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with meaning. "Nothing," says Lessing; describes what he has seen; taking for his “can possess this important qualification but example Virgil's description of the shield of that which leaves free scope to the imagina- Æneas, where the poet is also the inventor tion. The sight and the fancy must be per- of the imagery described upon the shield. mitted reciprocally to add to each other's Lessing argues that it would have been a enjoyment. There is not, however, any one degradation for the poet to have taken a moment less favorable for this purpose, in hint from the marble group of Laocoon. the object of art, than that of its highest He might, however, show as great an origistate of excitement.” Transient situations nality and power in describing the series of and appearances, our author argues, are to events which led to the catastrophe of Laobe avoided. The portrait of a man laugh- coön, though his first hint of them may ing disgusts upon à second view. Falling have been given by the marble group, as bodies cannot be represented. Ajax dis- the statuary himself, who, from some ancient tracted, after having murdered the sheep and story or tradition, executed the work in oxen, which he mistook for men, leans marble. It is not originality, which is degloomily upon his sword, meditating self- manded of the artist or the poet, -and this destruction. That is the moment for the we say of ourselves, and not after Lessing, sculptor or the painter ; and if an excess but the power of producing a combined of passion is represented, it must be at effect of pleasure and elevation, by whatinstants of amazement and stupefaction, or ever means that effect may be produced. at the pause or point of hesitation, on the
« The Count de Caylus recommends the artist eve of some terrible catastrophe. Thus we to make himself thoroughly acquainted with see the poet and the artist occupy the Homer, that greatest of all pictorial poets-that entire range of representation, and fill out faithful follower of nature. The Count assures
the artists that their execution will be more perthe circle, one representing motion, and the fect in proportion to their intimacy with the other rest.
minutest details of the poet's description." Passing over several chapters in which " The effect of the system here recommended," our author discusses questions that are inter- continues Lessing, in his 11th section, would be, esting rather to the classical critic and the to unite the two kinds of imitation, which I have
already distinguished from each other. The antiquary than to the artist, we
come painter would not only have to imitate that upon the seventh division of his subject, in which the poet had imitated before him, but he which he distinguishes two kinds of imi- would also be required to do so with the identical tation, that of the genuine artist, and that lineaments which the other had employed ;-he of the servile copyist. The artist imitates not only in his character of narrator, but in that
would be required to make use of his prototype the poet, and the poet the artist ; but with of poet likewise. different degrees of propriety. When Virgil " But how does it happen that this second kind gives us a description of the shield of of imitation, which is so derogatory to the poet, is Æneas, he imitates in a certain sense the not equally so to the artist! if such a series
of pictures as that which the Count de Caylus sculptor of the shield; but it was a true imi- gives from Homer, had been in existence before the tation only when he had seen such a shield, poet wrote ; and if we knew that he had drawn and when he described what he had seen. his story from those materials, would not our ad** If, on the other hand, Virgil had taken the miration of him be infinitely diminished? How marble group of the Laocoon for his model,” our approbation from the artist, even when he
then does it happen, that we withhold none of says Lessing, “ he would have produced an does nothing more than embody the poets words imitation of the second kind; he would in forms and colors !” have copied the subject only, and his de- To this question Lessing replies, that in scription would not have been taken from the works of the painter or statuary, the any particular attitude chosen by the sculp- execution seems more difficult than the intor, nor would he describe it as one would vention; while, with the poet, invention is draw it, piece by piece, and limb by limb. the test. He would take the group as the suggestor In offering this explanation, Lessing deof a series of actions leading to the catas- parts from his own principle; or rather, trophe represented in the particular attitude he loses sight of it, and neglects it. By selected by the statuary.” Our author is care- his own showing, the merit of the painter or ful to give a superior credit to the more ori- sculptor is never the merit of the poet, in ginal kind of imitation, in which the poet any case. Neither is invention more creditable in the poet, than in the statuary or the sculptor's deficiency in the one to the same painter. And, if we be not wrong in the extent that we require his excellence in the other. conjecture, invention, so much prized by the the artist to have imitated nature through the
" In some instances, it is even a greater merit in moderns, was not in the least esteemed by medium of the poet's imitation than without it. the artists and poets of antiquity; their The painter who has delineated a beautiful landworks being founded entirely upon tradition scape after the description of a Thomson, bas and history; a common stock, from which performed a higher task than be who has copied it all alike drew their materials.
directly from nature." In every work, the spirit and circum
Were the principles of our critic, indicated stance of the plot, or situation, was given in the above remarks, to pass into literature by tradition, and it was the duty of the as critical canons, we conceive a great and pout to develop and characterize it-im- serious injury would be inflicted upon the personate it, if we may be allowed the ex- arts. It may be a much more difficult task pression, by the actions of the figures ; while to paint a landscape after Thomson, but the the statuary and painter restricted them- difficulty of art does not in the remotest selves to certain groups and tableaux, de- degree enhance its merit. Whether easily picting points of rest and expectation. Con- or with difficulty produced, is nothing to the sequently, there is no need of giving pre-point; works of art are not for the artist, cedence to one art over the other, for the but for others, and were we inclined to inuniverse is both at rest and in motion in an terpose between the artist and his work, equal degree, and the eternal rest is surelywe should rather say, the more easily it is as sublime, to our imagination, as the eternal done the better. "The painter of nature," motion.
says our author, “ has the original before his In composing pictures from Homer, or in eyes ; the painter after Thomson must exert executing groups in bas-relief, the artist his imagination:" but, in truth, there is no such does not adopt even the minutest trace of thing in art as a pure imitation of nature ; that which is the peculiar subject matter of the entire work, from the composition of the poetry, nor is it possible for him to do so, in colors to the last degree of sublimity in the nature of things, unless by caricature. expression, is a production of talent and He adopts only the dry bones of tradition, imagination. The artist has, indeed, nature the history itself, which Homer may have before him, but the spiritual significance of got, and probably did get, as did Shak- nature he has only in his own mind; and speare, from his predecessors, improving on it is not every natural scene, every appearthem, it may be, and adding new features, ance on the face of nature, that has signifibut not using larger liberties with tradition
cance; nor, to some minds, has any scene itself than the statuary or the painter may any significance. If he paints after Thomson use with the same. The arts are therefore he does not take the colors of his stones and free of each other, and make no serious trees, (their most effective element,) nor their eneroachments upon each other's limits.
individual shapes, from Thomson. These he Lessing argues, that should the poet take must take from nature, which is common to his descriptions from groups of statuary or himself and to the poet. The poet may have from paintings, his merit would be infinitely expressed the spiritual significance of the less.
scene, but by the canon which Lessing has " Had Virgil,” says he, “ delineated the fate of himself established, he does so by the changes Laocoon and his sons from the sculpture, he would which pass over the landscape, the æsthetic most difficult of attainment, and would have been succession of the changes forming a natural entitled only to that which is of comparatively drama or story; as, for instance, that of the smaller importance ; for the first creation of such rise and progress of a thunder-storm, of a work in the imagination, is a far higher effort of which nature retains the tradition, for the genius than its description in words : but had the artist , on the contrary, borrowed his subject from use both of the painter and the poet
. the poet, our admiration of him would scarcely We repeat, then, that the duty of the bave been diminished, though the merit of the painter is to represent moments of rest, conception would not have been his own; for suggesting motions and changes,) and that, more difficult than to give expression in words, too, by Lessing's own established principleand in comparing the relative value of expression a principle which marks a satisfactory limit and execution, we are always disposed to excuse between pictorial and poctical art.
We firmly believe that while Invention is sing has marked the essential difference beheld to be the chief merit of an artist-tween the poet and the artist. Without while the attainment of what is called Origi- adhering closely to the text, let us endeavor nality is held up to the youthful poet to develop the idea of which it contains the or painter-we shall never produce great germ, and the germ only; for Lessing, alworks of art. Let Art itself be its own merit, though the originator, did not prove himself and let its subjects be taken, as they come, the master of criticism, and humbler spirits, either from nature or from history indif- following in his steps, may possibly add ferently; and he who can best select and something to the work which he began. execute the subject, he is the greatest artist. " Time is the sphere of the poet-space How absurd would seem the efforts of that that of the painter.” More correctly, the painter, who should endeavor to invent a statuary and the painter make use of visible new form of human face! Novelty in art fixed forms to represent passions and moral is a contradiction in terms, for the soul of emotions,—visible fixed forms, which are art is representation.
significant in themselves, as the human face Let us consider in what manner a great is, in itself, significant of what passes in artist would choose to immortalize himself. the mind and heart. The poet, on the other Surely by the representation of a moral hand, makes use of sounds, the measures of theme, and by no means of any extem- time and motion. The face and form of porized fable. Were ho a sculptor, his man is the property of the painter; his figure would be a Moses, a Cromwell, a speech, the most significant and powerful of Calhoun. He would turn to history both his actions, belongs to the poet. Ît is imporfor story and sentiment; and chiefly to the tant, however, not to mistake written lanoldest traditions, and the most sacred his- guage, or phonetics, for an essential in the tories. Were he a poet, his choice would be poet's art; since poetry may be composed of no idle scene, pregnant with no conse- without the aid of letters, and intrusted quences : that which he represented would merely to the memory. The labor of the be significant either of the great laws which painter and statuary is mechanical, and govern human nature in all conditions, or their work requires no comment; its meanof the destiny of a nation, or perhaps, as ing, like that of nature, being at once apin Milton's epic, of all mankind. He would parent to all mankind. The work of the endeavor to characterize the most powerful poet is limited to the language in which he traits of humanity, in order, simply, to ex- writes; a medium variously colored, imperpress the grandeur of his own spirit, (for the fect, and artificial in the highest degree. artist is ambitious, and seeks admission to The poet cannot make us see a thing the society of the great of all ages ;) and he which we have not seen; he can only rewould, therefore, by a necessary sympathy, present the motions and actions of things feel himself attracted only to the characters which we have seen; which gives a hint of and actions of heroes and sages. If, like the mode in which poems should be illusMilton, he chose to invent, his invention trated; that is to say, by pictures representwould be merely a combination, an assem- ing points of rest in the progress of the story, blage of known images, to express a series and giving us portraits of the personages in of established principles; and in this inven- groups preparatory to, or concluding an tion he would only imitate nature, and, as action, as Shakspeare has been illustrated Milton has done, reproduce tradition in new by the more recent limners. actions, and describe what has already been Because language can express and sugdescribed—battles, single conflicts, strata- gest every action, sentiment, and feeling, gems, statesmanship, and the interior strug- poetry can do the same; but as language gles of the greater passions. He would proper always expresses by its nature a never inquire whether or no he were origi- | movement in the mind, while colors and nal, but only whether he were true to lines express only fixed images in the same, nature in her highest passages, and correct poetry is the vehicle for expressing passions, and artistic in the combination of the forms actions, and variable emotions, while paintand actions taken to illustrate his moral ing and statuary can only represent, in theme.
strictness, what is permanent and perpetual, In the fifteenth section of his work, L-s- or rather, what is complete in itself, and that
excites no desire that it does not satisfy. cesses and the universal admiration which atStrictly artistic groups of statuary should tends their works, we are forced to concede then require no label or explanation to make them the highest praise of criticism, which them agreeable and instructive. A sleeping is that they knew, first, how to choose the infant, in marble, requires no text nor com- highest subjects that could be executed in ment to enhance its value. A blind beggar marble; and second, that they carried their led by a child stands for the natural symbol execution to a degree unsurpassed by those of certain truly divine sentiments--inno- who have come after them. cence, humility, submission to the will of In illustrating the difference between the God, and dutifulness. And surely, if the artist and the poet, Lessing gives us a beautistatuary has expressed all these in his group, ful example in the picture of Pandarus, from it needs no label nor explanation, no quota- the Fourth Book of the Iliad, which picture, tion from Marmontel, to enhance its value. he says, is one of the most finished and most If in any particular the ancients have ex- illusive in the whole poem :celled us, it is in this, that their artists repre- “Each moment is delineated, from the grasping sented sublime and constant emotions, such of the bow to the flight of the arrow; and these as are in themselves complete. The statue moments are all so closely connected, and yet so of Niobe weeping over her children repre- with the use of the bow, we might learn it from
distinct one from another, were we unacquainted sents the instant access of a grief, which at this picture alone. We see Pandarus drawing once annihilates and replaces all other emo-forth his bow; he fastens it on the string, opens his tions, which pervades the whole mind and quiver, and chooses a new and well-feathered the whole body, which is actionless through draws back the string with the channelled end of
arrow. He adjusts the arrow to the string, and despair, and, therefore, representable in the the arrow, till they come in contact with his breast, marble. A grief without remedy, and there while the iron end of the arrow approaches the bow. fore without irritation ; for it is the incom- The large rounded bow now strikes asunder with pleteness of sorrow, the tincture of a linger- a mighty noise, the string vibrates with a ringing ing hope, that inspires it and leads to vehe- sound, off springs the arrow, and flies swiftly to its
mark.” ment action. In general the art of the statuary leads him to prefer a sublime or
This series of actions would require a extremely pathetic subject, and for the very
dozen different statues, set in order, for their reason assigned : the quiet vision of the representation. Homer paints them in a enthusiast, whose open eyes behold only paragraph. He does not describe the bow, spiritual things, and whose body sleeps in nor the arrow, nor the person of the archer apathy while the spirit is exalted, is repre
these he leaves to imagination, aided by exsentable in the marble. The countenance of perience; but he gives us the series of actions the sage or grave philosopher is more beau- performed by these, tending all to the actifuiful in marble than in life, perhaps for complishment of the work which he has in the very reason that the spirit of mere wis- hand-the destruction of Troy, or rather of dom partakes more of acquiescence and sub- its hero, Hector; or, if we go still farther, mission than of action. The famous statue of the glory of Greece, in the persons of its the Listening Slave, so called, but by Win-kings. kelman otherwise designated, represents an- “ The painter can only employ,” says Lessing, other species of rest, that of cunning and
"one single moment of the action, and he must expectation. The Dying Gladiator, the Apollo at once expressive of the past and pregnant with
therefore select as far as possible that which is Belvidere, the Hercules in Apotheosis, the the future. In like manner che poet, in his conMedieian Venus, the very Caryatides-statues secutive imitations, can employ but one single atin the places of pillars-serve to illustrate tribute of bodies, and must, therefore, select that the art of antiquity, and to show the super body, under that particular aspect which he has
which awakens the most sensible image of the riority of judgment of the statuaries of chosen to represent. On this principle is founded Greece over those of later days. They knew the rule of unity in the pictorial or descriptive the limits of their art, what it could and epithets of the poet, and of parsimony in his deliwhat it could not express, and they seldom neations of bodily objects.” attempted anything beyond those limits. We see that the unity of poetry is a unity Their bas-reliefs encroach a little upon the of progress toward a certain end,—the rise, province of painting, but not essentially upon the culmination, and the catastrophe of that of poetry. From their eminent suc- single passion in a single individual,
flected in the inferior members of the group which the painter could follow with his that move with him. And this rule of unity pencil. holds throughout the entire range of poetic
“He contrives, by numberless artifices, to place art, from the point of the epigram, and the this single object in a series of successive movesingle thought of the sonnet, even to the ments, each of which exhibits it under a different sublime passion of the ode, and the glory aspect, and in the last of which the painter must and the majestic ambition of the epic, in wait to see it before he can fully exhibit what has which the entire force of human character, mer wishes to delineate the car of Juno, he makes
been described by the poet. For instance, if Hoin one or in a few persons, is concentrated Hebe put it together, bit by bit, before our eyes ; for a series of years upon the attainment of a we see the wheels, the axles, the seat of the car, single purpose. But this rule of unity, as it the braces and the reins, not so much in actual appears in the trunk and larger proportions, der the hands of Hebe: the wheels are the only
combination, as in the progress of combination, unso carries itself into the minutest leaves, the part on which Homer bestows more than one trait
, very if's and and's of a vitally organized delineating the eight brazen spokes, the golden poem. Every word should have a vital con- circles, the bands of brass, and the silver naves, nection with every other in the entire work, each separately and particularly. One would and every word should express, or assist in chosen to dwell so much longer on the wheels
almost be inclined to think that the poet had expressing, an act which is a part of the en- than the other parts, out of deference to the more tire action, the whole, together and apart, important service required from them in reality.” having a defined and certain aim; and thus « Bright Hebe waits ; by Hebe ever young, all disputes about the unities are set at The whirling wheels are to the chariot hung. naught by the very nature and necessity of On the bright axle turns the bidden wheel art.
Of sounding brass; the polished axle steel. "Such principles as I have expressed,” says
Eight brazen spokes in radiant order flame,
The circles gold, of uncorrupted frame, Lessing, “will alone enable us to define and ex
Such as the heavens produce; and round the gold plain the grandeur of Homer's style, as well as to Two brazen rings of work divine were rolled. estimate as it deserves the opposite practice of so The bossy naves of solid silver shone; many modern poets, who vainly seek to compete Braces of gold suspend the moving throue: with the painter on a point on which they must of The car, behind, an arching figure bore ; necessity be surpassed by him. I find that Homer
The bending concave formd an arch before. paints nothing but progressive actions, and each Silver the beam, th' extended yoke was gold, body, each individual thing which he introduces, And golden reins th' immortal coursers hold." he delineates only on account of the part it bears in these actions, and even then in general with Lessing's second illustration is a descripbut a single trait. Is it then surprising that the tion from Homer of the king, Agamemnon, painter can find little or nothing to do where putting on his dress. We see him draw on and that the only field he can find to work on is the soft tunic, throw the broad mantle where the story brings together a number of beau- around him, fasten his elegant sandals, gird advantageous to art, however slight
the poet's de- sceptre. Another poet would have delinetiful bodies. in fine positions
, and within a space on his sword, and lastly, seize the regal lineation of all these circumstances may be !"
ated the dress and left us without the action, Lessing proceeds to illustrate this great We should have had a tailor's card of Agadiscovery, which, if a new school of construc- memnon. tive art shall ever arise in this country, must
“ First on bis limbs a slender vest he drew, be taken as its corner-stone, and in defiance Around him next the royal mantle threw. of that abominable miscellaneousness and Th' embroidered sandals on his feet were tied; confusion of purpose which characterize the The starry falchion glitter'd at his side ; modern school, by certain well chosen exam
And last his arm the massy sceptre loads,
Unstained, immortal, and the gift of gods." ples from Homer. Thus Homer characterizes the ship by a single trait—the black Again, in describing the sceptre of the ship, or, the hollow ship; but of the em- | king he supposes that we have already seen barkation, the sailing, and the landing, he it. Instead of a description he gives us its draws a highly finished picture, because they history. First, it is the work of Vulcan, it are actions, or rather a single action, whose glitters in the hands of Jove, it marks the successions belong to poetry. If it becomes dignity of Mercury, it is the baton of Pelops, necessary for Homer to fix our view longer the staff of Atreus, and, finally, the ruling than usual on a single object, even then it sceptre of the king of Argos. This makes the will be found that no picture is presented sceptre, if we may so speak, respectable in