Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

rated 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 colouring. 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 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 servile 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 carcass half consumed by vermin, or of swine wallowing in ordure, or of a beggar lousing himself on a dunghill, though these scenes should

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.Ille autem quinque delegit.—Neque enim putavit omnia, quæ quæreret ad venustatem, uno in corpore se reperire posse; ideo quod nihil simplici in genere omnibus ex partibus perfectum natura expolivit.—Cic. lib. i. de Inv. cap. 1.

be painted ever so naturally, and all the world must allow that the scenes were taken from nature, because the merit of the imitation would be greatly overbalanced 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 endeavour to explain, when we come to consider the sublime. · Were we to judge every production by the rigorous rules of nature, 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 Moliere, 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 elevation of natural dialogue, as a delightful vehicle for conveying 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 inimic 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 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 usynois 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 or 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 excellency 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 invention : for in forming a character, contriving an in

[ocr errors]

' 'Erotoisa dij seces cñs tpagodices in oinois, éto dè x@ouco día xci dedupeerboποιητική, και της αύλιτικής και πλείση και κιθαριστικής πάσαι στoγχανουσιν ούσαι μιμής εις το συνόλον.

cident, 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 beginning of his Epistle to the Pisos :

Humano capiti cervicem pictor equinam
Jungere si velit, et varias inducere plumas
Undique collatis membris, ut turpiter atrum
Desinat in piscem, mulier formosa superne;
Spectatum admissi risum teneatis, amici ?

Suppose a painter to a human head
Should join a horse's neck, and wildly spread
The various plumage of the feather'd kind
O'er limbs of different beasts, absurdly join'd;
Or if he gave to view a beauteous maid
Above the waist with every charm array'd;
Should a foul fish her lower parts unfold,
Would you not laugh such pictures to behold?

The magazine of nature supplies all those images which compose the most beautiful imitations. This the artist examines occasionally, as he would consult a collection of masterly sketches; and selecting particulars for his purpose, mingles the ideas with a kind of enthusiasm, or To Jelov, which is that gift of Heaven we call genius, and finally produces such a whole as commands admiration and applause.

ESSAY XIV.

The study of polite literature is generally supposed to include all the liberal arts of poetry, painting, sculpture, music, eloquence, and architecture. All these are founded on imitation; and all of them mutually assist and illustrate each other. But as painting, sculpture, music, and architecture, cannot be perfectly attained without long practice of manual operation, we shall distinguish them from poetry and eloquence, which depend entirely on the faculties of the mind; and on these last, as on the arts which immediately constitute the Belles Lettres, employ our attention in the present inquiry: or, if it should run to a greater length than we propose, it shall be confined to poetry alone ; a subject that comprehends in its full extent the province of taste, or what is called polite literature; and differs essentially from eloquence, both in its end and origin.

Poetry sprang from ease, and was consecrated to pleasure; whereas eloquence arose from necessity, and aims at conviction. When we say poetry sprang from ease, perhaps we ought to except that species of it which owed its rise to inspiration and enthusiasm, and properly belonged to the culture of religion. In the first ages of mankind, and even in the original state of nature, the unlettered mind must have been struck with sublime conceptions, with admiration and awe, by those great phenomena, which, though every day repeated, can never be viewed without internal emotion. Those would break forth in exclamations expressive of the passion produced, whether surprise or gratitude, terror or exultation. The

« ZurückWeiter »