« AnteriorContinuar »
class, or habitually choose the evil and leave the good; but there is, nevertheless, a strango 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.
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 endeavour 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 endeavour 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 naive, and 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 the 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.
Let us take one or two instances in order clearly to explain our meaning.
The life of Angelico was almost entirely spent in the endeavour 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 colour, 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; 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.
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 not conceive wickedness, coarseness, or baseness; every one of his figures looks as if it had been copied from some creature who had never harboured an unkind thought, or permitted itself in an ignoble action. With this intense 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 endeavour 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 honour. 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 gTace can never be attained without much definite falsification as well as omission; stones, over which we cannot stumble, must be ill-drawn
2 Thomas Stothard (1755-1834). best known perhaps for his painting of the "Canterbury Pilgrims."
atones; 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 endeavour 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.
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 drawing-room. He had been travelling in Italy, and had brought home a portfolio of sketches remarkable alike 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 Badicofani,s the pestilent gloom of the Pontines,* and the boundless despondency of the Campagna5 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 peasantgirl 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
i A town In the province of Siena. Italy, situated on a hill at the foot of a basaltic rock.
* A marshy region In central Italy.
s The Roman Campagna. In his preface to the second edition of the first volume of Modern Paintem, Rusktn has a remarkable description of this "wild and wasted plain."
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 stormclouds, 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 unheeded, and the mists of the Apennines spread their blue veils in vain.
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 preI tended 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 labour 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.
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 I 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-Kaphaelite 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 colour with a large brush, and surrounding dashes of flake 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.* (To one, it is ten years of years.
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
OA Swiss-English painter and art-critic (17411825). He had a powerful but ill-regulated fancy, being both a fantastic designer and a reckless colorlst. Perhaps Kuskin means something like this by calling him "fumigatory," but his meaning is not very clear.
: The movement led by Rossctti. Mlllals, and Hunt. See Eng. Lit., pp. 809, .370. Holman Hunt's well-known "Light of the World" (now at Keble College, Oxford) Is a painting representing Christ, with a lantern In his hand, standing at a door and knocking.
s "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."—Ruskln's note.
contrary, less than his fellows, and in always striving, Bo far as he can find it in his heart, to extend his delicate narrowness toward 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, anil 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 pseudoreligious 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.
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI
THE BLESSED DAMOZEL*
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven;
Of waters stilled at even;
And the stars in her hair were seven. 6
. . . Yet now, and in this place, Surely she leaned o'er me—her hair
Fell all about my face. . . . Nothing: the autumn fall of leaves.
The whole year sets apace.) 2*
It was the rampart of God's house
That she was standing on;
The which is Space begun;
She scarce could see the sun. 30
It lies in Heaven, across the flood
Of ether, as a bridge.
With flame and darkness ridge
Spins like a fretful midge. 86
Around her, lovers, newly met
'Mid deathless love's acclaims, Spoke evermore among themselves
Their heart-remembered names; And the souls mounting up to God
Went by her like thin flames. 42
And still she bowed herself and stooped
Out of the circling charm;
The bar she leaned on warm,
Along her bended arm. 4i>
From the fixed place of Heaven she saw-
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove
Its path; and now she spoke as when
The stars sang in their spheres. 54
The sun was gone now; the curled moon
Was like a little feather
She spoke through the still weather.
Had when they sang together. 60
(Ah sweet! Even now, in that bird's song,
Strove not her accents there,
Possessed the mid-day air,
Down all the echoing stair f) 66
"I wish that he were come to me,
"Have I not prayed in Heaven?—on earth,
Lord, Lord, has he not prayed J
And shall I feel afraid? 72
"When round his head the aureole clings.
And he is clothed in white,
To the deep wells of light;
And bathe there in God's sight. <8
"We two will stand beside that shrine.
Occult, withheld, untrod,
With prayer sent up to God;
Each like a little cloud. S4
'' We two will lie i' the shadow of
That living mystic tree
Is sometimes felt to be,
Saith His Name audibly. »0
"And I myself will teach to him,
I myself, lying so,
Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
Or some new thing to know.'' 96
(Alas! We two, we two, thou say'st!
Yea, one wast thou with me
To endless unity
Was but its love for thee?) 102
"We two," she said, "will seek the groves
Where the lady Mary is.
Are five sweet symphonies,
Margaret and Bosalys. 108
'' Circlewise sit they, with bound locks
And foreheads garlanded;
Weaving the golden thread.
Who are just born, being dead. 114
"He shall fear, haply, and be dumb:
1 The Dove typifies the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
'' Herself shall bring us, hand in hand.
To Him round whom all souls
Bowed with their aureoles;
To their citherns and citoles. 126
'' There will I ask of Christ the Lord
Thus much for him and me:—
With Love, only to be,
Together, I and he." 132
She gazed and listened and then said,
Less sad of speech than mild,— '' All this is when he comes.'' She ceased.
The light thrilled towards her, filled With angels in strong level flight.
Her eyes prayed, and Bhe smiled. 138
(I saw her smile.) But soon their path
Was vague in distant spheres:
The golden barriers,
And wept. (I heard her tears.) m
"Why did you melt your waxen man,
Sister Helen! To-day is the third since you began." '' The time was long, yet the time ran, Little brother." (0 Mother, Mary Mother, Three days to-day, between Hell and Heaven!)
"But if you have done your work aright,
Sister Helen, You'll let me play, for you said I might." 10 "Be very still in your play to-night,
Little brother." (0 Mother, Mary Mother,
* This ballad Is founded on an old superstition. Hollnshed, tor example, tells a story of an attempt upon the life of King Duffe—how certain soldiers breaking Into a bouse, "found one of the witches roasting upon a wooden broach an image of wax at the fire, resembling in each feature the king's person, . . . by the which means it should have come to pass that when the wax was once clean consumed, the death of tbe king should Immediately follow."
Third night, to-night, between Hell and Heaven!)
'' You said it must melt ere vesper-bell, Sister Helen; If now it be molten, all is well." '' Even so,—nay, peace! you cannot tell, Little brother." (O Mother, Mary Mother, 20 O what is this, between Hell and Heaven.')
'' Oh the waxen knave was plump to-day, Sister Helen; How like dead folk he has dropped away!" '' Nay now, of the dead what can you say, Little brother!" (O Mother, Mary Mother, What of the dead, between Hell and Heaven?)
"See, see, the sunken pile of wood,
Sister Helen, 30 Shines through the thinned wax red as blood!" "Nay now, when looked you yet on blood, Little brother!" (0 Mother, Mary Mother, How pale she is, between Hell and Heaven!)
"Now close your eyes, for they're sick and
sore' Sister Helen,
And I '11 play without the gallery door.' * '' Aye, let me rest,—I '11 lie on the floor,
Little brother." 40 (O Mother, Mary Mother, What rest to-night, between Hell and Heaven?)
"Here high up in the balcony,
Sister Helen, The moon flies face to face with me." "Aye, look and say whatever you see, Little brother." (0 Mother, Mary Mother, What sight to-night, between Hell and Heaven?)
'' Outside it's merry in the wind'a wake, 50
Sister Helen; In the shaken trees the chill stars shake." '' Hush, heard you a horse-tread as you spake, Little brother!" (0 Mother, Mary Mother, What sound to-night, between Hell and Heaven?)
'' I hear a horse-tread, and I see,
Sister Helen, [Three horsemen that ride terribly."