painting of the subject before; and there were, of course, no paintings of the Nativity before Raphael's time, nor of the Last Supper before Leonardo's, else those masters could have laid no claim to originality. But what was still more singular (the verse to be illustrated being, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock"), the principal figure in the antecedent picture was knocking at a door, knocked with its right hand, and had its face turned to the spectator! Nay, it was even robed in a long robe, down to its feet. All these circumstances were the same in Mr. Hunt's picture; and as the chances evidently were a hundred to one that if he had not been helped to the ideas by the German artist, he would have represented the figure as not knocking at any door, as turning its back to the spectator, and as dressed in a short robe, the plagiarism was considered as demonstrated. Of course no defence is possible in such a case. All I can say is, that I shall be sincerely grateful to any unconscientious persons who will adapt a few more German prints in the same manner.

Finally, touching plagiarism in general, it is to be remembered that all men who have sense and feeling are being continually helped: they are taught by every person whom they meet, and enriched by everything that falls in their way. The greatest is he who has been oftenest aided; and, if the attainments of all human minds could be traced to their real sources, it would be found that the world had been laid most under contribution by the men of most original power, and that every day of their existence deepened their debt to their race, while it enlarged their gifts to it. The labor devoted to trace the origin of any thought, or any invention, will usually issue in the blank conclusion that there is nothing new under the sun; yet nothing that is truly great can ever be altogether borrowed; and he is commonly the wisest, and is always the happiest, who receives simply, and without envious question, whatever good is offered him, with thanks to its immediate giver.

[105] I am truly sorry to have introduced such words in an apparently irreverent way. But it would be a guilty reverence which prevented us from exposing fallacy, precisely where fallacy was most dangerous, and shrank from unveiling an error, just because that error existed in parlance respecting the most solemn subjects to which it could possibly be attached.

[106] See the Fourth Volume.

Typographical changes to the original work are as follows:

Minor punctuation (.,;'") changes have been made without annotation.

pg 242 paus/pause: Matilda pause where ...
pg 277 charater/character: the character of this ...
pg 330 cloads/clouds: clouds of rage ...

Plate 10 Added missing reference numbers (4, 5, 6).