Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

petty distinctions of language, and phantom forms of thought. Many artistic loves and dearly cherished maxims, the furnace of future discovery will melt into slag, and much “precious ore ” will vanish in smoke.

Matter and spirit are one and coeval, the envelope and letter, - the visible and invisible, — the real and ideal, — infinite in expansion and contraction, — natural and supernatural. Evil, poison, pain, darkness, death, matter, are the negative poles of the Kosmos; good, food, pleasure, light, life, and spirit, are the positive. All existence is good and evil relatively (not absolutely) in endless series and appearances. That repulsive, putrescent carcass you saw yesterday, is to-day a beauteous flower exhaling celestial perfume to the refined nostrils of the loveliest lady in the land I* Inspiration and respiration, diastole and systole, in a healthy organism ; love and hate, reason and passion, in a well civilized man or woman; day and night ; ebb and flow of tide ; attraction and repulsion — are all old illustrations of the gentle harmony of relative and rival forces. Nature is a beautiful and perfect unit that seems involved in perpetual contradiction. There is an amorous wooing in the commonest chemicals,- a deadly hatred also. Nux vomica is both good and bad for the nerves. The idiot is a distant cousin of the genius. The stars are as much below as above us. Here is a celibate, there is a polygamist, each in sincere ignorance despising the other. The moralist and murderer are not infrequently born of the same parents. Carrion is a wholesome luxury to the buzzard and crow. The glutton dies from excess of food, the pauper from want of it. The good, the great, and the famous of earth mix their lifeless bodies with those of the evil, poor, and unknown. In Heaven, God and Satan go to war. Flowers have love and hate, as well as sex, and are not deprived of language because they are silent. Everything has its complement, every fact its contradiction, every virtue its vice. The law of gravitation is a manysided truth subject to the modifying influence of minerals, gases, electricity, magnetism and mind; it is apparently negatived by the conjunction of load stone and steel, by capillary attraction, by the meteor and comet, by the mysterious cohesion of a dew-drop under the point of a blade of grass, and by the divine apprehension of its illustrious discoverer. But let us not be tricked by half-truths into pessimism and gloom. We may look back of man's notions and laws, until we see that all malice and all murder is the offspring of disease and ignorance: that meteors, earthquakes, cyclones, comets, plagues and explosions, are true to law, and that there is nowhere room for chaos. Who doubts that the inner horizon stretches wider and concentrates finer than the outer ?

The spirit is the ocean ; the individual is a drop of its water, boundless in accretion and division, --- of all temperatures and times, of sleet, snow, frost, hail, dew, mist, rain, river, lake, spring, of all the kingdoms, soft in zephyrs, furious in cyclones, black in storm-clouds, beautiful in rainbows

* Whether or not the carcass may be strictly said to be transformed or metamorphosed into the flower, is perhaps an open question. It has long been known, however, that the vegetable kingdom attains to a sort of retort courteous by feeding in its turn upon the animal kingdom. This fact is noticed by Victor Hugo in “L'Homme Qui Rit," and by Shakespeare in the passage.

“Lay her i' the earth ; And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring."

(Ed.) 1 There are probably fow to-day, save the most hide-bound dogmatists, who believe in a warlike God. Milton's “Paradise Lost," to be sure, contains such a God, and the Bible (Exod. xv. 3.) says ; "The Lord is a man of war," but then, as aganist this testimony we have, on the one hand, the Bible (I. Cor. xIv 33.) “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace;' and on the other, the even less fallible testimony of the human soul.

(Ed.)

and ethereal curtains of moon-lit fleece! Still does our poor, mundane analogy pale and grow dim before the eternal Absolute! Yet, howsoever faintly to recognize that we are fractions of the Universal, sweeping sublimely onward in countless incarnations through innumerable worlds, with innate power to change the conditions of our homes, — to advance or retrograde to eternally will our own estate, is to me a luminous revelation of this wondrous soul.

You would have a better and purer state of existence not here but hereafter? Be not blinded! The wriggling worm is not doomed to bear the infirmity and sin of your departed spirit; you will carry your real self with you; and what you are now, and what you are striving to become on earth, is the prophecy of what you will be in another life. Every seraph must grow its own wings, every soul gravitate in its own sphere.

(To be continued.)

THE ETHICS OF BEAUTY.

Part Second.

APPLIED PRINCIPLES.

• We are seekers after something in the world, which is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all.”

So speaks Shorthouse in his most recent work, and the utterance expresses the disappointment of a universal experience. But in delivering his message more fully he also points to a source of partial relief. He says of one of his characters :

“ The existence of beauty was to him a safeguard and an asylum from the attacks of Satan and of doubt. It led him to a Father in Heaven. To him the long range of white summits were indeed the heavenly Beulah. Every lovely chord, or sunset, or mountain rill, or rocky valley, assured him of a higher life ; and, safe in this fairy land, he could defy the distraeting sights of evil, or the insinuating whispers of doubt.”

Such is beauty to every clear and sensitive soul; and to discover it in various lands, and under diverse aspects, is a work of interest which it is hoped this, and a succeeding article, may do something towards accomplishing

Among the ancient Hebrews beauty must be studied chiefly in the guise of poetry, the plastic arts having been avoided in obedience to religious precept, or at least hampered in their development, and their scope limited to that of certain ceremonial adjuncts.

Music, too, although not unpractised by them, was simply a ritualistic aid. Now while the arts can serve their nobler selves in no truer way than as exponents of religion, they should not be employed in any one direction, nor used solely for one end. Thus treated, an art becomes moribund. Its neglected phases cease to exist, and even the fostered ones lose their vitality and symmetry. The religious expressions of arts are always fuller, always loftier, when the art is allowed free growth in all its branches, and each of them is awarded thorough appreciation. And so it will not be profitable to search for the specific Hebraic interpretation of beauty elsewhere than in poetry; but there the reward is abundant, the depth and richness of its rhythmic literature opening vistas of infinity.

Before comparing the literature of the Hebrews with any of the other great national incarnations of beauty, let it be understood that the question of inspiration, in the theological sense, does not enter into an enquiry whose sole object is to ascertain racial conceptions of the beautiful, and their relative ethical values. Neither is the examination pursued with any desire to deny the supremely spiritual and inspirational character of certain books.

The prophetic power of the most illustrious Hebrews gives them also the poetic glory - and almost of necessity, for the union of the two gifts is real, and very close, however subtle the nature of the connection may be.

. Now, as of old, the poet and prophet are one; but, in the ancient combination, the prophet was paramount, while in the modern the poet dominates. The prophetic chant is heard through all the music of the Laureate's lines. It forms the ground-swell of his songs, and its impulse surges through, and thrills them with its might. He is the poet, and his prophecies are born of the high quality of his poetic gift, while the singing seers of Israel are prophets first, and poets in their prophecy. Isaiah is the prophetpoet; Tennyson, the poet-prophet; and both present the truth through beauty.

The most sublime and most faithful, the deepest and highest, the tenderest and strongest translations of beauty in the Old Testament are the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Job and the Psalms.

For sustained power and uniform eloquence, combining inexhaustible sweetness, piercing penetration, and majestic,-almost inconceivable,-spiritual soarings, Isaiah is unapproachable. In isolated episodes, and occasional deliverances of revelation, the book of Ezekiel reaches an almost equal height, certain chapters containing marvelous symbolism, being condensed, pregnant, seemingly unfathomable, yet lustrous with transcendent truth.

The most elevated dramatic allegory in this literature — with the exception of the exquisite metaphorical story told in the opening of Genesis — is the book of Job. The communion of the patriarch with deific and satanic forces is described in much the same actualized fashion observable in Milton's report of the utterances of devils, men and angels ; what may be called “the prologue in heaven” being wonderfully and intensely realistic. This work abounds in searching metaphysical enquiries, treated with amplitude and acumen, while the certitude of the prophetic strains, and the triumphant outbursts of the poetic spirit enthrall the mind of the student.

These Eastern singers, like the Northern Ossian, and the Western Walt Whitman, discard the forms of strict versification ; and, whether the result is thought to be a gain in freedom, or a mutilation of grace, it is indisputable that grandeur is achieved. Ideas of limitless scope can be less inadequately dealt with, and the results of passionate thoroughness more easily utilized, when the cramp-irons of inevitable rhyhme are removed.

This relaxation of poetic, or rather versifying laws, is also noticeable in the work of Israel's royal bard, in whom the poet so frequently tempers the prophet. His rhythm is neither rigid nor formal, although it is more measured and positive than that of the three writers already discussed.

In relation to the thought, — souls animating the sound-forms of the Psalms, - the two-fold soil in which it germinates is worthy of attention. On the nature-side of King David's interpretative power, he has been summarized more sympathetically, and therefore more justly, by Saint Augustine than by the materialistic analyses of more modern critics. The high priesthood of nature was never more vividly delineated than in the following reference to the exquisiteness of this poetry which, says the Bishop of Hippo, “Shuts away the curtains of the skies, and approaches, boldly but meekly, into the presence of Him who dwells in boundless and inaccessible majesty.” In his knowledge of human nature David is no less profound, the undying aspiration, the anguish and despair, the exaltation of the universal heart ringing through his melodious speech.

For the purpose of studying beauty among the Hebrews, or among any people, only their divinest productions should be selected, and certainly these four books are the noblest of the Old Testament Scriptures. They will endure the tests, and will deserve the title of ethical beauty, spiritual dominance, strength, purity, sincerity, tenderness, transparence and compassion, dwelling in, and radiating from, every phase of thought. The people who can claim such master-pieces as part of their national heritage are rich indeed, for the literature is supreme among ethics' artistic expressions of beauty.

Among the Greeks of old, beauty flourished in more directions, and was more widely worshiped than with other peoples, or in more modern times. But, in searching for incarnations of beauty which indicate its ethical source, the art of Greece must be drawn upon with discrimination, and only its spiritually significant phases selected. For this purpose its architecture is not preëminently valuable, and it is, therefore, omitted from the present survey. The human body in its highest stage of development belongs to Greece; and the arts reflecting man's physical perfection, and revealing his mind and spirit, bear ineffaceable traces of the glories and mysteries of their ideal. The bodily presence of the Greeks, their sculpture and their poetry, are the Hellenic mediums of ethical beauty. Painting, indeed, was evolved by them, but it never reached the plenitude of power, nor showed the depth of divination which it afterwards manifested during the renaissance of Italy, and other parts of Europe.

No such flesh-and-blood loveliness as was possessed by the Greeks has ever been the portion of other races. It is

easy

to understand their worship of demi-gods, when their supreme types of symmetry, grace, and energy are revealed ; and the moral lessons of fortitude, self-restraint, and the rest of the disciplinary virtues which so greatly aid in molding such forms - almost superhuman in their beauty — are never valueless to mankind.

In the art of Phidias the highest inspiration of Greek sculpture is found. What Sanzio is to Italian painting, Phidias is to the other sculptors of his people ;-the most many-gifted interpreter of beauty; the most widely synpathetic and complexly sensitive of those artists who impart a soul to stone; who dream of things ineffable, and straightway, the marble speaks of things unspeakable by mortal tongue; who catch a ray of truth divine, and make it light the paths of men.

The mind and methods of Lysippas may be advantageously studied in the creations of his pupils, two of which, the “ Dying Gladiator,” and the “Laocoon,” such multitudes of travelers have had opportunity to see.

The sorrowful side of the meaning of life is portrayed in them.

Struggle and anguish, molded into beauty by endurance and resignation, are the elements of imperishable pathos, which have stirred the tears and shaken the hearts of the generations who have gazed upon the “Dying G'adiator."

Of the “ Marble Prophecy — to quote Doctor Holland - it is wellnigh impossible to speak with exaggeration. That aspect of humanity which presents itself in a valiantly hopeless struggle with an all-devouring fate; and the individual soul combating with despair, yet dauntlessly, the hissing, twining foe, are each revealed in the immortal agony and immutable courage of this master-piece. That man undergoes this torture and perpetually revolts from it, protesting with all the force of body, soul and spirit against its infliction, is a truth. The apparent power of circumstances to crush, the powerlessness of effort, the blank misery of seeing achievements disintegrate until they appear illusions; the stern determination to resist to the uttermost the seeming omnipotence of environment, are all phases of the evolution of the race and the individual. They are usually experienced with intensity when the existence of naught but matter, and its all-sufferance, are the dominant doctrines of an age. Such theories have strenuously exerted their malevolent strength during the last half century, and they can count a host of victims. In such an epoch, a work like the "Laocoon" is preëminently a noble and instructive lesson. That materialism is not now the prevailing creed that it justly claimed to be until quite recent years, is due to a birth of special forces, and not the less imperativi is the message of this heroic group. The need for dauntlessness has not banished because despair has fled ; hope, replacing hopelessness, still needs the aid of courage : — and resistance to evil must last until evi) has ceased to be, or has become good.

In the poetry of Greece the profoundest ethics are found; although, as is also the case in the types of sculpture just scanned, it deals oftener with the grandeur and awfulness of beauty than with its tenderness, or softer side. Its lights are fierce and splendid ; its chords are tense with striving ; its very sweetness is solemn; its grace is veiled with majesty. But beauty is there and is its glorious self. It wears the diadem of stars, and the sea rolls beneath its feet. The heart of love beats on eternally. The purple robe is worn with royal dignity; the hand of power is outstretched to lift and save the world ; in the high teaching of its word, God speaks to man ; through its illumined face there shines the face of God.

To have learned the lessons of the human beauty of the Greeks, of their noblest sculpture, of their divinest poets, is to have garnered a threefold ethical blessing; nay more a very universe of ethical truths and treasures.

It is needless to dwell on the Romans as beauty-lovers, and creators, for their art was borrowed, rather than original ; and they were oftener revelers in the gorgeous, than devotees of the beautiful. The one branch of art in which they possessed exponents of primary inspiration was literature, and a large number of the great Roman writers have been equalled since in some important particulars. Their one transcendent benefaction to the world — the science of jurisprudence, can scarcely be held amenable to the laws of beauty.

A much more valuable subject for this analysis is to be found in the mental progress of the Italians from the thirteenth century until now. The effulgence of such names as Alighieri, Sanzio and Buonarotti pales even genius, when less than itself, and in their full-orbed blaze the

rays

of fainter luminaries may also offer up the secrets of their light.

The most striking aspects of the Italian conception of life and beauty, during the beginning of the period called “modern times,” are presented

« AnteriorContinuar »