Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

run into the other extreme, and substitute equivalent thoughts and phrases, till hardly any features of the original remain. The metaphors of figures, especially in poetry, ought to be as religious. ly preserved as the images of painting, which we cannot alter or exchange without destroying, or injuring at least, the character and style of the original.

In this manner the preceptor will sow the seeds of that taste, which will soon germinate, rise, blossom, and produce perfect fruit, by dint of future care and cultivation. In order to restrain the luxuriancy of the young imagination, which is apt to run riot, to enlarge the stock of ideas, exercise the reason, and ripen the judgment, the pupil must be engaged in the severer study of science. He must learn geometry, which Plato recommends for strengthening the mind, and enabling it to think with precision. He must be made acquainted with geography and chronology, and trace philosophy through all her branches. Without geography and chronology, he will not be able to acquire a distinct idea of history; nor judge of the propriety of many interesting scenes, and a thousand allusions that present themselves in the works of genius. Nothing opens the mind so much as the researches of philosophy; they inspire us with sublime conceptions of the Creator, and subject, as it were, all nature to our command. These bestow that liberal turn of thinking, and in a great measure contribute to that universality in learning, by which a man of taste ought to be eminently distinguished. But history is the inexhanstible source from which he will derive his most useful knowledge respecting the progress of the human mind, the constitution of government, the rise and decline of empires, the revolution of arts, the variety of character, and the vicissitudes of fortune.

The knowledge of history enables the poet not only to paint characters, but also to describe magnificent and interesting scenes of battle and adventure. Not that the poet or painter ought to be restrained to the letter of historical truth. History represents what has really happened in nature; the other arts exhibit what might have happened, with such exaggeration of circumstance and feature, as may be deemed an improvement on nature: but this exaggeration must not be carried beyond the bounds of probability; and these, generally speaking, the knowledge of history will ascertain. It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find a man actually existing, whose proportions should answer to those of the Greek statue distinguished by the name of the Apollo of Belvedere; or to produce a woman similar in proportion of parts to the other celebrated piece called the Venus de Medicis: therefore it may be truly affirmed, that they are not conformable to the real standard of nature; nevertheless, every artist will own that they are the very archetypes of grace, elegance, and symmetry; and every judging eye must behold them with admiration, as improvements on the lines and lineaments of nature. The truth is, the sculptor or statuary composed the various proportions in nature from a great number of different subjects, every individual of which he found imperfect or defective in some one particular, though beautiful in all the rest; and from these observations, corroborated by taste and judgment, he formed an ideal pattern, according to which his idea was modelled, and produced in execution.

Every body knows the story of Zeuxis, the famous painter of Heraclea, who, according to Pliny, invented the chiaro oscuro, or disposition of light and shade, among the ancients, and excelled all his contemporaries in the chromatique, or art of coloring This great artist being employed to draw a perfect beauty in the character of Helen to be placed in the temple of Juno, culled out five of the most beautiful damsels the city could produce, and selecting what was excellent in each, combined them in one picture according to the predisposition of his fancy, so that it shone forth an

[ocr errors]

amazing model of perfection.* In like manner, every man of genius, regulated by true taste, entertains in his imagination an ideal beauty, conceived and cultivated as an improvement upon nature; and this we refer to the article of invention.

It is the business of art to imitate nature, but not with a serrile pencil; and to choose those attitudes and dispositions only, which are beautiful and engaging. With this view, we must avoid all disagreeable prospects of nature, which excite the ideas of abhorrence and disgust. For example, a painter would not find his account in exhibiting the resemblance of a dead carcase half consumed by vermin, or of swine wallowing in ordure, or of a beggar lousing himself on a dunghill, though these scenes should be painted never so naturally, and all the world must allow that the scenes were taken from nature; because the merit of the imitation would be greatly over balanced by the vile choice of the artist. There are, nevertheless, many scenes of horror, which please in the representation, from a certain interesting greatness, which we shall endeavor to explain when we come to consider the sublime.

Were we to judge every production by the rigorous rules of gature, we should reject the Iliad of Homer, the Æneid of Virgil, and every celebrated tragedy of antiquity and the present times, because there is no such thing in nature as a Hector or Turnus talking in hexameter, or an Othello in blank verse: we should condemn the Hercules of Sophocles, and the Miser of Molière, because we never knew a hero so strong as the one, or a wretch so sordid as the other. But if we consider poetry as an

* “Præbete igitur mihi quæso, inquit, ex istis virginibus formosissimas, dum pingo id quod pollicitus sum vobis, ut mutum in simulacrum ex animali exemplo veritas transferatur. Ne autem quinque delegit. Neque enim putavit om. nia, quæ quæreret ad venustatem, uno in corpore se reperire posse ; ideo quod nihil simplici in genere omnibus ex pa tibus perfectum natura expol vit ".--Cic. lib ii. de Inv. cap. I.

elevation of natural dialogue, as a delightful vehicle for convey ing the noblest sentiments of heroism and patriot virtue, to regale the sense with the sounds of musical expression, while the fancy is ravished with enchanting images, and the heart warmed to rapture and ecstasy, we must allow that poetry is a perfection to which nature would gladly aspire; and that though it surpasses, it does not deviate from her, provided the characters are marked with propriety, and sustained by genius. Characters, , therefore, both in poetry and painting, may be a little overcharged or exaggerated without offering violence to nature; nay, they must be exaggerated in order to be striking, and to preserve the idea of imitation, whence the reader and spectator derive in many instances their chief delight If we meet a common acquaintance in the street, we see him without emotion; but should we chance to spy his portrait well executed, we are struck with pleasing admiration. In this case the pleasure arises entirely from the imitation. We every day hear unmoved the natives of Ireland and Scotland speaking their own dialects; but should an Englishman mimic either, we are apt to burst out into a loud laugh of applause, being surprised and tickled by the imitation alone; though at the same time, we cannot but allow that the imitation is imperfect. We are more affected by reading Shakspeare's description of Dover Cliff,* and Otway's picture of the Old Hag,† than we should be were we actually placed on the

* (See Lear, act iv. sc. 6.]

+ [Hell she ador'd, and Satan was her God;

And many an ugly loathsome toad

Crawl'd round her walls, and croak’d.
Under her roof all dismal, black and smokid,

Harbor'd beetles, and unwholesome bats,

Sprawling nesta of little cats ;
All which were imps she cherish'd with her blood,

To make her spells succeed and good.
Still at her shrivelld breasts they hung, whene'er mankind she curst
And with these foster brethren was our monster nurst.

The Poet's Conplaint.)

summit of the one, or met in reality with such a beldame as the other; because in reading these descriptions we refer to our own experience, and perceive with surprise the justness of the imitations. But if it is so close as to be mistaken for nature, the pleasure then will cease, because the piunois or imitation no longer appears.

Aristotle says, that all poetry and music is imitation,* whether epic, tragic, or comic, whether vocal or instrumental, from the pipe to the lyre. He observes, that in man there is a propensity to imitate even from his infancy: that the first perceptions of the mind are acquired by imitation; and seems to think, that the pleasure derived from imitation is the gratification of an appetite implanted by nature. We should rather think the pleasure it gives arises from the mind's contemplating that excel. lency of art, which thus rivals nature, and seems to vie with her in creating such a striking resemblance of her works. Thus the arts may be justly termed imitative, even in the article of inven tion : for in forming a character, contriving an incident, and describing a scene, he must still keep nature in view, and refer every particular of his invention to her standard; otherwise his production will be destitute of truth and probability, without which the beauties of imitation cannot subsist. It will be a monster of incongruity, such as Horace alludes to, in the begin ning of his Epistle to the Pisos :

[merged small][ocr errors]

• Εποποιεα δη και η της τραγωδίας ποίησις, έτι δε κωμωδία και η διθυραμβοποιητική, και της αύλιτικής και πλείση και κιθαριστικής πάσαι στoγχανουσιν ούσαι είμής εις το συνόλον. .

« ZurückWeiter »