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OF THE SUBLIME.
Tt may perhaps be wondered that in the division we have made of our subject, we have taken no notice of the sublime in art, and that in our explanation of that division we have not once used the word.
j1. sublimity is The fact is, that sublimity is not a specific the mSndof'any" term,—not a term descriptive of the effect of a thing above it. particular class of ideas. Anything which elevates the mind is sublime, and elevation of mind is produced by the contemplation of greatness of any kind; but chiefly, of course, by the greatness of the noblest things. Sublimity is, therefore, only another word for the effect of greatness upon the feelings. G reatness of matter, space, power, virtue, or beauty, are thus all sublime; and there is perhaps no desirable quality of a work of art, which in its perfection is not, in some way or degree, sublime.
I am fully prepared to allow of much ingenu
$2 Burke's the- .,.„,, f, . „ ... ° . ,
ory of the na- ltym Burke s theory of the sublime, as connected lime incorrect, with self-preservation. There are few things so great as death ; and there is perhaps nothing which banishes all littleness of thought and feeling in an equal degree with its contemplation. Everything, therefore, which in any way points to it, and, therefore, most dangers and powers over which we have little control, are in some degree sublime. But it is not the fear, observe, but the contemplation of death; not the instinctive shudder and struggle of self-preservation, but the deliberate measurement of the doom, which are really great or sublime in feeling. It is not while we shrink, but while we defy, that we receive or convey the highest conceptions of the fate. There is no sublimity in the agony of terror. Whether do we trace it most in the cry to the mountains, "fall on us," and to the hills, "cover us," or in the calmness of the prophecy—" And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh I shall see God?" A little reflec
subiime, but not tion will easily convince any one, that so far from
the feelings of self-preservation being necessary to
the sublime, their greatest action is totally destructive of it;
and that there are few feelings less capable of its perception
than those of a coward. But the simple conception or idea of
greatness of suffering or extent of destruction is sublime,
whether there be any connection of that idea with ourselves or
not. If we were placed beyond the reach of all peril or pain,
the perception of these agencies in their influence on others
would not be less sublime, not because peril or pain are sublime
in their own nature, but because their contemplation, exciting
compassion or fortitude, elevates the mind, and
i 4 The highest . «
beauty is sub- renders meanness of thought impossible. Beauty is not so often felt to be sublime; because, in many kinds of purely material beauty there is some truth in Burke,s assertion, that " littleness" is one of its elements. But he who has not felt that there may be beauty without littleness, and that such beauty is a source of the sublime, is yet ignorant of the meaning of the ideal in art. I do not mean,
i 5. And generally . . ° , ,.
whatever eievatea in tracing the source of the sublime to greatness, to hamper myself with any fine-spun theory. I take the widest possible ground of investigation, that sublimity is found wherever anything elevates the mind ; that is, wherever it contemplates anything above itself, and perceives it to be so. This is the simple philological signification of the word derived from sublimis; and will serve us much more easily, and be a far clearer and more evident ground of argument, than any mere metaphysical or more limited definition, while the proof of its justness will be naturally developed by its application to the different branches of art. $6. The former As, therefore, the sublime is not distinct from subject1 is0there° what is beautiful, nor from other sources of pleasfore sufficient. ure in ar^ |>ut is only a particular mode and
manifestation of them, my subject will divide itself into the investigation of ideas of truth, beauty, and relation; and to each of these classes of ideas I destine a separate part of the work. The investigation of ideas of truth will enable us to determine the relative rank of artists as followers and historians of nature.
That of ideas of beauty will lead us to compare them in their attainment, first of what is agreeable in technical matters, then in color and composition, finally and chiefly, in the purity of their conceptions of the ideal.
And that of ideas of relation will lead us to compare them as originators of just thought.
GENERAL PRINCIPLES RESPECTING IDEAS OF
OF IDEAS OF TRUTH IN THEIR CONNECTION WITH THOSE OF
BEAUTY AND RELATION.
It cannot but be evident from the above division of the ideas conveyable by art, that the landscape painter must always have two great and distinct ends; the first, to induce in the specta|l. The two great t°r,s mhid the faithful conception of any natural pa?ntins'aredth2pe objects whatsoever; the second, to guide the speco?Pfaot<.n'and0n tator,s mind to those objects most worthy of its thought*. contemplation, and to inform him of the thoughts
and feelings with which these were regarded by the artist himself.
In attaining the first end, the painter only places the spectator where he stands himself; he sets him before the landscape and leaves him. The spectator is alone. He may follow out his own thoughts as he would in the natural solitude, or he may remain untouched, unreflecting and regardless, as his disposition may incline him. But he has nothing of thought given to him, no new ideas, no unknown feelings, forced on his attention or his heart. The artist is his conveyance, not his companion,—his horse, not his friend. But in attaining the second end, the artist not only places the spectator, but talks to him; makes him a sharer in his own strong feelings and quick thoughts; hurries him away in his own enthusiasm; guides him to all that is beautiful; snatches him from all that is base, and leaves him more than delighted,—ennobled and instructed, under the sense of having not only beheld a new scene, but of having held communion with a new mind, and having been endowed for a time with the keen perception and the impetuous emotion of a nobler and more penetrating intelligence.
Each of these different aims of art will necessidiffcrrnfchoiceof tate a different system of choice of objects to be ma en jec . jgpjgsgntg^ The firsf; (loes not indeed imply choice
at all, but it is usually united with the selection of such objects as may be naturally and constantly pleasing to all men, at all times ; and this selection, when perfect and careful, leads to the attainment of the pure ideal. But the artist aiming at the second end, selects his objects for their meaning and character, rather than for their beauty; and uses them rather to throw light upon the particular thought he wishes to convey, than as in themselves objects of unconnected admiration, j 3. The iiret Now, although the first mode of selection,
mode of selection . , , ° , „
apt to produce when guided by deep reflection, may rise to the
wimcneas and , .. . , . , . ,
repetition. production of works possessing a noble and cease
less influence on the human mind, it is likely to degenerate into, or rather, in nine cases out of ten, it never goes beyond, a mere appeal to such parts of our animal nature as are constant and common—shared by all, and perpetual in all; such, for instance, as the pleasure of the eye in the opposition of a cold and warm color, or of a massy form with a delicate one. It also tends to induce constant repetition of the same ideas, and reference to the same principles; it gives rise to those rules of art which properly excited Reynolds,s indignation when applied to its higher efforts; it is the source of, and the apology for, that host of technicalities and absurdities which in all ages have been the curse of art and the crown of the connoisseur.
But art, in its second and highest aim, is not noce*aitat*ngva- an appeal to constant animal feelings, but an expression and awakening of individual thought: it