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Title: Belcaro - Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions
Author: Lee, Vernon, 1856-1935
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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     I. THE BOOK AND ITS TITLE              1
    II. THE CHILD IN THE VATICAN           17
   III. ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE               49
    IV. FAUSTUS AND HELENA                 70
     V. CHAPELMASTER KREISLER             106
    VI. CHERUBINO                         129
   VII. IN UMBRIA                         156
  VIII. RUSKINISM                         197
     X. POSTSCRIPT OR APOLOGY             275

I have to thank the Editors of the _Cornhill_ and of _Fraser's
Magazines_, and of the _Contemporary Review_, for kind permission to
republish such of these studies as have previously appeared in print.



A little while ago I told you that I wished this collection of studies
to be more especially yours: so now I send it you, a bundle of proofs
and of MS., to know whether you will have it. I wish I could give you
what I have written in the same complete way that a painter would give
you one of his sketches; that a singer, singing for you alone, might
give you his voice and his art; for a dedication is but a drop of ink on
a large white sheet, and conveys but a sorry notion of property. Now,
this book is intended to be really yours; yours in the sense that, were
it impossible for more than one copy of it to exist, that one copy I
should certainly give to you. Because these studies represent the ideas
I have so far been able to work out for myself about art, considered not
historically, but in its double relation to the artist and the world for
whom he works; ideas which it is my highest ambition should influence
those young enough and powerful enough to act upon them; and, this being
the case, my first thought is to place them before you: it is, you see,
a matter of conversion, and the nearest, most difficult, most desired
convert, is yourself.

To you, therefore, before any one else, must I explain what manner
of book this is, what are its origin and its aims. And first, the
meaning of its title. Logically, this title means nothing; it is a mere
negation, a mere arbitrary combination of letters chosen from sheer
despair to find any name which should tell, what this title certainly
does not, what is the contents of the volume. Yet, a meaning the name
has: a meaning of association. For, even as a snatch of melody will
sometimes, for no apparent reason, haunt us while we are about any
particular work, follow us while we are travelling through a definite
tract of country (as, two years since, Wagner's Spinning Chorus
travelled with me from Mantua to Verona, and from Verona to Venice) in
such a way that the piece of work, the tract of country, bring with
their recollection the haunting tune to our mind; so, also, during the
time of making up this volume, I have been haunted by the remembrance of
that winter afternoon, when last we were together, on the battlements of
Belcaro. Perhaps (if we must seek a reason), because, while driving to
the strange, isolated villa castle, up and down, and round and round the
hills of ploughed-up russet earth, and pale pink leafless brushwood, and
bright green pine-woods, where every sharp road-turning surprises one
with a sudden glimpse of Siena, astride, with towers and walls and
cupolas, on her high, solitary ridge; while dashing up the narrow hedged
lanes whose sere oak and ilex branches brushed across our faces; or,
while looking down from the half-fortified old place on to the endless,
vague, undulating Sienese fields and oak-woods; perhaps, because at
that moment I may, unconscious to myself, have had a vague first desire
to put together more of the helter-skelter contents of the notes over
which we had been looking, and give it you in some intelligible shape.
Perhaps this may have served to set up the association; or perhaps it
was something wholly different, unguessed, trumpery, inscrutable. Be
this as it may, the fact remains that during the dull months of planning
and putting together this book, I have been haunted, as by a melody, by
the remembrance, the vision, the consciousness of that afternoon, warm
and hazy, of early December, on the battlements of Belcaro castle, when
we looked down over the top of the dense mural crown of sprouting pale
green acorned ilex on to the hills and ravines, with the sere oak-woods
reddened with the faint flush of sun-light, and the vague, white thinned
olives and isolated golden-leaved oaks, and distant solitary belfries
and castles; away towards Siena, grey on the horizon, beneath the grey,
pinked, wet cloud masses, lurid and mysterious like Beccafumi's frescos,
as if the clouds, if one looked at them long, might gather into
clustered angels with palm-shaped wings and flushed faces and reddened
pale locks. Thus have I been haunted by this remembrance, this inner
sight, this single moment continuing, in a way, to exist alongside of so
many and various other moments; so that, when it has come to giving a
name to this book, I find that there is already indissolubly associated
with it, the name of Belcaro.

So far of the title: now of the book itself, of what it is, and why it
is such. When, two summers since, I wrote the last pages of my first
book, it was, in a way, as if I had been working out the plans of
another dead individual. The myself who had, almost as a child, been
insanely bewitched by the composers and singers, the mask actors and
pedants, and fine ladies and fops, the whole ghostly turn-out of the
Italian 18th century; who had, for years, in the bustle of self-culture,
I might almost say, of childish education, never let slip an opportunity
of adding a new microscopic dab of colour to the beloved, quaint, and
ridiculous and pathetic century-portrait which I carried in my mind;
this myself, thus smitten with the Italian 18th century, had already
ceased to exist. Another myself had come instead, to whom this long
accumulated 18th century lore had been bequeathed, but who would never
have taken the pains, or had the patience, to collect it; who carried
out with a sort of filial piety the long cherished plan of making into a
book all that inherited material, seeing the while in this 18th century
lore what the original collector had never guessed: illustrations,
partial explanations, of questions of artistic genesis and evolution,
of artistic right and wrong, which were for ever being discussed within
me. This new myself, this heir to the task of putting into shape the
historical materials collected by an extinct individuality, is the
myself by whom has been written this present book: this present book
represents the thoughts, the problems, the doubts, the solutions, which
were haunting me while writing that first book from which this new one
so completely differs. To plan, to work for such a book as that first
one, seems to me now about the most incomprehensible of all things; to
care for one particular historical moment, to study the details of one
particular civilisation, to worry about finding out the exact when and
how of any definite event; above all, to feel (as I felt) any desire to
teach any specified thing to anybody; all this has become unintelligible
to my sympathies of to-day. And it is natural: natural in mental
growth that we are, to some extent, professorial and professorially
self-important and engrossed, before becoming restlessly and sceptically
studious: we may teach some things before we even know the desire of
learning others. Thus I, from my small magisterial chair or stool of
18th century-expounder, have descended and humbly gone to school as a
student of æsthetics.

To school, where, and with whom? A little to books, and this (excepting
a few psychological works not bearing directly upon my subject) with but
small profit; mainly to art itself, to pictures and statues and music
and poetry, to my own feelings and my own thoughts; studying, in
seemingly desultory fashion, in discussions with my friends and with
myself. This volume BELCARO is the first fruit of these attempts at
knowing: it is not the Sir-Oracle manual of a professor, with all in its
right place, understood or misunderstood, truth and error all neatly
systematised for the teaching of others; but rather the scholar's copy
book, the fragmentary and somewhat helter-skelter notes of what, in his
listenings and questionings, he has been able to understand, and which
he hands over to his fellow-pupils, who may have understood as much of
the lessons as himself, but have in all probability understood different
portions or in different ways. Such a collection of notes this volume
most unmetaphorically is: it is literally a selection of such pages out
of my commonplace books as seemed (though written at various moments)
to converge upon given points of æsthetical discussion; to coalesce,
conglomerate naturally, and to admit of some sort of setting, or
resetting. I say setting or resetting, because these thoughts, these
questionings, these discussions, though in their written shape merely
copied out from a confusion of quite heterogeneous notes, have nearly
all had, while they were living, while thought or asked or discussed,
a real setting of some sort. For the ideas have come mainly in the
presence of works of art, or in discussions with friends: they have
come, sometimes unperceived at the moment, together with the sight
of a picture, the hearing of a bar or two of music, the reading of
an accidentally met, familiar quotation; a reason, a long sought
explanation has been suddenly struck out by a sentence, a word from a
friend. Oh yes, a setting they have had, these ideas, such as they are:
a real, living, shimmering setting of tones and looks, and jests and
passion, and anecdote and illustration, and irrelevant streakings and
veinings of description and story; a setting too of place and time and
personality. For they have come out of real desultory talks: re-echoed
by the bare walls of glaring galleries and sounding statue cells; or
whispered on the steps before the withdrawn curtain of some altar-piece,
while the faint mass bell tinkled from distant chapels, or great waves
of litany responses rushed roaring down the nave, and broke in short
repeated echoes against the pillars of the aisle; or, never clearly
begun or ended, between one piece of music and another, with the hands
still on the keys, and the eyes still on the score; talks desultory,
digressive, broken off by the withdrawing of the curtain from a fresh
picture, by the prelude of another piece, by a cart blocking up the
street or a cat in behind a window grating; by something often utterly
trumpery, senseless and for the moment all important. And they have come
also, these scattered ideas, in long discussions, rambling but eager
(their seriousness shivered ever and anon by a sudden grotesque image or
cutting answer, or inane pun, or diverted off, no one knew how, into
anecdotes or folk tales), in the fire-lit winter afternoons, with the
crackle of wood and the crackling of sparks; or, in the August-heated,
shuttered room, with the midday drowsy silence brought home more
completely by the never flagging saw of the cicalas on the vine-bearing
poplars, by the uniform clatter of the wooden frame crushing the brittle
silvery hemp straw in the dark courtyard outside. This manner of setting
they have had; and a far finer than any that could artificially be given
to them. In order to endure, they had, these ideas, to be removed out of
all this living frame-work; to be written down, that is to say, to be
made quite lifeless and inorganic, and dry and stiff, like some stuffed
animal or bird. And when it came to sorting them, to preparing them to
show to other folk; the vague melancholy sense of how different they
now looked, my poor art thoughts all dreary in their abstractness, from
what they had been when they had first come into my head; this sense
of difference made me wish and try to replace them in a setting, an
artificial one, which should in a manner be equivalent to that original
real setting of place and moment, and individuality and digression:
equivalent as an acre of garden, with artificial rocks, streams, groves,
grottoes, places for losing your way, flower-beds etc., is equivalent
for all the country you can travel over in five or six years. I have
done as best I could, merely to satisfy my own strong feeling that art
questions should always be discussed in the presence of some definite
work of art, if art and its productions are not to become mere
abstractions, logical counters wherewith to reckon; also, that
discussions should be, what real discussions are, a gradual unravelling
of tangled questions, either alone or with others' assistance, not a
mere exposition of a cut and dry system. I have always, in putting
together these notes, had a vision of pictures or statues or places, had
a sound of music in my mind, or a page of a book in my memory; I have
always thought, in arranging these discussions, of the real individuals
with whom I should most willingly have them: I have always felt that
some one else was by my side to whom I was showing, explaining,
answering; hence, the use of the second person plural, of which I have
vainly tried to be rid: it is not the oracular _we_ of the printed book,
it is the _we_ of myself and those with whom, for whom, I am speaking;
it is the constantly felt dualism of myself and my companion.

Thus much of the form into which, as the only one which, however
imperfectly, suited my liking, I have worked these notes, taken from
out of the confusion of my commonplace books. Now, as to the notes, or
rather as to the ideas which they embody. These ideas, I repeat, are not
a system; they are mere fragmentary thinkings out of æsthetic questions.
Yet, they have, taken altogether, a certain uniformity of tendency, a
certain logical shape: they look like a system. But if a logical shape
they have, it is not because they have been deliberately fitted into
each other, but because they have been homogeneously evolved; if a
system they appear, it is because the same individual mind, in its
attempt to solve a series of closely allied problems, must solve them
in a self-consistent way. Hence, while dreading beyond all things to
cramp my still growing, and therefore altering, ideas in the limits
of a system, I find that I have, nevertheless, evolved for myself a
series of answers to separate questions, which constitute a sort of
art-philosophy. An art-philosophy entirely unabstract, unsystematic,
essentially personal, because evolved unconsciously, under the pressure
of personal circumstances, and to serve the requirements of personal
tendencies. I have, of course, read a good deal about art, perhaps more
than other people; and I have consciously and unconsciously assimilated
a good deal of the books that I read; but I have never deliberately
accepted (except in the domain of art-history and evolution, of which I
have not treated in this book which deals only of art in its connection
with the individual artist and his public) a whole theory, and set
myself either to developing or correcting it: the ideas of others enter
largely into the answers to my self-questionings, but they do so because
they had become part and parcel of my own thought; and the questions and
their answers have always been asked by myself and answered by myself.
For, with respect to æsthetic training, I have been circumstanced
differently from most writers on the subject, nay, from most readers of
our generation. I was taught as little about art, I heard as little talk
about pictures, statues, or music, as any legendary calvinist child of
the 17th century; I jostled art of one kind or another as much as any
child well can: I was familiar with art, cared about it (to the extent
of requiring it) before well knowing that art existed: reversing the
training of these days of culture and eclecticism and philosophy,
according to which one usually knows all about art, all about its
history, ethics, philosophy, schools, epochs, moral value, poetic
meaning, and so forth, before one knows art itself, long before one
cares a jot for it. To me, art was neither a technical study, nor a
philosophic puzzle, nor a rhetorical theme, nor a fashionable craze: it
was something natural, familiar; indifferent at first, then enjoyed;
only later read and thought about. It was only when I began to read
what other people had thought and felt on the subject, that I began
to discover (with surprise and awe) that there was something rare,
wonderful, exotic, sublime, mysterious, ineffable about art. I read a
great many books about all the arts, and about each art in particular,
from Plato to Lessing, from Reynolds to Taine, from Hegel to Ruskin; I
read, re-read, annotated, extracted, compared, refuted; I filled copy
books with transcendental, romantic, and positivistic æsthetics; I began
to feel, to understand art and all its wonderful mysteries; I began to
be able to express in words all the vague sublimities which I felt. Any
one reading my notes, hearing my conversation, would have sworn that I
was destined to become an art philosopher. But it was not to be. Much as
I read, copied, annotated, analysed, imitated, I could not really take
in any of the things which I read; or if I took them in, they would
remain pure literary flourishes. As soon as I got back into the presence
of art itself, all my carefully acquired artistic philosophy, mystic,
romantic, or transcendental, was forgotten: I looked at pictures and
statues, and saw in them mere lines and colours, pleasant or unpleasant;
I listened to music, and when, afterwards, I asked myself what strange
moods it had awakened in my soul, what wondrous visions it had conjured
up in my mind, I discovered that, during that period of listening, my
mind had been a complete blank, and that all I could possibly recollect
were notes. My old original prosaic, matter-of-fact feeling about art,
as something simple, straightforward, enjoyable, always persisted
beneath all the metaphysics and all the lyrism with which I tried to
crush it. I continued, indeed, to study art, to think about what it
really was; but gradually I perceived that this thinking of mine,
instead of developing my faculties for seeing in art all the wonderful
things seen in it by others, tended more and more to confirm my original
childish impression that art was a simple thing to be simply enjoyed.
My thinking was mainly negative: instead of discovering new things
in art, I discovered every day the absence in it of some of the strange
properties with which I had learned to invest it; I perceived more and
more distinctly that half of the ideas of æstheticians had merely served
to hide the real nature of the art about which they wrote; I understood
that while analysing psychological meanings in pictures, they were
shutting their eyes to the form and the colour; that while they were
dreaming about woods and lakes, and love and death, they were not
listening to the music. I gradually took in the fact that most writers
on art were simply substituting psychological or mystic or poetic
enjoyment, due to their own literary activities, for the simple artistic
enjoyment which was alone and solely afforded by art itself. I saw that
the more value any work of art possessed in itself, and the greater
the amount of pleasure which it could afford, the more extraneous and
impertinent was the sort of interest with which æstheticians tried to
invest it. I became aware that writers, being unable to awaken with
their machinery of thoughts and feelings and words the activities
awakened by the intrinsic qualities, visible or audible, of statues or
pictures or music, had unconsciously substituted an appeal to other
mental activities with which the works of art had at best but little
connection. This gradual discovery amused me, but it also made me
indignant. Had mankind appeared to me to be merely placidly enjoying as
artistic effects those which were not artistic effects at all, it would
have been a mere matter for amusement; but it seemed to me that as a
consequence of this mankind was entirely missing much of the enjoyment
which art could give, and, moreover, which could be given only by art.
Besides, art was for ever attempting really to produce those imaginary,
imagined effects: sculpture was trying to give psychological amusement,
music was trying to play tragedies and paint landscapes, and write
religious meditations; and in so doing art was incapacitating itself
for its real work, even as mankind was incapacitating itself for
appreciating the real powers of art. Hence, in so far as I thought
at all about art in its absolute relations to artist and public (as
distinguished from art as a psychological, historical, merely scientific
study) my thoughts all tended towards getting rid of those foreign,
extra-artistic, irrelevant interests which æstheticians have since the
beginning of time interposed between art and those who are intended to
enjoy it; my work has, unconsciously enough, been to logically justify
that perfectly simple, direct connection between art and ourselves,
which was the one I had felt, as a child, before learning all the
wonderful fantastications of art philosophers. My own art philosophy is
therefore simply to try and enjoy in art what art really contains, to
obtain from art all that it can give, by refraining from asking it to
give what it cannot. To this end have tended all those most harum-scarum
notes, written during the last six years, which I have here collected
and tried to group according to the particular art, or the particular
portion of an art, to which they referred. Some are about painting,
some about music, some about poetry, some about art in general, some
inextricably combined and mixed up with other subjects. They have been
written at different times, hence with varying amount of experience and
information; occasionally they may even be contradictory in a trifle.
Thus, when I wrote the notes on musical expression incorporated in the
essay called after Hoffmann's Kapell-Meister Kreisler, I was not yet
acquainted with the discoveries of Mr. Herbert Spencer on the subject;
discoveries which have infinitely cleared my ideas, and which serve to
correct, in the adjoining essay called _Cherubino_, much that was vague,
and perhaps equivocal, in my earlier notes. Had I been constructing a
system, I should have recast all the old (or suppressed all the new);
but I am merely collecting notes, so I have let them stand as they were
written. My object is not to teach others, but to show them how far I
have taught myself, and how far they may teach themselves. I must always
return to my comparison of the copy books of the boy attending a course
of lectures: this is not all that I conceive can be said on the subject;
it is merely as much as I have been able to understand thereof; and the
more I have listened and questioned, the more what I have understood has
become connected within itself and seemed to indicate connections with
unstudied problems belonging to different orders of thought. Thus, after
having thought and written only about art; about what each art can and
cannot do, about the relations of the various arts amongst each other
and to their artists, I have gradually found myself thinking and writing
about what art as a whole can do and should do; about the relations
between all art and life taken as a whole: after the purely æsthetical
questions has come the question, no æsthetical question this time--what
value, in this world of good and evil, of doubt and certainty, of action
and inaction, in this world struggling for physical and social and moral
good, what value have æsthetical questions at all? And with these notes,
written latest of all, and threatening to divert me more than they
should from my present field of study to the wider, nobler, far more
intricate and dangerous field of ethics, I have thought it best to
close my book; since these latest notes supply the explanation--felt
all along, but only vaguely formulated till now--of my whole æsthetic,
because of my whole philosophic, tendencies: the greatest amount of good
work to be obtained from everything, and this possible only by all being
seen in its right light, and consequently used in its right place.

This is what my new book is, and this is how such it has come to be. And
just because it is what it is, because it is not a mere piece of work,
not a mere something made by me and thrust away, in its systematic cut
and dryness, from my living personality; but a certain proportion of my
growing, altering, enlarging, disjointed, helter-skelter thoughts, of
the thoughts which come to me whether I will or not; because it is not
a real book but a collection of notes, do I wish it to be read by you.
So now I tie together and make a packet of all the pages of proofs and
sheets of MS., and send it all to you. The summer has come round: the
tall grass, brocaded like some rough, rich mediæval stuff, with yellow
buttercups and blue sage flowers, is already beginning to be scythed
and raked away; the last clusters of hawthorn, which, a few days since,
still stood out white and crisp against the blue of the sky, fall to
pieces as soon as one tries to gather them; the Tuscan country has
already got its summer sheen of pale green poppied wheat, and pale green
budding vine, and dim blue distance, and pervading faint yellow haze;
the hills of Siena are green with sprouting arbutus and ilex and fern
and hellebore bells; the oakwoods that we saw russet under the reddening
light, are in tender, yellowish new leaf; the olives are in blossom from
which we broke the fruit-laden twigs; it seems so long, so very long,
since that soft grey winter day when last we were together, looking down
from the battlements of the old Sienese villa; and yet the memory of
that winter day seems as real as the present reality of this summer one;
and haunts me still, as I write these words, even as it has haunted me
throughout the putting together of this book, which I have called,
from that haunting remembrance, and, perhaps, a little also that the
association might make it more pleasant in your eyes, by the name of
that strange, isolated, ilex-circled castle villa of Belcaro. And now,
unroll the tight-rolled manuscript and smooth out the rumpled proof
sheets; read, and tell me whether or not what you have read is ever to
be read by any one else.

  FLORENCE, _May, 1881_.


There were a lot of children in the Vatican this morning: small
barbarians scarce out of the nursery, who should have been at home,
at their lessons, or reading fairy books, or carpentering, or
doll-educating, or boat-sailing, or amusing themselves in the hundred
nondescript ways which we seem to forget (remembering only ready-made
toys and ready-made stories) when we grow up. Some were left to their
own devices, and scampered, chattering and laughing, through the
gallery; jumping up three steps at a time, clambering up to windows,
running round isolated statues, feretting into all the little nook and
corner rooms, peeping into the lidless sarcophagi and the great porphyry
baths, with the rough-hewn rings and lions' heads. The others were being
led by their elders: talking in whispers, or silent: demure, weary,
vacant, staring about with dreary, vague little faces; these, who were
not permitted to rush about like the others, seemed chilled, numbed
by a sort of wonder unaccompanied by curiosity, oppressed by a sense
of indefineable desolation. And, indeed, it is a desolate place, this
Vatican, with its long, bleak, glaring corridors; its half-lit, chill,
resounding halls; its damp little Belvedere Court, where green lichen
fills up the fissured pavement; a dreary labyrinth of brick and
mortar, a sort of over-ground catacomb of stones, constructed in our
art-studying, rather than art-loving times where once--when Michael
Angelo was stretched painting on the creaking scaffolding slung from
the roof of the Sixtine--the poppies waved scarlet among the trailing
vines of the pope's orchard, and the white butterflies, like wind-blown
blossoms, swarmed in the tall grass beneath the bending apple trees, and
the fire-flies danced in luminous spirals among the wild rose-hedges.
A dismal scientific piece of ostentation, like all galleries; a place
where art is arranged and ticketed and made dingy and lifeless even as
are the plants in a botanic collection. Eminently a place of exile; or
worse, of captivity, for all this people of marble: these athletes and
nymphs and satyrs, and warriors and poets and gods, who once stood, each
in happy independence, against a screen of laurel or ilex branches,
or on the sun-heated gable of a temple, where the grass waved in the
fissures and the swallows nested, or in a cresset-lit, incense-dim
chapel, or high against the blue sky above the bustle of the market
place; poor stone captives cloistered in monastic halls and cells, or
arranged, like the skeletons of Capuchins, in endless rows of niche,
shelf, and bracket. Galleries are necessary things, to save pictures and
statues (or the little remaining of them) from candle smoke, sacristans'
ladders, damp, worms, and street boys, but they are evil necessities;
and the sense of a sort of negative vandalism always clings to them,
specially to the galleries of statues, so uninhabited, so utterly
sepulchral. Going to a gallery of sculpture, we must be prepared to
isolate what we wish to enjoy, to make for it a fitting habitation in
our fancy: it is like going to read a page of Homer, or the Georgics,
or Shelley, in some great musty, dusty library, redolent of crumbling
parchment and forgotten rubbish. Such is this Vatican, even for us
accustomed to it and knowing what we do and do not want: for us grown-up
creatures, familiar with such matters, and with powers of impression
quite deadened by culture. What, therefore, must not this Vatican be
for a child: a quite small, ignorant barbarian such as has never before
set its feet in a gallery, to whom art and antiquity have been mere
names, to whom all this world of tintless stone can give but a confused,
huge, overpowering impression of dreariness and vacuity. An impression
composed of negative things: of silence and absence of colour, of
lifelessness, of not knowing what it all is or all means; a sense of
void and of unattractive mystery which chills, numbs the little soul
into a sort of emotionless, inactive discomfort. What we were, how we
felt, how we understood and vaguely guessed things, as children, we can
none of us know. The recollection of ourselves when we were so different
from ourselves, this tradition handed down from a dim, far-off creature
of whom we know, without feeling it, that he, was our _ego_, this
mysterious tradition remains to us only in fragments, has been printed
into our memory only by desultory patches: at one point we can read, at
another the ink has not taken; we know as distinctly as the sensation
and impressions of this very morning this or that sensation or
impression of so many, many years ago; and we ask ourselves at the same
time--"how did such another thing affect our mind?"--with the utter
hopelessness of answer with which we should try to look into the soul
of a dog or a cat. Thus it is with our small barbarian child in the
Vatican: how did it feel? Alas, we should, in order to know, first
have to find that little obscure, puzzled soul again; and where is
it gone? this thing which may once have been ourselves, whither has it
disappeared, when has it been extinguished? So we can only speculate and
reconstruct on a general basis. Certain it is that to this child, to
any child, this Vatican must have been the most desolate, the most
unintelligible of places. For, strange as it may seem, this clear and
simple art of sculpture, born when the world was young and had not yet
learned to think and talk in symbolical riddles, this apparently so
outspoken art is, to the childish soul of our days, the most silent art
of any. To the child, the modern child, it is speechless; it knows not
a word of the language understood by the child's fancy. For this fancy
language of our modern child is the language of colour, of movement, of
sound, of suggestion, of all the broken words of modern thought and
feeling: and the statue has none of these. The child does not recognise
in it anything familiar: these naked, or half-naked, limbs are things
which the child has never seen, at least, never observed; they do not,
in their unfamiliarity, their vagueness, constitute an individual
character; the dress, the furrowed face, the coloured hair, the beard,
these are the things which the child knows, and by which it recognises;
but in these vague, white things, with their rounded white cheek, and
clotted white hair, with their fold of white drapery about them, the
child recognises nothing: men? women? it does not ask: for it, they are
mere things, figures cut out of stone. And thus, in their vagueness,
their unfamiliarity, they seem also to be all alike, even as, on first
acquaintance, we sometimes ask ourselves whether those sisters or
brothers we know are four or only three; for in the unknown there is no
diversity. Mysterious things, therefore, these statues for the child;
but theirs is a mystery of mere vacuity, one which does not haunt, does
not seek a solution. For they are dull things, in their dirty whiteness:
they are doing nothing, these creatures, merely standing or sitting or
leaning, they are looking at nothing with their pupilless white eyes,
they have no story to tell, no name to be asked. The child does not say
to them, as to the people in pictures, the splendid people in strange
colours, and holding strange things, "Who are you? why are you doing
that?" It does not even ask or answer itself whether these white things,
who seem to be all the same, are dead or alive: they are not ghosts,
they are things which, for aught the child knows or cares, have never
been born and never will die. A negation, oppressive and depressing,
that is all; and in the infinite multitude of statues in such a place
as this Vatican, their sense must become actively painful to the child.
Hence, the children we meet either rush headlong through corridor and
hall, looking neither to the right nor to the left, or let themselves
be passively led through, listless, depressed, glancing vaguely about,
looking wistfully at the little glimpses of sunlit garden outside, at
the clipped box hedges and trim orange trees in the court of the Pine
Cone. For there, outside, is life, movement, green; little hedged beds
to run round; fountains to be made to spirt aside by sticking fingers
into their pipes; walls on which to walk balanced, and benches to jump
over: there is field and food for the child's fancy, and here, within,
among all these cut stones, there is none.

Hence it is that the child, who will one day become ourselves, rarely
cares to return to these sculpture galleries; or, if it care to return
to any, it is to mixed galleries like those of Florence, where, instead
of the statues, it looks at the pictures. And out of pictures, out of
the coarse blurs of colour in picture-books, out of the black, huddled,
infinitively suggestive engravings in bible and book of travel; out of
fine glossy modern pictures which represent a definite place, or tell a
definite story; out of all this, confused with haunting impressions, of
things seen or heard of (the strange, deeply significant sights and
words of our childhood), do we get our original, never really alterable
ideas and feelings about art; for much as we may clip, trim, and bedizen
our minds with borrowed things, we can never change, never even recast
its solid material: a compact, and seemingly homogeneous soul mass,
made up of tightly-pressed, crushed odds and ends of impression;
broken, confused, pounded bits of the sights and sounds and emotions
of our childhood. To the statues we return only quite late, when this
long-formed, long-moulded soul of ours has been well steeped in every
sort of eclectic and artificial culture; has been saturated with modern
art and modern criticism, with mysticism and realism and sentiment and
cynicism, with Dante and Zola, and Mozart and Wagner and Offenbach,
saturated, with every kind of critically distilled æsthetic essence,
till there is not a flavour and not a scent, good or bad, sweet or foul,
which may not be perceived in this strange soul of ours. Then we return
to the statues; and, having imbibed (like all things) a certain amount
of Hellenic, Pagan, antique feeling, we try also to assimilate the
spirit of the statues of Phidias or Praxiteles; we expound the
civilisation, the mode of thought; we trace the differences of school,
we approve and condemn, we speak marvellously well, with subtlety or
passion; we imagine all manner of occult, ineffable virtues and vices
in this antique art, we dabble deliciously in alternate purity and
impurity (this being the perfection of artistic pleasure), as we even
occasionally, for a few moments, feel actual, simple, unreasoning,
wholesome pleasure in the sight of the old broken marbles. All this
we do, and most often are therewith satisfied. Yet if, weighing our
artistic likings and dislikings, comparing together our feelings towards
so many and so various manifestations, trying to determine what is fresh
and wholesome food to our depraved æsthetic (and æsthetico-moral)
palate, and what is mere highly flavoured, spicy or nauseous drug-stuff,
if, in such a moment of doubt, we ask ourselves, overheard by no one,
whether in reality this antique art is, in the life of our feelings, at
all important, comforting, influential? we shall, for the most part,
whisper back to ourselves that it is not so in the very least. But could
it ever have been? Could this, or any art have been for us more than
merely one of a hundred feebly enjoyed, more or less exotic mental
luxuries; than an historic fossil, by study of which, as with the
bone of a pterodactyl or an ichthyosaurus, we can amuse ourselves
reconstructing the appearance and habits of a long dead, once living
civilisation? Or might these statues have been much more to us? Might
they, perhaps, have shaped and trained our souls with their unspoken

Well, once upon a time (let us invent a fairy tale), a child was
brought to the Vatican: just such an one, only perhaps a trifle more
wayward, than those we met this morning, demurely led about, or
scampering through the galleries: its name signifies nothing, suffice it
that it was a child. Now, it so happened, that upon that day the statues
(who, as our forefathers of the middle ages knew) are merely stone
imprisoned demons, dethroned gods of antiquity, were bent upon getting
some small amount of amusement in their dreary lives: all the more
dreary since the great joyful hope of restoration in the hearts of men
which they had conceived when Winckelmann and Goethe came to them and
adored, had been slowly disappointed by seeing that what men cared
for was not them, but merely their own impertinent theories and
grandiloquent speeches. The Statue-demons were sick of the bitter
amusement of watching the follies of their pretended or deluded
worshippers. So they sorely wanted excitement, diversion of some sort;
and in their idleness, they capriciously determined to amuse themselves,
no longer with grown men, but with children. So, as a toy for the
moment, they singled out this particular child we are speaking of,
who was wandering wearily through the gallery, overpowered like its
companions by the sense of negativeness, of greyness, of silence, of
want of character and movement and story, and as it passed them, the
statue-demons looked at each other with their pupilless eyes, as much as
to say: "This is the one we shall take," and determined to cast a spell
upon it which would make it theirs. How they did is more than any of us
can tell: there was a little gurgling fountain in the garden outside,
where a broken-snouted dragon spirted a trickle of water through the
maiden-hair choking up the basin, and of this water the child did drink
a little in the palm of its hand, the rest running up its sleeve; there
was also an old noseless Vertumnus in a corner, on whose pedestal a
great tuft of wild grass had shot up, and round whose arms and neck an
ivy plant had cast its green trailing leaves; and one of these bitter
glossy leaves that child did certainly munch; but whether the charm was
in the water or the leaf, or in neither, and only a mysterious spell,
a sort of invisible winged seed of passion which they cast direct into
that little soul, no one may ever decide. Be it as it may, the child
remained for a while conscious of nothing at all, never dreaming that it
had in any way come in contact with that demon world imprisoned in the
stone. It lived its child life of romping and day dreams and lessons and
punishments, and, with its companions, fretted to get away from this
dreary, horrible Rome of the popes: this warm, wet place with its sordid
houses, its ruins embedded in filth and nettles; its tawdry, stuffy
churches, filled with snuffling of monks and jig-quavering of strange,
cracked, sickening-sweet voices; its whole atmosphere of decay and
sloth, as of a great marsh-pond, sprinkled with bright green weed and
starred with flaunting nauseous yellow lilies. The child wondered at
all these things: dug bits of porphyry and serpentine out of gutters,
collected pieces of potshard from the Palatine; read and re-read
the stories of shipwrecks and red Indians and volcanoes: played in
dressing-gowns and shawls, at processions of cardinals and prelates,
and, with yelling companions in pinafores and napkins, at church music,
with tremendous time-beating with rolls of paper; laughed and pouted and
quarrelled as children do; quite unconscious of being the chosen one,
the changeling, the victim of the statues. But little by little, into
its everyday life, stole strange symptoms; sometimes there would come
like a sudden stop, as of a boat caught in the rushes, a consciousness
of immobility in the midst of swirling, flowing movement, a giddy
brain-swimming feeling; and then things went on again just as before.
But the symptoms returned, and others with them. What was the matter?
A vagueness, a want; a seeking, a clinging, but seeking for, clinging
to the unknown. In the evenings of early spring, when the children had
returned from their scrambling walks, and were waiting for supper,
chattering, looking at books, or strumming tunes; this child would watch
the bank of melting colours, crimson, and smoke-purple and gold, left by
the sun behind the black dome of St. Peter's; and as the white vapours
rose from the town below and gathered on the roofs like a veil, it would
feel a vague, acheless pain within it; and at any stray, trifling word
or bar of dance music, its eyes and its whole little soul would fill
with a mist of tears. The spell cast by the statues was not idle, the
mysterious philter which they had poured into it was working throughout
that childish soul: the child was in love; in love with what it had
hated; in love intensely, passionately, with Rome. And as a part of Rome
it loved, blindly, for no other reason, that desolate Vatican; to the
statues it returned, and in a way, grew up in their presence. And one
day the child looked at itself, and perceived that it was a child no
longer; knew all of a sudden, that in those drowsy years of childish
passion and day dreams, it had been learning something which others did
not know. For it heard one day a few pages of a symphony of Mozart's;
the first it had ever heard save much more modern music; and those bars
of symphony were intelligible words, conveyed to the child a secret. And
the secret was: "we are the brethren, the sounding ones of the statues:
and all we who are brethren, whether in stone, or sound, or colour, or
written word, shall to thee speak in such a way that thou recognise us,
and distinguish us from others; and thou shalt love and believe only in
us and those of our kin." Then the child went forth from the Vatican,
and went in among the pictures, and among the poems and the music, and
did indeed find that all those who were of the same kin as the statues
spoke to it intelligible words, and returned its love by making it
happy. This came of the statues having had the whim of giving to that
child the love potion which had made it love Rome.

All this is a fairy tale, a very meagre one indeed, quite inferior to
any told us by nurse or peasant woman; but a fairy tale nevertheless;
for, of course, we all know that statues cannot give love philters, nor
children fall in love with towns, nor symphonies talk about having
brothers in marble or colour. All this is rubbish of the same sort as
the dancing water, the singing apple, the dragon Fafner's blood which
made Sigurd understand the language of the birds, the enchanted lake
into which Charlemagne sat gazing out his life, because of the ring cast
into it; mere rubbish, and, consequently, not to be examined into or
reasoned about. But as the wise men of to-day tell us that in all our
nursery tales (Heaven forbid that anything so appalling be true) there
is a hidden, sensible meaning; perhaps, also, there may be one in this
absurd little story of the child in the Vatican, and that we may see.
And so, now, we must be serious and examine methodically into the

To grow up in the presence of the statues; to become acquainted
with antique art long before any other; to perceive the beauty
and enjoyableness of a statue before seeking for the beauty and
enjoyableness of a picture or a piece of music; this is the reverse of
the artistic training which every individual man or woman obtains
consciously or unconsciously in our own day; for we begin with the art
born nearest our time, then proceed to those further; we go from music
to painting, and from painting to sculpture. But humanity at large
received the opposite training in the last four-and-twenty centuries,
since humanity knew beauty in the statue before knowing beauty in the
picture, and beauty in the picture before beauty in music. The first
standard of artistic right and wrong (since architecture, being a thing
partly for use, and only partly for beauty, has a mixed morality of its
own) was the standard of sculpture. Let us see what that was, and how we
must alter and enlarge it (as humankind has done), in order to obtain
the standard of right and wrong in painting and that in music. The
statues, in our fairy tale, told the child that they had brethren in
sound, brethren which, knowing them, he should also know from the
resemblance. But first, what like are these first born of art, these
statues? What is this character in them which, found in the younger
things, in painting and music, shall show that even these are of the
same stock as the statues? What like are these statues? What a question!
it is perfectly insulting to any one of us most æsthetic creatures.
What like are these statues? Does any of us require to ask or to be
taught that? And to begin with, the very question is a gross error, an
unendurable blunder: statues, antique statues.... You think that so
simple, do you? You think, perhaps, like the people of the sixteenth
century, that there is only one kind of antique statue; know, most
impudent of ignoramuses, that there are innumerable sorts of statues
and antique statues, there are good statues and bad statues, and early
statues and late statues, there are Dedalian statues and Æginete
statues, and immediately pre-Phidian and Phidian, and immediately
post-Phidian and Praxitelian statues, and statues of the school of
Pergamus, and statues of the school of Rhodes, and Græco-Roman statues,
and statues of the Græco-Egyptian revival under Hadrian, and statues....
Enough, enough! We have been talking of the teachings of the statues
themselves, of the lesson which they, with their unchangeable attitude
and gesture, their lines and curves and lights and shadows of body,
their folds and plaits of drapery, have silently, slowly taught to a
child; and the statues themselves, who have never read Winckelmann,
nor Quatremère, nor Ottfried Müller, do not know all these wondrous
classifications of schools of which (with their infinite advantage of
teaching us to admire only one or two schools, and abominate all the
others as barbarous, decaying, Græculan, etc., without even looking at
them) we are so justly proud. Oh, yes, the statues which taught the
child were a very mixed company, such as the carefully-trained of our
day, who can endure only Phidias, and next to Phidias, only Clodion or
Carpeaux, would scarcely like to know at all. Not Phidian, all of them,
nor even, alas, Praxitelian; they were not the Elgin marbles nor the
Venus of Milo, sole objects of the feeble love of us good, learned folk;
they were those extremely harum-scarum statues of the Vatican: a few of
them copies of lost, irreproachable originals, like the Doryphoros, the
Minerva, the Amazon, the Satyr; a certain number of impostors of now
exploded reputation, the Apollo, the Laocoon, the Antinous, and a whole
host of quite despicable others, of every degree of lateness of epoch
and baseness of work. And what is still worse, the child was taught, not
merely by this multifarious company, but by heaven knows what dreadful
statues besides; things to shudder at, things, hewn stones (for the
right-minded cannot call them statues) out in gardens, noseless, armless
things under artificial ruined temples, in niches of clipped box, or
half-swathed up with ivy and creeping roses. All these said to that
child that, although some of them were quite artistic patricians and
princes, and others the merest ragtag and bobtail, nay, unspeakable
ruffians and outcasts, they yet belonged to the same stock, they all
being antique; and that all of them, according to their degree and
power, some in unspoken words perfect as any of Plato's, and others
in horrible, jumbled slang, malaprop gibberish, would teach him the
same lesson, if he would listen to them all: the lesson of their own
nature and kinship. And from all of them, insensibly, slowly, without
archæologic or æsthetic formulæ, in the simple manner in which children
learn all that is most important to know, this child learned. So
that, without desire for archæologic and æsthetic answers, we now
ask, referring to this lesson learnt by the child--"What like
_are_ the statues?" What like? Why, of course--well, they are
like--like--like--what in the world should statues _be_ like?--things
cannot be defined in that cut and dry fashion--why, statues are like--.
In short, such questions can neither be asked nor answered by
intelligent folk. They can be put only by people who believe in love
philters and symphonies which talk, and children who fall in love with
towns; idiotic questions like "Why should there be sin?"--and "Why love
our neighbours when they are nasty?"--which only children ask--questions
to answer which as they deserve, you had better get hold of your eternal
fairy-story child, and ask him what the statues said they were like.
Nay, do not lose all patience. And see, since you think that the
question, "What like are the statues" is fit to be answered only by the
child of the fairy tale, we will pretend, for a moment, that the fairy
tale is true, and play, for your benefit, the part of that child. And
the things which that child would have learned, scarce consciously, in
the course of its own growth, and during years of familiarity with all
this host of statues, we will try and explain in an hour or so, by
examining together a single work of ancient sculpture. This work is the
Niobe group; and we have chosen it, after a little thought, for the
purpose, because, from the complication of the story and of the group
itself, it will enable us to illustrate a greater number of points than
could well be done in the examination of isolated antique figures, or
groups of merely two or three, such as there are plenty of here in Rome.
But the Niobe is not in Rome, you will say; why not take some statue or
group of statues here in the Vatican? Because the Niobe can teach us
most in least time; and because also, you need not think of the group as
it stands in the gallery in Florence. Indeed, you must not think of that
group at all, spread out as it is, in idiotic confusion, round the walls
of Peter Leopold's oblong hall. What you must think of, look at, is
this--See: here we have all the figures composing the group, very fairly
copied in terra-cotta, the largest not much longer than your arm; and
these figures we have placed, according to their relative size, in this
rough wooden model of the triangular gable of a Greek temple; following
approximately the design of the restored temple front which Cockerell
made years ago for the Florentine gallery.

Come and stand at a little distance from the table on which the wooden
gable and statues are set. So, now we can get an idea (which in the
gallery we cannot) of the general effect of the group. It seems so
simple, but it is not: it is in sculpture something like what a fugue
is in music: it is a homogeneous form due to the extremely skilful
co-ordination of various forms; it is a harmonious whole, because the
parts are combined just at the point where their diversities coalesce.
For, as the various voices of the fugue, some subtly insinuating
themselves half whispered, while the others are thundering their loudest
or already dying away into silence, meet and weave together various
fragments of the same melody, so also do the figures of the group,
some standing, some reclining, some kneeling, some rising, some draped,
some nude, meet our sight in various ways so as to constitute in their
variety, one great pattern; balance each other on opposite sides of the
gable, slope and taper down towards the extremities, grow and rise
higher towards the middle where the vertex of the triangular temple
front, the triumphant centre of the rhythm and harmony of lines, is
formed by the majestic, magnificent mother between her two eldest, most
beautiful daughters. And now, think no more of this terra-cotta than,
having learned the shape of a hymn by Bach or a psalm by Marcello on
the piano, you would think of the poor miserable piano-notes which you
hear with your ears, instead of the mass of voices which you hear with
your fancy. Think of this Niobe group, twice humansized, standing
on the weather-mellowed, delicately painted marble temple front; the
amber-tinted figures against the dark hollow formed by the projecting
roof; the sunshine drawing on the black back-ground, as with a luminous
pencil, the great solemn masses of light and shadow, the powerfully
rhythmed attitudes, the beautiful combinations of lines and light and
shade produced by the gesture, which now raises, now drops the drapery,
opposing to the large folds, heavy and severe, the minute, most supple,
and most subtle plaits; and to the strong broken shadows of the drapery,
the shining smoothness of the nude. Think of that, and remember then the
single figures in their best examples, the mother and eldest daughter of
Florence, the headless younger daughter of the Vatican, the exquisite
dying boy of Munich; and think, by recollecting these dispersed noblest
copies, what must the lost original have been. And thus, looking at the
little rough terra-cotta model, and magnifying it in fancy into the
great superb group such as it must have stood on the temple, there comes
home to us, filling, expanding our mind, an almost ineffable sense of
perfection of line and curve, and light and shade, perfection as of the
sweeping wave of some great mountain, distant and deep blue against the
pale sky; perfection as of the pearled edge of the tiny pink cyclamen
petal; as of the single small voice, swelling and diminishing in crisp
exquisiteness every little turn and shake, and again as of the many
chords of multitudinous voices rolling out in great joyous sound
billows; perfection of whole in harmony and graduation of perfect
parts: perfection of visible form.

But by the side of this overwhelming positive sense of beauty there
creeps into our consciousness an irritating little sense of negation.
For the more intense becomes our perception of the form, the vaguer
becomes our recollection of the subject; the strong imaginative
realization of the story of Niobe, conjured up by the mere mention of
her name, dwindles to nothing in the presence of the group representing
the chief incident of history; the skrieks and desperate scuffling of
feet, which we had heard in our fancy, gradually die into silence; our
senses cease to shrink with horror, our sympathies cease to vibrate with
pity, as we look upon this visible embodiment of the terrible tragedy.
We are no longer feeling emotion; we are merely perceiving beauty. How
has this come to pass? Shall we look into ourselves and analyze in the
darkness of our consciousness? Nay, rather first look for an explanation
in the materially visible, the clear, easily examined work of art. Come
and look at the group once more: this time not to understand its beauty,
but to understand why there is in it nothing beyond this beauty.

Certainly, the group answers very well to the general idea of the
massacre of the Niobides: the figures have the attitudes of men and
women overtaken by a sudden danger against which they seek, but vainly,
to shield themselves: the mother clasps the cowering, clinging, youngest
girl, and tries to cover her with her mantle, her arms, her whole body,
to let the child melt into herself and be lost; the youngest son sinks,
panting and helpless, on to one knee; the eldest daughter bends forward
to throw her veil over a dead brother; the younger daughter mechanically
raises her draped arm to ward off the shafts from her face; another son
hastens away, looking bewildered around him, trying to see from which
side come the arrows, which come from all sides. All this is perfectly
correct in expression; we are bound to admit that these are the probable
movements and gestures of people situated like Niobe and her children.
We cannot find fault with anything, yet we feel a vague sense of
unreality. Unreality to ourselves? Nay, rather, unreality to the
artist: we perceive, little by little, that everyone of these evident
indications of a catastrophe is connected with a grand gesture, a noble
fold, a harmonious combination of masses: the mother raising the arm
covered with her cloak and clasping the child with the other, produces
thereby a magnificent contrast between the round, bunched fold of the
mantle, and the straight, narrow folds of her skirt, nay, between the
simple and ample drapery covering her own bosom, and the minute clinging
crinkles on the back of the little one; the wounded youth sinks
down in such a way as to display the grand muscles of his throat
and shoulders; the girl covering her naked dead brother, forms with
him, a powerfully-balanced mass of brightly-lit nude and broken,
shadow-furrowed drapery; and all the remaining children stoop and cower
and stretch forth their arms in such a way as to produce the inclination
of the two sides of the triangle crowning the temple. Moreover, the
pathetic, upward movement of the mother's head, by slightly drawing
down the jaw, and in upturning the eyes, contracting the brows into a
triangular furrow, accentuates the grandeur of the grand features, and
prevents the light from above falling upon a mere flat expanse of cheek
and forehead; the eldest daughter stooping tenderly over the dead boy
produces, in so doing, an incomparable curve of neck and shoulders; and
thus, with all the other figures, the gesture is invariably productive
of a definite beauty of form. And, on the other hand, there is not
present a single one of the gestures or attitudes which would certainly
produce definite ugliness of form, and would yet be as appropriate and
inevitable to the situation as these. There is not, in this group, any
movement, any effect, of which we could decidedly say that it would not
arise in a scene like this; but, in a scene like this, there would
certainly be a great many movements and effects which cannot be found in
the group. Hence, the dramatic expression of the work is essentially
negative: in the mind of the artist the realisation of the scene, the
bringing home of the story, has been a purely secondary thing, and
therefore the realisation of the scene, the bringing home of the story,
is secondary also to us, the spectators. The impression produced in us
is exactly corresponding to the interest dominant in the artist: he
has cared for the subject only inasmuch as it afforded suggestions for
beautiful forms; and we therefore have perceived the beautiful forms,
and forgotten the subject. The object of the artist has been, whether or
not he formulated it clearly to himself, not to bring home the situation
to the fancy; not to awaken an emotion; but to present to the eye and
the mind a mere beautiful form. And that such has been his object, is
the first and main lesson which we have learned from the Niobe group, as
it was the first and main lesson learned by the child of our fairy tale
from the innumerable statues which, during those long years in the
Vatican, were its silent teachers.

To present to the eye and the mind a mere beautiful form, this seems a
terrible low and limited definition of the aim of a great artist, of a
whole great national art. Surely not this. The aim of the artist, of the
innumerable artists constituting antique art, must have been nobler: the
form for them must have been the mere physical embodiment of the ideas
and the presentation of the beautiful idea must have been their real
object. You think so? well; the child of our fairy tale pretends that
the statues told him the contrary; told him that form was the real
artistic aim, and that the idea was arranged, clipped, sometimes even
mangled, to make it fit the form. We can judge for ourselves. You say
_idea_, and oppose it to form; hence, the _idea_ is, we must presume,
what the _form_ is not, and since the form is the sensible, the visible,
the concrete, the outwardly existing, the idea must be the invisible,
the abstract, the merely intellectually existing. In this sense, what
is the _idea_, the abstract intellectual conception of the Niobe group?
Merely the fact of the slaughtering of the Niobides by Apollo and
Artemis in the presence of their mother, keep this fact (if you can) in
your mind without mentally investing with any shape the Niobides, the
gods, or the mother; conceiving the mere bare fact, without conceiving
what it would look like; do this and when you have succeeded, as far as
any creature not born blind can succeed, you will have the _idea_ of
the Niobe group. Such an idea does not require for its conception that
you be a great sculptor; indeed you understand that for the idea to
be nothing beyond an idea, it requires a man born blind, that is to
say, totally deficient, that activity of plastic conception which is
possessed in the highest degree by the artist. Now what is the product
of that very plastic activity of mind which the artist possesses in the
highest degree, and which you required to deaden in yourself in order to
conceive the _idea_ in its perfect abstract purity, what is that product
of plastic activity? what is it which is for ever hovering before your
mental vision, getting between you and the mere idea, interfering with
the abstract conception, turning that abstract idea into something (even
in your mind) concrete, perceptible by the senses? That something was
the _form_. When you involuntarily said to yourself--"the mother looked
in such a way, the sons in such another," this that you were conceiving
was no longer the mere _idea_, it was the _form_: not the action, but
the visible appearance presented by the action. To conceive the mere
_idea_, all plastic fancy must be in abeyance; to conceive the _form_,
all plastic fancy must be active; and as the artist is the man in
whom plastic fancy is more than usually active, that which the artist
conceives is not the idea, but the form: not the abstract intellectual
side of the action, but the concrete, the visible. The idea, the fact
of the action, and all its non-visible, psychological details, come
to the artist from without; the knowledge that Niobe saw her children
slaughtered by the gods, and the psychological inferences therefrom that
Niobe, being a mother, and mothers feeling anguish at the sufferings of
their children, must have undergone great anguish at thus seeing her
children slaughtered--this fact by its psychologic developments, comes
from without to the artist, it may come from the same individual man of
whom the artist is a portion, but even in this case it comes equally
from without the artist; if Mr. Rossetti invent a story about a Blessed
Damozel, and then paint a picture representing her looking down from
heaven, the story, the idea of the Blessed Damozel is given by Mr.
Rossetti, the poet, that is the man who conceives facts and their
psychologic developments, to Mr. Rossetti, the painter, that is the
man who conceives the visible appearance of actions; the two artists
happen to be united in one person, but they are two distinct artists
nevertheless, and the painter is _not_ the artist who conceives the idea
of the action, but the one who conceives the _form_ of the action. Thus,
the artist is the man who conceives the form. Now, since his activity is
entirely limited to the form, since, as an artist, he can produce only
the form, how is this artist to do what behoves every man and every
artist: his best? How is he to give the world the greatest possible
benefit of his special endowment? Evidently, since his endowment is
for the creation of form, the result of the greatest activity of his
endowment will be seen in the form; if he do his best, he will do his
best with the only thing which, inasmuch as he is an artist, he can
control, namely, the form. But how do his best, with the form? Clearly,
by making the form as good as possible. Good in what way? Shall we
say as expressive as possible? Nay, but the expressiveness is a mere
correspondence between the idea and the form, it is not an inherent
quality of the form itself; given only the form, without the idea, we
cannot judge of its expressiveness: to judge whether or not the Niobe
group is expressive, we must first be told that which it might or might
not express; the idea, the fact and its psychologic developments, which
do not lie within the domain of the man of mere form. Thus the goodness
of the form must not be a fittingness to something outside and separate
from the form, it must be intrinsic in the form itself. And what is
this excellence which can be intrinsic to the form, which can be fully
appreciated in the contemplation of that mere form, which requires no
comparison with anything outside the form? Not expressiveness, we have
seen; not likeness, for that, like expressiveness, is an extrinsic
quality of which we can judge only by bringing into comparison something
besides this form; still less fittingness to some material or moral use.
We must look for the intrinsic possibilities of form, that is for the
effect which the form can, without intermediary or collateral help,
produce upon the spectator; shall we say clearness? Clearness is an
intrinsic quality of form, but it is not an ultimate quality. That a
form is clear means that we can see it well; but the question remains,
why should we care to see it well? what is the intrinsic quality of form
in obtaining which the artist is doing the utmost which, in his capacity
of mere artist, he can do? What is that which can make it desirable
for us to see clearly a form isolated from any extraneous interest of
expressiveness, resemblance or utility? That highest intrinsic quality
of form is beauty; and the highest merit of the artist, of the mere form
creator, is to make form which is beautiful.

Can the Niobe teach us more? Has your Vatican child learned any more
from the statues? you ask, contemptuous at this definition, narrow, as
must be all definitions of duty. Perhaps the Niobe may teach us next how
this highest artistic quality of beauty, this sole aim of the artist, is
to be attained? Be not so contemptuous. The Niobe can teach us something
about the mode of attaining to this end; it cannot, indeed, teach us
what to do, for the knowledge of that, the knowledge of how to combine
lines and curves and lights and shades, is the secret belonging to the
artist, to be taught and learned only by himself; but it can teach us
what not to do, teach us the conditions without which those combinations
of lines and curves and lights and shades, cannot be created. Let us
return to the Niobe once more: let us see the group clearly in its
general composition, and then, with the group before us, let us ask
ourselves what plastic form is conceived in our imagination when there
comes home to it the mere abstract idea of the sudden massacre of the
Niobides, by Apollo and Artemis. Nothing, perhaps, very clear at first,
but clearer if we try to draw what we see or to describe it in words.
In the first place, we see, more or less vaguely, according to our
imaginative endowment, a scene of very great confusion and horror:
figures wildly shuffling to and fro, clutching at each other, writhing,
grimacing with convulsed agony, shrieking, yelling, howling; we see
horrible wounds, rent, raw flesh, arrows sticking in torn muscles,
dragging forth hideous entrails, spirting and gushing and trickling
of blood; we see the mother, agonised into almost beast-like rage and
terror, the fourteen boys and girls, the god and the goddess adjusting
their shafts and drawing their bows; we see all, murderous divinities,
writhing victims, impotent, anguished mother. If we see it, how much
more fully and more clearly, in every detail, is it not seen in the
mind of the sculptor, of the man whose special gift is the conception
of visible appearances? Oh, yes, he sees it: here the mother, here
the elder daughters, there the other children, further off, Apollo
and Artemis, sees how each stands, moves, looks, sees the convulsed
features, the rumpled garments, the fear, the pain, the anger, the
hopelessness, the pitilessness. He takes three planks, nails together
their extremities: this is the gable of the temple, the triangular
cavity or box into which he must fit his group; then, with thumb and
fingers, roughly moulds a certain number of clay puppets, places them in
the triangular box, removes them, alters them, replaces them, takes them
out once more, throws some away, elaborates others; works for hours,
days, weeks, till we return to his workshop, and find a number of
models, tiny moulded dolls in the plank triangle; large statuettes,
half-finished, roughly-worked heads--drawings, perhaps, of parts of the
group. And we examine it all. It is the rudiment of the Niobe group. But
see: of all those things which we saw in our fancy, which the artist,
being an artist, must have seen with infinitely more completeness
and clearness, only a portion has here been reproduced. Of all the
movements and gestures there remain but a very few: the convulsions, the
writhings, and grimacings are gone; there is no trampling, no clutching,
no howling, no grimacing, there are no quivering limbs, or disembowelled
bodies. Why so? Ask the artist. Because, he will answer, all those
movements and gestures were radically ugly; because all that howling and
grimacing in agony entirely ruined the beauty of the features; because
the situation could not be adequately represented, except to the utter
detriment of the form. Hence, of all the movements and gestures which
had presented themselves to his inner vision, at the first mention of
the story of Niobe, the artist has rejected those which were at all
detrimental to the beauty of the form, and accepted those others which
were conducive thereto. He has cast aside a whole portion of the real
appearance of the event, because it interfered with his, perhaps
unspoken and unformulated, but instinctively imperious artistic aim:
to create beautiful form.

But this is not all. He has left out something else which was a most
essential, nay, an all important part of his first mental vision of the
scene. He has actually left out--guess what--some son or daughter of
Niobe?--has run counter to the tradition of the seven girls and seven
boys?--oh, in comparison, that would be nothing. He has actually and
absolutely left out the god and goddess--left out the murderers from
the representation of the murder. Why in the world has he done this?
Granting that he need not transfer to his group all the terrible details
he has seen in his mind, why should he leave out Apollo and Artemis?
They need not be convulsed, or writhing, or grimacing; on the contrary,
they ought to be quite calm and passionless in their cruel beauty. There
is nothing unbeautiful in Apollo and Artemis surely. No: not in Apollo
and Artemis, taken in themselves; but in Apollo and Artemis considered
as part of this group. Listen: we will explain. Since Apollo and Artemis
are, between them, slaughtering all the Niobides, closing them in with
their arrows, it is obvious that Apollo and Artemis must be placed in
such a manner as to command the whole family of Niobides; there must be
no Niobides behind them, for that would mean that there are Niobides who
are out of danger and can escape. So the god and goddess must be placed
in one of three ways: either back to back in the very centre of the
group, each shooting down one half of the family; or else entirely
separated, each at one extremity of the group, so as to face each other
and enclose all the Niobides between them; or else above the Niobides,
floating in mid air and raining down arrows like hail. Now, which of
these three arrangements shall the sculptor select? He rejects at once
the plan of placing the god and goddess back to back in the centre of
the group, and we agree with him; for the two figures, thus applied to
each other, each more or less in profile, would form the most ludicrous
double-headed Janus. Place, then, Apollo at one end and Artemis at the
other. There is nothing ugly in that, is there? There would not be were
the sculptor modelling the oblong bas-relief of a sarcophagus; but there
would be something very ugly now that, as it happens, he is modelling
a group for the triangular gable of a temple. For, as the sides of
the triangle slope sharply down, the figures beneath them necessarily
become smaller and less erect in proportion to their distance from the
vertex; so the god and goddess, if placed at the extremity of the group,
must be flattened down in the acute angles of the base, must crouch and
squat with their bows barely on a level with the knees of their victims.
So this arrangement will not do; there remains the third plan of placing
Apollo and Artemis above the Niobides. This is an admirable idea: the
vertex of the triangle is filled by the floating figures of the gods,
who appear calm, beautiful, mysterious, showering down death from
inaccessible heaven. Will this do? Alas, much less than either of the
others. The arrangement would be beautiful if the triangle of the
gable, instead of being filled with a group of statues, were walled up,
plastered, and could be painted on in fresco. The colour, light and
shade, and perspective of painting, by creating a seeming depth of
back-ground, by hiding one figure partially behind another, so as to
make them appear not in actual contact, by piling up ætherial clouds or
waving light draperies, would permit the artist to show the Niobides on
solid ground below, and the gods in the air, high, distant above. But
the sculptor, without any such means, could only suspend Apollo and
Artemis (at tremendous expense of iron clamps) in such a way that
they should seem to be standing on the shoulders of the Niobides; or
interpose between them a thick bolster of marble clouds, a massive
flutter of streaming marble draperies. Now do you think that the marble
clouds and the marble fluttering drapery would be conducive to the
beauty of the group, to the perfection of visible forms? Certainly not.
And, therefore, Apollo and Artemis, gods though they are and chief
actors in the story, have simply been left out in this its artistic

For beauty of form has a double origin: it is not only an intellectual
conception, but also a physical embodiment; and the intellectual
conception is altered by the nature of the material in which it is
embodied. The abstract form which will be infinitely delicate and
life-like in the brown clay, which receives every minute dimple and
crease from the finger of the artist, which presents a soft, uniform
tint to the spectator; this same abstract form will be coarse and
lifeless in the purple speckled porphyry, against whose hard grain the
chisel is blunted, and the mottled colour and salt-like sparkle of which
hide from the eye the real relations of line and curve, of concave and
projection. The Mercury who, in the green bronze, floats upwards like a
bubble, would jump like a clodhopper in the dingy white plaster. And
these, remark, are differences only in one category of material and
handling; change the sort of material and manner of handling and the
differences become still greater. Statues, whether in clay, bronze,
porphyry, or plaster, are always similar in the fact of being wholly
free--round as Vasari calls them--of being interfered with by no
complications of shadows like the figures of a high, middle or
bas-relief; hence, as soon as the figures cease to be round, as soon as
they are attached to a back-ground, the whole composition is altered
by the consideration how the different degrees of projection, and the
consequent play of light and shadow, will affect the apparent shape
of the figures. And yet we are still within the domain of sculpture.
How great a difference of form will not result when, instead of the
tintless, tangible projections of stone, we get to the mere semblance
of infinite depth and distance cunningly obtained by light and shade,
colour and perspective, on a flat surface; where the light, instead of
existing variable and confusing outside the work, is within that very
work, inside the picture, combining, graduating every detail, making
form melt gently into form, or stand out in triumphant relief? Thus the
things which can be done in bronze must not be attempted in porphyry,
the group of statues must be conceived differently from the bas-relief;
the picture is different from the statue; for the beauty of form depends
not only on the conception but upon the embodiment: if the material is
violent, the conception is warped; and the same beauty can be obtained
in all the arts only by remembering that those arts are different that,
with the material and modes of handling, must change the conception.

Thus we have seen that the sculptor of the Niobe deliberately refused
to embody his complete mental vision of the scene of massacre; that he
selected among the attitudes and gestures and expressions suggested
to him by this scene, rejected those which were inherently ugly, and
accepted those which were intrinsically beautiful; and that he left out
of his representation of the incidents its principal actors, because he
could not have introduced them without either violating the nature of
the whole composition to which he was bound, or violating the nature of
the material in which he was working, and by so doing sacrificing the
perfection of visible form which, being the only intrinsic quality to
which his art could independently attain, was the one object of his
desires and efforts. Such is the logical conclusion which we have
consciously and perhaps wearisomely obtained from our analysis of the
mode of conception and treatment of the Niobe group; and such the lesson
which, unconsciously, vaguely, the child of our fairy tale must have
learned from its marble teachers in the Vatican: That the only intrinsic
perfection of art is the perfection of form, and that such perfection
is obtainable only by boldly altering, or even casting aside, the
subject with which this form is only imaginatively, most often
arbitrarily, connected; and by humbly considering and obeying the
inherent necessities of the material in which this form is made visible
or audible. That by such artistic laws they themselves had come into
existence, and that all other things which had come into existence
by the same laws, were their brethren, was the secret which those
statue-demons imparted to that child; the secret which enabled it to
understand those symphony notes of Mozart's, when they said: "we also,
the sounding ones, are the brethren of the statues; and all we who are
brethren, whether in stone, or sound or colour, shall to thee speak in
such a way that thou recognize us, and distinguish us from all others;
and thou shalt love and believe only in us and those of our kin; in
return we will give thee happiness." And this, as we have told you,
came to pass solely because the statues took the whim of bewitching
that child into falling in love with Rome.



No Greek myth has a greater charm for our mind than that of Orpheus and
Eurydice. In the first place, we are told by mythologists that it is a
myth of the dawn, one of those melancholy, subdued interpretations of
the eternal, hopeless separation of the beautiful light of dawn and the
beautiful light of day, which forms the constantly recurring tragedy of
nature, as the tremendous struggle between light and darkness forms
her never-ending epic, her Iliad and Nibelungenlied. There is more of
the purely artistic element in these myths of the dawn than in the
sun myths. Those earliest poets, primitive peoples, were interested
spectators of the great battle between day and night. The sun-hero was
truly their Achilles, their Siegfried. In fighting, he fought for them.
When he chained up the powers of darkness the whole earth was hopeful
and triumphant; when he sank down dead, a thousand dark, vague, hideous
monsters were let loose on the world, filling men's hearts with
sickening terror; the solar warfare was waged for and against men. The
case is quite different with respect to the dawn tragedy. If men were
moved by that, it was from pure, disinterested sympathy. The dawn and
the day were equally good and equally beautiful; the day loved the dawn,
since it pursued her so closely, and the dawn must have loved the day
in return, since she fled so slowly and reluctantly. Why, then, were
they forbidden ever to meet? What mysterious fate condemned the one to
die at the touch of the other--the beloved to elude the lover, the
lover to kill the beloved? This sad, sympathising question, which the
primitive peoples repeated vaguely and perhaps scarce consciously, day
after day, century after century, at length received an answer. One
answer, then another, then yet another, as fancy took more definite
shapes. Yes, the dawn and the morning are a pair of lovers over whom
hangs an irresistible, inscrutable fate--Cephalus and Procris, Alcestis
and Admetus, Orpheus and Eurydice.

And this myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is, to our mind, the most charming
of the tales born of that beautiful, disinterested sympathy for the dawn
and the morning, the one in which the subdued, mysterious pathos of its
origin is most perfectly preserved; in which no fault of infidelity or
jealousy, no final remission of doom, breaks the melancholy unity of
the story. In it we have the real equivalent of that gentle, melancholy
fading away of light into light, of tint into tint. Orpheus loses
Eurydice as the day loses the dawn, because he loves her; she has issued
from Hades as the dawn has issued from darkness; she melts away beneath
her lover's look even as the dawn vanishes beneath the look of the day.

The origin of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is beautiful; the myth
itself, as evolved by spontaneous poetry, is still more so, and more
beautiful still are the forms which have successively been lent it by
the poet, the sculptor, and the musician. Its own charm adds to that
of its embodiments, and the charm of its embodiments adds in return to
its own; a complete circle of beautiful impressions, whose mysterious,
linked power it is impossible to withstand. The first link in the chain
are those lines of Virgil's, for which we would willingly give ten
Æneids, those grandly simple lines, half-hidden in the sweet luxuriance
of the fourth book of the _Georgics_, as the exquisitely chiselled
fragment of some sylvan altar might lie half-hidden among the long
grasses and flowers, beneath the flowering bays and dark ilexes, broken
shadows of boughs and yellow gleams of sunlight flickering fantastically
across the clear and supple forms of the sculptured marble "And already
upwards returning, he had escaped all mishaps, and the given-back
Eurydice was coming into the upper air, walking behind him, for
Proserpina had made this condition. When, of a sudden, a madness seized
on the unwily lover--pardonable, surely, if ghosts but knew how to
pardon. He stood, and back on his Eurydice, already in our sunlight,
he looked, forgetful, alas! and broken of will. Then was all the work
undone, broken was the compact with the unkind lord, and vainly had he
thrice heard the waters of hell sounding. Then she--'What madness has
ruined me, wretched one, and thee, also, Orpheus? For I am called by the
cruel Fates to return, and sleep closes my swimming eyes. So, farewell.
I am borne away muffled in thick night, stretching forth to thee (alas,
thine no longer!) my helpless hands.' She spoke, and from his sight
suddenly, even as thin smoke mingles with air, disappeared; nor him,
vainly clasping the shadows, and many things wishing to say, did she
see again." These lines suggest a bas-relief to us, because a real
bas-relief is really connected with them in our mind, and this
connection led to a curious little incident in our æsthetic life, which
is worth narrating. The bas-relief in question is a sufficiently obscure
piece of Greek workmanship, one of those mediocre, much-degraded works
of art with which Roman galleries abound, and among which, though left
unnoticed by the crowd that gathers round the Apollo, or the Augustus,
or the Discobolus, we may sometimes divine a repetition of some great
lost work of antiquity, some feeble reflection of lost perfection. It
is let into the wall of a hall of the Villa Albani, where people throng
past it in search of the rigid, pseudo-Attic Antinous. And it is as
simple as the verses of Virgil: merely three figures slightly raised out
of the flat, blank back-ground, Eurydice between Orpheus and Hermes.
The three figures stand distinctly apart and in a row. Orpheus touches
Eurydice's veil, and her hand rests on his shoulder, while the other
hand, drooping supine, is grasped by Hermes. There is no grouping, no
embracing, no violence of gesture--nay, scarcely any gesture at all; yet
for us there is in it a whole drama, the whole pathos of Virgil's lines.
Eurydice has returned, she is standing beneath our sun--_jam luce sub
ipsa_--but for the last time. Orpheus lets his lyre sink, his head
drooping towards her--_multa volens dicere_--and holds her veil,
speechless. Eurydice, her head slightly bent, raises her eyes full
upon him. In that look is her last long farewell:--

  Jamque vale, feror ingenti circumdata nocte,
  Invalidas tibi tendens, heu! non tua, palmas.

Behind Eurydice stands Hermes, the sad, though youthful messenger of
the dead. He gently takes her hand; it is time; he would fain stay and
let the parting be delayed for ever, but he cannot. Come, we must go.
Eurydice feels it; she is looking for the last time at Orpheus, her
head and step are prepared to turn away--_jamque vale_. Truly this sad,
sympathising messenger of Hades is a beautiful thought, softening the
horror of the return to death.

And we look up again at the bas-relief, the whole story of Orpheus
laying firmer hold of our imagination; but as our eyes wander wistfully
over the marble, they fall, for the first time, upon a scrap of paper
pasted at the bottom of it, a wretched, unsightly, scarce legible rag,
such as insult some of the antiques in this gallery, and on it is
written:--"Antiope coi figli Anfione e Zeto." A sudden, perplexed wonder
fills our mind--wonder succeeded by amusement. The bunglers, why, they
must have glued the wrong label on the bas-relief. Of course! and we
turn out the number of the piece in the catalogue, the solemn, portly
catalogue--full of references to Fea, and Visconti, and Winckelmann.
Number--yes, here it is, here it is. What, again?

"Antiope urging her sons, Amphion and Zethus, to avenge her by the
murder of Dirce."

We put down the catalogue in considerable disgust. What, they don't see
that that is Orpheus and Eurydice! They dare, those soulless pedants,
to call _that_ Antiope with Amphion and Zethus! Ah!--and with smothered
indignation we leave the gallery. Passing through the little ilex copse
near the villa, the colossal bust of Winckelmann meets our eyes, the
heavy, clear-featured, strong-browed head of him who first revealed the
world of ancient art. And such profanation goes on, as it were, under
his eyes, in that very Villa Albani which he so loved, where he first
grew intimate with the antique! What would he have said to such
heartless obtuseness?

We have his great work, the work which no amount of additional learning
can ever supersede, because no amount of additional learning will ever
enable us to feel antique beauty more keenly and profoundly than he made
us feel it--we have his great work on our shelf, and as soon as we are
back at home, our mind still working on Orpheus and Eurydice, we take it
down and search for a reference to our bas-relief. We search all through
the index in vain; then turn over the pages where it may possibly be
mentioned, again in vain; no Orpheus and Eurydice. Ah! "A bas-relief
at the Villa Albani"--let us see what that may be. "A bas-relief," &c.,
&c.--horror beyond words! The bas-relief--our bas-relief--deliberately
set down as Antiope with Amphion and Zethus--set down as Antiope with
Amphion and Zethus, by Winckelmann himself!

Yes, and he gravely states his reasons for so doing. The situation is
evidently one of great hesitation; there is reluctance on the one hand,
persuasion on the other. Moreover, the female figure is that of a
mourner, of a supplicant, draped and half-veiled as it is; the figure
with the lyre, in the Thracian or Thessalian costume, must necessarily
be Amphion, while the other in the loose tunic of a shepherd, must as
evidently be his brother, Zethus; and if we put together these facts,
we cannot but conclude that the subject of the bas-relief is, as
previously stated, Antiope persuading Amphion and Zethus to avenge her
on Dirce.

The argument is a good one, there can be no denying it, although it
is very strange that Winckelmann should not have perceived that the
bas-relief represented Orpheus and Eurydice. But, after all, we ask
ourselves, as the confusion in our minds gradually clears up: how do
we know that this _is_ Orpheus and Eurydice, and not Antiope and her
sons? How! and the answer rises up indignantly, Because we see to the
contrary; because we know that it must be Orpheus and Eurydice because
we feel morally persuaded that it is. But a doubt creeps up. We are
morally convinced, but whence this conviction? Did we come to the
bas-relief not knowing what it was, and did we then cry out, overcome by
its internal evidence, that it must represent Orpheus and Eurydice? Did
we ourselves examine and weigh the evidence as Winckelmann did? And we
confess to ourselves that we did none of these things. But how, then,
explain this intense conviction, and the emotion awakened in us by
the bas-relief? Yet that emotion was genuine; and now we have, little
by little, to own that we had read in a book, by M. Charles Blanc,
that such and such a bas-relief at the Villa Albani represented
Orpheus and Eurydice, and that we had accepted the assertion blindly,
unscrutinisingly, and coming to the bas-relief with that idea, did not
dream of examining into its truth. And did we not then let our mind
wander off from the bas-relief to the story of Orpheus, and make a sort
of variation on Virgil's poem, and mistake all this for the impression
received from the bas-relief itself? May this not be the explanation of
our intense conviction? It seems as if it were so. We have not only lost
our sentimental pleasure in the bas-relief, but we have been caught by
ourselves (most humiliating of all such positions) weaving fantastic
stories out of nothing at all, decrying great critics for want of
discernment, when we ourselves had shown none whatever.

It may have been childish, but it was natural to feel considerable
bitterness at this discovery; you may smile, but we had lost something
precious, the idea that art was beginning to say more to us than to
others, the budding satisfaction of being no longer a stranger to the
antique, and this loss was truly bitter; nay, in the first bitterness
of the discovery, we had almost taken an aversion to the bas-relief,
as people will take an aversion to the things about which they know
themselves to have been foolish. However, as this feeling subsided, we
began to reflect that the really worthy and dignified course would
be to attain to real certainty on the subject, and finding that our
recollection of the bas-relief was not so perfectly distinct as to
authorise a final decision, we determined coolly to examine the work
once more, and to draw our conclusions on the spot.

The following Tuesday, therefore, we started betimes for the Villa
Albani, intending to have a good hour to ourselves before the arrival of
the usual gaping visitors. The gallery was quite empty; we drew one of
the heavy chairs robed in printed leather before the bas-relief, and
settled ourselves deliberately to examine it. We were now strangely
unbiassed on the subject, for the reaction against our first positive
mood, and the frequent turning over one view, then the other, had left
in us only a very strong critical curiosity, the desire to unravel the
tangled reason of our previous unexplained conviction. Of course we
found that our memory had failed in one or two particulars, that the
image preserved in our mind was not absolutely faithful, but we could
discover nothing capable of materially influencing our views. We looked
at the bas-relief again and again; strictly speaking, there is in it
nothing beyond a woman standing between two men, of whom the one touches
her veil, and the other, to whom she turns her back, grasps her right
hand, while her left hand rests lightly on the shoulder of the first
male figure; so far there is reason for saying that the bas-relief
represents either Orpheus and Eurydice, or Antiope and her sons; indeed,
all that could fairly be said is that it represents a woman between two
men, with one of whom she appears to be in more or less tender converse,
whereas she is paying no attention to the other, who is taking her
passively drooping hand. There is, however, the additional circumstance
that one of the men holds a lyre and is dressed in loose trousers and
mitre-like head-dress, while the other man wears only a short tunic,
leaving the arms and legs bare, and his head is uncovered and shows
closely-cut curly locks; the woman being entirely draped, and her
head partially covered with a veil. Now, we know that this costume of
trousers and mitre-shaped head-gear was that of certain semi-barbarous
peoples connected with the Greeks, amongst others the Thracians and
Phrygians, while the simple tunic and the close-cut locks were
distinctive of Hellenic youths, especially those admitted to gymnastic
training. Moreover, we happen to know that Orpheus was a Thracian, and
that Hermes on the other hand, although in one capacity conductor of
the souls to Hades, was also the patron divinity of the Greek ephebi, of
the youths engaged in gymnastic exercises. Now, if we put together these
several facts, we perceive great likelihood of these two figures--the
one in the dress of a barbarian, which Orpheus is known to have been,
and holding a lyre, which Orpheus is known to have played, and the other
in the dress of a Greek ephebus, which Hermes is known to have worn--of
these two figures really being intended for Orpheus and Hermes. At the
same time, we must recollect that Amphion also is known to have worn
this barbaric costume and to have played the lyre, while his brother,
Zethus, is equally known to have worn the habit of the ephebus; so that
Winckelmann has quite as good grounds for his assertion as we have for
ours. If only the sculptor had taken the trouble to give the figure in
the tunic a pair of winged sandals or a caduceus, or a winged cap; then
there could remain no doubt of his being Hermes, for it is a positive
fact that no one except Hermes ever had these attributes; the doubt
is owing to the choice of insufficiently definite and distinctive
peculiarities. But it now strikes us: all this is founded upon the
supposition that we know that the barbarians wore trousers and mitres,
that Orpheus was a sort of barbarian, that Greek ephebi wore tunics and
short-cut hair, that Hermes was a sort of ephebus, that, moreover, he
was a conductor of souls; now, supposing we knew none or only some of
these facts, which we certainly should not, if classical dictionaries
had not taught them us, how could we argue that this is Orpheus and that
Hermes? Is the meaning of a work of Art to depend on Lempriere and Dr.
William Smith? At that rate the sculptor might as well have let alone
all such distinctions, and merely written under one figure _Orpheus_
or _Amphion_, whichever it might be, under the other _Hermes_ or
_Zethus_; this would not have presupposed more knowledge on our part,
since it seems even easier to learn the Greek alphabet than the precise
attributes of various antique gods and demi-gods, and then, too, no
mistake would have been possible, we should have had no choice, the
figure _must_ be either Orpheus or Amphion, Hermes or Zethus, since the
artist himself said so. But this would be an admission of the incapacity
of the art or the artist, like the old device of writing--"This is a
lion," "This is a horse;" well, but, after all, how are we able to
recognise a painted lion or a horse? Is it not, thanks to previous
knowledge, to our acquaintance with a live horse or live lion? if we had
never seen either, could we say, "This is a lion," "That is a horse?"
evidently not. But then, most people can recognise a horse or a lion,
while they cannot be expected to recognise a person they have never
seen, especially a purely imaginary one; the case is evidently one of
degree; if we had never seen a cow, and did not know that cows are
milked, we should no more understand the meaning of a representation
of cow-milking than we should understand the meaning of a picture of
Achilles in Scyros if we knew nothing about Achilles. The comprehension
of the subject of a work of art would therefore seem to require certain
previous information; the work of art would seem to be unable to tell
its story itself, unless we have the key to that story. Now, this is
not the case with literature; given the comprehension of the separate
words, no further information is required to understand the meaning, the
subject of prose or verse; Virgil's lines pre-suppose no knowledge of
the story of Orpheus, they themselves give the knowledge of it. The
difference, then, between the poem and the bas-relief is that the story
is absolutely contained in the former, and not absolutely contained
in the latter; the story of Orpheus is part of the organic whole, of
the existence of the poem; the two are inseparable, since the one is
formed out of the other; whereas, the story of Orpheus is separate
from the organic existence of the bas-relief, it is arbitrarily connected
with it, and they need not co-exist. What then is the bas-relief? A
meaningless thing, to which we have wilfully attached a meaning which is
not part or parcel of it--a blank sheet of paper on which we write what
comes into our head, and which itself can tell us nothing.

As we look up perplexedly at the bas-relief, which, after having been as
confused, has now become well nigh as blank as our mind, we are startled
by hearing our name from a well-known voice behind us. A young painter
stands by our side, a creature knowing or thinking very little beyond
his pencils and brushes, serenely unconscious of literature and science
in his complete devotion to art. A few trivial sentences are exchanged,
during which we catch our friend's eye glancing at the bas-relief. "I
never noticed that before," he remarks, "Do you know, I like it better
than anything else in this room. Strange that I should not have noticed
it before."

"It is a very interesting work," we answer; adding, with purposely
feigned decision, "Of course you see that it represents Orpheus and
Eurydice, not Antiope and her sons."

The painter, whose instinctive impression on the point we have thus
tried to elicit, seems wholly unmoved by this remark; the fact literally
passes across his mind without in the least touching it.

"Does it? Ah, what a splendid mass of drapery! That grand, round fold
and those small, fine vertical ones. I should like to make a sketch of

A sort of veil seems suddenly to fall off our mental eyes; these simple,
earnest words, this intense admiration seem to have shed new light into
our mind.

This fellow, who knows or cares apparently nothing whatever about either
Orpheus or Antiope, has not found the bas-relief a blank; it has spoken
for him, the clear, unmistakeable language of lines and curves, of light
and shade, a language needing no interpreters, no dictionaries; and it
has told him the fact, the fact depending on no previous knowledge,
irrefutable and eternal, that it is beautiful. And as our eyes follow
his, and we listen to his simple, unaffected, unpoetical exclamations
of admiration at this combination of lines, or that bend of a limb, we
recognise that if poetry has its unchangeable effects, its power which,
in order to be felt, requires only the comprehension of words; art also
has its unchangeable effects, its power, its supreme virtue, which all
can feel who have eyes and minds that can see. The bas-relief does not
necessarily tell us the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, as Virgil's lines
do, that is not inherent in its nature as in theirs; but it tells us the
fact of its beauty, and that fact is vital, eternal, and indissolubly
connected with it.

To appreciate a work of art means, therefore, to appreciate that work
of art itself, as distinguished from appreciating something outside it,
something accidentally or arbitrarily connected with it; to appreciate
Virgil's lines means to appreciate his telling of the story of Orpheus,
his choice of words and his metre; to appreciate the bas-relief means to
appreciate the combination of forms and lights and shades; and a person
who cared for Virgil's lines because they suggested the bas-relief or
for the bas-relief because it suggested Virgil's lines, would equally be
appreciating neither, since his pleasure depended on something separate
from the work of art itself.

Yet this is what constantly happens, and happens on account of two very
simple and legitimate movements of the mind: that of comparison and that
of association. Let us examine what we have called, for want of a more
definite word, the movement of comparison. You are enjoying a work of
art, plastic and musical; what you enjoy is the work of art itself, the
combination of lines, lights and shades and colours in the one case,
the combination of modulations and harmonies in the other; now, as
this enjoyment means merely the pleasing activity of your visual and
æsthetic, or acoustic and æsthetic organism, you instinctively wish to
increase the activity in order to increase the pleasure; the increase
of activity is obtained by approximating as much as possible to the
creative activity of the original artist, by going over every step
that he has gone over, by creating the work of art over again in the
intensity of appreciation. If it be a plastic work, you produce your
pencil and brushes and copy it; if it be a musical composition, you try
and reproduce it by means of your voice or your instrument; and you
thus obtain the highest degree of æsthetical activity and pleasure
compatible with mere appreciation. But supposing you can neither draw,
nor sing, nor play; supposing you have only another set of faculties,
those dealing with thoughts and images, those of the artist in words, of
the writer. How will you obtain that high degree of æsthetical activity,
how will you go over the steps of the original creator? You will find
that words cannot copy the work of art, plastic or musical; that lines
and lights and shades, or modulations and harmonies, must be seen or
heard to be appreciated; that, in short, you have no means of absolutely
reproducing what you have seen or heard;--instinctively, unintentionally,
unconsciously, you will seek for an equivalent for it; you will try and
produce with the means at your disposal something analogous to the work
of art, you will obtain your æsthetic activity from another set of
faculties; not being able to draw or to sing, you will think and feel,
and, in default of producing a copy, you will produce an equivalent. But
the same result is not obtainable by different means; a painter, copying
a statue, will produce not a statue but a picture; a sculptor copying a
picture will produce a model, not a sketch; yet the difference between
the _modus operandi_ of painting and sculpture is as nothing compared
with that between the _modus operandi_ of art which appeals to the eye
or the ear, and art which appeals direct to the mind; of art which deals
with visible or audible shapes, and of art which deals with purely
abstract thoughts and images. How much greater, then, must not also
be the difference in the result! Instead of a statue you have, not a
picture, but a poem, a work of art of totally different nature from
the one which you originally tried to reproduce. Instead of visual or
audible forms, you have feelings and fancies; and if you compare your
equivalent with the original work of art you will probably find that it
has little in common with it: you had seen a beautifully chiselled head,
and you say that you had perceived a beautiful emotion; you had heard a
lovely modulation, and you have written that you witnessed a pathetic
parting; instead of your eye and your ear, your imagination and feeling
have been active, and the product of their activity is a special,
separate one. So, in your desire to appreciate a work of art, you have,
after a fashion, created a new one, good or bad, and having created it,
there are a hundred chances against one that you will henceforward
perceive your creation and not the original work; that you will no
longer perceive lines or sounds, but fancies and feelings, in short,
that instead of appreciating the work of art itself, you will appreciate
merely your intellectual equivalent of it, that is to say, something
which most distinctly and emphatically is _not_ the work of art.

The process of association is even commoner: you have taken interest in
some story, or some form, your mind has worked upon it; you are shown a
work of art whose name, often nothing more, connects it with this story
or poem, and your thoughts being full of the latter, you apply to the
work of art the remarks you had made about the story or poem; you see
in the work of art the details of that story or poem; you look at it
as a mere illustration; very often you do not look at it at all; for
although your bodily eyes may be fixed on the picture or statue, your
intellectual eyes are busy with some recollection or impression in your
mind; it is the case of the bas-relief of the Villa Albani, the pleasure
received from Virgil's lines being re-awakened by the mere circumstance
of the bas-relief being called, rightly or wrongly, Orpheus and Eurydice;
it is the story of a hundred interpretations of works of art, of people
seeing a comic expression in a certain group at the Villa Ludovisi
because they imagined it to represent Papirius and his mother, while
other people found the same group highly tragic, because they fancied it
represented Electra and Orestes; it is the old story of violent emotion,
attributed to wholly unemotional music, because the words to which it
is arbitrarily connected happen to be pathetic; the endless story of
delusions of all sorts, of associations of feelings and ideas as
accidental as those which make certain tunes or sights depress us
because we happened to be in a melancholy mood when we first saw or
heard them.

What becomes of the real, inherent effect of the work of art itself in
the midst of such concatenations of fancies and associations? How can
we listen to its own magic speech, its language of lines and colours
and sounds, when our mind is full of confused voices telling us of
different and irrelevant things? Where, at such times, is our artistic
appreciation, and what is it worth? Should we then, if such a thing
were possible, forbid such comparisons, such associations? Should we
voluntarily deprive ourselves of all such pleasure as is not given by
the work of art itself?

No, but we should restrain such impressions; we should, as far as
we can, remain conscious of the fact that they are mere effects of
comparison and association, that they are not the work of art, but
something distinct from it, and that the work of art itself exists in
the lines, tints, lights and shades of the picture or statue, in the
modulations and harmonies of a composition, and that all the rest is
gratuitously added by ourselves. Nay, we should remember that there
could not even have been that very comparison, that very association
if there had been no previous real artistic perception; that unless we
had first cared for Virgil's Orpheus for its own sake, we could not
afterwards have cared for the bas-relief on its account.

We confess that we have ourselves become instinctively jealous of such
foreign causes of pleasure in art, jealous because we have been pained
by their constant encroachment; the feeling may be an exaggerated one,
but it is a natural reaction. We have thus caught ourselves almost
regretting that pictures should have any subjects; we have sometimes
felt that the adaptation of music to the drama is a sort of profanation;
and all this because we have too often observed that the subject seemed
to engross so much attention as to make people forget the picture, and
that the drama made people misinterpret the music; and that criticism
itself, instead of checking this tendency, has done much to further it.
Yes, critics, grave and emphatic thinkers, have spoken as if the chief
merit of the painter had consisted in clearly expressing some story,
which in all probability was not worth expressing, some dull monkish
legend which his genius alone could render tolerable; as if the chief
aim of the composer were to follow the mazes of some wretched imbecile
libretto, which has become endurable thanks only to his notes; as if the
immortal were to be chained to the mortal, and mediocrity, inferiority,
mere trumpery fact or trumpery utility were to bridle and bestride the
divine hippogriff of art, and, like another Astolfo, fly up on its back
into the regions of immortality. Artists themselves have been of this
way of thinking, we cannot say of feeling, for, as long as they were
true artists, their instinctive feelings must have propelled them in a
very different direction. Gluck, that great dramatist, who was greatest
when least dramatic, thought that music was made for the sake of the
drama, that its greatest glory was to express the difference, as he
himself wrote, between a princess and a waiting-maid between a Spartan
and a Phrygian, to follow the steps of a play as its humble retainer and
commentator. Gluck composed his music for the sake of the dramas; but, O
irony of art! the dramas are recollected only for the sake of his music.
Let the artist be humble, mistrustful of his own art, let him believe
it to be subservient to something outside it, devote it magnanimously
to some purpose of utility, or some expression of fact, sacrifice it
throughout; it will be all in vain; if his work be excellent, it will
subordinate all to itself, it will swallow up every other interest,
throw into the shade every other utility.

One day the Pope's banker, Agostino Chigi, came to Master Rafael of
Urbino, and said to him--"I am building a little pleasure villa in
which to entertain my friends. Baldassare Peruzzi has made the plans,
Sebastiano del Piombo has designed the arabesques, Nanni da Udine will
paint me the garlands of fruit and flowers; it must be perfection. You
shall paint me the walls of the open hall looking out on the Tiber,
that it may be a fit place wherein to sup and make merry with popes
and cardinals and princes." "Very good," answered Rafael.

The object was to obtain a dining-hall, and the fresco was to be there
merely as an ornament; but Rafael painted his Galatea, and behold, the
hall could no longer be used as a dining-room; every one crowded into
it to see the fresco; the hall has now become a gallery, and the real
property, less of its owners, who cannot make use of it, than of the
whole world, who insist on entering it; the room now exists only for the
sake of the fresco, yet the fresco was originally intended to exist only
for it. This is the inevitable course of art; we call in beauty as a
servant, and see, like some strange dæmon, it becomes the master; it may
answer our call, but we have to do its bidding.

We have strayed far away from Orpheus and Eurydice, while thus following
the train of ideas suggested by the story of the bas-relief. Yet we may
return to the subject, and use it as an illustration of our last remark.
We have said much against the common tendency towards transporting on to
a work of art an interest not originally due to it, because, by this
means, we are apt to lose the interest which does belong to the work
of art. But, if only each could get its due, each exert its power
unimpaired, there could be nothing more delightful than thus to enjoy
the joint effect of several works of art; not, according to the notion
of certain æsthetic visionaries--who do not see that singers cannot be
living Greek statues nor librettists poets, nor scene-painters
Poussins--in one clumsy ambiguous monster spectacle, but in our minds,
in our fancy; if, conscious of the difference between them, we could
unite in one collection the works of various arts: people the glades
and dingles of Keats with the divinities we have seen in marble, play
upon the reed of the Praxitelian Faun the woodland melodies of Mozart's
Tamino. It would thus be the highest reward for self-scrutinising
æsthetic humility, for honest appreciation of each art for itself, for
brave sacrifice of our own artistic whimsies and vanities, to enable us
to bring up simultaneously the recollection of Virgil's nobly pathetic
lines, of the exquisitely simple and supple forms of the bas-relief, of
the grand and tender music of Gluck, and to unite them in one noble
pageant of the imagination, evoked by the spell of those two names:
Orpheus and Eurydice.



There is a story, well-known throughout the sixteenth century, which
tells how Doctor Faustus of Wittemberg, having made over his soul to the
fiend, employed him to raise the ghost of Helen of Sparta, in order that
she might become his paramour. The story has no historic value, no
scientific meaning; it lacks the hoary dignity of the tales of heroes
and demi-gods, wrought, vague, and colossal forms, out of cloud and
sunbeam, of those tales narrated and heard by generations of men deep
hidden in the stratified ruins of lost civilisation, carried in the
races from India to Hellas, and to Scandinavia. Compared with them,
this tale of Faustus and Helena is paltry and brand-new; it is not a
myth, nay, scarcely a legend; it is a mere trifling incident added by
humanistic pedantry to the ever-changing mediæval story of the man who
barters his soul for knowledge, the wizard, alchemist, philosopher,
printer, Albertus, Bacon, or Faustus. It is a part, an unessential,
subordinate fragment, valued in its day neither more nor less than any
other part of the history of Doctor Faustus, narrated cursorily by the
biographer of the wizard, overlooked by some of the ballad rhymers,
alternately used and rejected by the playwrights of puppet-shows; given
by Marlowe himself no greater importance than the other marvellous
deeds, the juggling tricks and magic journeys of his hero.

But for us, the incident of Faustus and Helena has a meaning, a
fascination wholly different from any other portion of the story; the
other incidents owe everything to artistic treatment: this one owes
nothing. The wizard Faustus, awaiting the hour which will give him over
to Hell, is the creation of Marlowe; Gretchen is even more completely
the creation of Goethe; the fiend of the Englishman is occasionally
grand, the fiend of the German is throughout masterly; in all these
cases we are in the presence of true artistic work, of stuff rendered
valuable solely by the hand of the artist, of figures well defined and
finite, and limited also in their power over the imagination. But the
group of Faustus and Helena is different; it belongs neither to Marlowe
nor to Goethe, it belongs to the legend. It does not give the complete
and limited satisfaction of a work of art; it has the charm of the
fantastic and fitful shapes formed by the flickering firelight or the
wreathing mists; it haunts like some vague strain of music, drowsily
heard in half-sleep. It fills the fancy, it oscillates and transforms
itself; the artist may see it, attempt to seize and embody it for
evermore in a definite and enduring shape, but it vanishes out of his
grasp, and the forms which should have inclosed it are mere empty
sepulchres, haunted and charmed merely by the evoking power of our own
imagination. If we are fascinated by the Lady Helen of Marlowe, walking,
like some Florentine goddess, with embroidered kirtle and madonna face,
across the study of the old wizard of Wittemberg; if we are pleased
by the stately pseudo-antique Helena of Goethe, draped in the drapery
of Thorwaldsen's statues, and speaking the language of Goethe's own
Iphigenia, as she meets the very modern Faust, gracefully masqued in
mediæval costume; if we find in these attempts, the one unthinking and
imperfect, the other laboured and abortive, something which delights
our fancy, it is because our thoughts wander off from them and evoke a
Faustus and Helena of our own, different from the creations of Marlowe
and of Goethe; it is because in these definite and imperfect artistic
forms, there yet remains the suggestion of the subject with all its
power over the imagination. We forget Marlowe, and we forget Goethe, to
follow up the infinite suggestion of the legend. We cease to see the
Elizabethan and the pseudo-antique Helen; we lift our imagination from
the book and see the mediæval street at Wittemberg, the gabled house of
Faustus, all sculptured with quaint devices and grotesque forms of apes
and cherubs and flowers; we penetrate through the low brown rooms,
filled with musty books and mysterious ovens and retorts, redolent with
strange scents of alchemy, to that innermost secret chamber, where the
old wizard hides, in the depths of his mediæval house, the immortal
woman, the god-born, the fatal, the beloved of Theseus and Paris and
Achilles; we are blinded by this sunshine of Antiquity pent up in the
oaken-panelled chamber, such as Dürer might have etched; and all around
we hear circulating the mysterious rumours of the neighbours, of the
burghers and students, whispering shyly of Dr. Faustus and his strange
guest, in the beer-cellars and in the cloisters of the old university
town. And gazing thus into the fantastic intellectual mist which has
risen up between us and the book we were reading, be it Marlowe or
Goethe, we cease, after a while, to see Faustus or Helena, we perceive
only a chaotic fluctuation of incongruous shapes; scholars in furred
robes and caps pulled over their ears, burghers wives with high
sugar-loaf coif and slashed boddices, with hands demurely folded over
their prayer-books, and knights in armour and immense plumes, and
haggling Jews, and tonsured monks, descended out of panels of Wohlgemuth
and the engravings of Dürer, mingling with, changing into processions of
naked athletes on foaming short-maned horses, of draped Athenian maidens
carrying baskets and sickles, and priests bearing oil-jars and torches,
all melting into each other, indistinct, confused, like the images in a
dream; vague crowds, phantoms following in the wake of the spectre woman
of Antiquity, beautiful, unimpassioned, ever young, luring to Hell the
wizard of the Middle Ages.

Why does all this vanish as soon as we once more fix our eyes upon the
book? Why can our fancy show us more than can the artistic genius of
Marlowe and of Goethe? Why does Marlowe, believing in Helen as a satanic
reality, and Goethe, striving after her as an artistic vision, equally
fail to satisfy us? The question is intricate: it requires a threefold
answer, dependent on the fact that this tale of Faustus and Helena is in
fact a tale of the supernatural--a weird and colossal ghost-story, in
which the actors are the spectre of Antiquity, ever young, beautiful,
radiant, though risen from the putrescence of two thousand years; and
the Middle Ages, alive, but toothless, palsied, and tottering. Why
neither Marlowe nor Goethe have succeeded in giving a satisfactory
artistic shape to this tale is explained by the necessary relations
between art and the supernatural, between our creative power and our
imaginative faculty; why Marlowe has failed in one manner and Goethe in
another is explained by the fact that, as we said, for the first the
tale was a supernatural reality, for the second a supernatural fiction.

What are the relations between art and the supernatural? At first sight
the two appear closely allied: like the supernatural, art is born of
imagination; the supernatural, like art, conjures up unreal visions.
The two have been intimately connected during the great ages of the
supernatural, when instead of existing merely in a few disputed
traditional dogmas, and in a little discredited traditional folklore, it
constituted the whole of religion and a great part of philosophy. Gods
and demons, saints and spectres, have afforded at least one-half of the
subjects for art. The supernatural, in the shape of religious mythology,
had art bound in its service in Antiquity and the Middle Ages; the
supernatural, in the shape of spectral fancies, regained its dominion
over art with the advent of romanticism. From the gods of the _Iliad_
down to the Commander in _Don Giovanni_, from the sylvan divinities of
Praxiteles to the fairies of Shakespeare, from the Furies of Æschylus
to the Archangels of Perugino, the supernatural and the artistic have
constantly appeared linked together. Yet, in reality, the hostility
between the supernatural and the artistic is well-nigh as great as the
hostility between the supernatural and the logical. Critical reason
is a solvent, it reduces the phantoms of the imagination to their
most prosaic elements; artistic power, on the other hand, moulds and
solidifies them into distinct and palpable forms: the synthetical
definiteness of art is as sceptical as the analytical definiteness of
logic. For the supernatural is necessarily essentially vague, and art is
necessarily essentially distinct: give shape to the vague and it ceases
to exist. The task set to the artist by the dreamer, the prophet, the
priest, the ghost-seer of all times, is as difficult, though in the
opposite sense, as that by which the little girl in the Venetian fairy
tale sought to test the omnipotence of the emperor. She asked him for a
very humble dish, quite simple and not costly, a pat of butter broiled
on a gridiron. The emperor desired his cook to place the butter on the
gridiron and light the fire; all was going well, when, behold! the
butter began to melt, trickled off, and vanished. The artists were asked
to paint, or model, or narrate the supernatural; they set about the work
in good conscience, but see, the supernatural became the natural, the
gods turned into men, the madonnas into mere mothers, the angels into
armed striplings, the phantoms into mere creatures of flesh and blood.

There are in reality two sorts of supernatural, although only one really
deserves the name. A great number of beliefs in all mythologies are in
reality mere scientific errors--abortive attempts to explain phenomena
by causes with which they have no connection--the imagination plays not
more part in them than in any other sort of theorising, and the notions
that unlucky accidents are due to a certain man's glance, that certain
formulæ will bring rain or sunshine, that miraculous images will dispel
pestilence, and kings of England cure epilepsy, must be classed under
the head of mistaken generalizations, not very different in point of
fact from exploded scientific theories, such as Descartes' vortices, or
the innate ideas of scholasticism. That there was a time when animals
spoke with human voice may seem to us a piece of fairy-lore, but it
was in its day a scientific hypothesis as brilliant and satisfying
as Darwin's theory of evolution. We must, therefore, in examining
the relations between art and the supernatural, eliminate as far as
possible this species of scientific speculation, and consider only
that supernatural which really deserves the name, which is beyond and
outside the limits of the possible, the rational, the explicable--that
supernatural which is due not to the logical faculties, arguing from
wrong premises, but to the imagination wrought upon by certain kinds of
physical surroundings. The divinity of the earlier races is in some
measure a mistaken scientific hypothesis of the sort we have described,
an attempt to explain phenomena otherwise inexplicable. But it is
much more: it is the effect on the imagination of certain external
impressions, it is those impressions brought to a focus, personified,
but personified vaguely, in a fluctuating ever-changing manner; the
personification being continually altered, reinforced, blurred out,
enlarged, restricted by new series of impressions from without, even as
the shape which we puzzle out of congregated cloud-masses fluctuates
with their every movement--a shifting vapour now obliterates the form,
now compresses it into greater distinctness: the wings of the fantastic
monster seem now flapping leisurely, now extending bristling like a
griffon's; at one moment it has a beak and talons, at others a mane
and hoofs; the breeze, the sunlight, the moonbeam, form, alter, and
obliterate it. Thus is it with the supernatural: the gods, moulded out
of cloud and sunlight and darkness, are for ever changing, fluctuating
between a human or animal shape, god or goddess, cow, ape, or horse, and
the mere natural phenomenon which impresses the fancy. Pan is the weird,
shaggy, cloven-footed shape which the goat-herd or the huntsman has seen
gliding among the bushes in the grey twilight; his is the piping heard
in the tangle of reeds, marsh lily, and knotted nightshade by the river
side: but Pan is also the wood, with all its sights and noises, the
solitude, the gloom, the infinity of rustling leaves, and cracking
branches; he is the greenish-yellow light stealing in amid the boughs;
he is the breeze in the foliage, the murmur of unseen waters, the mist
hanging over the damp sward, the ferns and grasses which entangle the
feet, and the briars which catch in the hair and garments are his grasp;
and the wanderer dashes through the thickets with a sickening fear in
his heart, and sinks down on the outskirts of the forest, gasping, with
sweat-clotted hair, overcome by this glimpse of the great god.

In this constant renewal of the impressions on the fancy, in this
unceasing shaping and reshaping of its creations, consisted the vitality
of the myths of paganism, from the scorching and pestilence-bearing gods
of India to the divinities shaped out of tempest and snowdrift of
Scandinavia; they were constantly issuing out of the elements, renewed,
changed, ever young, under the exorcism not only of the priest and of
the poet, but of the village boor; and on this unceasing renovation
depended the sway which they maintained, without ethical importance to
help them, despite philosophy and Christianity. Christianity, born in
an age of speculation and eclecticism, removed its divinities, its
mystic figures, out of the cosmic surroundings of paganism; it forbade
the imagination to touch or alter them, it regularised, defined,
explained, placed the Saviour, the Virgin, the saints and angels, into
a kind of supersensuous world of logic, logic adapted to Heaven, and
different therefore from the logic of earth, but logic none the less.
Christianity endowed them with certain definite attributes, not to be
found among mortals, but analogous in a manner to mortal attributes; the
Christian supernatural system belongs mainly to the category of mistaken
scientific systems; its peculiarities are due, not to overwrought fancy,
but to overtaxed reason. Thus the genuine supernatural was well-nigh
banished by official Christianity, regulated as it was by a sort of
congress of men of science, who eliminated, to the best of their powers,
any vagaries of the imagination which might show themselves in their
mystico-logic system. But the imagination did work nevertheless, and the
supernatural did reappear, both within and without the Christian system
of mythology. The Heaven of theology was too ethical, too logical, too
positive, too scientific, in accordance with the science of the Middle
Ages, for the minds of humanity at large; the scholars and learned
clergy might study and expound it, but it was insufficient for the
ignorant. The imagination reappeared once more. To the monk arose out of
the silence and gloom of the damp, lichen-grown crypt, out of the foetid
emanations of the charnal-house, strange forms of horror which lurked
in his steps and haunted his sleep after fasting and scourging and
vigils; devils and imps horrible and obscene, which the chisel of
the stonecutter vainly attempted to reproduce, in their fluctuating
abomination, on the capitals and gargoyles of cloister and cathedral.
To the artisan, the weaver pent up in some dark cellar into which the
daylight stole grey and faint from the narrow strip of blue sky between
the overhanging eaves, for him, the hungry and toil-worn and weary of
soul, there arose out of the hum of the street above, out of the
half-lit dust, the winter damp and summer suffocation of the underground
workshop, visions and sounds of sweetness and glory, misty clusters of
white-robed angels shedding radiance around them, swaying in mystic
linked dances, mingling with the sordid noises of toil seraphic
harmonies, now near, now dying away into distance, voices singing of
the sunshine and flowers of Paradise. And for others, for the lean and
tattered peasant, with the dull, apathetic resignation of the starved
and goaded ox or horse, sleeping on the damp clay of his hut and eating
strange flourless bread, and stranger carrion flesh, there came a world
of the supernatural, different from that of the monk or the artisan, at
once terrifying and consoling; the divinities cast out by Christianity,
the divinities for ever newly begotten by nature, but begotten of a
nature miserably changed, born in exile and obloquy and persecution,
fostered by the wretched and the brutified; differing from the gods of
antiquity as the desolate heath, barren of all save stones and prickly
furze and thistle, differs from the fertile pasture-land; as the forests
planted over the cornfield, whence issue wolves, and the Baron's
harvest-trampling horses, differ from the forests which gave their
oaks and pines to Tyrian ships; divinities warped, and crippled, grown
hideous and malignant and unhappy in the likeness of their miserable

This is the real supernatural, born of the imagination and its
surroundings, the vital, the fluctuating, the potent; and it is this
which the artist of every age, from Phidias to Giotto, from Giotto to
Blake, has been called upon to make known to the multitude. And there
had been artistic work going on unnoticed long before the time of any
painter or sculptor or poet of whom we have any record; mankind longed
from the first to embody, to fix its visions of wonder, it set to work
with rough unskilful fingers moulding into shape its divinities. Rude
work, ugly, barbarous, blundering scratchings on walls, kneaded clay
vessels, notched sticks, nonsense rhymes; but work nevertheless which
already showed that art and the supernatural were at variance, the
beaked and clawed figures outlined on the wall were compromises between
the man and the beast, but definite compromises, so much and no more of
the man, so much and no more of the beast; the goddess on the clay
vessels became a mere little owl; the divinities even in the nonsense
verses were presented now as very distinct cows, now as very distinct
clouds, or very distinct men and women; the vague, fluctuating
impressions oscillating before the imagination like the colours of a
dove's wing, or the pattern of a shot silk, interwoven, unsteady, never
completely united into one, never completely separated into several,
were rudely seized, disentangled by art; part was taken, part thrown
aside; what remained was homogeneous, definite, unchanging; it was what
it was and could never be aught else.

Goethe has remarked, with a subjective simplicity of irreverence which
is almost comical, that as God created man in his image, it was only
fair that man, in his turn, should create God in _his_ image. But the
decay of pagan belief was not, as Hegel imagines, due to the fact that
Hellenic art was anthropomorphic. The gods ceased to be gods not merely
because they became too like men, but because they became too like
anything definite. If the ibis on the amulet, or the owl on the
terra-cotta, represents a more vital belief in the gods than does the
Venus of Milo or the Giustiniani Minerva, it is not because the idea of
divinity is more compatible with an ugly bird than with a beautiful
woman, but because whereas the beautiful woman, exquisitely wrought by a
consummate sculptor, occupied the mind of the artist and of the beholder
with the idea of her beauty, to the exclusion of all else, the
rudely-engraven ibis, or the badly-modelled owlet, on the other hand,
served merely as a symbol, as the recaller of an idea; the mind did not
pause in contemplation of the bird, but wandered off in search of the
god: the goggle eyes of the owl and the beak of the ibis were soon
forgotten in the contemplation of the vague, ever transmuted visions of
phenomena of sky and light, of semi-human and semi-bestial shapes, of
confused half-embodied forces; in short, of the supernatural. But the
human shape did most mischief to the supernatural, merely because the
human shape was the most absolute, the most distinct of all shapes: a
god might be symbolised as a beast, but he could only be pourtrayed
as a man; and if the portrait was correct, then the god was a man,
and nothing more. Even the most fantastic among pagan supernatural
creatures, those strange monsters who longest kept their original dual
nature--the centaurs, satyrs, and tritons--became, beneath the chisel of
the artist, mere aberrations from the normal, rare, and curious types
like certain fair-booth phenomena, but perfectly intelligible and
rational; the very Chimæra, she who was to give her name to every sort
of unintelligible fancy, became, in the bas-reliefs of the story of
Bellerophon a mere singular mixture between a lion, a dog, and a bird--a
cross-breed which happens not to be possible, but which an ancient might
well have conceived as adorning some distant zoological collection. How
much more rationalised were not the divinities in whom only a peculiar
shape of the eye, a certain structure of the leg, or a definite fashion
of wearing the hair remained of their former nature. Learned men,
indeed, tell us that we need only glance at Hera to see that she is at
bottom a cow; at Apollo, to recognise that he is but a stag in human
shape: or at Zeus, to recognise that he is, in point of fact, a lion.
Yet it remains true that we need only walk down the nearest street to
meet ten ordinary men and women who look more like various animals than
do any antique divinities, and who can yet never be said to be in
reality cows, stags, or lions. The same applies to the violent efforts
which are constantly being made to show in the Greek and Latin poets a
distinct recollection of the cosmic nature of the gods, construing the
very human movements, looks, and dress of divinities into meteorological
phenomena, as has been done even by Mr. Ruskin, in his _Queen of the
Air_, despite his artist's sense, which should have warned him that no
artistic figure, like Homer's divinities, can possibly be at the same
time a woman and a whirlwind. The gods did originally partake of the
character of cosmic phenomena, as they partook of the characters of
beasts and birds, and of every other species of transformation, such as
we may watch in dreams; but as soon as they were artistically embodied,
this transformation ceased, the nature had to be specified in proportion
as the form became distinct; and the drapery of Pallas, although it had
inherited its purple tint from the storm-cloud, was none the less, when
it clad the shoulders of the goddess, not a storm-cloud, but a piece
of purple linen. "What do you want of me?" asks the artist. "A god,"
answers the believer. "What is your god to be like?" asks the artist.
"My god is to be a very handsome warrior, a serene heaven, which
is occasionally overcast with clouds, which clouds are sometimes
very beneficial, and become (and so does the god at those moments)
heavy-uddered cows; at others, they are dark, and cause annoyance, and
then they capture the god, who is the light (but he is also the clouds,
remember), and lock him up in a tower, and then he frees himself, and he
is a neighing horse, and he is sitting on the prancing horse (which is
himself, you know, and is the sky too), in the shape of two warriors,
and also----" "May Cerberus devour you!" cries the artist. "How can I
represent all this? Do you want a warrior, or a cow, or the heavens, or
a horse, or do you want a warrior with the hoofs of a horse and the
horns of a cow? Explain, for, by Juno, I can give you only one of these
at a time."

Thus, in proportion as the gods were subjected to artistic manipulation,
whether by sculptor or poet, they lost their supernatural powers. A
period there doubtless was when the gods stood out quite distinct from
nature, and yet remained connected with it, as the figures of a high
relief stand out from the background; but gradually they were freed from
the chaos of impressions which had given them birth, and then, little by
little, they ceased to be gods; they were isolated from the world of
the wonderful, they were respectfully shelved off into the region of
the ideal, where they were contemplated, admired, discussed, but not
worshipped even like their statues by Praxiteles and their pictures
by Parrhasius. The divinities who continued to be reverenced were the
rustic divinities and the foreign gods and goddesses; the divinities
which had been safe from the artistic desecration of the cities, and the
divinities which were imported from hieratic, unartistic countries like
Egypt and Syria; on the one hand, the gods shaped with the pruning-knife
out of figwood, and stained with ochre or wine-lees, grotesque mannikins,
standing like scarecrows, in orchard or corn-field, to which the
peasants crowded in devout procession, leading their cleanly-dressed
little ones, and carrying gifts of fruit and milk, while the listless
Tibullus, fresh from sceptical Rome, looked on from his doorstep, a
vague, childish veneration stealing over his mind; on the other hand,
the monstrous goddesses, hundred-breasted or ibis-headed, half hidden
in the Syrian and Egyptian temples, surrounded by mysterious priests,
swarthy or effeminate, in mitres and tawny robes, jangling their sistra
and clashing their cymbals, moving in mystic or frenzied dances, weird,
obscene, and unearthly, to the melancholy drone of Phrygian or Egyptian
music, sending a shudder through the atheist Catullus, and filling his
mind with ghastly visions of victims of the great goddess, bleeding,
fainting, lashed on to madness by the wrath of the terrible divinity.
These were the last survivors of paganism, and to their protection clung
the old gods of Greece and Rome, reduced to human level by art, stripped
naked by sculptor and poet and muffling themselves in the homely or
barbaric garments of low-born or outlandish usurpers; art had been a
worse enemy than scepticism: Apelles and Scopas had done more mischief
than Epicurus.

Christian art was, perhaps, more reverent in intention, but not less
desecrating in practice; even the Giottesques turned Christ, the Virgin,
and the Saints, into mere Florentine men and women; even Angelico
himself, although a saint, was unable to show Paradise except as a
flowery meadow, under a highly gilded sky, through which moved ladies
and youths in most artistic but most earthly embroidered garments; and
Hell except as a very hot place where men and women were being boiled
and broiled and baked and fried and roasted by very comic little
weasel-snouted fiends, which on a carnival car would have made
Florentines roar with laughter. The real supernatural was in the cells
of fever-stricken, starved visionaries; it was in the contagious awe of
the crowd sinking down at the sight of the stained napkin of Bolsena; in
that soiled piece of linen was Christ, and God, and Paradise; in that
and not in the panels of Angelico and Perugino, or in the frescoes of
Signorelli and Filippino.

Why? Because the supernatural is nothing but ever-renewed impressions,
ever-shifting fancies; and that art is the definer, the embodier, the
analytic and synthetic force of form. Every artistic embodiment of
impressions or fancies implies isolation of those impressions or
fancies, selection, combination and balancing of them; that is to say,
diminution--nay, destruction of their inherent power. As, in order to
be moulded, the clay must be separated from the mound; as, in order
to be carved, the wood must be cut off from the tree; as, in order to
be re-shaped by art, the mass of atoms must be rudely severed; so also
the mental elements of art, the mood, the fancy must be severed from
the preceding and succeeding moods or fancies; artistic manipulation
requires that its intellectual, like its tangible materials, cease to
be vital, but the materials, mental or physical, are not only deprived
of vitality and power of self-alteration; they are combined in given
proportions, the action of the one on the other destroys in great
part the special power of each; art is proportion, and proportion is
restriction. Last of all, but most important, these isolated, no longer
vital materials, neutralised by each other, are further reduced to
insignificance by becoming parts of a whole conception; their separate
meaning is effaced by the general meaning of the work of art; art
bottles lightning to use it as white colour, and measures out thunder by
the beat of the chapel-master's roll of notes. But art does not merely
restrict impressions and fancies within the limits of form; in its days
of maturity and independence it restricts yet closer within the limits
of beauty. Partially developed art, still unconscious of its powers
and aims, still in childish submission to religion, sets to work
conscientiously, with no other object than to embody the supernatural;
if the supernatural suffers in the act of embodiment, if the fluctuating
fancies which are Zeus or Pallas are limited and curtailed, rendered
logical and prosaic even in the wooden pre-historic idol or the roughly
kneaded clay owlet, it is by no choice of the artist--his attempt is
abortive, because it is thwarted by the very nature of his art. But
when art is mature, things are different; the artist, conscious of
his powers, instinctively recognising the futility of aiming at the
embodiment of the supernatural, dragged by an irresistible longing to
the display of his skill, to the imitation of the existing and to the
creation of beauty, ceases to strain after the impossible and refuses
to attempt anything beyond the possible. The art, which was before a
mere insufficient means, is now an all-engrossing aim; unconsciously,
perhaps, to himself, the artist regards the subject merely as a pretext
for the treatment; and where the subject is opposed to such treatment
as he desires, he sacrifices it. He may be quite as conscientious as
his earliest predecessor, but his conscience has become an artistic
conscience, he sees only as much as is within art's limits; the gods, or
the saints, which were cloudy and supernatural to the artist of immature
art, are definite and artistic to the artist of mature art; he can
think, imagine, feel only in a given manner; his religious conceptions
have taken the shape of his artistic creations; art has destroyed the
supernatural, and the artist has swallowed up the believer. The attempts
at supernatural effects are almost always limited to a sort of symbolical
abbreviation, which satisfies the artist and his public respecting the
subject of the work, and lends it a traditional association of the
supernatural; a few spikes round the head of a young man are all that
remains of the solar nature of Apollo; the little budding horns and
pointed ears of the satyr must suffice to recall that he was once a
mystic fusion of man and beast and forest; a gilded disc behind the head
is all that shows that Giotto's figures are immortals in glory; and a
pair of wings is all that explains that Perugino's St. Michael is not a
mere dainty mortal warrior; the highest mysteries of Christianity are
despatched with a triangle and an open book, to draw which Raphael might
employ his colour-grinder, while he himself drew the finely-draped
baker's daughter from Trastevere.

In all these cases the artist refused to grapple with the supernatural,
and dismissed it with a mere stereotyped symbol, not more artistic than
the names which he might have engraved beneath each figure. Religious
associations were thus awakened without the artist, whether of the time
of Pericles or of the time of Leo X., giving himself further trouble;
the diffusion of religious ideas and feeling spared art from being
religious. Let us, therefore, in order to judge fairly of what art
can or cannot do for the supernatural, seek for one of the very rare
instances in which the artist has had no symbolical abbreviations at his
disposal, and has been obliged, if he would awaken any idea in the mind
of the spectator, to do so by means of his artistic creations. The
number of such exceptional instances is extremely limited in the great
art of antiquity and the Renaissance, when artistic subjects were almost
always traditionally religious or plainly realistic, and consequently
intelligible at first sight. There is, however, an example, and that
example is a masterpiece. It is the engraving by Agostino Veneziano,
after a lost drawing by Raphael, generally called "Lo Stregozzo,"
and representing a witch going to the Sabbath. Through a swampy
country, amidst rank and barren vegetation, sweeps the triumphal
procession--strange, beautiful, and ghastly; a naked boy dashes headlong
in front, bestriding a long-haired he-goat, and blowing a horn, little
stolen children packed behind on his saddle; on he dashes, across the
tufts of marsh-lily and bulrush, across the stagnant-pools of water,
clearing the way and announcing his mistress the witch. She thrones,
old, parched, lank, high on the top of an unearthly car, made of the
spine and ribs of some antediluvian creature, with springs and traces
of ghastly jaw and collar and thigh bones, supported on either side by
galloping skeletons, skeletons made up of skeletons, of all that is
strangest in the bones and beaks of beasts and birds, on which ride
young fauns and satyrs. To her chariot, by a yoke of human bones,
are harnessed two stalwart naked youths, and two others sustain its
plough-like end; grand, magnificently moving figures, bounding forward
like wild horses, the unearthly carriage swinging and creaking as they
go. And, as they go, brushing through the high, dry, maremma-grass, the
witch cowers on her chariot, clutching in one hand a heap of babies,
in the other a vessel filled with fire, whose smoke, mingling with
her long, dishevelled hair, floats behind, sweeping through the rank
vegetation, curling and eddying into vague, strange semblances of
lions, apes, chimæras. Forward dashes the outrunner on his goat, onward
bound the naked litter-bearers; up gallop the fauns and satyrs on the
fleshless, monstrous carcases; up and down sways the creaking, cracking
chariot of bones; one moment more, and the wild, splendid, hideous
triumph will have swept out of sight, leaving behind only trampled
marsh-plants and a trail of fantastic, lurid smoke among the ruffled,
moaning reeds and grasses.

Such is Raphael's _Stregozzo_. It is a master-piece of drawing and of
pictorial fancy, it is perhaps the highest achievement of great art in
the direction of the supernatural: for Dürer is often hideous, Rembrandt
always obscure, and the moderns, like Blake and Doré, distinctly
run counter to the essential nature of art in their attempts after
vagueness. When once told the subject of the print, by Agostino
Veneziano, our imagination easily flies off on to the track of the
supernatural; but, in so doing, it leaves the work behind, and on return
to it we experience a return to the natural. If, on the other hand, we
are not told the subject of the print, we very possibly see nothing
supernatural in it: there are splendid figures worthy of Michael Angelo,
and grotesque fancies, in the shape of the skeletons and coach of bones,
worthy of Leonardo; as a whole, the print is striking, beautiful, and
problematic, but it falls short of the effect which would be produced by
the mere words "a witch riding through a marsh on a chariot of bones,"
if left to insinuate themselves into the imagination. Of the really
supernatural, there is in it but one touch: and that in the only part
of the drawing which is left vague; it is the confused shapes assumed
by the eddying smoke among the rushes. All the rest is outside the
region of the supernatural: it is problematic in subject, but clear,
harmonious, and beautiful in treatment; the imagination may wander
off from it, but in its presence it must remain passive. With this
masterpiece we would fain compare a picture which seems to deal
with a cognate subject; a picture as suggestive as it is absolutely
artistically worthless. We saw it once, many years ago, among a heap
of rubbishy smudges at a picture-dealer's in Rome, and we have never
forgotten it--a picture painted by some German smearer of the early
sixteenth century; very ugly, stupid, and unattractive; ill drawn, ill
composed, of a uniform hard, vulgar brown. It represented, with no
attempt at perspective, a level country spread out like a map, dotted
here and there with little spired and turretted towns, also a castle or
two, a few trees and some rivers, disposed with a child's satisfaction
with their mere indication, as much as to say--"here is a town, there
is a castle." Some peasants were represented working in the fields, a
little train of horsemen coming out of a castle, and near one of the
chess-board castles a grass plot with half-a-dozen lit stakes, to which
tiny figures were carrying faggots, while men-at-arms and burghers,
no bigger than flies, looked on. In the foreground of the great flat
expanse lay a boor, a fellow dressed like a field-labourer, in heavy
sleep on the ground. Round him on the grass were marked curious circles,
and in them was moving a strange figure, in cloak and helmet, with
clawed wings and horns, leering horridly, moving round on tiptoe, his
arms outstretched, as if gradually encircling the sleeper in order to
pounce upon him; despite the complete absence of artistic skill, the
gradual inevitable approach of the demon, the irresistible network of
circles with which he was surrounding his prey, was perfectly indicated.
Above, in the sky, two figures, half demon, half dragon, floated
leisurely, like a moored boat, as if a guard of the devil below. What
is the exact subject of this picture? No one can tell; but its meaning
is intense for the imagination, it has the frightful suggestiveness
of some old book on witchcraft, prosaic and curt; of a page opened at
random of Sprenger's _Malleus Malificarum_. Yes; over the plain, the
towns, and castles, monotonous and dull, the fiends are hovering; even
over the stakes where their votaries are being burnt; and see, the
peasant asleep in the field, with his spade and hoe beside him, is being
surrounded by magic circles, by the invisible nets of the demon, who
prowls round him like a kite ready to pounce on to its quarry.

Why is there no need to write the word _witchcraft_ beneath this
picture? Why can this nameless smearer succeed where Raphael has failed?
Because he is content to suggest to the imagination, and lets it create
for itself its world of the supernatural; because he is not an artist,
and because Raphael is; because he suggests everything and shows
nothing, while Raphael creates, defines, perfects, gives form to that
which is by its nature formless.

If we would bring home to ourselves this action of art on the
supernatural, we must examine the only species of supernatural which
still retains vitality, and can still be deprived of it by art.
That which remains to us of the imaginative workings of the past is
traditional and well-nigh effete: we have poems and pictures, Vedic
hymns, Hebrew psalms, and Egyptian symbols; we have folklore and dogma;
remnants of the supernatural, some labelled in our historic museums,
where they are scrutinised, catalogue and eye-glass in hand; others
dusty on altars and in chapels, before which we uncover our heads and
cast down our eyes: relics of dead and dying faiths, of which some are
daily being transferred from the church to the museum; art cannot
deprive any of these of that imaginative life and power which they have
long ceased to possess. We have forms of the supernatural in which we
believe from acquiescence of habit, but they are not vital; we have a
form of the supernatural in which, from logic and habit, we disbelieve,
but which is vital; and this form of the supernatural is the ghostly. We
none of us believe in ghosts as logical possibilities, but we most of
us conceive them as imaginative probabilities; we can still feel the
ghostly, and thence it is that a ghost is the only thing which can in
any respect replace for us the divinities of old, and enable us to
understand, if only for a minute, the imaginative power which they
possessed, and of which they were despoiled not only by logic, but by
art. By _ghost_ we do not mean the vulgar apparition which is seen or
heard in told or written tales; we mean the ghost which slowly rises up
in our mind, the haunter not of corridors and staircases, but of our
fancies. Just as the gods of primitive religions were the undulating,
bright heat which made mid-day solitary and solemn as midnight; the warm
damp, the sap-riser and expander of life; the sad dying away of the
summer, and the leaden, suicidal sterility of winter; so the ghost,
their only modern equivalent, is the damp, the darkness, the silence,
the solitude; a ghost is the sound of our steps through a ruined
cloister, where the ivy-berries and convolvulus growing in the fissures
sway up and down among the sculptured foliage of the windows, it is the
scent of mouldering plaster and mouldering bones from beneath the broken
pavement; a ghost is the bright moonlight against which the cypresses
stand out like black hearse-plumes, in which the blasted grey olives and
the gnarled fig-trees stretch their branches over the broken walls like
fantastic, knotted, beckoning fingers, and the abandoned villas on
the outskirts of Italian towns, with the birds flying in and out of
the unglazed windows, loom forth white and ghastly; a ghost is the
long-closed room of one long dead, the faint smell of withered flowers,
the rustle of long-unmoved curtains, the yellow paper and faded ribbons
of long-unread letters ... each and all of these things, and a hundred
others besides, according to our nature, is a ghost, a vague feeling we
can scarcely describe, a something pleasing and terrible which invades
our whole consciousness, and which, confusedly embodied, we half dread
to see behind us, we know not in what shape, if we look round.

Call we in our artist, or let us be our own artist; embody, let us see
or hear this ghost, let it become visible or audible to others besides
ourselves; paint us that vagueness, mould into shape that darkness,
modulate into chords that silence--tell us the character and history
of those vague beings ... set to work boldly or cunningly. What do we
obtain? A picture, a piece of music, a story; but the ghost is gone. In
its stead we get oftenest the mere image of a human being; call it a
ghost if you will, it is none. And the more complete the artistic work,
the less remains of the ghost. Why do those stories affect us most in
which the ghost is heard but not seen? Why do those places affect us
most of which we merely vaguely know that they are haunted? Why most
of all those which look as if they might be haunted? Why, as soon as a
figure is seen, is the charm half-lost? And why, even when there is a
figure, is it kept so vague and mist-like? Would you know Hamlet's
father for a ghost unless he told you he was one? and can you remember
it long while he speaks in mortal words? and what would be Hamlet's
father without the terrace of Elsinore, the hour, and the moonlight? Do
not these embodied ghosts owe what little effect they still possess to
their surroundings, and are not the surroundings the real ghost?

Throw sunshine on to them, and what remains? Thus we have wandered
through the realm of the supernatural in a manner neither logical nor
business-like, for logic and business-likeness are rude qualities,
and scare away the ghostly; very far away do we seem to have rambled
from Dr. Faustus and Helen of Sparta; but in this labyrinth of the
fantastic there are sudden unexpected turns--and see, one of these has
suddenly brought us back into their presence. For we have seen why the
supernatural is always injured by artistic treatment, why therefore
the confused images evoked in our mind by the mere threadbare tale of
Faustus and Helena are superior in imaginative power to the picture
carefully elaborated and shown us by Goethe. We can now understand why
under his hand the infinite charm of the weird meeting of antiquity and
the Middle Ages has evaporated. We can explain why the strange fancy
of the classic Walpurgis-night, in the second part of _Faust_, at once
stimulates the imagination and gives it nothing. If we let our mind
dwell on that mysterious Pharsalian plain, with its glimmering fires and
flamelets alone breaking the darkness, where Faust and Mephistopheles
wandering about meet the spectres of antiquity, shadowy in the
gloom--the sphinxes crouching, the sirens, the dryads and oreads, the
griffons and cranes flapping their unseen wings overhead; where Faust
springs on the back of Chiron, and as he is borne along sickens for
sudden joy when the centaur tells him that Helen has been carried on
that back, has clasped that neck; when we let our mind work on all this,
we are charmed by the weird meetings, the mysterious shapes which elbow
us; but let us take up the volume and we return to barren prose, without
colour or perfume. Yet Goethe felt the supernatural as we feel it, as it
can be felt only in days of disbelief, when the more logical we become
in our ideas, the more we view nature as a prosaic machine constructed
by no one in particular, the more poignantly, on the other hand,
do we feel the delight of the transient belief in the vague and
the impossible; the greater the distinctness with which we see and
understand all around us, the greater the longing for a momentary
half-light in which forms may appear stranger, grander, vaguer than they
are. We moderns seek in the world of the supernatural a renewal of
the delightful semi-obscurity of vision and keenness of fancy of our
childhood; when a glimpse into fairyland was still possible, when things
appeared in false lights, brighter, more important, more magnificent
than now. Art indeed can afford us calm and clear enjoyment of the
beautiful--enjoyment serious, self-possessed, wide-awake, such as befits
mature intellects; but no picture, no symphony, no poem, can give us
that delight, that delusory, imaginative pleasure which we received as
children from a tawdry engraving or a hideous doll; for around that doll
there was an atmosphere of glory. In certain words, in certain sights,
in certain snatches of melody, words, sights, and sounds which we now
recognise as trivial, commonplace, and vulgar, there was an ineffable
meaning; they were spells which opened doors into realms of wonder;
they were precious in proportion as they were misappreciated. We now
appreciate and despise; we see, we no longer imagine. And it is to
replace this uncertainty of vision, this liberty of seeing in things
much more than there is, which belongs to man and to mankind in this
childhood, which compensated the Middle Ages for starvation and
pestilence, and compensates the child for blows and lessons, it is to
replace this that we crave after the supernatural, the ghostly--no
longer believed, but still felt. It was from this sickness of the
prosaic, this turning away from logical certainty, that the men of
the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of this century, the men
who had finally destroyed belief in the religious supernatural, who
were bringing light with new sciences of economy, philology, and
history--Schiller, Goethe, Herder, Coleridge--left the lecture-room and
the laboratory, and set gravely to work on ghostly tales and ballads. It
was from this rebellion against the tyranny of the possible that Goethe
was charmed with that culmination of all impossibilities, that most
daring of ghost stories, the story of Faustus and Helena. He felt the
seduction of the supernatural, he tried to embody it--and he failed.

The case was different with Marlowe. The bringing together of Faustus
and Helena had no special meaning for the man of the sixteenth century,
too far from antiquity and too near the Middle Ages to perceive as we
do the strange difference between them; and the supernatural had no
fascination in a time when it was all permeating and everywhere
mixed with prose. The whole play of _Dr. Faustus_ is conceived in a
thoroughly realistic fashion; it is tragic, but not ghostly. To
Marlowe's audience, and probably to Marlowe himself, despite his
atheistic reputation, the story of Faustus's wonders and final damnation
was quite within the realm of the possible; the intensity of the belief
in the tale is shown by the total absence of any attempt to give
it dignity or weirdness. Faustus evokes Lucifer with a pedantic
semi-biblical Latin speech; he goes about playing the most trumpery
conjuror's tricks--snatching with invisible hands the food from people's
lips, clapping horns and tails on to courtiers for the Emperor's
amusement, letting his legs be pulled off like boots, selling wisps of
straw as horses, doing and saying things which could appear tragic and
important, nay, even serious, only to people who took every second
cat for a witch, who burned their neighbours for vomiting pins, who
suspected devils at every turn, as the great witch-expert Sprenger shows
them in his horribly matter-of-fact manual. We moderns, disbelieving
in devilries, would require the most elaborately romantic and poetic
accessories--a splendid lurid back-ground, a magnificent Byronian
invocation of the fiend. The Mephistophilis of Marlowe, in those days
when devils still dwelt in people, required none of Goethe's wit
or poetry; the mere fact of his being a devil, with the very real
association of flame and brimstone in this world and the next, was
sufficient to inspire interest in him; whereas in 1800, with Voltaire's
novels and Hume's treatises on the table, a dull devil was no more
endurable than any other sort of bore. The very superiority of Marlowe
is due to this absence of weirdness, to this complete realism; the last
scene of the English play is infinitely above the end of the second
part of _Faust_ in tragic grandeur, just because Goethe made abortive
attempts, after a conscious and artificial supernatural, while Marlowe
was satisfied with perfect reality of situation. The position of
Faustus, when the years of his pact have expired, and he awaits
midnight, which will give him over to Lucifer, is as thoroughly natural
in the eyes of Marlowe as is in the eyes of Shelley the position of
Beatrice Cenci awaiting the moment of execution. The conversation
between Faustus and the scholars, after he has made his will, is
terribly life-like: they disbelieve at first, pooh-pooh his danger;
then, half-convinced, beg that a priest may be fetched; but Faustus
cannot deal with priests. He bids them, in agony, go pray in the next
room. "Aye, pray for me, pray for me, and what noise soever you hear,
come not unto me, for nothing can save me.... Gentlemen, farewell; if I
live till morning, I'll visit you; if not, Faustus is gone to hell."
Faustus remains alone for the one hour which separates him from his
doom; he clutches at the passing time, he cries to the hours to stop
with no rhetorical figure of speech, but with a terrible reality of

              Let this hour be but
  A year, a month, a week, a natural day,
  That Faustus may repent and save his soul.

Time to repent, time to recoil from the horrible gulf into which he
is being sucked; Christ, will Christ's blood not save him? He would
leap up to heaven and cling fast, but Lucifer drags him down. He would
seek annihilation in nature, be sucked into its senseless, feelingless
mass ... and, meanwhile, the time is passing, the interval of respite is
shrinking and dwindling. Would that he were a soulless brute and might
perish, or that at least eternal hell were finite--a thousand, a hundred
thousand years let him suffer, but not for ever and without end!
Midnight begins striking. With convulsive agony he exclaims as the rain
patters against the window:

  O soul, be changed into small water-drops,
  And fall into the ocean, ne'er be found.

But the twelfth stroke sounds; Lucifer and his crew enter; and when next
morning the students, frightened by the horrible tempest and ghastly
noises of the night, enter his study, they find Faustus lying dead, torn
and mangled by the demon. All this is not supernatural in our sense;
such scenes as this were real for Marlowe and his audience. Such cases
were surely not unfrequent; more than one man certainly watched through
such a night in hopeless agony, conscious, like Faustus, of pact with
the fiend--awaiting, with earth and heaven shut and bolted against him,
eternal hell.

In this story of Doctor Faustus, which, to Marlowe and his contemporaries,
was not a romance but a reality, the episode of the evoking of Helen
is extremely secondary in interest. To raise a dead woman was not more
wonderful than to turn wisps of straw into horses, and it was perhaps
considered the easier of the two miracles; the sense of the ordinary
ghostly is absent, and the sense that Helen is the ghost of a whole
long-dead civilisation, that sense which is for us the whole charm of
the tale, could not exist in the sixteenth century. Goethe's Faust
feels for Helen as Goethe himself might have felt, as Winckelmann felt
for a lost antique statue, as Schiller felt for the dead Olympus: a
passion intensely imaginative and poetic, born of deep appreciation of
antiquity, the essentially modern, passionate, nostalgic craving for
the past. In Marlowe's play, on the contrary, Faustus and the students
evoke Helen from a confused pedantic impression that an ancient lady
must be as much superior to a modern lady as an ancient poem, be it
even by Statius or Claudian, must be superior to a modern poem--it is
a humanistic fancy of the days of the revival of letters. But, by a
strange phenomenon, Marlowe, once realising what Helen means, that she
is the fairest of women, forgets the scholarly interest in her. Faustus,
once in presence of the wonderful woman, forgets that he had summoned
her up to gratify his and his friends' pedantry; he sees her, loves her,
and bursts out into the splendid tirade full of passionate fancy:

  Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
  And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
  Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss!
  Her lips suck forth my soul! See, where it flies!
  Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
  Here will I dwell, for Heaven is in these lips,
  And all is dross that is not Helena.
  I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
  Instead of Troy shall Wittenberg be sacked;
  And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
  And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
  Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
  And then return to Helen for a kiss.
  Oh! thou art fairer than the evening air
  Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
  Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
  When he appeared to hapless Semele;
  More lovely than the monarch of the sky
  In wanton Arethusa's azure arms;
  And none but thou shalt be my paramour.

This is real passion for a real woman, a woman very different from the
splendid semi-vivified statue of Goethe, the Helen with only the cold,
bloodless, intellectual life which could be infused by enthusiastic
studies of ancient literature and art, gleaming bright like marble
or a spectre. This Helena of Marlowe is no antique; the Elizabethan
dramatist, like the painter of the fifteenth century, could not conceive
the purely antique, despite all the translating of ancient writers, and
all the drawing from ancient marbles. One of the prose versions of the
story of Faustus, contains a quaint account of Helen, which sheds much
light on Marlowe's conception:

  This lady appeared before them in a most rich gowne of purple
  velvet, costly imbrodered; her haire hanged downe loose, as faire
  as the beaten gold, and of such length that it reached downe to her
  hammes; having most amorous cole-black eyes, a sweet and pleasant
  round face, with lips as red as a cherry; her cheeks of a rose
  colour, her mouth small, her neck white like a swan; tall and
  slender of personage; in summe, there was no imperfect place in her;
  she looked around about with a rolling hawk's eye, a smiling and
  wanton countenance, which neerehand inflamed the hearts of all the
  students, but that they persuaded themselves she was a spirit, which
  make them lightly passe away such fancies.

This fair dame in the velvet embroidered gown, with the long, hanging
hair, this Helen of the original Faustus legend, is antique only in
name; she belongs to the race of mediæval and modern women--the Lauras,
Fiammettas, and Simonettas of Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Lorenzo dei
Medici; she is the sister of that slily sentimental coquette, the Monna
Lisa of Leonardo. The strong and simple women of Homer, and even
of Euripides, majestic and matronly even in shame, would repudiate
this slender, smiling, ogling beauty; Briseis, though the captive of
Achilles' spear, would turn with scorn from her. The antique woman has
a dignity due to her very inferiority and restrictedness of position;
she has the simplicity, the completeness, the absence of everything
suggestive of degradation, like that of some stately animal, pure in
its animal nature. The modern woman, with more freedom and more ideal,
rarely approaches to this character; she is too complex to be perfect,
she is frail because she has an ideal, she is dubious because she is
free, she may fall because she may rise. Helen deserted Menelaus and
brought ruin upon Troy, therefore, in the eyes of Antiquity, she was the
victim of fate, she might be unruffled, spotless, majestic; but to the
man of the sixteenth century she was merely frail and false. The rolling
hawk's eye and the wanton smile of the old legend-monger would have
perplexed Homer, but they were necessary for Marlowe; his Helen was
essentially modern, he had probably no inkling that an antique Helen as
distinguished from a modern could exist. In the paramour of Faustus he
saw merely the most beautiful woman, some fair and wanton creature,
dressed not in chaste and majestic antique drapery, but in fantastic
garments of lawn, like those of Hero in his own poem:

  The lining purple silk, with gilt stars drawn;
  Her wide sleeves green, and bordered with a grove
  Where Venus, in her naked glory strove
  To please the careless and disdainful eyes
  Of proud Adonis, that before her lies;
  Her kirtle blue....
  Upon her head she wore a myrtle wreath
  From whence her veil reached to the ground beneath;
  Her veil was artificial flowers and leaves
  Whose workmanship both man and beast deceives.

Some slim and dainty goddess of Botticelli, very mortal withal, long and
sinuous, tightly clad in brocaded garments and clinging cobweb veils,
beautiful with the delicate, diaphanous beauty, rather emaciated and
hectic, of high rank, and the conscious, elaborate fascination of a
woman of fashion--a creature whom, like the Gioconda, Leonardo might
have spent years in decking and painting, ever changing the ornaments
and ever altering the portrait; to whom courtly poets like Bembo and
Castiglione might have written scores of sonnets and canzoni to her
hands, her eyes, her hair, her lips, a fanciful inventory to which she
listened languidly under the cypresses of Florentine gardens. Some such
being, even rarer and more dubious for being an exotic in the England
of Elizabeth, was Marlowe's Helen; such, and not a ghostly figure,
descended from a pedestal, white and marble-like in her unruffled
drapery, walking with solid step and unswerving, placid glance through
the study, crammed with books, and vials, and strange instruments, of
the mediæval wizard of Wittenberg. Marlowe deluded himself as well as
Faustus, and palmed off on to him a mere modern lady. To raise a real
spectre of the antique is a craving of our own century; Goethe attempted
to do it and failed, for what reasons we have seen; but we have all
of us the charm wherewith to evoke for ourselves a real Helena, on
condition that, unlike Faustus and unlike Goethe, we seek not to show
her to others, and remain satisfied if the weird and glorious figure
haunt only our own imagination.



There is nothing stranger in the world than music: it exists only as
sound, is born of silence and dies away into silence, issuing from
nothing and relapsing into nothing; it is our own creation, yet it is
foreign to ourselves; we draw it from out of the silent wood and the
silent metal, it lives in our own breath, yet it seems to come to us
from a distant land which we shall never see, and to tell us of things
we shall never know. It is for ever striving to tell us something, for
ever imploring us to listen and to understand; we listen, we strain, we
try to take in its vague meaning; it is telling us sweet and mighty
secrets, letting drop precious talismanic words; we guess, but do not
understand. And shall we never understand? May we never know wherefore
the joy, wherefore the sadness? Can we not subtilise our minds, go
forth with our heart and fancy as interpreters, and distinguish in
the wreathing melodies and entangled chords some words of superhuman
emotion, even as the men of other ages distinguished in the sighing oak
woods and the rustling reeds the words of the great gods of nature?

To us music is no longer what it was to our grandfathers, a mere
pleasing woof of meaningless pattern; we have left those times far
behind, times whose great masters were prophets uttering mere empty
sounds to their contemporaries; we have shaken off the dust of the
schools of counterpoint, we have thrown aside the mechanical teachings
of the art; for us music has become an audible, quivering fata morgana
of life, the embodiment of the intangible, the expression of the
inexplicable, the realisation of the impossible. And it has become a
riddle, a something we would fain understand but cannot, a spell of our
own devising which we cannot decipher; we sit listening to it as we sit
looking into the deep, dreamy eyes of an animal, full of some mute
language, which we vainly strive to comprehend.

The animal seems as though it could say much if only it could speak; so
also music would seem to contain far deeper meanings than any spoken
word, to be fraught with emotion deeper than we can feel: it could
confide so much if we could understand. Yet the animal is but an animal,
with some of our virtues and some of our vices, infinitely more ignorant
than we are; dumb, not because we cannot understand, but because he
cannot speak. And may it not be the same with music? May not music be
intellectually inscrutable because it is intellectually meaningless?

The idea is one from which we shrink; but are we right in shrinking from
it? Cannot music be noble in itself apart from any meaning it conveys?
Cannot we be satisfied with what it certainly is, without thinking of
what it may be? It would seem to be so; it is the spirit of our culture
to strain restlessly after the unknown, for ever to seek after the
hidden, to reject the visible and tangible. We yearn to penetrate
through the blue of the summer evening, to thread our way among the
sun-gilded clouds; yet the blue heaven, if we rise into it, is mere
tintless air; the clouds, if we can touch them, are mere dull vapour.
And so also we would fain seek a meaning in those fair sounds which are
fairer than any meaning they could contain; we would break down in rude
analysis the splendours of _Don Giovanni_ only to discover beneath them
the story of a punished Lovelace; we would tear to shreds a glorious
fugue of Bach for the satisfaction of hearing the Jews yelling for

This is our tendency, this our way of enjoying the great art of other
days: to care not for itself, but for what it suggests, nay, most often
for the suggestion of the mere name of the work of art, for there is no
punished Lovelace in Mozart's melodies, no Barabbas in Bach's fugues,
there is nothing but beautiful forms made out of sounds. The old prosaic
masters of the past, who worked at a picture or a statue or an opera as
a cobbler works at a pair of shoes, never thought of suggesting anything
to us: they gave something substantial, something intrinsically
valuable, a well-shaped figure, a richly tinted canvas, a boldly
modulated piece of music; to produce that and no more had been their
object, it was all they could give, and their contemporaries were
satisfied with it. Their art was their trade, pursued conscientiously,
diligently, intelligently, sometimes with that superior degree of
intelligence we call genius, but it was their trade and no more. They
themselves were as prosaic as any artisan, and no more saw vague poetry
in their works, though these were the _Olympic Jove_, the _School of
Athens_, or the _Messiah_, than does the potter in his pot or the smith
in his iron; all they saw was that their works were beautiful, as the
potter sees that his pot is round and smooth, and the smith that his
blade is bright and sharp. For the rest they were terribly prosaic,
terribly given up to the mechanical interests of their art and the
material interests of their lives, as you may see them in Vasari, in
the lives of Handel, of Bach, of Haydn, of Mozart, of the last of true,
unpoetic musicians, Rossini, and as you would doubtless see the unknown
sculptors of antiquity if you could see them at all.

But the time came when the world, which had lived off prose most
heartily ever since the Middle Ages, grew sick of such coarse mental
food, and longed for unsubstantial poetic ambrosia; the fact is, it was
morally sick, and took its strong intellectual food in disgust, and
fancied and yearned for impossible things, as sick men do. And in its
loathing for the common, the simple, the healthy, the world took to
eating the intellectual opium of romanticism; it enjoyed and was plunged
for awhile in ineffable delights, such as only weakness can feel and
poison afford; the universe seemed to expand, the imagination to grow
colossal, the feelings to become supernaturally subtle; all limits were
removed, all impossibilities became possibilities; the fancy roamed over
endless and ever varying tracts, and soared up into the clouds of the
unintelligible, and dived into the bottomless abyss of chaos: all things
quivered with a strange new life, with a life in other lives, with an
unceasing, ever changing life; everything was not only itself but
something else: all was greater, higher, deeper, brighter, darker,
sweeter, bitterer, more ineffable than itself; it was a paradise
of Mahomet, of Buddha, of Dante; it was enjoyment keen, subtle,
intoxicating, which made the fancy swim, the senses ache, and the
soul faint. Then came the reaction, the inevitable after-effect of the
drug--depression, langour, palsy, convulsion.

About seventy years ago a great humourist, who frittered away a quaint
and fantastic genius in etching grimacing caricatures, and scribbling
gaunt ghost stories, the once popular, now almost forgotten, Hoffmann,
looked on at this crisis in musical history, at this first intoxication
of romanticism; sympathised with its poetry, its ludicrousness, and
its sadness; embodied them all in one grotesque, pathetic figure,
and for the first and last time in his life produced a masterpiece.
The masterpiece is his poor, half-mad musician, Johannes Kreisler,
"chapelmaster and cracked _musicus_ par excellence," as he signs his
letters, the artist of incomplete genius, of broken career, of poetic
dreams and crazy fancies, who used to go about dressed in a coat the
colour of C sharp minor, with an E major coloured collar. And of all
the glimpses Hoffmann has given us of Chapelmaster Kreisler, none is so
weirdly suggestive as that in which we see him improvising on the piano
at his club of friends. The friends had met one evening expressly to
hear Kreisler's extemporary performance, and he was just on the point of
sitting down to the instrument, when one of the company recollected that
a lever had on a previous occasion refused to do its duty. He took up a
light, and began his search for the refractory lever; when suddenly, as
he leaned over the interior of the piano a heavy pair of brass snuffers
crashed down from the candlestick on to the strings, of which half a
dozen instantly snapped. The company began to exclaim at this unlucky
accident, which would deprive them of the promised performance; but
Chapelmaster Kreisler bade them be of good cheer, for they should still
hear what was in his mind, as the bass strings remained intact.

  Kreisler put on his little red skull cap and his Chinese
  dressing-gown, and sat down to the piano, while a trusty friend
  extinguished all the lights, so that the room remained in utter
  darkness. Then, with the muffling pedal down, Kreisler struck the
  full chord of A flat major, and spoke:

  "What is it that murmurs so strangely, so sweetly, around me?
  Invisible wings seem to be heaving up and down. I am swimming
  in perfume laden air. But the perfume shines forth in flaming,
  mysteriously linked circles. Lovely spirits are moving their golden
  pinions in ineffably splendid sounds and harmonies."

  _Chord of A flat minor (mezzo forte)._ "Ah, they are bearing me off
  into the land of eternal desire, but even as they carry me, pain
  awakes in my heart, and tries to escape, tearing my bosom with

  _Chord of E major (third), forte._ "They have given me a splendid
  crown, but that which sparkles and lightens in its diamonds are the
  thousand tears which I shed; and in the gold shine the flames which
  are devouring me. Valour and power, strength and faith, for him who
  is called on to reign in the kingdom of spirits."

       *       *       *       *       *

  _B major (accentuato)._ "What a gay life in field and woodland in
  the sweet springtide! All the flutes and pipes, which have lain
  frozen to death in dusty corners throughout the winter, have now
  awakened and remembered their best beloved melodies, which they
  trill cheerfully like the birds in the air."

  _B major with the diminished seventh (smanioso)._ "A warm west wind
  comes sullenly complaining, like some mysterious secret, through
  the wood, and wherever it brushes past, the fir trees murmur, the
  beeches murmur to each other: 'Wherefore has our friend grown so

  _E flat major (forte)._ "Follow him, follow him! His dress is green
  like the dark wood--sweet sounds of horns are his sighing words.
  Hearest him murmuring behind the bushes? Hearest thou the sound?
  The sound of horns, full of delight and sadness? 'Tis he! up and
  meet him."

  _D third, fourth, sixth, chord (piano)._ "Life plays its mocking
  game in all manner of fashions. Wherefore desire? Wherefore hope?
  Wherefore demand?"

  _C major (third) chord (fortissimo)._ "Let us rather dance over the
  open graves in wild rejoicing. Let us shout for joy, those beneath
  cannot hear it. Hurrah, hurrah! Dance and jollity; the devil is
  riding in with drums and trumpets."

  _C minor chords (ff. in rapid succession)._ "Knowest thou him not?
  Knowest thou him not? See, he stretches forth his burning claw to my
  heart! He masks himself in all sorts of absurd grimaces--as a free
  huntsman, as a concert director, tapeworm doctor, _ricco mercante_;
  he pitches snuffers into the strings to prevent my playing! Kreisler,
  Kreisler, shake thyself up? Seest thou it hiding, the pale ghost
  with the red burning eyes, stretching out its clawy, bony hand
  from beneath its torn mantle--shaking the crown of straw on its
  smooth   bald skull? It is Madness! Johannes, be brave! Mad, mad,
  witch-revelry of life, wherefore shakest thou me so in thy whirling
  dance? Can I not escape? Is there no grain of dust in the universe on
  which, diminished to a fly, I can save myself from thee, horrible
  torturing phantom? Desist, Desist! I will behave. My manners shall be
  the very best. _Hony soit qui mal y pense._ Only let me believe the
  devil to be a _galantuomo_! I curse song and music; I lick thy feet
  like the drunken Caliban; free me only from my torments! Aï! Aï!
  abominable one! Thou hast trodden down all my flowers: not a blade of
  grass still greens in the terrible desert--

  Dead! Dead! Dead!..."

When Chapelmaster Kreisler ended, all were silent; poetry, passionate,
weird, and grotesque, had poured from their friend's lips; a strange
nightmare pageant had swept by them, beautiful and ghastly, like a mad
Brocken medley of the triumph of Dionysos and the dance of Death.

They were all silent--all save one, and that one said: "This is all very
fine, but I was told we were to have music; a good, sensible sonata of
Haydn's--would have been much more the thing than all this." He was a
Philistine, no doubt, but he was right; a good, sensible sonata of
Haydn's--nay, the stiffest, driest, most wooden fugue ever written by
the most crabbed professor of counterpoint would have been far more
satisfactory for people who expected music. A most fantastic rhapsody
they had indeed heard, but it had been a spoken one, and the best
strings of the piano had remained hanging snapped and silent during the

Poor Chapelmaster Kreisler! He has long been forgotten by the world in
general, and even those few that still are acquainted with his weird
portrait, smile at it as at a relic of a far distant time, when life and
art and all other things looked strangely different from how they look
now. Yet the crazy musician of Hoffmann is but the elder brother of all
our modern composers. With the great masters of the last century, Haydn,
Mozart, Cimarosa, who were scarcely in their graves when he improvised
his great word fantasia, he has no longer any connection with our own
musicians, born half a century after his end, he is closely linked, for,
like him, they are romanticists. They do not indeed wear C sharp minor
coloured coats, nor do they improvise in the dark on pianos with broken
strings; they are perfectly sane and conscious of all their doings; yet,
all the same, they are but Kreisler's younger brothers. Like the poor
chapelmaster of Hoffmann, music itself has a fantastic madness in it;
like him, it has been crazed by disappointment, by jealousy, by impotent
rage at finding that it cannot now do what it once did, and cannot yet
do what will never be done; like Kreisler it deals no longer with mere
sequences of melody and harmony, but with thoughts, feelings, and
images, hopes and fears and despair, with wild chaotic visions of
splendour and of ghastliness. But the position of our music differs from
that of Kreisler in this much, that no friendly pair of snuffers crashes
on to the strings and makes them fly asunder; that, while Kreisler
spoke, our music can only play its fancies and whimsies; and that,
instead of hearing intelligible spoken words, we hear only musical
sounds which are gibberish and chaos.

For the time when men sought in music only for music's own loveliness
is gone by; and the time has come when all the arts trespass on each
other's ground, and, worst of all, when the arts which can give and show
envy poetry, the art which can neither give nor show but only suggest,
and when, for the sake of such suggestion, they would cheat us of all
the real gifts--gifts of noble forms of line and colour, and sweet woofs
of melody and harmony which they once gave us. The composer now wishes
to make you see and feel all that he sees and feels in his imagination,
the woods and seas, the joys and sorrows, all the confused day-dreams,
sweet and drowsy, all the nightmare orgies which may pass through his
brain; the sound has become the mere vehicle for this, the weak, vague
language which he can only stammer and we can only divine; the artist
breaks violently against the restraint of form, thinking to attain the
unattainable beyond its limits, and sinks down baffled and impotent
amidst ruin.

We are apt to think of music as of a sort of speech until, on
examination, we find it has no defined meaning either for the speaker or
for the listener. In reality, music and speech are as different and as
separate as architecture and painting, as wholly opposed to each other
as only those two things can be which, having started from the same
point, have travelled in completely opposite directions, like the two
great rivers which, originating on the same alp, flow respectively to
the north, and to the south, each acquiring a separate character on its
way--the one as the blue river of Germany, ending amidst the tide-torn
sandbanks of the North Sea; the other as the green river of Provence,
dying amidst the stagnant pools and fever-haunted marshes of the
Mediterranean. As long as the Rhine and the Rhone are not yet Rhine and
Rhone, but merely pools of snow-water among the glaciers, so long are
they indistinguishable; but as soon as separated into distinct streams,
their dissimilarity grows with every mile of their diverging course.
So as to speech and music: as long as both exist only in embryo in the
confused cries and rude imitations of the child or of the primitive
people, they cannot be distinguished; but as soon as they can be called
either speech or music, they become unlike and increase in dissimilarity
in proportion as they develop. The cry and the imitative sound become,
on the one hand, a word which, however rude, begins to have an arbitrary
meaning, and, on the other hand, a song which, however uncouth, has no
positive meaning; the word, as it develops, acquires a more precise and
abstract signification, becomes more and more of a symbol; the song, as
it develops, loses definite meaning, becomes more and more a complete
unsymbolical form, until at length the word, having become a thing for
use, a mere means of communication, ceases to require vocal utterance,
and turns into a written sign; while the song, having become an object
of mere pleasure, requires more and more musical development, and is
transported from the lips of man to the strings of an instrument. But
while speech and music are thus diverging, while the one is becoming
more and more of an arbitrary symbol conveying an abstract idea, and the
other is growing more and more into an artistic form conveying no idea,
but pleasing the mind merely by its concrete form--while this divergence
is taking place, a corresponding movement accompanies it which removes
both speech and music farther and farther from their common origin: the
cry of passion and the imitative sound. The Rhone and the Rhine are
becoming not only less like each other, but as the one becomes green and
the other blue, so also are both losing all trace of the original dull
white of the snow water. In the word, the cry and the imitation are
being effaced by arbitrary, symbolical use, by that phonetic change
which shows how little a word as it exists for us retains of its
original character; in the song they are being subdued by constant
attempts at obtaining a more distinct and symmetrical shape, by the
development of the single sounds and their arrangement with a view to
pleasing the ear and mind. Yet both retain the power of resuming to a
limited extent their original nature; but in proportion as the word or
the song resumes the characteristics of the cry or of the imitation does
each lose its own slowly elaborated value, the word as a suggester of
thought, the song as a presenter of form. Now, in so far as the word is
a word, or the song a song, its effect on the emotions is comparatively
small: the word can awaken emotion only as a symbol, that is, indirectly
and merely suggestively; the song can awaken emotion only inasmuch as
it yet partakes of the nature of the brute cry or rude imitation. Thus,
while language owes its emotional effects to the ideas arbitrarily
connected with it, music owes its power over the heart to its sensuous
elements as given by nature. But music exists as an art, that is to say,
as an elaboration of the human mind, only inasmuch as those sensuous
brute elements are held in check and measure, are made the slaves of an
intellectual conception. The very first step in the formation of the art
is the subjection of the emotional cry or the spontaneous imitation to
a process of acoustic mensuration, by which the irregular sound becomes
the regular, definite _note_; the second step is the subjection of this
already artificial sound to mensuration of time, by which it is made
rhythmical; the third step is the subjection of this rhythmical sound to
a comparative mensuration with other sounds, by which we obtain harmony;
the last step is adjustment of this artificially obtained note and
rhythm and harmony into that symmetrical and intellectually appreciable
form which constitutes the work of art, for art begins only where the
physical elements are subjected to an intellectual process, and it
exists completely only where they abdicate their independence and become
subservient to an intellectual design.

Music is made up of two elements: the intellectual and the sensuous on
the one hand, of that which is conceived by the mind and perceived by
the mind (for our ears perceive only the separate constituent sounds of
a tune, but not the tune itself); on the other hand, of that which is
produced by the merely physical and appreciated by the merely physical,
by the nerves of hearing, through which it may, but only indirectly,
affect the mind. Now if, from an artistic point of view, we must protest
against any degradation of the merely sensuous part, it is because such
a degradation would involve a corresponding one in the intellectual
part, because the physical basis must be intact and solid before we can
build on it an intellectual structure, because the physical element
through which mentality is perceived must be perfect in order that the
mental manifestation be equally so; but the physical must always remain
a mere basis, a mere vehicle for the mental. The enjoyment obtainable
from the purely physical part may indeed be very great and very
valuable, but it is a mere physical enjoyment; and the pleasure we
derive from a fine voice, as distinguished from a fine piece or a fine
interpretation, is as wholly unartistic as that which we receive from a
ripe peach or a cool breeze: it is a purely sensuous pleasure, given us
ready-made by nature, to give or to perceive which requires no
mentality, in which there is no human intention, and consequently no
art. Now, the effect of the cry or of the imitation, and that of certain
other manifestations of sound, such as tone, pitch, volume, rhythm,
major or minor intervals, which are cognate with, but independent of,
the cry or the imitation--the effect of all this is an entirely sensuous
one, an effect of unintelligent matter on the nerves, not of calculating
intelligence on the mind, and it is to these physical effects, and not
to the mentally elaborated form, that music owes its peculiar power of
awaking or even of suggesting emotion.

That this is the case is shown by various circumstances. The ancients,
who, as is now proved beyond dispute, possessed very little of the
intellectual part of music, little of what we should deem its form,
enjoyed its emotional effects to a far higher degree than could we in
our present musical condition; the stories of Timotheus, Terpander, and
other similar ones, being at least founded on fact, as is evident from
the continual allusions of Greek writers to the moral or immoral effect
of the art, and their violent denunciations of people whose only social
crime was to have added a string to a lyre or a hole to a flute. We
ourselves have constant opportunities of remarking the intense emotional
effects due to mere pitch, tone, and rhythm; that is to say, to the
merely physical qualities of number, nature, and repetition of musical
vibrations. We have all been cheered by the trumpet and depressed by the
hautboy; we have felt a wistful melancholy steal over us while listening
to the drone of the bagpipe and the quaver of the flute of the pifferari
at the shrine; we have felt our heart beat and our breath halt on
catching the first notes of an organ as we lifted the entrance curtain
of some great cathedral; we have known nothing more utterly harrowing
than a hurdy-gurdy playing a cheerful tune, or a common accordion
singing out a waltz or a polka. Nay, it is worthy of remark that the
instruments capable of the greatest artistic development are just those
which possess least this power over the nerves: the whole violin and
harpsichord tribe, the human voice when sound and natural--saying least
themselves, are capable of saying most for others; whereas the trumpet,
the accordion, the harp, the zither, are condemned by their very
expressiveness to a hopeless inferiority; they produce an effect
spontaneously by their mere tone; the artist can produce on them but
that effect, and can scarcely heighten even it. A musical critic of the
beginning of this century, Giuseppe Carpani, wishing to defend Rossini
from the accusation of being unemotional, boldly laid down the principle
that it never is the composer who makes people cry, but the author of
the words and the singer. As to the composer, he can only please, but
not move.

  Never (he says) were people more moved than by a certain scene in
  Metastasio's _Araserse_, set by Mortellari, and sung by the famous
  Pacchierotti (about 1780); and do you think perhaps that it was
  Mortellari, who made them cry? Mortellari, the stupidest mediocrity,
  _Dio l'abbia in gloria!_ No, it was Metastasio and Pacchierotti, the
  verse and the voice.

This was a mere absurd exaggeration, and a mere captious plea for
Rossini, who, had he only had Metastasio to write the words and
Pacchierotti to sing, would doubtless have moved the whole universe to
tears, with "Di tanti palpiti." Yet in this exaggeration, an important
truth has been struck out. This truth is that the writer of the
libretto, having at his disposal the clear, idea-suggesting word, can
bring up a pathetic situation before the mind; that the singer, having
at his command the physical apparatus for producing an effect on the
nerves, can sensuously awaken emotion; while the composer, possessing
neither the arbitrary idea-suggesting word, nor the nerve-moving sound,
but only the artistic form, can please to the utmost, but move only to a
limited degree.

Thus, there is a once popular but now deservedly forgotten air in
the _Romeo e Giulietta_ of Zingarelli, which some seventy years ago
possessed the most miraculous power over what people called the heart,
and especially over the not too sensitive one of Napoleon, who, whenever
it was sung by his favourite Crescentini, invariably burst into tears.
The extraordinary part of the matter is that this air happens to be
peculiarly insipid, without any very definite expression, but, on the
whole, of a sort of feeble cheerfulness, and certainly is the last piece
that we should judge capable of such deeply emotional effects. But the
situation of Romeo is an intensely pathetic one, and it is probable
that the singer's voice may have possessed some strange power over the
nerves, something of the purely sensuous pathos of an accordion or a
zither, especially in the long, gradually diminished notes, "fine by
degrees and beautifully less," which move like an Æolian harp. But, if
the pathetic effect of "Ombra adorata" could not be ascribed to the
composition neither could it be ascribed to the interpretation. For
this sensuous pathos, though enhanced by the singer's intellectual
qualities, in no way depends upon them; the intellect can make him
graduate and improve the form of a piece, all that which is perceived by
the mind, but it has no influence on the nerves; Crescentini's musical
intelligence may have enabled him to make "Ombra adorata" a beautiful
song, but only his physical powers of voice could have enabled him to
make it a pathetic one.

As these physical elements are the material out of which artistic forms
are moulded by the musician, he necessarily deals with and disposes of
those powers over the nerves which are inherent in them. When he creates
a musical form out of minor intervals, he necessarily gives that form
something of the melancholy effect of such intervals; when he composes
a piece with the peculiar rhythm of a march, he necessarily gives his
piece some of the inspiriting power of that rhythm; when he employs
a hautboy or a trumpet, he necessarily lends his work some of the
depressing quality of the hautboy or some of the cheering quality of
the trumpet. Thus the intellectually conceived and perceived forms are
invested with the power over the nerves peculiar to certain of the
physical elements of music; but it is in those component physical
elements, and not in the forms into which they are disposed, that lies
the emotional force of the art. Nor is this all: the physical elements,
inasmuch as they are subdued and regulated and neutralized by one
another in the intellectual form, are inevitably deprived of the full
vigour of their emotional power; the artistic form has tamed and curbed
them, has forbidden their freely influencing the nerves, while at the
same time it--the form--has exerted its full sway over the mind. The
mountains have been hewn into terraces, the forests have been clipped
into gardens, the waves have been constrained into fountains, the
thunder has been tuned down into musical notes; nature has submitted to
man, and has abdicated her power into his hands. The stormy reign of
instinctive feeling has come to an end; the serene reign of art has

In order to see these sensuous elements of music in their unmixed
purity, in their unbridled strength, we must descend to the lowest
stages of the art, compared with whose emotional effects those of modern
music are as nothing, and least of all in the classic periods of the
art; but even in modern music, what really strong emotional effects
there may be are due to a momentary suspension of artistic activity, to
a momentary return to the formless, physically touching music of early
ages. The most emotional thing ever written by Mozart is the exclamation
of Donna Elvira, when, after leaving Don Giovanni at his ill-omened
supper, she is met on the staircase by the statue of the commander; this
exclamation is but one high, detached note, formless, meaningless, which
pierces the nerves like a blade; submit even this one note to artistic
action, bid the singer gradually swell and diminish it, and you at once
rob it of its terrible power. This is Mozart's most emotional stroke;
but was a Mozart, nay, was any musician, necessary for its conception?
Would not that cry have been the same if surrounded by true music? A
contrary example, but to the same effect, is afforded by Gluck in his
great scene of Orpheus at the gate of Hades, which may have moved our
great-grandfathers, accustomed to fugues and minuets and _rigaudons_,
but which seems coldly beautiful as some white antique group to us,
accustomed as we are to romantic art. The _No!_ of the Furies loses
all its effects by being worked into a definite musical form, by being
locked into the phrase begun by Orpheus; it is merely a constituent note
and no more, until after some time it is repeated detached, and without
any reference to the main melody sung by Orpheus: at first it is part of
a work of art, later it becomes a mere brute shout, and then, and then
only, does it obtain a really moving character.

When these potent physical elements are held in subjection by artistic
form, emotion may be suggested, more or less vaguely, but only
suggested: we perceive them in the fabric which imprisons them, and we
perceive their power, but it is as we should perceive the power of a
tiger chained up behind a grating: we remember and imagine what it has
been and might be, but we no longer feel it; for us to again feel it,
the artistic form must be torn down; the physical elements unchained,
and then, and then only, shall we tremble once more before them. Mozart
may be on his door-step as a regiment passes: he may feel the inspiring,
courage-awakening effect of its rough rhythm and discordant, screeching
trumpets: he may go upstairs, sit down to his piano, make use of all
those sensuous elements, of the rhythm and of the wind instruments,
which have stirred him in that regimental music: he may use them in a
piece professedly suggested by that music; the piece will be "Non più
andrai," and a masterpiece. We shall be reminded of military music by
it, and we shall be aware of the fact that its rhythm and accompaniment
are martial; we shall even call it a martial piece; but will it stir us,
will it make us step out and feel soldier-like as would the coarsest
regimental trumpets? Jommelli may enter a cathedral as the bells are
tolling to mass, and all seems undulating and heaving beneath their
swing; he may feel the awful effect of those simple, shapeless sounds:
he may listen to their suggestion and frame the opening of his Mass for
the Dead on that deep monotonous sway; he will produce a masterpiece,
the wondrous _Introitus_ of his Requiem, in which we shall indeed
recognize something of the solemn rhythm of the bells, something that
will awaken in us the recollection of that moment when the cathedral
towers seemed to rock to their movement, and the aisles re-echoed their
roar, and when even miles away in the open country the clear deep toll
floated across the silent fields; but that effect itself we shall never
hear in the music. The artist has used the already existing emotional
elements for his own purposes, but those purposes are artistic ones;
they aim at delighting the mind, not at tickling the nerves.

The composer, therefore, inasmuch as he deprives the emotional elements
of music of their freedom and force of action, cannot possibly produce
an effect on the emotions at all to be compared with that spontaneously
afforded by nature; he can imitate the rush of waters or the sob of
despair only so distantly and feebly that the effect of either is
well-nigh lost, and even for such an imitation he must endanger the
artistic value of his work, which is safe only when it is the artist's
sole aim and object. The most that the composer can legitimately do is
to suggest a given emotion by employing in his intellectual structure
such among the physical elements of his art as would in a state of
complete freedom awaken that given emotion; he may choose such sensuous
elements as would inspire melancholy, or joy, or serenity; he may reject
any contrary element or any incongruous effect, and he may thus produce
what we shall call a pathetic piece, or a cheerful piece, or a solemn

But this pathetic, cheerful, or solemn character depends not upon the
intellectual forms imagined by the composer, but upon the sensuous
elements afforded by nature; and the artistic activity of the composer
consists in the conception of those forms, not in the selection of those
physical elements. When, therefore, a composer is said to express the
words which he is setting, he does so by means not of the creation
of artistic forms, but by the selection of sensuous materials; the
suggestion of an emotion analogous to that conveyed by the words is due
not to the piece itself, but to its physical constituents; wherefore the
artistic value of the composition in no way depends upon its adaptation
to the words with which it is linked. There is no more common mistake,
nor one which more degrades artistic criticism, than the supposition
that the merit of "He was despised and rejected of men," or of "Fin
ch'an del vino," depends upon their respective suitableness to the
words: the most inferior musician would perceive that such and such
physical elements were required to suggest a mental condition in harmony
with either of these verbal expressions of feeling; the most inferior
musician could have given us a piece as melancholy as "He was despised,"
or as cheerful as "Fin ch'an del vino," but--and here lies the unique
test of artistic worth--only Handel could have given us so beautiful a
melancholy piece as the one, and only Mozart so beautiful a cheerful
piece as the other. As it is with the praise, so likewise is it with the
blame: a composer who sets a cheerful piece to dismal words, or a dismal
piece to cheerful words, may be reprehensible for not reflecting that
the mind thus receives together two contrary impressions, and he may be
condemned for want of logic and good sense; but not a word can be said
against his artistic merit, any more than we could say a word against
the artistic merit of the great iron-worker of the Renaissance, who
closed the holy place where lies the Virgin's sacred girdle with a
screen of passion flowers, in whose petals hide goats and ducks, on
whose tendrils are balanced pecking cranes, and in the curling leaves of
which little naked winged Cupids are drawing their bows and sharpening
their arrows even as in the bas-reliefs of a pagan sarcophagus. In the
free and spontaneous activity of musical conception, the composer may
forget the words he is setting, as the painter may forget the subject
he is painting in the fervour of plastic imagination; for the musician
conceives not emotions, but modulations; and the painter conceives not
actions, but gestures and attitudes. Thence it comes that Mozart has
made regicide Romans storm and weep as he would have made Zerlina and
Cherubino laugh, just as Titian made Magdalen smite her breast in
the wilderness with the smile of Flora on her feast-day; hence that
confusion in all save form, that indifference to all save beauty, which
characterises all the great epochs of art, that sublime jumble of times
and peoples, of tragic and comic, that motley crowding together of
satyrs and anchorites, of Saracens and ancient Romans, of antique
warriors and mediæval burghers, of Gothic tracery and Grecian arabesque,
of Theseus and Titania, of Puck and Bottom, that great masquerade of art
which we, poor critics, would fain reduce to law and rule, to
chronological and ethnological propriety.

Those times are gone by: we wish to make every form correspond with an
idea; we wish to be told a story by the statue, by the picture, most of
all by that which can least tell it--by music. We forget that music is
neither a symbol which can convey an abstract thought, nor a brute cry
which can express an instinctive feeling; we wish to barter the power
of leaving in the mind an indelible image of beauty for the miserable
privilege of awakening the momentary recollection of one of nature's
sounds, or the yet more miserable one of sending a momentary tremor
through the body; we would rather compare than enjoy, and rather weep
than admire. Therefore we try to force music to talk a language which
it does not speak and which we do not understand; and succeed only in
making it babble like a child or rave like a madman, obtaining nothing
but unintelligible and incoherent forms in our anxiety to obtain
intelligible and logical thoughts. We forget that great fact, forever
overlooked by romanticism, that poetry and music are essentially
distinct in their nature; that Chapelmaster Kreisler's improvisation was
not played but spoken; and that had not the snuffers fallen into the
piano, had not the strings snapped asunder, Hoffmann would have had to
record, not a grandly grotesque series of images, but a succession of
formless and meaningless chords.



It is a strange and beautiful fact that whatsoever is touched by genius,
no matter how humble in itself, becomes precious and immortal. This
wrinkled old woman is merely one of thousands like herself, who have sat
and will sit by the great porcelain stove of the Dutch backshop, their
knitting or their bible on their knees. There is nothing to make her
recollected; yet we know her after two centuries, even as if we had
seen her alive, because, with a few blurred lines and shadows hastily
scratched on his etching plate, it pleased the whim of Master Rembrandt
to pourtray her. And this little commonplace Frankfurt shopkeeper's
maiden, in her stiff little cap and starched frill, who should remember
her? Yet she is familiar to us all, because she struck the boyish fancy
of Goethe. For even as the fact of its once having sparkled on the
waistcoat of Mozart makes us treasure up a tarnished brass button;
and as the notion of their having been planted by the hand of Michael
Angelo made us mourn the cutting down of a clump of sear and rusty
old cypresses, so also the fact of having been noticed, noted down by
genius, with brush, or pen, or chisel, makes into relics men and things
which would else have been forgotten; because the stroke of that pen,
or brush, or chisel removes them from the perishable world of reality
to the deathless world of fancy. Nay, even the beautiful things, the
perfect, physically or morally, of the world, those which called forth
admiration and love as long as they existed: Antinous and Monna Lisa,
Beatrice and Laura, would now be but a handful of nameless dust, were
it not for the artists and poets who have made them live again and
for ever: the deeds and sufferings of the Siegfrieds and Cids, of the
Desdemonas and Francescas, would have died away had they not been
filched out of the world of reality into the world of fiction. And
even as the perishable, the humble, the insignificant reality becomes
enduring and valuable by the touch of genius; so also in the very world
of fiction itself the intellectual creations of one man may be raised to
infinitely higher regions by the hand of another, may be transported
into the kingdom of another and nobler art, and there be seen more
universally and surrounded by a newly acquired radiance. In this manner
the tale of Romeo and Juliet, graciously and tenderly narrated by the
old Italian story-teller, was transfigured by Shakespeare and enshrined
in all the splendours of Elizabethan poetry; the figure of Psyche,
delicately graceful in the little romance of Apuleius, reappeared,
enlarged and glorified by the hand of Raphael, on the walls of the
Farnesina; and thus also our Cherubino, the fanciful and brilliant
creature of Beaumarchais, is known to most of us far less in his
original shape than in the vague form woven out of subtle melodies
to which Mozart has given the page's name. Mozart has, as it were,
taken away Cherubino from Beaumarchais; he has, for the world at
large, substituted for the page of the comedy the page of the opera.
Beaumarchais could give us clear-spoken words, dialogue and action, a
visible and tangible creature; and Mozart could give only a certain
arrangement of notes, a certain amount of rhythm and harmony, a vague,
speechless, shapeless thing; yet much more than the written words do
those notes represent to our fancy the strange and fascinating little
figure, the wayward, the amorous, the prankish, the incarnation of
childishness, of gallantry, of grace, of fun, and of mischief, the
archetype of pages--the page Cherubino. What could music do for
Cherubino? of what means could it dispose to reproduce this type, this
figure? and how did, how should music have disposed of those means?
About this fantastic and brilliant little jackanapes of a page centres a
curious question of artistic anomaly, of artistic power, and of artistic

The part of Cherubino: the waywardness, the love, the levity, the
audacity, the timidity, the maturity and immaturity of the page's
feelings, are all concentrated by the admirable ingenuity of the
Venetian D'Aponte, who arranged Beaumarchais's play for Mozart's music,
into one air, the air sung by Cherubino in that very equivocal interview
with the Countess and Susanna, so rudely to be broken by the thundering
rap of the Count at the door. The air is "Voi che sapete"--Cherubino's
description, half to the noble and sentimental lady, half to the
flippant and laughing waiting-maid, of the curious symptoms, the
mysterious hankerings, and attractions which the boy has of late begun
to experience--symptoms of which he is half ashamed, as calculated to
bring down laughter and boxes on the ear, and half proud, mischievously
conscious that they make him a personage for all this womankind. Every
one has heard "Voi che sapete" sung a hundred times by dozens of singers
in dozens of fashions, till it has become in the recollection a sort of
typical jumble of all these various readings; but we once chanced to
hear a reading of "Voi che sapete" which has remained strangely distinct
and separate in our remembrance; which made that performance of the
hackneyed piece remain isolated in our mind, almost as if the air
had never before or never since been heard by us. The scene of the
performance has remained in our memory as a whole, because the look,
the attitude, the face of the performer seemed to form a whole, a unity
of expression and character, with the inflexions of the voice and the
accentuation of the words. She was standing by the piano: a Spanish
Creole, but, instead of the precocious, overblown magnificence of
tropical natures, with a something almost childlike despite seriousness,
something inflexible, unexpanded, unripe about her; quite small,
slender, infinitely slight and delicate; standing perfectly straight
and motionless in her long, tight dress of ashy rose colour; her little
dark head with its tight coils of ebony hair perfectly erect; her great
dark violet-circled eyes, with their perfect ellipse of curved eyebrow
meeting curved eyelash, black and clear against the pale, ivory-tinted
cheek, looking straight before her; self-unconscious, concentrated,
earnest, dignified, with only a faint fluttering smile, to herself, not
to the audience, about the mouth. She sang the page's song in a strange
voice, sweet and crisp, like a Cremonese violin, with a bloom of youth,
scarcely mature yet perfect, like the honey dust of the vine-flower;
sang the piece with an unruffled serenity, with passion, no limpness or
languor, but passion restrained, or rather undeveloped; with at most a
scarcely perceptible hesitation and reticence of accent, as of budding
youthful emotion; her voice seeming in some unaccountable manner to move
in a higher, subtler stratum of atmosphere, as it dextrously marked,
rounded off, kissed away each delicate little phrase. When she had done,
she gave a slight bow with her proud little head, half modestly and half
contemptuously, as, with her rapid, quiet movement, she resumed her
seat; she probably felt that despite the applause, her performance
did not really please. No one criticised, for there was something
that forbade criticism in this solemn little creature; and every one
applauded, for every one felt that her singing had been admirable. But
there was no warmth of admiration, no complete satisfaction: she had
sung with wonderful delicacy and taste and feeling; her performance had
been exquisitely finished, perfect; but something familiar, something
essential had been missing. She had left out Cherubino: she had
completely forgotten and passed over the page.

How was it? How could it be that the something which we felt was the
nature of the page, the something which even the coarsest, poorest
performers had brought out in this piece, had completely disappeared in
this wonderfully perfect rendering by this subtle little singer? Perhaps
the rendering had been only materially perfect: perhaps it was merely
the exquisite tone of the voice, the wonderful neatness of execution
which had given it an appearance of completeness; perhaps the real
meaning of the music had escaped her; perhaps there was behind all this
perfection of execution only a stolid dulness of nature, to which the
genius of Mozart was not perceptible. None of all these possibilities
and probabilities: the chief characteristic of the performance was
exactly the sense of perfect musical intuition, of subtle appreciation
of every little intonation, the sense that this docile and exquisite
physical instrument was being played upon by a keen and unflinching
artistic intelligence. The more you thought over it, the more you
compared this performance with any other performance of the piece, the
more also did you feel convinced that this was the right, the only right
reading of the piece; that this strange, serious little dark creature
had given you the whole, the perfection of Mozart's conception; no,
there could be no doubt of it, this and this alone was Mozart's idea of
"Voi che sapete." Mozart's idea? the whole of Mozart's conception?
here, in this delicate, dignified, idyllic performance? The whole? Why
then, where, if this was the whole of Mozart's conception, where was
Cherubino, where was the page? Why, nowhere. Now that the song had been
presented to us in its untampered perfection, that the thought of
the composer was clear to us--now that we could begin to analyse the
difference between this performance and the performances of other
singers--we began to see, vaguely at first and not without doubts of our
powers of sight, but to see, and more and more distinctly the longer
we looked, that Cherubino was not in Mozart's work, but merely in
Beaumarchais. A very singular conclusion to arrive at, but one not to
be shirked: Cherubino had passed into the words of Mozart's Italian
libretto, he had passed into the dress, the face, the feature, the
action of the thousands of performers who had sung the "Marriage of
Figaro" on the stage; but he had not passed into Mozart's notes; and
because he had not entered into those notes, that subtle and serious
little Spaniard, who had seen and understood so well the meaning and
beauty of Mozart's music, had known nothing of Cherubino.

Now, after all this discussion respecting his presence and his absence,
let us stay awhile and examine into the being of this Cherubino, so
familiar and so immediately missed by us; let us look at the page, whom
the clever playwright D'Aponte transported, with extraordinary success,
out of the French comedy into the Italian opera text. Very familiar to
all of us, yet, like the things most familiar, rather vaguely; seen
often and in various lights, fluctuating consequently in our memory, as
distinguished from the distinct and steadfast image of things seen only
once and printed off at a stroke on to our mind. At the first glance,
when we see him sitting at the feet of the Countess, singing her his
love songs, he seems a delicate poetic exotic, whose presence takes us
quite aback in the midst of the rouged and pigtailed philosophy, the
stucco and tinsel sentimentality of the French eighteenth century. In
these rooms, all decorated by Boucher and Fragonard, in this society
redolent with the theories of Diderot and the jests of Voltaire, this
page, this boy who is almost a girl, with his ribbons and his ballads,
his blushes, his guitar, and his rapier, appears like a thing of
long past days, or of far distant countries; a belated brother of
Shakspeare's Cesario and Fletcher's Bellario, a straggler from the
Spain of Lope de Vega, who has followed M. Caron de Beaumarchais,
ex-watchmaker and ex-musicmaster to Mesdames the daughters of Louis
XV., from Madrid, and leaped suddenly on to the planks of the Comédie
Française ... a ghost of some mediæval boy page, some little Jehan de
Saintré killed crusading with his lady's name on his lips. Or is not
Cherubino rather a solitary forerunner of romanticism, stumbled untimely
into this France of Marie Antoinette; some elder brother of Goethe's
Mignon ... nay, perhaps Mignon herself, disguised as or metamorphosed
into a boy.... But let us look well at him: let him finish his song and
raise his audacious eyes; let him rise and be pulled to and fro, bashful
with false bashfulness half covering his mischievous, monkish impudence,
while Susanna is mumming him up in petticoats and kerchiefs; let us look
at him again now, and we shall see that he is no Jehan de Saintré, no
male Mignon, no Viola in boy's clothes, no sweetly pure little romantic
figure, but an impertinent, precocious little Lovelace, a serio-comic
little jackanapes, sighing and weeping only to giggle and pirouette
on his heels the next moment. From the Countess he will run to the
gardener's daughter, from her to the waiting-maid, to the duenna, to all
womankind; he is a professed lady-killer and woman-teaser of thirteen.
There is indeed something graceful and romantic in the idea of this
pretty child consoling, with his poetical, absurd love, the poor,
neglected, ill-used lady. But then he has been smuggled in by that
dubious Abigail, Susanna; the sentimental, melancholy Countess is amused
by dressing him up in women's clothes; and when, in the midst of the
masquerade, the voice of the Count is heard without, the page is huddled
away into a closet, his presence is violently denied, and the Countess
admits her adored though fickle lord with a curious, conscious,
half-guilty embarrassment. We feel vaguely that Shakspeare would never
have introduced his boy Ganymede or his page Cesario into that
dressing-room of the Countess Almaviva; that the archly jesting Maria
would never have dreamed of amusing the Lady Olivia with such mummings;
we miss in this proudly sentimental lady, in this sly waiting-woman, in
this calf-loving dressed-up boy the frank and boisterous merriment of
Portia and Nerissa in their escapades and mystifications; there is in
all this too much locking of doors and drawing of curtains, too much
whispered giggling, too little audible laughter; there hangs an
indefinable sense of impropriety about the whole scene. No, no, this is
no delicate and gracious young creature of the stock of Elizabethan
pages, no sweet exotic in the France of 1780; this Cherubino is merely a
graceful, coquettish little Greuze figure, with an equivocal simplicity,
an ogling _naïveté_, a smirking bashfulness, a hidden audacity of
corruption; a creature of Sterne or Marivaux, tricked out in imitation
Mediæval garb, with the stolen conscious wink of the eye, the would-be
childlike smile, tinged with leer, of eighteenth century gallantry. He
is an impertinent, effeminate, fondled, cynical little jackanapes; the
youngest, childish, monkeyish example, at present merely comic and
contemptible, of the miserable type of young lovers given to France by
the eighteenth century; the _enfant du siècle_, externally a splendid,
brilliant, triumphant success, internally a miserable, broken, unmanned
failure; the child initiated into life by cynicism, the youth educated
to love by adultery; corrupt unripeness; the most miserable type of
demoralisation ever brought into literature, the type of Fortunio
and Perdican, and of their author Alfred de Musset; a type which
the Elizabethans, with their Claudios and Giovannis, could not have
conceived; which the Spaniards, with their Don Juans and Ludovic Enios,
would have despised, they who had brought on to the stage profligacy
which bearded death and hell, turning with contempt from profligacy
which could be chastised only with the birch. Cherubino is this: his
love is no poetic and silly passion for a woman much older than
himself, before whom he sinks on his knees as before a goddess; it
is the instinct of the lady-killer, the instinct of adventures, the
consciousness in this boy of thirteen that all womankind is his destined
prey, his game, his quarry. And womankind instinctively understands and
makes the Lovelace of thirteen its darling, its toy, its kitten, its pet
monkey, all whose grimacings and coaxings and impertinences may be
endured, enjoyed, encouraged. He is the graceful, brilliant, apish Ariel
or Puck of the society whose Mirandas and Titanias are Julie and Manon
Lescaut; he is the page of the French eighteenth century.

Such is, when we analyse him, the page Cherubino; looking at him
carelessly, with the carelessness of familiarity, these various
peculiarities escape our notice; they merge into each other and into the
whole figure. But although we do not perceive them consciously and in
detail, we take in, vaguely and unconsciously, their total effect: we do
not analyse Cherubino and classify his qualities, we merely take him in
as a general type. And it is this confused and familiar entity which we
call the page, and which we expect to have brought home to us as soon as
we hear the first notes, as we see the title of "Voi che sapete." It is
this entity, this character thus vaguely conceived, which forms for us
an essential part of Mozart's music; and whose absence from that music
made us feel as if, despite the greatest musical perfection, Mozart's
idea were not completely given to us. Yet, in reality, this psychological
combination called Cherubino does not exist in the work of Mozart. It
exists only by the side of it. We speak of the "Marriage of Figaro" as
Mozart's work; we are accustomed to think of the Countess, of Figaro,
of Susanna, of Cherubino as belonging to Mozart; but in reality only
one half of the thing we call the "Marriage of Figaro" belongs to
Mozart--that half which consists in melodies and harmonies; and as
it happens, it is not in that, but in the other half belonging to
Beaumarchais and D'Aponte, the half consisting of words and their
suggestions of character, of expression and of movement, that really
exists, either the Countess, or Figaro, or Susanna, or Cherubino. Those
notes, which alone are Mozart's and which are nothing more than notes,
have been heard by us in the mouths of many women dressed and acting as
Beaumarchais's characters; they have been heard by us associated to the
words of Beaumarchais; they have been heard delivered with the dramatic
inflections suggested not by themselves but by those words; and thus, by
mere force of association, of slovenly thought and active fancy, we are
accustomed to consider all these characters as existing in the music of
Mozart, as being part and parcel of Mozart's conception; and when we
are presented with those notes, which, to the musician Mozart, were
merely notes without those dramatic inflections suggested solely by
Beaumarchais's words, when we hear in "Voi che sapete" only Mozart's
half of the work, we are disappointed and indignant, and cry out that
the composer's idea has been imperfectly rendered.

Cherubino, we say, is not in Mozart's half of the work; he is in the
words, not in the music. Is this a fault or a merit? is it impotence
in the art or indifference in the artist? Could Mozart have given us
Cherubino? and if able, ought he to have given him? The question is
double; a question of artistic dynamics, and a question of artistic
ethics: the question what can art do; and the question what art ought
to do. The first has been answered by the scientific investigations
of our own scientific times; the second has been answered by the
artistic practice of the truly artistic days of music. The questions are
strangely linked together, and yet strangely separate; and woe betide us
if we receive the answer to the one question as the answer to the other;
if we let the knowledge of what things are serve us instead of the
instinct of what things should do; if we let scientific analysis step
into the place of ethical or æsthetical judgment; and if, in the domain
of art or of morals we think to substitute a system of alembics and
microscopes for that strange intangible mechanism which science tells us
does not exist, and which indeed science can never see or clutch, our
soul. For science has a singular contempt for all that is without its
domain; it seeks for truth, but when truth baffles and eludes it,
science will turn towards falsehood; it will deny what it cannot prove,
and call God himself a brain-phantom because he cannot be vivisected.
So, when logic, which can solve only logical propositions, remains
without explanation before the dicta of the moral and æsthetic parts of
us, it simply denies the existence of such dicta and replaces them by
its own formulæ; if we ask for the aim of things and actions, it tells
us their origin; if we trustingly ask when we should admire beauty and
love virtue, it drops the rainbow into its crucible to discover its
chemical components, and dissects the brain of a saint to examine the
shape of its convolutions; it meets admiration and love with experiment
and analysis, and, where we are required to judge, tells us we can only
examine. Thus, as in ethics, so also in æsthetics, modern philosophy
has given us the means instead of the aim, the analysis instead of the
judgment; let us therefore ask it only how much of human character and
emotion music _can_ express; the question how much of it music _ought_
to express must be answered by something else: by that artistic instinct
whose composition and mechanism and origin scientific psychology may
perhaps some day explain, but whose unformulated, inarticulate,
half-unconscious dicta all the scientific and logical formulæ in the
world can never replace. As yet, however, we have to deal only with the
question how much of human character and emotion music can express, and
by what means it does so; and here modern psychology, or rather the
genius of Herbert Spencer, is able to answer us. Why does dance music
cheer us, and military music inspirit us, and sacred music make us
solemn? A vague sense of the truth made æstheticians answer, for
well-nigh two centuries, "by the force of association." Dance music
cheers us because we are accustomed to hear it in connection with
laughing and quips and cranks; military music inspirits us because we
are accustomed to hear it in connection with martial movements and
martial sights; sacred music depresses us because we are accustomed to
hear it at moments when we are contemplating our weakness and mortality;
'tis a mere matter of association. To this easy-going way of disposing
of the problem there was an evident and irrefutable objection: but why
should we be accustomed to hear a given sort of music in connection with
these various conditions of mind? Why should dance music, and martial
music, and sacred music all have a perfectly distinct character, which
forbade, from the very first, their being exchangeable? If it is a
matter of association of ideas, tell us why such characters could have
been kept distinct before the association of ideas could have begun to
exist? To this objection there was no reply; the explanation of musical
expression by means of association of ideas seemed utterly hollow; yet
the confused idea of such an association persisted. For it was, after
all, the true explanation. If we ask modern psychology the reason of the
specific characters of the various sorts of music, we shall again be
answered: it is owing to the association of ideas. But the two answers,
though apparently identical, are in fact radically different. The habit
of association existed, according to the old theory, between various
mental conditions and various sorts of music, because the two were
usually found in connection; hence no explanation why, before habit had
created the association, there should have been any connection, and,
there being no connection, no explanation why the habit and consequently
the mental association should ever have been formed. According to the
modern theory, on the contrary, the habit of association is not between
the various mental conditions and the various styles of music; but
between specific mental conditions and specific sounds and movements,
which sounds and movements, being employed as the constituent elements
of music, give to the musical forms into which they have been
artistically arranged that inevitable suggestion of a given mental
condition which is due to memory, and become, by repetition during
thousands of years, an instinct ingrained in the race and inborn in the
individual, a recognition rapid and unconscious, that certain audible
movements are the inevitable concomitants of certain moral conditions.
The half-unconscious memory become part and parcel of the human mind,
that, just as certain mental conditions induce a movement in the muscles
which brings tears into the eye or a knot into the throat, so also
certain audible movements are due to the muscular tension resulting from
mental buoyancy, and certain others to the muscular relaxation due to
mental depression, this half-unconscious memory, this instinct, this
inevitable association of ideas, generated long before music existed
even in the most rudimentary condition, carried with the various
elements of pitch, movement, sonority, and proportion into the musical
forms constructed out of these elements, this unconscious association
of ideas, this integrated recollection of the inevitable connection
between certain sounds and certain passions is the one main cause and
explanation of the expressiveness of music. And when to it we have added
the conscious perception, due to actual comparison, of the resemblance
between certain modes of musical delivery and certain modes of ordinary
speaking accentuation, between certain musical movements and certain
movements of the body in gesticulation; when we have completed the
instinctive recognition of passion, which makes us cry or jump, we know
not why, by the rapidly reasoned recognition of resemblance between the
utterance of the art and the utterance of human life, which, when we
listen for instance to a recitative, makes us say, "This sentence is
absolutely correct in expression," or, "No human being ever said such
a thing in such a manner;" when we have the instinctive perception of
passion, and the conscious perception of imitation; and we have added to
these two the power of tone and harmony, neither of them connected in
any way with the expression of emotion, but both rendering us, by their
nervous stimulant, infinitely more sensitive to its expression; when we
have all this, we have all the elements which the musician can employ to
bring home to us a definite state of mind; all the mysterious unspoken,
unwritten words by means of which Mozart can describe to us what
Beaumarchais has described in clear, logical, spoken, written words--the
page Cherubino.

Now let us see how much of Cherubino can be shown us by these mere
musical means. Cherubino is childish, coquettish, sentimental, amorous,
timid, audacious, fickle; he is self-conscious and self-unconscious,
passionately troubled in mind, impudently cool in manner; he is brazen,
calm, shy, fluttered; all these things together. Sometimes in rapid
alternation, sometimes all together in the same moment; and in all this
he is perfectly consistent, he is always one and the same creature.
How does the playwright contrive to make us see all this? By means
of combinations of words expressing one or more of these various
characteristics, by subtle phrases woven out of different shades of
feeling, which glance in irridescent hues like a shot silk, which are
both one thing and another; by means also of various emotions cunningly
adapted to the exact situation, from the timid sentimentality before the
countess, down to the audacious love-making with the waiting-maid; by
means, in short, of a hundred tiny strokes, of words spoken by the page
and of the page, by means of dexterously combined views of the boy
himself, and of the reflection of the boy in the feelings of those who
surround him. Thus far the mere words in the book; but these words
in the book suggest a thousand little inflections of voice, looks,
gestures, movements, manners of standing and walking, flutter of lips
and sparkle of eyes, which exist clear though imaginary in the mind of
the reader, and become clearer, visible, audible in the concrete
representation of the actor.

Thus Cherubino comes to exist. A phantom of the fancy, a little figure
from out of the shadow land of imagination, but present to our mind as
is this floor upon which we tread, alive as is this pulse throbbing
within us. Ask the musician to give us all this with his mere pitch,
and rhythm and harmony and sonority; bid him describe all this in his
language. Alas! in the presence of such a piece of work the musician is
a mere dumb cripple, stammering unintelligible sounds, tottering through
abortive gestures, pointing we know not whither, asking we know not for
what. Passionate music? And is not Othello passionate? Coquettish music?
and is not Susanna coquettish? Tender music? and is not Orpheus tender?
Cool music? and is not Judas Maccabæus cool? Impudent music? And is not
the snatch of dance tune of a Parisian grisette impudent? And which of
these sorts of music shall fit our Cherubino, be our page? Shall we
fuse, in wonderful nameless abomination of nonsense, all these different
styles, these different suggestions, or shall, as in a masquerade,
this dubious Cherubino never seen with his own face and habit, appear
successively in the musical trappings of Othello, of Orpheus, of
Susanna, of Judas Maccabæus, and of the Grisette? Shall we, by means of
this fusion, or this succession of musical incongruities, have got one
inch nearer to Cherubino? Shall we, in listening to the mere wordless
combination of sounds, be able to say, as we should with the book or the
actors before us, this is Cherubino? What, then, can music give us, with
all its powers of suggestion and feeling, if it cannot give us this?
It can give us one thing, not another: it can give us emotion, but it
cannot give us the individual whom the emotion possesses. With its
determined relations between the audible movement and the psychical
movement, it can give us only musical gesture, but never musical
portrait; the gesture of composure or of violence, the solemn tread of
self-possessed melody, the scuffling of frantically rushing up and down,
of throbbing, quivering, gasping, passion-broken musical phrases; it can
give us the rhythm which prances and tosses in victory, and the rhythm
which droops, and languishes, and barely drags itself along for utter
despair. All this it can give us, even as the painter can give the
ecstatic bound-forwards of Signorelli's "Calling of the Blessed," or
the weary, dreary enfolding in gloomy thought of Michael Angelo's
"Jeremiah:" this much, which we can only call gesture, and which
expresses only one thing, a mood. Let the hopeful heroes of Signorelli,
stretching forth impetuous arms towards Paradise, only lose sight of the
stately viol-playing angels who guide them, let them suddenly see above
them the awful sword of the corsleted Angel of Judgment, and they will
sink, and grovel, and writhe and their now up-turned faces will be
draggled in the dust; let the trumpet of warfare and triumph shrill in
the ear of Michael Angelo's "Jeremiah," and the dreary dream will be
shaken off; he will leap up, and the compressed hand-gagged mouth will
open with the yell of battle; let only the emotion change, and the whole
gesture, the attitude, plastic or musical, must change also; the already
existing, finite, definite work will no longer suffice; we must have a
new picture, or statue, or piece of music. And in these inexplicit arts
of mere suggestion, we cannot say, as in the explicit art of poetry,
this grovelling wretch is a proud and hopeful spirit; this violent
soldier is a vague dreamer; this Othello, who springs on Desdemona
like a wild beast, loves her as tenderly as a mother does her child.
Unliterary art, plastic or musical, is inexorable: the man who grovels
is no proud man; the man who fells down to the right and left, is no
dreamer; the man whose whole soul is wrath and destruction, is no lover;
the mood is the mood; art can give only it; and the general character,
the connection between moods, the homogeneous something which pervades
every phase of passion, however various, escapes the powers of all save
the art which can speak and explain. How then obtain our Cherubino, our
shiftiest and most fickle of pages? How? Why, by selecting just one of
his very many moods, the one which is nearest allied to fickleness and
volubility; the mood which must most commonly be the underlying, the
connecting one, the mood into which all his swagger and sentiment sooner
or later resolve; the tone of voice into which his sobs will quickest be
lost, the attitude which will soonest replace the defiant strut; the
frame of mind which, though one and indivisible itself, is the nearest
to instability: levity.

Let Cherubino sing words of tenderness and passion, of audacity and
shyness, to only one sort of music, to light and careless music; let the
jackanapes be for ever before us, giggling and pirouetting in melody and
rhythm; it will not be Cherubino, the whole Cherubino; it will be only
a miserable fragmentary indication of him, but it will be the right
indication; the psychological powers of music do not go far, but thus
far they can go. Analysis of the nature of musical expression has shown
us how much it may accomplish; the choice of the artist alone can tell
us how much it should accomplish; the scientific investigation is at an
end, the artistic judgment must begin. Chapelmaster Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart, here are your means of musical expression, and here is the thing
to be expressed; on careful examination it appears distinctly that the
only way in which, with your melodies, rhythms, and harmonies, you
can give us, not a copy, but a faint indicative sketch, something
approaching the original as much as four lines traced in the alley sand
of your Schloss Mirabell Gardens at Salzburg resemble the general aspect
of the Mirabell Palace; that the only way in which you can give us such
a distantly approximative....

Signor Maestro Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vice-Chapelmaster of His Most
Reverend Highness the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg, has meanwhile sat
down at his table near his thin-legged spinet, with the bird-cage above
and the half-emptied beer-glass at his side; and his pen is going
scratch, scratch, scratch as loud as possible.

"The only way in which you can possibly give us such a distantly
approximative copy of the page Cherubino as shown" ... (Scratch,
scratch, scratch goes the pen on the rough music paper), "as shown in
the words of Beaumarchais and of your librettist D'Aponte, is to compose
music of the degree of levity required to express the temper

The Chapelmaster Mozart's pen gives an additional triumphant creak as
its point bends in the final flourish of the word _finis_; Chapelmaster
Mozart looks up--

"What was that you were saying about jackanapes? Oh, yes, to be sure,
you were saying that literary folks who try to prescribe to musicians
are jackanapes, weren't you? Now, do me the favour, when you go out,
just take this to the theatre copyist; they are waiting in a hurry
for Cherubino's song.... Yes, that was all very interesting about the
jackanapes and all the things music can express.... Who would have
thought that musical expression is all that? Lord, Lord, what a fine
thing it is to have a reasoning head and know all about the fundamental
moods of people's characters! My dear sir, why don't you print a
treatise on the musical interpretation of the jackanapes and send it to
the University of Vienna for a prize? that would be a treatise for you!
Only do be a good creature and take this song at once to the copyist....
I assure you I consider you the finest musical philosopher in

The blotted, still half-wet sheet of note paper is handed across by
Chapelmaster Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is the manuscript of "Voi che

"But dearest Chapelmaster Mozart, the air which you have just written
appears to be not in the least degree light--it is even extremely
sentimental. How can you, with such phrases, express the Cherubino of

"And who, my dear Mr. Music Philosopher, who the deuce told you that I
wanted to express the Cherubino of Beaumarchais?"

Chapelmaster Mozart, rising from his table, walks up and down the room
with his hands crossed beneath his snuff-coloured coat-tails, humming to

  Voi che sapete che cosa è amor,
  Donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cor,

and stops before the cage hanging in the window, and twitching the
chickweed through the wires, says--

"Twee! twee! isn't that a fine air we have just composed, little
canary-bird, eh?"

"Twee! twee!" answers the canary.

Mozart has willed it so: there is no possible appeal against his
decision; his artistic sense would not listen to our logic; our
arguments could not attain him, for he simply shook from off his feet
the dust of logic-land, and calmly laughed defiance from the region of
artistic form, where he had it all his own way, and into which we poor
wretches can never clamber. So here is the page's song irrevocably
sentimental; and Mozart has been in his grave ninety years; and we know
not why, but we do shrink from calling in Offenbach or Lecocq to rewrite
that air in true jackanapsian style. What can be done? There still
remains another hope.

For the composer, as we have seen, could give us--as could the painter
or the sculptor--only one mood at a time; for he could give us only one
homogeneous artistic form. But this artistic form exists so far only in
the abstract, in the composer's brain or on the paper. To render it
audible we require the performer; on the performer depends the real,
absolute presence of the work; or, rather, to the performer is given
the task of creating a second work, of applying on to the abstract
composition the living inflexions and accentuations of the voice. And
here, again, the powers of musical expression, of awaking association
by means of sounds or manner of giving out sounds such as we recognize,
automatically or consciously, to accompany the emotion that is to
be conveyed; here again these powers are given to the artist to do
therewith what he choose. This second artist, this performer, is not
so free indeed as the first artist, the composer; he can longer choose
among the large means of expression the forms of melody and rhythm, the
concatenation of musical phrases; but there are still left to him the
minor modes of expression, the particular manner of setting forth these
musical forms, of treating this rhythm; the notes are there, and their
general relations to one another, but on him depends the choice of the
relative stress on the notes, of the tightening or slackening of their
relations; of the degree of importance to be given to the various
phrases. The great outline cartoon is there, but the cunning lights and
shades, transitions, abrupt or insensible, from tint to tint, still
remain to be filled up. A second choice of mood is left to the singer.
And see! here arises a strange complication: the composer having in his
work chosen one mood, and the singer another, we obtain in the fusion or
juxtaposition of the two works, of the two moods, that very thing we
desired, that very shimmer and oscillation of character which the poet
could give, that dualism of nature required for Cherubino. What
is Cherubino? A sentimental jackanapes. Mozart in his notes has
given us the sentiment, and now we can get the levity from the
performer--unthought-of combination, in which the very irrational,
illogical choice made by the composer will help us. Here are Mozart's
phrases, earnest, tender, noble--Mozart's love song fit for a Bellario
or a Romeo; now let this be sung quickly, lightly, with perverse musical
head-tossing and tripping and ogling, let this passion be gabbled out
flippantly, impudently--and then, in this perfect mixture of the noble
and ignoble, of emotion and levity, of poetry and prose, we shall
have, at last, the page of Beaumarchais. A brilliant combination, a
combination which, thus reasoned out, seems so difficult to conceive;
yet one which the instinct of half, nay, of nearly all the performers in
creation would suggest. A page? A jackanapes? Sing the music as befits
him; giggle and ogle, and pirouette, and languish out Mozart's music: an
universal idea now become part and parcel of tradition: the only new
version possible being to give more or less of the various elements of
giggling, ogling, pirouetting, and languishing; to slightly vary the
style of jackanapes.

But no, another version did remain possible: that strange version given
by that strange solemn little Spanish singer, after whose singing of
"Voi che sapete" we all felt dissatisfied, and asked each other, "What
has she done with the page?" That wonderful reading of the piece in
which every large outline was so grandly and delicately traced, every
transition so subtly graduated or marked, every little ornament made to
blossom out beneath the touch of the singular crisp, sweet voice: that
reading which left out the page. Was it the blunder of an idealess vocal
machine? or the contradictory eccentricity of a seeker after impossible
novelty? Was it simply the dullness of a sullen, soulless little singer?
Surely not. She was neither an idealess vocal machine, nor a crotchetty
seeker for new readings, nor a soulless sullen little creature; she was
a power in art. A power, alas! wasted for ever, of little or no profit
to others or herself; a beautiful and delicate artistic plant uprooted
just as it was bursting into blossom, and roughly thrown to wither in
the sterile dust of common life, while all around the insolent weeds
lift up their prosperous tawdry heads. Of this slender little dark
creature, with the delicate stern face of the young Augustus, not a soul
will ever remember the name. She will not even have enjoyed the cheap
triumphs of her art, the applause which endures two seconds, and the
stalkless flowers which wither in a day; the clapping which interrupts
the final flourish, the tight-packed nosegays which thump down before
the feet, of every fiftieth-rate mediocrity. Yet the artistic power will
have been there, though gone to waste in obscurity: and the singer will
have sung, though only for a day, and for that day unnoticed. Nothing
can alter that. And nothing can alter the fact that, while the logical
heads of all the critics, and the soulless throats of all the singers
in Christendom have done their best, and ever will do their best to
give us a real musical Cherubino, a real sentimental whipper-snapper of
a page, this utterly unnoticed little singer did persist in leaving out
the page most completely and entirely. Why? Had you asked her, she
would have been the last person in the world capable of answering the
question. Did she consider the expression of such a person as Cherubino
a prostitution of the art? Had she some theory respecting the propriety
of dramatic effects in music? Not in the very least; she considered
nothing and theorised about nothing: she probably never had such a
thing as a thought in the whole course of her existence. She had only
an unswerving artistic instinct, a complete incapacity of conceiving
the artistically wrong, an imperious unreasoning tendency to do the
artistically right. She had read Mozart's air, understood its exquisite
proportions, created it afresh in her appreciation, and she sang it
in such a way as to make its beauty more real, more complete. She had
unconsciously carried out the design of the composer, fulfilled all
that could be fulfilled, perfected the mere music of Mozart's air. And
as in Mozart's air there was and could be (inasmuch as it was purely
beautiful) no page Cherubino, so also in her singing of the air there
was none: Mozart had chosen, and she had abided by his choice.

Such is the little circle of fact and argument. We have seen what means
the inherent nature of music afforded to composer and performer for the
expression of Beaumarchais's Cherubino; and we have seen the composer,
and the performer who was true to the composer, both choose, instead of
expressing an equivocal jackanapes, to produce and complete a beautiful
work of art. Were they right or were they wrong? Criticism, analysis,
has said all it could, given all its explanations; artistic feeling only
remains to judge, to condemn, or to praise: this one fact remains, that
in the work of the great composer, we have found only certain lovely
patterns made out of sounds; but in them, or behind them, not a vestige
of the page Cherubino.



   ... grande, austera, verde,
  Da le montagne digradanti in cerchio,
                 L'Umbria guarda.--CARDUCCI.

The autumn sun is declining over the fields and oak-woods and vineyards
of Umbria, where--in the wide undulating valley, inclosed by high
rounded hills, bleak or dark with ilex, each with its strange terraced
white city, Assisi, Spello, Spoleto, Todi--the Tiber winds lazily along,
pale green, limpid, scarce rippled over its yellow pebbles, screened by
long rows of reeds, and thinned, yellowing poplars, reflecting dimly the
sky and trees, the pointed mediæval bridges and the crenelated towers
on its banks; so clear and placid that you can scarcely bring home to
yourself that this can really be the Tiber of Rome, the turbid mass of
yellow water which eddies sullen and mournful round the ship-shaped
island, along by Vesta's temple, beneath the cypressed Aventine, and
away into the desolate Campagna. Gradually, as the sun sinks, the valley
of the Tiber fills with golden light moving along, little by little,
travelling slowly up the wooded hillocks; covering the bluish mountains
of Somma and Subasio with a purple flush, making the white towns rosy
on their flanks, and then dying away into the pale amber horizon,
rosy where it touches the hill, pearly, then bluish where it merges
imperceptibly into the upper sky. Bluer and bluer become the hills,
deeper and deeper the at first faint amber; the valley is filled with
grey-blue mist; the hills stand out dark blue, cold, and massive; the
sky above becomes a livid rose colour; there is scarcely a filament of
cloud, and only a streak of golden orange where the sun has disappeared.
There is a sudden stillness, as when the last chords of a great symphony
have died out. All the way up the hill on which stands Perugia we
meet the teams of huge oxen, not merely white, but milky, with great,
deep, long-lashed eyes, swaying from side to side with their load of
wine-vats; and the peasants returning home from ploughing up the last
corn stubble. All is peaceful and very solemn, more so than after sunset
in other places, in this sweet and austere Umbria, the fit home of the
Christian revival of the early Middle Ages. And it makes us think, this
beautiful and solemn evening, of the little book which epitomises all
the emotions of this new birth, of this charming new childhood of
humanity, when the feelings of men seem to have somewhat of the dewy
freshness of dawn. The book is the "Fioretti di San Francesco," a
collection of legends and examples relating to the cycle of St. Francis
of Assisi by some monk or monks of the end of the thirteenth century.
Flowerets they may well be called--flowers such as might grow, green
and white-starred and delicately pearled with gold, in the thick grass
across which dance Angelico's groups of the Blessed. Yet with a certain
humanness, a certain reality and naturalness of sweetness, such as
the great paradise painter, with his fleshless madonnas, his glory
of radiant, unearthly draperies and golden skies, never could have
conceived. A singular charm of simplicity and lucidness in this little
book; no fever visions or unhealthy glories; an earnestness not without
humour: there is nothing grim or absurd in the credulity and asceticism
of these Umbrian saints. The asceticism is so gentle and tender, the
credulity so childish and poetical, that the ridiculous itself ceases to
be so. These monks, so far from being engrossed with the care of their
own souls, or weighed down by the dread of hell, seemed to have awakened
with perfect hope and faith in celestial goodness, with perfect desire
to love all around them in the most literal sense: religion for them is
love and reliance on love. The gentleness with which they admonish the
sinning and back-sliding, the confidence in the inner goodness of man,
from whose soiled surface all evil may be washed, extends in these men
to the whole of creation, and makes them fraternise with beasts and
birds, as is shown, with a delicate, slightly humorous grace, in the
stories of St. Francis and the turtle doves, and of the ferocious wolf
"Frate Lupo" of Gubbio, whom rather than kill, it pleased the saint
to bring round to harmlessness by fair words, expostulations, and
faithfully kept promises, expecting from the wolf fidelity to his word
as much as from a human being. There is in this little book a vague,
floating, permeating life of affection, of love unbounded by difference
of species. Communion with all men, with Christ, with angels, with
doves, and with wolves; the force of love bringing down God and raising
up brutes to the level of these saints. And as we think over the little
book we feel in a way as if we, to whom Francis and his companions
are mere mortal men, and the tales of the "Fioretti" mere beautiful
fancies, hollow and sad for their very sweetness, were looking down upon
a sort of holy land, as we look down in the white twilight upon the
misty undulations of this solemn and beautiful Umbria.

A serene country, neither rugged and barren, nor flat and fertile, not
the grey, sharp Florentine valley, whose thin soil must be irrigated
and ploughed, and on whose hillsides the carefully nurtured olives are
stunted with winter wind and summer scorchings, where every outline is
clear and bone-like in that same hard, light atmosphere which, as Vasari
says, makes all appear hard and clear and logical to the minds of the
Florentines. Not the endless flatness and fruitfulness of Lombardy,
where the mists steam up in the evening golden round the great misty
golden descending sun-ball, and the buildings flush like the cheeks of
Correggio's joy-drunken seraphs, and the thin, clear outline of the rows
of poplars looks against the sky like the outshaken golden hair combed
into minute filaments of one of Lionardo's women. Nor the dreary wastes
of sere oakwoods and livid sand-hills of Orvieto; nor the sea of lush
vegetation gilded by the sun, merging into the vaporous damp blue sky
of the plain of Lucca. None of these things is the Tiber valley, not
harsh nor poor nor luxuriant; sober and restrained, without excess or
scantness, an undulating country of pale and modest tints, and, save in
the distant Apennine tops, of simple outline, with what glory of colours
it may have, due mainly to sky and sunset of cloud, and even in that
more chaste than other parts of Italy; neither poor nor rich; without
the commerce of Lombardy or the industry of Tuscany, wholly without
any intellectual movement, rural, believing, with but little of the
imported influence of reviving Paganism, and still much of the clinging
moral atmosphere of Christian contemplation and ecstacy of the days of
St. Francis. Such is this isolated Tiber valley, whose skies and whose
legends are so perfectly in harmony, and in it was born, of the country
and of the traditions, a special, isolated school of art.

Is it a school or a man?--A school concentrated in one man, or a man
radiating into a school. There are a great many men all about the one
man Perugino, masters or pupils; the first seem so many bungled attempts
to be what he is, the second so many disintegrations of him. Even the
more powerful individualities are lost in his presence; at Perugia we
know nothing of the real Pinturicchio, the bright, vain, thoughtless
painters of the pageant scenes, brilliant like pages of Boiardo's fairy
tales, on the walls of the Sienese Library. Raphael is no separate
individual, has no personal qualities before he leaves Perugia.
Everything is Perugino, in more or less degree. The whole town, nay, the
surrounding country, is one vast studio in which his themes are being
developed, his works being copied, his tricks being imitated. A score of
artists of talent, one or two like Lo Spagna and the young Raphael, of
first-rate powers, and a host of mere mechanical drudges, give us, in
all Perugia, nothing new, nothing individual, no impression which we can
disentangle from the general, all-pervading impression given by the one
man Perugino. The country, physical and moral, has exhausted itself
in this one artistic manifestation. One not merely, but unique and
one-sided. What Perugino has done has been done by no other master; and
what Perugino has done is only one thing, and that to all eternity. The
sense of complete absence of variety, of difference; the impression of
all being reduced to the minimum of everything, the vague consciousness
that all here is one, isolated and indivisible, which haunts us all
through the churches and galleries of Perugia, pursues us likewise
through all the works of the school, that is to say, of Perugino
himself. This unique school, consisting in reality of a single man,
possesses only one theme, one type, one idea, one feeling; it does,
it attempts but one thing, and that one thing means isolation,
concentration, elimination of all but one single mood.

It is the painting of solitude; of the isolated soul, alone, unaffected
by any other, unlinked in any work, or feeling, or suffering, with any
other soul, nay even with any physical thing. The men and women of
Perugino are the most completely alone that any artist ever painted,
alone though in fours, or fives, or in crowds. Their relations to each
other are purely architectural: it is a matter of mere symmetry, even as
it is with the mouldings or carvings of the frame which surrounds them.
Superficially, taken merely as so many columns, or half-arches of the
pinnacled whole of the composition, they are, in his larger works, more
rigorously related to each other than are the figures of any other
painter of severely architectural groups; compared with Perugino,
the figures in Bellini's or Mantegna's most solemn altarpieces are
irrelevant to each other: one saint is turning too much aside, another
looking too much on his neighbour. Not so with Perugino: his figures
are all in relation to one another. The scarf floating in strange
snakelike convolutions, from the shoulder of the one angel flying,
cutting across the pale blue air as a skater cuts across the ice, floats
and curls in distinct reference to the ribbons which twist, like lilac
or yellow scrolls, about the head and neck of the other angel; the lute,
with down-turned bulb, of the one seraph, his shimmering purple or
ultramarine robe clinging in tight creases round his feet in the breeze
of heaven, is rigorously balanced by the viol, upturned against the
stooping head, of his fellow-seraph; the white-bearded anchorite
stretches forth his right foot in harmony with the outstretched left
foot of the scarlet-robed cardinal; the dainty arch-angelic warrior
drolly designated as Scipio, or Cincinnatus on the wall of the Money
Changer's Hall turns his delicate, quaintly-crested head, and raises
his vague-looking eyes to match the upturned plumed head of the other
celestial knight. All the figures are distinctly connected with each
other; but they are connected as are the pillarets, various, but
different, which balance each other in length and thickness and
character, a twisted with a twisted one, a twin, strangely linked pair
with another such, on the symmetrically sloping front of some Lombard
cathedral; the connection is purely outer, purely architectural; and the
solitude of each figure as a human being, as a body and a mind, is only
the more complete. There is no grouping in these cunningly balanced
altarpieces; there is no common employment or movement, no action or
reaction. Angels and warriors and saints and sibyls stand separate,
the one never touching the other, apart, each alone against the pale
greenish background. They may look, the one towards the other, but
they never see each other. They exist quite single and isolated, each
unconscious that there is any other. Another--indeed, there is no other;
in reality, every one is in complete solitude; it is only the canvas
which makes them appear in the same place. They are not in the same
place, or rather there is no place; the soft green field, the blue
hills, darkening against the greenish evening sky, the spare, thinly
leaved little trees, the white tower in the distance, this little piece
of Umbrian country has nothing to do with any of them. They are nowhere;
or rather each taken singly is nowhere. Place, like subject and action,
has been eliminated; everything has, which possibly could. The very
bodies seem reduced to the least possible: there is no interest in them:
all is concentrated upon the delicate nervous hands, on the faces; in
the faces, upon eyes and mouth, till the whole face seems scarcely more
than tremulous lips, half parted, raised vividly to kiss, to suck in the
impalpable; than dilating pupils, straining vaguely to seize, to absorb,
to burn into themselves the invisible. It is the embodiment, with only
as little body as is absolutely required, of a soul; and that soul
simplified, rarefied into only one condition of being: beatitude of
contemplation. As place and action have been eliminated, so also has
time: they will for ever remain, alone, in the same attitude; they will
never move, never change, never cease; there exists for them no other
occupation or possibility. And as the bodies are separate, isolated from
all physical objects, so is the soul: it touches no other human soul,
touches no earthly interest: it is alone, motionless, space and time and
change have ceased for it: contemplating, absorbing for all eternity
that which the eye cannot see, nor the hand touch nor the will
influence, the mysterious, the ineffable.

Are they really saints and angels, and prophets and sibyls? Surely
not--for all such act or suffer; for each of these there is a local
habitation, and a definite duty. These strange creatures of Perugino's
are not supernatural beings in the same sense as are those robed in
iridescent, impalpable glory of Angelico; or those others, clothed in
more than human muscle and sinew, of the vault of the Sixtine. What are
they? Not visions become concrete, but the act of vision personified.
They are not the objects of religious feeling; they are its most
abstract, intense reality. Yes, they are reality. They are no
far-fetched fancies of the artist. They are souls and soul-saturated,
soul-moulded bodies which he saw around him. For in that Umbria of the
dying fifteenth century--where the old cities, their old freedom and
industry and commerce well-nigh dwindled to nothing, had shrunk each
on its mountain-side into mere huge barracks of mercenary troopers or
strongholds of military bandit nobles, continually besieged and sacked
and heaped with massacre by rival families and rival factions; where
in the open country, the villagers, pent-up in fortified farms and
barns, were burnt, women and children, with the stored-up fodder, or
slaughtered and cast in heaps into the Tiber, and every year the tangled
brushwood of ilex and oak and briars encroached further upon the
devastated cornfields and oliveyards, and the wolves and foxes roamed
nearer and nearer to the cities--in this terrible barbarous Umbria of
the days of Cæsar Borgia, the soul developed to strange unearthly
perfection. It developed by the force of antagonism and isolation.
This city of Perugia, which was governed by the most ferocious and
treacherous little mercenary captains; whose dark precipitous streets
were full of broil and bloodshed, and whose palaces full of evil,
forbidden lust and family conspiracy, was one of the most pious in all
Italy. Wondrous miraculous preachers, inspired and wild, were for ever
preaching in the midst of the iniquity; holy monks and nuns were for
ever seeing visions and curing the incurable; churches and hospitals
were being erected throughout town and country; novices crowded
the ever-increasing convents. Sensitive souls were sickened by the
surrounding wickedness, and terrified lest it should triumph over them;
resist it, bravely expose themselves to it, prevent or mitigate the evil
of others they dared not: a moral plague was thick in the air, and
those who would escape infection must needs fly, take refuge in strange
spiritual solitude, in isolated heights where the moral air was rarefied
and icy. Of the perfectly human, sociable devotion of the days of St.
Francis, of the active benevolence and righteousness, there was now no
question: the wolves had become too frightfully numerous and ravenous to
be preached to like that Brother Wolf of the _Flowerets of St. Francis_.
Active good there could now no longer be: the pure soul became inactive,
passive, powerless over the evil around, contemplating for ever a
distant, ineffable excellence; aspiring, sterile, and meagre, at being
absorbed into that glory of perfect virtue at which it was for ever
gazing. This solitary and inactive devotion, raised far above this
world, is the feeling out of which are moulded those scarce embodied
souls of Perugino's. Those emaciated hectic young faces, absorbed in
one ineffable passion, which in their weakness and intensity are so
infinitely feminine, are indeed mainly the faces of women--of those
noble and holy ladies like Atalanta Baglioni, living in moral solitude
among their turbulent clan of evil fathers and brothers and husbands:
the victims, or worse, the passive spectators, the passive accomplices,
of iniquity of all sorts, whom the grand old chronicler, Matarazzo,
shows by glimpses, walking through the blood and lust-soiled houses of
the brilliant and horrible Gianpavolos and Semonettos and Griffones of
Perugia, pure and patient like nuns, and as secluded in mind as in any
cloister. Theirs are these faces, and at the same time the faces which
vaguely, confusedly looked down upon them, glorified reflections of
their own, from above. These creatures of Perugino's are what every
great artist's works must be--at once the portrait of those for whom he
paints, and the portrait of their ideals, that is, of their intenser
selves. He is the painter of the city where, in the Italian Renaissance,
the unmixed devotional feeling, innate in the country of St. Francis,
untroubled by Florentine scepticism or Lombard worldly sense, thrust
back and concentrated upon itself by surrounding brutal wickedness,
existed most intense; he is the painter of this kind of devotion. The
very daintiness of accessory, the delicate embroidered robes, the long
fringed scarves, the embossed armour, light and pliable like silk, which
cannot wound the tender young archangels, the carefully waved and curled
hair--all this is the religious luxuriousness of nuns and novices, the
one vent for all love of beauty and ease and costliness of the poor
delicate creatures, worn and galled by their shapeless hair cloth,
living and sleeping in the dreary whitewashed cell. This is unmixed
devotion, religious contemplation and aspiration absolutely separated
from any other sort of moral feeling; there is the destructive wrath of
righteousness in the prophets of Michael Angelo, and the gentleness of
candour and charity in the Florentine virgins of Raphael; there is the
serenity and solemnity of moral wisdom in Bellini, and the sweetness and
cordiality of domestic love in Titian; there is even the half-animal
motherly love in Correggio; there is, in almost all the schools of
Italian painting, some character of human goodness; but in Perugino
there is none of these things. Nothing but the one all-absorbing,
abstract, devotional feeling--intense passive contemplation of the
unattainable good; souls purged of every human desire or will, isolated
from all human affection and action, raised above the limits of time and
space; souls which have long ceased to be human beings and can never
become angels, hovering, half pained, half joyful, in a limbo of endless
spiritual desire.

Such is the work. Let us seek the master. Pietro Vannucci, of Città
della Pieve, surnamed Perugino, Petrus de Castro Plebis, as he signed
himself, lived, as tradition has it, in a very good house in Via
Deliziosa. Via Deliziosa is one of the many quiet little paved lanes of
Perugia, steep and tortuous, looking up at whose rough scarred houses
you forever see overgrown plants of white starred basil or grey marjoram
bursting out of broken ewers and pipkins on the boards before the
high windows, or trails of mottled red and green tomatos, or long
crimson-tasselled sprays of carnation dangling along the broken,
blackened masonry, crevassed and held together by iron clamps; where,
at every sudden turn, you get, through some black and oozy archway, a
glimpse of green sun-gilded vineyard and distant hills, hazy and blue
through the yellow summer air. Here, in the best part of the town,
Perugino had his house and his workshop. In the house, full of precious
stuffs and fine linen and plate and everything which a wealthy burgher
could desire, lived the handsome wife of the master, for whom he was for
ever designing and ordering new clothes, and whose beautiful hair he
loved himself to dress in strange fantastic diadems and helmets of
minute plaits and waves and curls, that she might go through the town as
magnificent and quaintly attired as any noble lady of the Baglionis or
Antinoris or Della Staffas. In the workshop was the master and a host
of pupils: Giannicola Manni, Doni, the Alfani, Tiberio d'Assisi; the
exquisite anonymous stranger, of whom we know only as John the Spaniard,
and perhaps that gentle fair feminine boy from Urbino, whom, in
half-womanish gear and with wonderful delicate feathers and jewels in
his hair, Perugino painted among the prophets in the Money Changer's
Hall. A workshop indeed. Not merely the studio of a master and his
pupils, but an enormous manufactory of works of devotional art; the
themes of Perugino, the same saints, the same madonnas, the same angels,
in the same groups, for ever repeated in large and small, some mere
copies, others slightly varied or composed of various incoherent
portions, by the pupil; some half by the master, half by the pupil, some
possibly touched up by him, one or two wholly from his own exquisite
hand. Things of all degrees of merit and execrableness, to suit the
richest and the poorest; all could be had at that workshop, for Master
Pietro had the monopoly of the art, good bad, or indifferent, of the
country. You could order designs for wood carvings or silver ware;
you could hire church banners, of which store was kept to be let out
for processions at so much the hour. You could obtain men to set
up triumphal arches of cardboard, and invent moulds for ornamental
sweetmeats, like those of Astorre Baglioni's wedding; patterns,
doubtless also for embroidery and armour embossing; you could have a
young Raphael Santi set to repeating some Marriage of the Virgin for a
Sforza or a Baglioni, or some tattered smearer to copy a copy of some
madonna for a village church; or you could commission the master himself
to go to Rome and paint a wall of Pope Sixtus's Chapel. For there never
was a manufactory of art carried on more methodically or satisfactorily
than this one. There never was a commercial speculator who knew so well
how much good and bad he could afford and venture to give; who knew
his public so thoroughly. He had, in his youth and poverty, invented,
discovered (which shall we call it?) the perfection of devotional
painting, that which perfectly satisfied his whole pious Umbria, and
every pious man or woman of more distant parts: a certain number of
types, a certain expression, a certain mode of grouping, a certain
manner of colouring which constituted a perfect whole; a conception to
embody which most completely he had in his youth worked like a slave,
seeking, perfecting all that which belonged to the style: the clear,
delicate colour, the exquisite, never excessive finish, the infinitely
delicate modelling of finger and wrist, of eyelid and lip, the
diaphanous sheen of light, soft, scarcely coloured hair on brow and
temple and cheek; he had coolly turned away from everything else.
The problems of anatomy, of perspective, of light and shade, and
of grouping, at which in Florence he had seen men like Pollaiolo,
Ghirlandaio, Filippino, Lionardo wasting their youth, he never even
glanced at. No real bodies were required for his saints as long as he
could give them the right, wistful faces; no tangible background, no
well-defined composition. All this was unnecessary; and he wanted only
the necessary. When he had got the amount and sort of skill required for
this narrow style, he stopped; when he had invented the three or four
types of faces, attitude, and composition, he ceased inventing. He had
the means of making a fortune. All that remained was to organise his
mechanism, to arrange that splendid system of repeating, arranging,
altering, copying, on the part of himself and his scholars, by which he
could, without further enlarging style or ideas, furnish Umbria and
Italy with the pure devotional painting it required, in whatever amount
and of whatever degree of excellence it might wish. He succeeded. True,
other artists sneered at him, like that young Buonarroti, who had called
him a blunderer; true, the Florentines complained that when he painted
their fresco for them at S. Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, he had cheated
them, giving mere copies of works they had had from him twenty years
before. About the judgment of other painters he cared not a fig; success
was the only test; to the Florentines he calmly answered that as those
figures had pleased them twenty years before, they ought to please them
now; that he at least was not going to seek anything new as long as
the old sufficed. For men who grew old in constant attempts after new
styles, new muscles, new draperies, like Signorelli yonder labouring
solitary on the rock of Orvieto, spending years in cramming new figures
into spaces which he, Perugino, would have finished in a month with six
isolated saints and a bit of blue sky; or frittered away time in endless
sketches, endless cooking of new paints and trying of new washes, like
Lionardo da Vinci: or who ruined themselves buying bits of old marble to
copy, like crazy Mantegna at Mantua; for all such men as these Perugino
must have had a supreme contempt. As long as money came in, all was
right; new ideas, improvements, all such things were mere rubbish. Thus
he probably preached to his pupils, and kept them carefully to their
task of multiplying his own works, till his school became sterile and
imbecile; and the young Raphael, in disgust, left him and begged the
Lady Giovanna della Rovere for a letter to the Gonfaloniere Soderini,
which should open to him the doors of the Florentine schools. With what
contempt must not Master Perugino have looked after this departing young
Raphael; with what cynical amusement he must have heard how the young
fool, once successful, kept for ever altering his style, wearing his
frail life out, meditating and working himself into the hectic broken
creature whom Marc-Antonio has etched, seated, fagged and emaciated on
the steps before his work. We can imagine how Perugino descanted on all
this folly to the other young men in his workshop. For he was a cynical
man as well as a grasping: he saw no wisdom beyond the desire for money
and comfort. He had begun life almost a beggar, sleeping on a chest,
going without food, in tatters, giving himself no respite from drudgery,
sustained by one idea, one wish!--to be rich. And rich he had become; he
had built houses on speculation at Florence, to let them out; and had
farms at Città della Pieve, and land near Perugia. He had obtained all
he had ever desired or could conceive desirable: safety from poverty.
In other things he did not believe: not in an after life, nor in God,
nor in good; all these ideas, says Vasari, could never enter into his
porphyry hard brain, "This Peter placed all his hopes in the good things
of fortune, and for money would have made any evil bargain."

This is how Vasari has shown us Perugino. The unique painter of
archangels and seraphs appears a base commercial speculator, a cynic,
an atheist: the sort of man whom you could imagine transfigured into a
shabby pettifogging Faustus, triumphing over the fiend by making over to
him, in return for solid ducats, a bond mortgaging a soul which he knew
himself never to have possessed. Some people may say, as learned folk
are forever saying now-a-days, that all this is pure slander on the part
of Vasari; and indeed, what satisfactory historical villain shall we
soon possess, at the rate of present learned rehabilitations? Be this as
it may, there remains for the present the typical contrast between this
man and his works; and looking at it, other contrasts between noble art
and grovelling artists vaguely occur to us, and we ask ourselves, Can it
be? Can a pure and exquisite work be produced by a base nature? Can such
anomaly exist--must the mental product not be stained by the vileness of
the mind which has conceived it? Must we, together with a precious and
noble gift taken from a hand we should shrink from touching, accept the
disheartening, the debasing conclusion, that in art purity may spring
from foulness, and the excellent be born of the base? It is a conclusion
from which we instinctively shrink, feeling, rather than absolutely
understanding, that it seems to strip the holiness from art, the
worthiness, nay, almost the innocence, from our enjoyment. We feel
towards any beautiful work of art something akin to love: a sort of
desire to absorb it into our soul, to raise ourselves to it, to be with
it in some manner united; and thus the mere thought that all this may
be sprung from out of unworthiness, that this noble century-enduring
work may be the sister of who knows how many long dead base thoughts
and desires and resolves born together with it in the nature of its
maker--this idea of contamination of origin, makes us shudder and
suspect.... Alas, how many of us, of the better and nobler of us, have
not often sickened for a moment as the thought quivered across their
mind of the foulness out of which the noblest of our art has arisen. But
instinctively we have struck down the half-formulated idea as we dash
away any suspicion against that which we love, and which our love tells
us must be good. And thus, as a rule, we have persuaded ourselves that,
though by a horrible fatality our greatest art--in sculpture, and
painting, and music, and poetry, has oftenest belonged not to a simple
and austere state of society, to the strong manly days of Greece or
Rome, to the first times of Christian abnegation and martyrdom, to
the childlike angelic revival of mediæval Christianity, to the solemn
self-concentration of Huguenot France or Puritan England, that it
has not sprung out of the straightforward purity of periods of moral
regeneration, but rather from out of the ferment, nay, the putrescence,
of many-sided, perplexed, anomalous times of social dissolution. That
although our greatest art seems thus undeniably to have arisen in
corrupt times, yet the individuals to whom we proximately owe have been
the nobler and purer of their day. Nay, we almost persuade ourselves
that in those dubious times of doubt and dissolution, the spotless, the
unshaken were in a way divinely selected, like so many vestal virgins,
to cherish in isolation the holy fire of art. And we call up to our
minds men noble and pure, like Michael Angelo and Beethoven: we eagerly
treasure up like relics anecdotes showing the gentleness and generosity
of men like Lionardo and Mozart: trifling tales of caged-birds let
loose, or of poor fellow-workers assisted, which, in our desire to
trace art back to a noble origin, seem to shed so much light upon the
production of a great picture or great symphony. And yet, even as the
words leave our lips, words so sincerely consoling, we seem to catch in
our voice an unintentional inflexion of deriding scepticism. So much
light! these tales of mere ordinary goodness, such as we might hear (did
we care) of so many a dull and blundering artisan, or vacant idler,
these tales shed so much light upon the production of great works of
art! A sort of reasoning devil seems to possess us, to twitch our
little morsels of unreasoned consolation, of sanctifying, mystical
half-reasoning away from our peace-hungry souls. And he says: "What of
Perugino? What of so many undeniable realities which this Perugino of
ours, even if the purest myth, so completely typifies? How did this
cynic, this atheist, come to paint these saints? You say that he was no
cynic, no atheist, that it is all vile slander." Well, I won't dispute
that: perhaps he _was_ a saint after all. I will even grant that he
was. But in return for the concession, let us examine whether the
saints could not have been equally well painted by the traditional,
unrehabilitated Perugino, Vasari's Perugino--not the real one, oh no,
I will admit not the real one--by the typical Perugino; the man "of
exceeding little religion, who could never be got to believe in
the soul's immortality; nay, with arguments suited to his porphyry
intellect, obstinately refused all good paths; who placed all his hopes
in the goods of fortune and for money would have consented to any evil
compact." Nay, even by a Perugino a good deal worse.

An ugly, impertinent little reasoning fiend within us; but now-a-days we
have lost the formula of exorcism for this kind of devil, and listen we
must; indignantly, and with mind well made up to find all his arguments
completely false. Think over the matter, now that idea is once started,
we can no longer help. So let us discuss it with ourselves, within
ourselves, the place where most discussion must ever go on. Let us sit
here on the low-broken brick parapet, which seems to prevent all this
rough, black Perugia from precipitating itself, a mass of huddled,
strangled lanes, into the ravine below; sit with the grey, berry-laden
olives, and twisted sere-leaved fig-trees with their little brown
bursting fruit, pushing their branches up from the orchard on the steep
below, where the women dawdle under the low evening sun, sickle in hand,
mowing up the long juicy grass, tearing out wreath after wreath, of vine
and clematis, spray after spray of feathery bluish fennel, till their
wheel-shaped crammed baskets look as if destined for some sylvan god's
altar, rather than to be emptied out into the sweltering darkness before
the cows mewed up in the thatched hut yonder by the straw-stack and the
lavender and rose-hedged tank.

The question which, we scarcely know how, has thus been started within
us, and which, (like all similar questions) develops itself almost
automatically in our mind, without much volition and merely a vague
feeling of discomfort, until it have finally taken shape and left our
consciousness for the limbo of decided points, this question is simply:
What are the relations between the character of the work of art and the
character of the artist who creates it? To what extent may we infer from
the peculiar nature of the one the peculiar nature of the other? Such,
if we formulate it, is the question, and the answer thereunto seems
obvious: that as the peculiarity of the fruit depends, _cæteris
paribus_, upon the peculiarity of the tree (itself due in part to soil
and temperature and similar external circumstances), so also must the
peculiarity of the spiritual product be due to the peculiarities of the
spiritual whole of which it is born. And thus, in inverted order of
ideas, the definite character of the fruit proves the character of
the tree, the result argues the origin: there must exist a necessary
relation between the product and that which has produced. If then we
find a definite quality in the works of an artist, we have a right to
suppose that corresponding qualities existed in the artist himself: if
the picture, or symphony, or poem be noble, and noble moreover with a
special sort of nobility, then noble also, and noble with that special
sort of nobility must be the artistic organism, the artist, by whom
it was painted, or composed or written. And this once granted (which
we cannot help granting), we must inevitably conclude that the man
Perugino, who painted those wonderful intense types of complete
renunciation of the world, could not in reality have been the worldly,
unconscientious atheist described by Vasari. So, at least, it would
seem. But tarry awhile. We have decided on analogy, and by a sort of
instinct of cause and effect, that the work must correspond in its main
qualities with the main qualities of the artist, of the artistic
organism by which it is produced. Mark what we have said: of the artist,
or artistic organism. Now what is this artistic organism, this artist?
An individual, a man, surely? Yes, and no. The artist and the man are
not the same: the artist is only part of the man; how much of him,
depends upon the art in which he is a worker. The work is produced by
the man, but not by the whole of him; only by that portion which we call
the artist; and how much that portion is, what relation it bears to the
whole man, we can ascertain by asking ourselves what faculties are
required for the production of a work of art. And thus we soon get to a
new question. The faculties required for the production of a work of art
may be divided into two classes; those which directly and absolutely
produce it, and those which are required to enable the production to
take place without interference from contrary parts of the individual
nature. These secondary qualities, merely protective as it were, are
the moral qualities common, in greater or less degree, to all workers:
concentration, patience, determination, desire of improvement; they are
not artistic in themselves, and are not more requisite to the artist
than to the thinker, or statesman, or merchant, or soldier, to preserve
his very different mental powers from the disturbing influence of
laziness, or fickleness, or any more positive tendencies, vices or
virtues, which might interfere with the development of his talents.
And of these purely protective qualities only so much need exist as the
relative strength of the artistic faculty and of the unartistic
tendencies of the individual require in order that the former be
protected from the latter; and thus it comes that where the artistic
endowment has been out of all proportion large, as in the case of such
a man as Rossini, it has been able to produce the most excellent work
without much of what we should call moral fibre: the man was lazy and
voluptuous, but he was, above all, musical; it was easier for him to be
musically active than to be merely dissipated and inactive: the artistic
instincts were the strongest, and were passively followed. When these
moral qualities, merely protective and secondary in art, are developed
beyond the degree requisite for mere protection of the artistic
faculties (a degree small in proportion to the magnitude of the artistic
instinct), they become ruling characteristics of the whole individual
nature, and influence all the actions of the man as distinguished from
the artist: they make him as inflexible in the pursuit of the
non-artistic aims of life as in that of mere excellence in his own art.
The timorous and slothful Andrea del Sarto is quite as complete an
artist as the eager and inquisitive Lionardo da Vinci; but, whereas
Andrea's activity stops short at the limits of his powers of painting,
the increasing laboriousness and never satisfied curiosity of Lionardo
extend, on the contrary, to all manner of subjects quite disconnected
with his real art. When once the glorious fresco of the Virgin, seated
like a happier Niobe, by the mealsack, has been properly finished in the
cloister of the Servites, Andrea goes home and crouches beneath the
violence of his wife, or to the tavern to seek feeble consolation. But
when, after never-ending alterations and additional touches, Lionardo at
length permits Paolo Giocondo to carry home the portrait of his dubious,
fascinating wife, he sets about mathematical problems or chemical
experiments, offers to build fortresses for Cæsar Borgia, manufactures
a wondrous musical instrument like the fleshless skull of a horse and
learns to play thereon, or writes treatises on anatomy: there is in
him a desire, a capacity for work greater than even his subtle and
fantasticating style of art can ever fully employ. Such are the
non-artistic qualities required, merely as protectors from interference,
for the production of a work of art: the same these, whatever the art,
as they are the same if, instead of art, we consider science, or
commerce, or any other employment. The artistic, the really directly
productive qualities, differ of course according to the art to which the
work belongs, differ not only in nature but also in number. For there
are some arts in which the work is produced by a very small number of
faculties; others where it requires a very complex machine, which we
call a whole individuality: and here we find ourselves back again before
our original question, to what extent the personality of an artist
influences the character of his work. We have got back to the anomaly
typified by Perugino; back to it, and as completely without an answer to
the problem as we were on starting. We have been losing our time, going
round and round a question merely to find ourselves at our original
starting-point. Not so: going round the question indeed, but in
constantly narrowing circles, which will dwindle, let us hope, till we
find ourselves on the only indivisible centre, which is the solution of
the problem. For there are many questions which are like the towns of
this same Umbria of Perugino: built upon the brink of a precipice,
walled round with a wall of unhewn rock, seeming so near if we look up
at them from the ravine below, and see every roof, and cypress-tree,
and pillared balcony; but which we cannot approach by scaling the
unscalable, sheer precipice, but must slowly wind round from below,
circling up and down endless undulations of vineyard and oakwood, coming
for ever upon a tantalising glimpse of towers and walls, for ever
seemingly close above us, and yet forever equally distant; till at last,
by a sharp turn of the gradually ascending road, we find ourselves
before the unexpected gates of the city. And thus we have approached
a little nearer to the solution of the question. We have, in our
wanderings, left behind one part of the ground. We have admitted that
the work of art is produced not by the man, but merely by that portion
of him which we call the artist; we have even dimly foreseen that
the case may be that in one art the artist, that is to say, the
art-producing organism, comprises nearly the whole of the mere
individual: that the artistic part is very nearly the complete human
whole. Now, in order to approach nearer our final conclusion, namely,
whether the man Perugino could have painted those saints and those
angels had he really been the mercenary atheist of Vasari, we must set
afresh to examine what, in the various arts, are the portions of an
individual necessary to constitute the mere artist, that is to say, the
producer of a work of art.

But stop again. Are we quite sure that we know what we mean when we say
"a work of art?" Are we quite sure that we may not, without knowing it,
be talking of two things under one name? Surely not: when we apply the
word to one of Perugino's archangels, we certainly refer to one whole
object. So far, certainly, we mean (let us put it in the crudest way) a
certain amount of colour laid on to a canvas in such a manner, and with
such arrangements of tints and shadows, that it presents to our eyes and
mind a certain form, a form which we define, from its resemblance to
other forms made out of flesh and bone, the face and body of a young
man; a form which, owing to certain constitutional peculiarities
and engrained habits of our mind, we also declare to a given extent
beautiful. This form, moreover, distinctly recalls to our mind real
forms which experience has taught us to associate with the idea of moral
purity, self-forgetfulness, piety; simply because we have noticed or
been told since our infancy that persons with such bodily aspects are
usually pure, self-forgetful and pious; because, without our knowing
it, thousands of painters have accustomed us by giving us such forms as
the portraits of saints to consider this physical type as distinctly
saintly. This perception, that the form into which the colours on
Perugino's canvas have been combined is such as we are accustomed to
think of in connection with saintliness, immediately awakens in our mind
a whole train of associations: we not merely see with our physical eyes
the combination of colours and lines constituting the form, but with
our mental eyes we rapidly and half unconsciously glance over all the
occupations, aspirations, habits of such a creature as we conceive this
form to belong to. We not merely see the delicate, thin, pale lips,
thrown back head and neck, and the wide-opened, dilated, greyish eyes;
we imagine in our mind the vague delights after which those lips are
thirsting as the half-closed pale flowers thirst for the rain-drops, the
ecstasy of fulfilled hope which makes the veins of the neck pulse and
the head fall back in weariness of inner quivering; the confused glory
of heaven after which those wide-opened eyes are straining; while our
bodily sight is resting on the mere coloured surface of Perugino's
picture, our mental sight is wandering across all the past and future of
this strange being whose bodily semblance the artist has suddenly thrust
upon us. All this is what we vaguely think of when we speak of a work
of art. Perhaps we can so little disentangle our impressions and our
fancies that their combination may thus be treated as a unity. But
this unity is a dualism: the mere colour arrangement constituting the
form which we see with our bodily eyes, and with our bodily eyes find
beautiful, is one half; and the whole moral apparition, conjured up by
association and imagination, is the other. And, as far as so infinitely
interwoven a dualism can be divided, coarsely, and leaving or taking too
much on one side or the other, we can divide this dual existence into
that which has been given to us by the artist, the visible, material
form; and that which association, recollection, fancy, has been added
by ourselves to the artist's work. Of this dualism, therefore, of
impression and fancy, only that portion of the work of art which is
absolutely visible and concrete; the form, whether it exist in combined
colour and shadow, or marble mass, as in the plastic arts, or in
partially combined and partially successive sounds, as in music, only
this form is really given by the artist, is that which, with reference
to his productive power, we can call the work of art. He may, it is
true, have deliberately chosen that form which should lead us to such
associations of ideas, but in so far he has been acting not as the
artist, but as a sort of foreshadowed spectator or listener; he has,
before taking up his own work with the mere material, visible, tangible,
audible realities of the art, stepped into the place to be occupied by
ourselves, and foreseen, by his knowledge of the effects which he can
produce, by his experience of what associations are awakened by each of
his various forms, the imaginative activities which his yet unfinished
work will call for in those who see or hear it. But he will, in so
doing, be deliberately or unconsciously leaving his own work,
forestalling ours: nay, the artist who says to himself, "Now I will
paint a soul in a condition of ecstasy," is in reality transforming
himself into the customer who would enter his workshop and say, "Paint
me a figure such as your experience tells you suggests to beholders
the idea of religious enthusiasm; copy the features of any religious
enthusiast of your acquaintance, or put together such dispersed features
as seem to you indicative of that temper of mind." All this, while
the real artistic work has not begun; for that begins when the artist
first places before his easel the model for his archangel: either the
delicate, hectic, little girlish novice-boy, or the distinct outline
of the armed young angel existing in his mind and requiring only to be
printed off into concrete existence. Thus, in our examination of the
amount of an artist's personality which can go into his work, we must
remember that this work is merely the externally existing, definite,
finite form, and not the ideas of emotions which, by the power of
association, that form may awaken in ourselves. What the artist gives
is merely the arrangement of lines and colours in a given manner, which
may, as in painting, resemble an already existing natural object; or, as
in architecture and pattern decoration, resemble no already existing
natural object; the arrangement of sounds which may, as in a dramatic
air, recall the inflexions proper to a given emotion, or, as in a formal
fugue, recall no emotional inflexions whatever. This, and not any train
of thoughts awakened by this possibly but not necessarily existing
resemblance to an already known natural object, or to an already known
sort of emotional voice inflexion, is what is given by the artist, and
this is artistic form, the absolutely, objectively existing work of art.
And now we may examine what mental faculties, in the various arts, are
required for the production of this work: what portions of the whole
individual man are included or excluded in that smaller, more limited
individual whom we call the artist. Let us investigate the point by a
sort of experiment: by stripping away, one by one, those qualities of an
ideal individual which are not necessary for the production of the
various kinds of artistic work; let us separate and afterwards, if need
be, select and reunite the qualities which are required and those which
are not required to make up a poet, a painter, a sculptor, or a

And first we must create our ideal man, who contains within him the
stuff of every kind of artist, the faculties of producing every kind of
artistic work. First, a word about this ideal man, and about the manner
in which he differs from other men. He differs in completeness, in
balance, in intensity. For almost every one of us has some mental
faculty so imperfectly developed that we may say that it does not
exist: it exists indeed, and perhaps not without a certain necessary
effect, but as with a single solitary instrument in a powerful orchestra
of dozens of every other kind of instruments, this effect is not
consciously perceived. And the faculties which we do possess are rarely
of very remarkable strength and intensity: we have enough of them for
our ordinary wants of life, but not necessarily more. Our sense of
hearing is sufficient to distinguish the voice of one friend from
another, but not always sufficient to be able to enjoy music, still less
often to perform, least often of all to compose. And similarly with
every other mental faculty: most men can follow a simple argument,
some a more complex one, but few can reason out unaided a complicated
proposition. Now the creative degree in any faculty is the most intense
in its development. The painter is the man who receives the largest
number of most delicately complete visional impressions; the musician
the man who receives the largest number of most delicately complete
audible impressions: to the painter everything is a shape, a colour; to
the musician everything is a sound; the whole universe, to the thinker,
is but a concatenation of logical propositions. Thus, our ideal man
must, at starting, possess every higher faculty, developed to the most
intense degree, and every one of them developed equally: for out of him
is to be made every kind of artist. Here, then, we have our ideal man:
he possesses in the highest degree, and in the most perfect balance, all
the emotional, logical, and perceptive powers of the mind; he is, if
you choose, the abstract creature (never existing, and never, alas! to
exist), the all beautiful, all powerful, perfect fiction, which we call
_humanity_; and with him is our work. He is perfectly balanced, he is
a mere abstraction: for these two reasons he is, so far, inactive; we
cannot, with the best will in the world, imagine his doing anything
as long as he can do everything: he will, in all probability, merely
passively enjoy. Before he can create, we must alter him. And he is to
create, remember, not as a statesman or a handicraftsman, but as an
artist: he is to deal not with realities, but with fictions; he is not
to touch our material interests, he is merely to evoke for us a series
of phantom sights or sounds, of phantom men and women. Therefore, our
first act must be to diminish, by at least a half, all the practical
sides of his nature, so that no practical activities divert him from his
purely ideal field. So that it be for him infinitely more natural to
think, to feel, to imitate, to combine impressions, than to be of any
immediate use in the world; so that the mere employment of his powers be
his furthest aim, without thinking what effect that employment will have
upon the real condition of himself or of others. This much we have done:
we have obtained a creature whose interest is never purely practical.
But this will not suffice. We must diminish by at least a quarter his
mere logical powers, thus rendering him far more inclined to view things
as concrete, living manifestations, than as logical abstractions. This
has served to prevent his being diverted into metaphysic or scientific
speculations: there is now no longer any fear of his becoming a
psychologist instead of a poet, a mathematician or physicist instead of
a painter or a composer: things now interest him no longer for their
practical bearing, nor for their abstract meaning: he cares for them not
as forces, nor as ideas, but as forms, as visions. And this time we
have, as it were, rough-hewn our artist. But what artist? He is, it is
true, mainly attracted by the mere contemplation of things apart from
practical or scientific interests, but he is equally attracted by all
sorts of visions: he receives every kind of impression. This time,
again, he will, from perfect balance, remain inactive. We must throw his
faculties a little into disorder, we must, at random, diminish here in
order (relatively) to increase there: let us, for instance, diminish by
a trifle his faculty for manipulating colours or masses of stone, his
faculty for conceiving sounds in succession and in combination; let us,
in short, make it a little difficult for him to be a painter or sculptor
or musician.

What will he be, this first made artist of ours? this creature, clipped
in all the mere practically scientific instincts, only that his whole
intense personality may be given more completely, more absolutely to the
world of artistic phantoms? Before breaking up this huge psychological
snow-man, this ungainly monster roughly moulded into caricature shape by
awkward removing of material here and adding on there, before dashing
it back into the limbo of used up and unformed similes, let us ask
ourselves what artist he vaguely resembles: what is the artist thus
formed, it would seem, of a mere intense human being; of all the
faculties of our nature, only more subtle and powerful, and working not
in the world of practical realities, nor of abstract truths, but in that
of imaginary forms? The answer comes instinctively, unhesitatingly to
all of us: this universal artist, this artistic organism which contains
the whole intensified individual, is the poet. Nay: why call him poet?
why reserve this supreme place of artist not of colours or sounds, but
of spoken emotion, and perception, and action, for the man whose words
are grouped into metrical shape? Is it this metrical shape, this
mere enveloping form perceived merely by the ear, this monotonous,
rudimentary music, so paltry by the side of the musician's real music,
is it this which requires for its production that wondrous combination
of faculties, that whole intensified human individuality? For those same
faculties, that same intensified individuality, will act and bear fruit
in the man who lets his words drift on, unmetrical, in mere spoken
manner. And yet he shall be accounted less, and shall cede to the other,
who can measure his words into verses, and couple them into rhyme.
Surely there is injustice in this. Wherefore, I pray you, should you, my
friend, my beloved little child poet, with the keen eyes and eager lips
of Keats, who sit (in fancy at least) here by my side on the rough wall
overlooking the orchard ravine at Perugia, drowsily listening (as poets
listen to prose) to our discussion, wherefore should you, the poet, be
worth more than I, the prose writer, merely inasmuch as you are the one
and I am the other? Why be surrounded, even in my eyes, by a sort of
ideal halo; why pointed out by my own secret instinct as the artist? All
this must be mere folly, prejudice, dried old forms of thought handed
down from the days when poets were priests and lawgivers and prophets,
when their very credit depended upon their not being solely what you
modern poets are; all this is a mere historic myth, in which the world
continues foolishly to believe, letting itself be told from generation
to generation, till the idea has become engrained in its mode of
thinking, that the poet is a special creature, a thing of finer mould,
in whose life, and movements, and feelings it expects something
different from the rest of humanity; in whose eyes it seeks a dim
reflection, in whose voice a distant echo of the colours and sounds of
that fairyland out of which he has come as a changeling into the world
of realities. Infatuation and injustice. But no! mankind at large is
right in its ideas, but as it usually is, without knowing why it has
them: right in giving instinctively this place of artist of the merely
suggested, as distinguished from the absolutely seen or heard forms of
other arts, to the poet alone. For the poet is, in the kingdom of words,
the real, complete artist. The artistic external form which he gives to
his creations removes them out of the domain of the practically useful,
or the scientifically interesting. This metrical setting enables the
poet to show a part, to make perfect the tiniest thing; to give complete
significance, complete beauty, and eternal life to a perception, an
emotion, an image which cannot be expanded beyond the fourteen lines of
a sonnet; while the poor prose writer, reduced to being a mere smith or
mechanist, can do nothing with any stray gem he may cut, knows not how
to set it, and is forced in despair to stick it clumsily into some
unwieldy utensil or implement, some pot out of which to drink knowledge,
or some shield to ward off disaster. The prose writer is for ever being
driven to seek employment outside the land of pure art. Therefore, the
poet is truly the exclusive artist in words; or rather the exclusive
artist in words must needs become the poet; if the man feel that he
cannot hammer wearily at some clumsy ornamented piece of furniture, some
bastard of artistic uselessness and practical utility, that he cannot
write histories, or ethical disquisitions or psychological studies
(waxworks of spiritual pathology, technically called novels), in order
to bury in them the delicate artistic fragments which he spontaneously
produces; then that man will assuredly learn the manner of making
metrical settings; that man, that word artist will infallibly become
a poet: nay, he is one. Thus, the poet is in reality the artist who
suggests emotions, and actions, and sights, and sounds, as the painter
is the artist who shows coloured shapes, and the musician the artist who
creates forms made of sounds. The poet, therefore, is the artist into
whose work there enters, or can enter, the greatest number of fragments
of his whole personality: for his works are made up of all that which
his nature perceives and evolves and desires: of the forests and fields,
and sea and skies which have printed their likenesses on his mind; of
the faces and movements of the men and women whom he has known, nay,
of whom once perhaps, only once in his life, he has caught a never
forgotten glimpse; of the events which have taken place before his eyes,
or of which he has been told; of the emotions and passions which he has
felt hidden in himself or seen burst out in others; of all that he can
see, feel, hear, conceive, imagine. He is the man who assimilates most,
initiates most, perceives most of all that passes within and without
him, and unites it all in a homogeneous outer shape: nothing for him is
waste: not the hard, scaly first shoot of the reed, pale green, which
catches his feet as he walks on the riverside, across the grass, half
sere, half renovated by spring; not the scent of first raindrops on the
upturned mould of the fields; not the sentence read at random in a book
opened by accident; not the sudden, never-recurring look in the eyes of
one beloved; not the base appetite which he has hidden away, trampled
back out of sight of his own consciousness; not the preposterous ideal
which his vanity may have shown him for one second; not anything,
however small or however large, however common or however rare, not
anything inanimate or feeling, not anything in life or in death, not
anything which can be seen, or heard, or felt, or understood, which may
not be moulded by the poet into some form which will have meaning and
charm, and eternal value for all men. The poet is the man who receives a
greater number of more intense impressions than any other man; he is, of
all creatures, the most sensitive in the whole of his being; for the
whole of his being is at once the raw material, and the forming
mechanism of the work of art. This is the ideal, the universal poet, the
type: of him every individual poet represents a limited portion, and is
a fresh repartition of faculties, a fresh combination and proportion of
material and mechanism, due to the accident of race, of time, of birth,
of education. The typical poet assimilates and reproduces everything;
and each fragment of this type, each individual, differs from every
other individual in that which is assimilated and reproduced by him: the
one feels more, the other sees more, the third imagines more; and each
feels, sees, and imagines, according to what external things have been
put within reach of his feelings, his sight, his fancy. As, therefore,
the typical poet is the whole type of humanity affording material and
acting as manipulative apparatus to produce the work of art, so also
the individual poet is the individual man, moulding into shape all the
qualities which are strongest in his nature. All the qualities, let us
however mark, which are indisputedly dominant; often, therefore, only
the better, and in only the lowest tempers the worst. For, remembering
what we noticed about moral faculties of will which protect the artistic
workings from the interference of other parts of our nature, we may see
that it must often happen that a noble spirit may be able to keep out
of his mere abstract creations those baser instincts (which though
recognized with shame) he is unable to subdue in practice; his works
show him as he would desire himself to be, as he, alas! has not the
strength to be in reality; let us not, therefore, complain of those who
are unable to live up to their conceptions, for they have given to us
their better part, and kept for themselves, with bitterness and shame,
their worse.

The poet, therefore, is the artist into whose work there enters the
greatest proportion of his individual nature; if he be flippant in
temper his works cannot be earnest; if he be impure his writings cannot
be actively pure; the distinctive features of his nature must be
reflected in his work, since his work is made out of and by his nature.
Now let us proceed. We had constructed a sort of typical giant,
promising all the powers and qualities of all humanity; and this, by
the gradually stripping away of some of these human powers, we had
reduced to the condition of typical poet. Now let us continue our
work. Of course there are kinds of poetry which form links with other
intellectual work; and to obtain these we must remove such faculties as
do not enter into them: separate from the artist those qualities which
belong only to the man. There is first of all that great poetical
anomaly the drama, for which, it would seem, that less of the writer's
own personality is required than for any other form; for the dramatist
stands half way between the artist and the psychologist; he can obtain
innumerable varieties of character and feeling merely by his reasoning
powers, not by any personal experience. He is a sort of synthetic
metaphysician, who can construct the saint, the villain, the simpleton,
the knave, not out of anything within himself, but out of the very
elements of these characters which he has obtained by analysis; hence
it is that, while we can from their works reconstruct the character of
poets like Milton, or Wordsworth, or Leopardi, or Musset, we remain
wholly ignorant of the personality of Shakespeare; he cannot be all that
he shows us, and in the doubt he remains none of it at all. Let us put
aside therefore this anomalous artist, and continue stripping away some
of the purely emotional characters of our typical colossus. We shall
soon meet the last and simplest form of poet--the mere describer; of his
aspirations and emotions we know but little; we know only of his tastes,
his preferences for certain sights and sounds. He cares for the sea, or
the woods, or the fields, or the skies; he is very near being a mere
thing of eyes and ears. Yet not wholly; for he perceives not only the
colour and movement of the waves, but their sound, their briny scent;
he perceives not only the green and tawny tints of leaves and moss, he
hears the crackling of the brushwood, the rustling of the boughs, the
confused hum of bees, the faint murmur of waters; nay, in the waves and
in the woods he perceives something more, vague resemblances to other
things; vague expressions of mood and feeling which, when the waters
rush in, make his heart leap; when the grey light steals in among the
branches, sends a sadness throughout him. Nay, in this artist, in this
simplest, least human sort of poet, there remains yet an infinite amount
of the human individuality, of its passions and desires. Let us tear
away, throw aside this last amount of human feeling, reduce our typical
artist to mere intense powers of seeing. Shall we still have wherewith
to obtain any work at all? will this rarified, simplified mentality be
much above a mere feelingless optic machine? Let us see. Here we have a
creature out of which we have removed as much as possible of all human
qualities: a creature which can perceive with infinite keenness and
reproduce with the most perfect exactitude, every little subtle line
and tint and shadow which escapes other men; a creature whose delicate
perception vibrates with delight at every harmonious combination, and
writhes, as if it would shatter to atoms, at every displeasing mixture
of lines or colours. A living and most sensitive organism which feels,
thinks everything as form and colour, fostered with the utmost care by
other such organisms, themselves nurtured into intensity more intense
than that with which they were born; for ever put in contact with the
visual objects which are, let us remember, the air it breathes, the food
it assimilates until this visual organism becomes beyond compare perfect
in its power of perceiving and reproducing. Then, imagine this abstract
being, this quivering thing of sight, placed in the midst of a country
of austere, delicate lines, and solemn yet diaphanous tints; among
the undulating fields and oakwoods, beneath the pearly sky of Umbria;
imagine that before it are placed, as the creatures most precious and
lovely, the creatures whose likeness must for ever be copied in all its
intensity, youths, young women, old men, delicate and emaciate with
solitude and maceration, with eyes grown dilated and bright from
straining to see the glorious visions, the celestial day-dreams which
flit across their mind; with lips grown tremulous and eager with
passionate longing for constantly expected, never-coming bliss; always
alone, inactive, with listless limbs and workless hands, in the bare,
unadorned cell or oratory; or if, coming forth, walking through the
streets, passing through the crowd (giving way with awe), erect,
self-engrossed, seeing and hearing nothing around, like one entranced.
Let us imagine this organism, thus perfect for perceiving and
reproducing all that it sees, for ever in the presence of such lines and
colours, such faces and figures as these; and then let us ask ourselves
what this quite abstract, unhuman power will produce, what this artist,
who is completely divested of all that which belongs merely to the man,
would paint. What would that be, that work thus produced? What save
those delicate, wan angels and saints and apostles, standing in solitary
contemplation and ecstasy, those scarcely embodied souls, raised beyond
the bounds of time and space, concentrated, absorbed in longing for
heavenly perfection? And if this subtle visual organism, nurtured among
these sights, should happen to be lodged in the same body with a sordid,
base, cynical temper, can it be altered thereby? Surely not. The eye has
seen, the hand has reproduced--seen and reproduced that which surrounds
them--and inevitably, fatally, although eye and hand belonged to the
man "who placed all his hopes in the good things of fortune, into whose
porphyry brain no idea of good could enter, who for money would have
concluded any evil bargain," the work thus produced by this commonplace,
grasping atheist, Peter Perugino, must be the ideal of all purely
devotional art. He was an atheist and a cynic, but he was a great
painter, and lived in Umbria, in the country of sweet and austere hills
and valleys, in the country whose moral air was still scented by the
"flowerets of St. Francis."

This is the end of our long wandering up and down, round and round, the
question of artistic personality, even as we must wander up and down,
round and round, before we can reach any of these strange Umbrian towns.
And, as after long journeying, when we enter the city, and find that
that which seemed a castle, a grand, princely town, all walled and
towered and battlemented, is in reality only a large, rough village,
with blackened houses and fissured church steeples, a place containing
nothing of any interest: so also in this case, when we have finally
reached our paltry conclusion that this painter of saints was no saint
himself, we must admit to ourselves that to arrive at this conclusion
was scarcely our real object; even as while travelling through this
country of Perugino we make our guide confess that what, in all this
expedition, we were meant to see and enjoy, was not the paltry,
deceptive hill-top village, but the sere-brown oakwoods, tinged russet
by the sun, the grey olive hills through which we have slowly ascended,
and the glimpses of undulating grey-green country and distant wave-blue
mountains which we have had at every new turn of our long and up-hill



I give a place to the following pages, because, for all the difference
of form, this essay is of the same sort, has had the same kind of
origin, as the so seemingly incongruous studies with which it is bound
up. For this also is the rough putting together of notes made at
various times and in various phases of study; it is a series of
self-questionings and answers, of problems, perhaps only half-formulated
and half-solved, which have arisen round one man, one artist, one art
philosophy, even as in the adjoining essays they have arisen around some
one statue, or song, or picture; self-questionings and problems, these
present ones, not of æsthetic right and wrong suggested by a given work
of art, but of moral fitness and unfitness suggested by the doubts, the
divisions, the mistakes, by the comprehension (or, if you prefer, the
misapprehension) of the conscience of perhaps the greatest and strangest
artist of our days.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Ruskin stands quite isolated among writers on art. His truths and
his errors are alike of a far higher sort than the truths and errors of
his fellow-workers: they are truths and errors not of mere fact, nor of
mere reasoning, but of tendency, of moral attitude; and his philosophy
is of far greater importance than any other system of æsthetics,
because it is not the philosophy of the genius, evolution or meaning
of any art or of all art, but the philosophy of the legitimacy or
illegitimacy of all and every art. In the case of every other writer
on art the evils due to a false system are, in proportion to the great
interests of our lives and of the life around, but very paltry evils:
the evils of misconceiving the relations between various masters and
various schools, and the causes of various artistic phenomena; the evils
of misappreciating a work or a form of art, of preferring an inferior
picture, or statue or piece of music, to a superior one; the evils of
buying fluttering St. Theresas of Bernini rather than noble goddesses
of Scopas; of ornamenting our houses with plaster dragons, grimacing
toothless masks, and meagre lines of lintel and clumsy agglomerations
of columns, rather than with the leaf and flower moulding, the noble
arches and dainty cornices of mediæval art; the evils in short of not
understanding quite well or of not appreciating quite correctly. Very
important evils within the limited sphere of our artistic interests, and
which we must not neglect to eradicate; but evils such as cannot deeply
trouble our whole nature, or seriously damage our whole lives. Such is
the case with the æsthetic systems, with the truths and errors of men
like Winckelmann, Lessing, Hegel, or Taine; but it is not so with the
æsthetic system of Ruskin. For the theories of all other writers on
art deal only with the meaning and value of one work or school of art
compared with another work or school; they deal only with the question
how much of our liking or disliking should we give to this art or to
that; they are all true or false within the region allotted to art. But
the theories of Ruskin deal with the comparative importance of artistic
concerns and the other concerns of our lives: they deal with the
problem, how much of our thoughts and our energies we have a right to
give to art, and for what reasons we may give any portion of them: it
deals with the question of the legitimacy not of one kind of artistic
enjoyment more than another, but of the enjoyment of art at all.

The question may at first sight seem futile from its very magnitude:
unnecessary because it has so long been answered. In the first moment
many of us may answer with contempt that the thinking men and women of
to-day are not ascetics of the Middle Ages, nor utilitarians of the 18th
century, nor Scotch Calvinists, that they should require to be taught
that beauty is neither sinful nor useless, that enjoyment of art is not
foul self-indulgence nor childish pastime. And so at first it seems. The
thinking men and women of our day are not any of these things, and do
not require to be answered these questions. But though these scruples
and doubts no longer trouble us, we, in our nineteenth century, are yet
not entirely at peace in our hearts. For, just in proportion as the old
religious faith is dying out, we are feeling the necessity to create a
new; as the old vocations of belief are becoming fewer and further
between, the new vocations of duty are becoming commoner; as the old
restrictions of the written law are melting away, so there appears
the new restriction of the unwritten law, the law of our emancipated
conscience; and the less we go to our priests, the more do we go to our
own inner selves to know what we may do and what we should sacrifice:
with our daily growing liberty, grows and must grow, to all the nobler
among us, our responsibility. Nay, the more we realise that we have but
this one brief life wherein to act and to expiate, the more earnestly do
we ask ourselves to what use we should put the little that is vouchsafed
us. And thus it comes to pass that there exist among us many who, seeing
the evil around them, seeing the infinitude of falsehood which requires
to be dispelled and of pain which requires to be alleviated, and of
injustice which requires to be destroyed, must occasionally pause and
ask themselves what right they have to give all, or any, of their
limited time and thought and energy to the mere enjoyment of the
beautiful, when there exists on all sides evil which it seems to require
unlimited effort to quell. Many there must be, and every day more, who
are harried by their love of art and their sense of duty, who daily ask
themselves the question which first arose, nearly forty years ago, in
the mind of John Ruskin; and which, settled by false answers, has
recurred to him ever and anon, and has shaken and shattered the very
system which was intended to answer it for ever.

John Ruskin has been endowed as have been very few men as an artist, a
critic, and a moralist; in the immense chaotic mass, the constantly
altered and constantly propped up ruins of an impossible system, which
constitute the bulk of his writings, he has taught us more of the subtle
reasons of art, he has reproduced with his pen more of the beauty of
physical nature, and he has made us feel more profoundly the beauty of
moral nature, than has, perhaps, been done separately by any critic,
or artist, or moralist of his day. He has possessed within himself
two very perfect characters, has been fitted out for two very noble
missions:--the creation of beauty and the destruction of evil; and of
these two halves each has been warped; of these two missions each has
been hampered; warped and hampered by the very nobility of the man's
nature: by his obstinate refusal to compromise with the reality of
things, by his perpetual resistance to the evidence of his reason, by
his heroic and lamentable clinging to his own belief in harmony where
there is discord, in perfection where there is imperfection. There are
natures which cannot be coldly or resignedly reasonable, which, despite
all possible demonstration, cannot accept evil as a necessity and
injustice as a fact; which must believe their own heart rather than
their own reason; and when we meet such natures, we in our cold wisdom
must look upon them with pity, perhaps, and regret, but with admiration
and awe and envy. Such a nature is that of John Ruskin. He belongs, it
is true, to a generation which is rapidly passing away; he is the almost
isolated champion of creeds and ideas which have ceased even to be
discussed among the thinking part of our nation; he is a believer
not only in Good and in God, but in Christianity, in the Bible, in
Protestantism; he is, in many respects, a man left far behind by the
current of modern thought; but he is, nevertheless, and unconsciously,
perhaps, to himself, the greatest representative of the highly developed
and conflicting ethical and æsthetical nature which is becoming more
common in proportion as men are taking to think and feel for themselves;
his is the greatest example of the strange battles and compromises which
are daily taking place between our moral and our artistic halves; and
the history of his aspirations and his errors is the type of the inner
history of many a humbler thinker and humbler artist around us.

When, nearly forty years ago, Ruskin first came before the world with
the wonderful book--wonderful in sustained argument and description,
and in obscure, half crazy, half prophetic utterances--called _Modern
Painters_, it was felt that a totally new power had entered the region
of artistic analysis. It was not the subtle sympathy with line and
curve, with leaf and moulding, nor the wondrous power of reproducing
with mere words the depths of sky and sea, the radiancies of light and
the flame and smoulder of cloud; it was not his critical insight nor
his artistic faculty which drew to him at once the souls of a public so
different, in its universality, from the small eclectic bands which
surround other æstheticians; it was the feeling, in all who read his
books, that this man was giving a soul to the skies and seas; that he
was breathing human feeling into every carved stone and painted canvas;
that he was bidding capital and mosaic, nay, every rudest ornament hewn
by the humblest workman, to speak to men with the voice of their own
heart; that for the first time there had been brought into the serene
and egotistic world of art the passion, the love, and the wrath of
righteousness. He came into it as an apostle and a reformer, but as
an apostle and a reformer strangely different from Winckelmann and
Schlegel, from Lessing and Goethe. For, while attacking the architecture
of Palladio and the painting of Salvator Rosa; while expounding the
landscapes of Turner and the churches of Verona, he was not merely
demolishing false classicism and false realism, not merely vindicating
a neglected artist or a wronged school: he was come to sweep usurping
evil out of the kingdom of art, and to reinstate as its sole sovereign
no human craftsman, but God himself.

God or Good: for to Ruskin the two words have but one meaning. God and
Good must receive the whole domain of art; it must become the holy of
holies, the temple and citadel of righteousness. To do this was the
avowed mission of this strange successor, haughty and humble, and tender
and wrathful, of the pagan Winckelmann, of the coldly serene Goethe. How
came John Ruskin by this mission, or why should his mission differ so
completely from that of all his fellows? Why should he insist upon the
necessity of morally sanctifying art, instead of merely æsthetically
reforming it? Why was it not enough for him that artistic pleasure
should be innocent, without trying to make it holy? Because, for
Ruskin's nature, compounded of artist and moralist, artistic engagement
was a moral danger, a distraction from his duty--for Ruskin was not the
mere artist, who, powerless outside his art, may, because he can only,
give his whole energies to it; he was not the mere moralist who,
indifferent to art, can give it a passing glance without interrupting
for a moment his work of good; he felt himself endowed to struggle for
righteousness and bound to do so, and he felt himself also irresistibly
attracted by mere beauty. To the moral nature of the man this mere
beauty, which threatened to absorb his existence, became positively
sinful; while he knew that evil was raging without requiring all his
energies to quell it, every minute, every thought diverted from the
cause of good was so much gain for the cause of evil; innocence, mere
negative good, there could not be, as long as there remained positive
evil. Thus it appeared to Ruskin. This strange knight-errant of
righteousness, conscious of his heaven endowed strength, felt that
during every half-hour of delay in the Armida's garden of art, new
rootlets were being put forth, new leaves were being unfolded by the
enchanted forest of error which overshadowed and poisoned the earth,
and which it was his work to hew and burn down; that every moment of
reluctant farewell from the weird witch of beauty meant a fresh outrage,
an additional defiling of the holy of holies to rescue which he had
received his strong muscle and his sharp weapons. Thus, refusing to
divide his time and thoughts between his moral work and his artistic,
Ruskin must absolutely and completely abandon the latter; if art seemed
to him not merely a waste of power, but an absolute danger for his
nobler side, there evidently was no alternative but to abjure it for
ever. But a man cannot thus abandon his own field, abjure the work for
which he is specially fitted; he may mortify, and mutilate and imprison
his body, but he cannot mortify or mutilate his mind, he cannot imprison
his thoughts. John Ruskin was drawn irresistibly towards art because he
was specially organised for it. The impossible cannot be done: nature
must find a vent, and the artistic half of Ruskin's mind found its way
of eluding the apparently insoluble difficulty: his desire reasoned, and
his desire was persuaded. A revelation came to him: he was neither to
compromise with sin nor to renounce his own nature. For it struck him
suddenly that this irresistible craving for the beautiful, which he
would have silenced as a temptation of evil, was in reality the call
to his mission; that this domain of art, which he had felt bound to
abandon, was in reality the destined field for his moral combats,
the realm which he must reconquer for God and for Good. Ruskin had
considered art as sinful as long as it was only negatively innocent: by
the strange logic of desire he made it positively righteous, actively
holy; what he had been afraid to touch, he suddenly perceived that he
was commanded to handle. He had sought for a solution of his own doubts,
and the solution was the very gospel which he was to preach to others;
the truth which had saved him was the truth which he must proclaim. And
that truth, which had ended Ruskin's own scruples, was that the basis of
art is moral; that art cannot be merely pleasant or unpleasant, but must
be lawful or unlawful, that every legitimate artistic enjoyment is due
to the perception of moral propriety, that every artistic excellence is
a moral virtue, every artistic fault is a moral vice; that noble art can
spring only from noble feeling, that the whole system of the beautiful
is a system of moral emotions, moral selections, and moral appreciation;
and that the aim and end of art is the expression of man's obedience to
God's will, and of his recognition of God's goodness.

Such was the solution of Ruskin's scruples respecting his right of
giving to art the time and energies he might have given to moral
improvement; and such the æsthetical creed which he felt bound, by
conviction and by the necessity of self-justification, to develop into
a system and to apply to every single case. The notion of making beauty
not merely a vague emanation from the divinity, as in the old platonic
philosophies, but a direct result, an infallible concomitant of moral
excellence; of making the physical the mere reflexion of the moral, is
indeed a very beautiful and noble idea; but it is a false idea. For--and
this is one of the points which Ruskin will not admit--the true state
of things is by no means always the noblest or the most beautiful; our
longing for ineffable harmony is no proof that such harmony exists: the
phantom of perfection which hovers before us is often not the mirage
of some distant reality, but a mere vain shadow projected by our own
desires, which we must follow, but may never obtain. In the soul of all
of us exists, oftenest fragmentary and blurred, a plan of harmony and
perfection which must serve us as guide in our workings, in our altering
and rebuilding of things; but we must not expect that with this plan
should coincide the actual arrangements of nature; we must beware lest
we use as a map of the earth into which we have been created the map of
the heaven which we seek to create; for we shall find that the ways are
different, we shall go astray bewildered and in bitterness, we shall sit
down in despair in this country which is evil where it should have been
good, arid where it should have been fruitful, and we shall uselessly
weep or rage until all the time for our journeyings and workings is
over, and death has come to ask how much we have done. Sin and Pain
and Injustice are realities, and what is worse, they are necessities:
they are not despite Nature, but through Nature; destructive forces
perhaps, but which Nature requires for her endless work of construction;
punished perhaps in the individual wretch devoted to them, but ordered
nevertheless by that same punishing power which requires them. And worse
still, evil and good are not opponents, they are not for ever destroying
each other's work, for ever marshalled in battle against each other;
they are combined though hostile, used in the same great work of action
and reaction: together they build and destroy, together they are knit in
closest and most twisted bonds of cause and effect; bonds so close, so
inextricably crossed and recrossed that severing one of them, tearing
and cutting them asunder, it seems as if the whole universe would crash
down upon us. In this world of reality where evil leads to good and
life to death; where harmonies are imperfect, there is no unvarying
correspondence between things, no necessary genesis of good from good,
and evil from evil. There is much conflict and much isolation. And thus
the world of the physically beautiful is isolated from the world of the
morally excellent: there is sometimes correspondence between them, and
sometimes conflict, but both accidental and due to no inner affinity,
but only to exterior causes: most often there is no relation at all. For
the qualities of right and wrong, and of beautiful and ugly, and our
perceptions of them, belong to different parts of our being, even as
to a yet different part of our being belong our perception of true and
false, that is, of existing and non-existing. A true thing need by no
means be a good or a beautiful thing: that generations of men are doomed
to sin and misery is no good fact; that millions of putrifying bodies
lie beneath the ground is no beautiful fact, but both are nevertheless
true facts, true with that truth of which science, had it perception of
good and of beauty as well as mere perception of truth, should say, "I
recognize, but I shudder"--And thus also is it with the good and the
beautiful: they have no connection except that, each in its kingdom, is
the best, the desirable, that for which we should all strive, that for
which the whole of nature, despite its inextricable evils, seems to
crave and to struggle. A pure state of soul is like a pure state of
body: a morbid craving is like a disease; a noble moral attitude is like
a noble physical attitude: moral excellence and physical beauty are both
the healthy, the perfect; but they are the healthy, the perfect, in two
totally different halves of nature, and we perceive and judge them by
totally different organisms. Whence our moral instincts have come, or
how they ever entered into the scheme of a world in which there is so
much to shock them; how the preference for the good of others was ever
evolved out of the preference for the good of self is a question most
speedily solved by the men of science who seek the reasons why Christ is
good and the thinned gold-leaved poplars by the river are beautiful, in
the living nerves of ripped-up beasts; this much is evident that moral
instinct judges that part of actions which is neither to be felt with
our hands, nor to be seen with our eyes, nor to be tasted or heard or
smelt: it judges and finds good or evil certain qualities or combinations
of qualities which do not materially exist: things which though they
have as real an existence as anything which can be tasted or sniffed or
fingered, have yet a purely intellectual existence, can be found only by
those mysterious senses which, even as touch and hearing, and smell and
taste and sight, put us in communication with the physical world outside
us, put us far more wonderfully in communication with the moral world
within us. The qualities constituting physical beauty, on the other
hand, are, to a large extent at least, perceived by our physical senses:
there is indeed a point where the mere nerve sensations no longer serve
to explain æsthetical likings or dislikings, where, on the other hand,
the addition of mere logical considerations of fitness seem insufficient
to account for phenomena, where, in short, we are forced to have
recourse to a very confused and at present untenable idea of inherited
habits and love of proportion, but it nevertheless remains evident that
physical beauty is a thing perceived through the physical senses and
concretely extant in the world around us. We say that a character is
morally good because certain actions or words reveal to us the existence
of certain tendencies and habits of feeling which (no matter how
instituted) satisfy and delight our moral nature, because there is
between these tendencies of feeling and our moral nature a mysterious
affinity, which may depend on nerve cells or on logical arguments,
but does not in the least resemble either. But when we say that a
tree is beautiful, it is because, in the first instance, its mere
sensation-giving qualities, taken separately, affect us agreeably in our
various physical parts: the colour stimulating or soothing our colour
nerves, the size, enabling our visual nerves to take in its shape
agreeably; its shadyness, which even as a mere suggestion, pleases
our tactile nerves, its rustle, which pleasantly moves our nerves of
hearing; and even if we admit that the perception that the tree as a
whole is beautiful, as distinguished from certain of its qualities being
agreeable, depends upon something higher and more recondite than mere
nerve tickle, even then it remains that whatever abstract instinct of
beauty we may possess, it is only through physical sensations that this
instinct is reached; and that a man born blind cannot perceive beauty
of colours nor a man born deaf beauty of sounds, simply because the
physical receptive organs of sight and sound are wanting. Thus, in
short, beauty is a physical quality, as goodness is a moral quality: and
if they are in a way equivalents, beauty being physical goodness, and
goodness moral beauty, it is exactly because each has a separate sphere
in which each respectively, represents the best. That beauty is in
itself physical, is a point which few have denied: that beautiful curves
and harmonies are moral qualities very few have asserted. But few have
as yet been willing to admit that beauty is a quality independent of
goodness, independent sometimes to the extent of hostility: that it is
as independent of moral excellence as is logical correctness. Yet thus
it is; and thus all of us must vaguely feel; all those who think, must
closely perceive it to be. There is no justice, no charity, no moral
excellence in physical beauty. It is a negative thing. If it refuses to
associate with evil, to dwell in the putrid corpse or in the face of the
murderer, it is because physical beauty is a concomitant of physical
purity and health, and decaying corpses are always unhealthy, while evil
souls nearly always leave ugly marks on the bodies: but the putrescent
corpse and the murderer's face are both ugly because they are physically
wrong, not because they are morally abominable. Beauty, in itself, is
neither morally good nor morally bad: it is æsthetically good, even as
virtue is neither æsthetically good nor æsthetically bad, but morally
good. Beauty is pure, complete, egotistic: it has no other value than
its being beautiful. This is a bitter thing to say, a cruel confession
on the part of one whose love and whose chief interest is the beautiful,
to make to himself: this that his beloved and much studied Beautiful,
which is his happiness and his study, has no moral value: that above
this superb and fascinating thing, there are things which are better,
nobler, more necessary, and for whose sake, in case of conflict, this
adored quality must be trampled under foot. A bitter confession; but the
truth is the truth, and must be admitted; to ourselves first of all. It
is, as we have said, one of the wicked anomalies of this world that the
true, the existing, is at variance with that which we should wish to
exist: we cannot replace with impunity the ugly, the cruel, the mean
truth by the charming, the generous fancy; if we do so, we must be
prepared to break with all truth, or to compromise with all falsehood:
we shall create an evil a hundredfold worse than the one we wished to
avoid. We are afraid of a truth which jars upon our sense of the morally
desirable: we invent and accept a lie, plausible and noble; and behold!
in a moment we are surrounded by a logical work of falsehood, which must
be for ever torn and for ever patched up if any portion of truth is to

Such has been the case with John Ruskin; he shrank from owning to
himself what we have just recognized, with reluctance, indeed, and
sorrow, that the beautiful to whose study and creation he was so
irresistibly drawn, had no moral value; that in the great battle between
good and evil, beauty remained neutral, passive, serenely egotistic.
It was necessary for him that beauty should be more than passively
innocent: he must make it actively holy. Only a moral meaning could make
art noble; and as, in the deep-rooted convictions of Ruskin, art was
noble, a moral meaning must be found. The whole of the philosophy of art
must be remodelled upon an ethical basis; a moral value must everywhere
sanction the artistic attraction. And thus Ruskin came to construct a
strange system of falsehood, in which moral motives applied to purely
physical actions, moral meanings given to the merely æsthetically
significant, moral consequences drawn from absolutely unethical
decisions; even the merest coincidences in historical and artistic
phenomena, nay, even in the mere growth of various sorts of plants,
nay, even the most ludicrously applied biblical texts, were all
dragged forward and combined into a wondrous legal summing-up for the
beatification of art; the sense of the impossibility of rationally
referring certain æsthetical phenomena to ethical causes producing in
this lucid and noble thinker a sort of frenzy, a wild impulse to solve
irrational questions by direct appeals for an oracular judgment of God,
to be sought for in the most trumpery coincidences of accidents; so that
the man who has understood most of the subtle reasons of artistic
beauty, who has grasped most completely the psychological causes of
great art and poor art, is often reduced to answer his perplexities
by a sort of æsthetico-moral key and bible divination, or heads-win
tails-lose, toss-up decision. The main pivots of Ruskin's system are,
however, but few: first, the assertion that all legitimate artistic
action is governed by moral considerations, is the direct putting in
practice of the commandments of God; and secondly, that all pleasure in
the beautiful is the act of appreciating the goodness and wisdom of God.
These two main theories completely balance one another; between them,
and with the occasional addition of mystic symbolism, they must explain
the whole question of artistic right and wrong. Now for Ruskin artistic
right and wrong is not only a very complex, but, in many respects,
a very fluctuating question; in order to see how complex and how
fluctuating, we must remember what Ruskin is, and what are his aims.
Ruskin is no ordinary æsthetician, interested in art only inasmuch as
it is a subject for thought, untroubled in the framing of histories,
psychological systems of art philosophy by any personal likings and
dislikings; Ruskin is essentially an artist, he thinks about art because
he feels about art, and his sole object is morally to justify his
artistic sympathies and aversions, morally to justify his caring about
art at all. With him the instinctive likings and dislikings are the
original motor, the system is there only for their sake. He cannot,
therefore, like Lessing, or Hegel, or Taine, quietly shove aside any
phenomenon of artistic preference which does not happen to fit into his
system; he could, like Hegel, assign an inferior rank to painting,
because painting has to fall into the category assigned to romantic,
that is to say, imperfect art; he could not, like Taine, deliberately
stigmatise music as a morbid art because it had arisen, according to
his theory, in a morbid state of society; with Ruskin everything must
finally yield to the testimony of his artistic sense: everything which
he likes must be legitimated, everything which he dislikes must be
condemned; and for this purpose the system of artistic morality must for
ever be altered, annotated, provided with endless saving-clauses, and
special cases. And all this the more especially as, in the course of his
studies, Ruskin frequently perceives that things which on superficial
acquaintance displeased him, are in reality delightful, in consequence
of which discovery a new legislation is required to annul their previous
condemnation and provide for their due honour. Thus, having conceived a
perhaps exaggerated aversion (due, in great part, to the injustice of
his adversaries) to the manner of representing the nature of certain
Dutch painters of the 17th century, Ruskin immediately formulated a
theory that minute imitation of nature was base and sinful; and when
he conceived a perhaps equally exaggerated admiration for the works of
certain extremely careful and even servile English painters of our own
times, he was forced to formulate an explanatory theory that minuteness
of work was conscientious, appreciative, and distinctly holy. Had he
been satisfied with mere artistic value, he need only have said that the
Dutch pictures were ugly, and the English pictures beautiful; but having
once established all artistic judgment upon an ethical basis, it became
urgent that he should invent a more or less casuistic reason, something
not unlike the _distinguo_ by means of which the Jesuit moralists
rendered innocent in their powerful penitents what they had declared
sinful in less privileged people, to explain that, under certain
circumstances, minute imitation was the result of insolence and apathy,
and in other cases the sign of humility and appreciation. Again, having
been instinctively impressed by the coldness and insipidity of the
schools of art which ostensibly refused to copy individual nature, and
professed to reproduce only the more important and essential character
of things, Ruskin annihilated these idealistic conventionalists by a
charge of impious contempt for the details of individual peculiarities
which God had been pleased to put into his work; and when, on the other
hand, his growing love for mediæval art and for mysticism began to draw
him towards the Giottesque and even the pre-Giottesque artists, who
left out of their work all except the absolutely essential and typical
traits, Ruskin sanctified their conventionalism as the result of
preference for the merely spiritual and morally interesting portion of
the subject. The fact that the over refinement of the idealists of the
16th century ended in insipidity because it was due to a general organic
decline in the art, and that the rudeness of the conventional artists of
the 14th century possessed a certain nobility because it was merely a
momentary incapacity in a rapidly progressing art; this fact, and with
it the knowledge that the development and decline of every art is due to
certain necessities of general change, all that explains the life of any
and every art, completely escapes Ruskin on account of his explanation
by moral motives. In this way Ruskin has constructed a whole system of
artistic ethics, extremely contradictory and, as we have remarked,
bearing as great a resemblance to the text book, full of _distinguos_
and _directions of the intention_ of one of Pascal's Jesuits as a very
morally pure and noble work can bear to a very base and depraved one.
And throughout this system scattered fragmentarily throughout his
various books, every artistic merit or demerit is disposed of as a
virtuous action or a crime; the moral principle established for the
explanation of one case naturally involving the prejudgment of another
case; and the whole system explaining by moral delinquencies the
artistic inferiority of a given time or people, and, on the other hand,
attributing the moral and social ruin of a century or a nation to the
artistic abominations it had perpetrated. The arrangements of lintels
and columns, the amount of incrustation of coloured marble on to brick,
the degree to which window traceries may be legitimately attenuated and
curled, the value of Greek honeysuckle patterns as compared with Gothic
hedge-rose ornaments, all these and a thousand other questions of mere
excellence of artistic effect, are discussed on the score of their
morality or baseness, of their truthfulness, or justice, or humility;
and Ruskin's madness against any kind of cheating or deception goes
to the length, in one memorable passage in the _Seven Lamps of
Architecture_, of condemning Correggio's ceiling of St. Paolo at Parma
because, as real children might be climbing in a real vine trellise
above our heads, there is possibility of deception and of sin; whereas,
as none of us expect to see the heavens open above us, there is no
possibility of deception, and consequently no sin in Correggio's glory
of angels in the Parma Cathedral; thus absolving on the score of
morality a rather confused and sprawling composition, and condemning as
immoral one of the most graceful and childlike works of the Renaissance.
The result of this system of explaining all artistic phenomena by
ethical causes is, as we have remarked, that the real cause of any
phenomenon, the explanation afforded us by history, is entirely
overlooked or even ignominiously rejected. Thus Ruskin attributes the
decay of Gothic architecture to "one endeavour to assume, in excessive
flimsiness of tracery, the semblance of what it was not"--to its having
"sacrificed a single truth." Now the violation of the nature and
possibilities of the material, what Ruskin in ethical language calls
the endeavour to trick, was not the cause but the effect of a gradual
decline in the art. The lace work of 15th century Gothic is not a
_lie_, it is an effete form. The perfect forms had been obtained, and as
the growth of the art could not be checked, imperfect ones naturally
succeeded them; the workman had hewn enough, had diminished the stone
surfaces sufficiently, had carved the leafage as much as was compatible
with beauty; the succeeding generations of workmen continued to work,
and what happened? They hewed away too much, they diminished the stone
surface too much, they carved the leafage too deep, each generation
cutting away more and more, until the whole fabric had reached such a
degree of flimsiness that, had not the Renaissance swept its cobwebs
away, they would have been torn to shreds by the Gothic artists
themselves. An art corrupts and dies of its own vital principles, as
does every other living and changing thing, as a flower withers of its
own life: you begin by chipping, you end, as in Gothic architecture,
by chipping into nothingness. You begin with grouping: you end with
grouping, like Michelangiolo and Parmegianno, into knots and lumps;
you begin by raising your figures out of the background: you end, like
Ghiberti, by tying them on with the narrowest slip of bronze; you begin
with modulating: you end, like Raff, Brahms, and other Wagnerists, by
modulating into chaos. Art, if it lives, must grow, and if it grows it
must grow old and die. And this fact gradually, though instinctively,
beginning to be felt by all thinkers on art, Ruskin, with his theory of
moral æsthetics, could never recognize. For him the corruption of the
art is due to the moral corruption of the artist: if the artist remained
truthfully modest, the perfection of the art would continue

Again, the necessity of referring all good art to morality and all bad
art to immorality, obliges Ruskin to postulate that every period which
has produced bad art has been a period of moral decay. The artistic
habits which displease him must be a direct result of a vicious way of
feeling and acting in all things: the decay of Venetian architecture and
sculpture must be distinctly referable to the decay of Venetian morality
in the 15th century; and the final corruption and ruin of the state
must be traced to the moral obliquity which caused Venetians to adopt
pseudo-classic forms in the Riva façade of the Ducal palace; moral
degradation and artistic degradation, acting and re-acting on each
other, bring about, according to Ruskin, political ruin; the iniquities
of the men who became apostates to Gothic architecture are visited upon
their distant descendants, upon the Venetians of the days of Campo
Formio. Now here again the ethical basis induces a complete historical
misconception, a misconception not only in the history of art, but also
in the history of civilization. For, just as his system of moral sin and
artistic punishment blinds Ruskin to the necessities of change and decay
in art, so, also, it prevents his seeing the inevitable necessity of
political growth and decline. Ruskin seeks the cause of the fall of
Venice in moral corruption manifested, or supposed to be manifested, in
art; but the cause of the fall of Venice must be sought elsewhere. Look
at this lagoon, this Adriatic, this Mediterranean: in the 14th century
they are the source of the greatness of the Zenos and Pisanis; three or
four hundred years later they will be the cause of the pettiness of the
Morosinis and Emos. In the present, in this time of Dandolo, into which
Ruskin has led us, it is to them that Venice owes the humiliation of
Barbarossa in the porch of St. Mark's; to them in the future will
be owed the triumph of Bonaparte and the tricolour waving from the
flagstaff of the square. For in the middle ages the sea means the
Mediterranean and the Baltic, the two great navigable, wealth-yielding
lakes, and around them arises prosperity: Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa, Venice,
Lübeck, Dantzig, Brehmen; the men who live on the shores of the
Mediterranean take the riches of the East and of India, and conquer
Greece and the islands, and grow rich; and on this strip of marshland
keep armies which can cope with the united forces of Europe. Such is the
sea of the middle ages. But the sea of modern times is the ocean; give
the means of navigating that, give to the barbarians who inhabit its
coasts just enough civilization to build a ship and steer it, and those
barbarians, yes, the boors of Frisia, the savages of England, and of
Normandy, and of Portugal, will become the masters of the world, and
Venetians and Genoese shall be their puppets, and the Mediterranean
their pond. Since to the commerce of the Mediterranean they will oppose
the commerce of the ocean, to the riches of Greece, of Asia Minor,
Persia, and Egypt, the riches of Mexico and Peru, of India and of China,
which will flow into the banks of London, of Lisbon, of Antwerp, and
which will create armies to sweep all Italy out of the field. The Ocean
has superseded the Mediterranean, the boundless the bounded; this is the
explanation of the fall of Venice, of her political torpor and her
consequent vices. It is a law of nature that the small and sheltered
spots shall suffice while civilization is small, but that as it grows it
will seek a wider field, and its original homes be abandoned. A small
country, a small sea, made Greece and Italy greatest in antiquity and
the middle ages; a small country, a narrow sea, make them smallest in
modern times. And when the first galley of Prince Henry, the first
pinnace of Amsterdam or London, nay, the first little Norman craft set
sail for St. Brandan's Isle, the fate of Venice was sealed; Lodovico
Manin, and Casanova, and Bonaparte, and Campo Formio, all that in
Venetian history can mean corruption and disgrace, all was irrevocably
fixed; the geographical chance which had raised the palaces of Venice
has also caused them to moulder; time which made has also unmade, for
life is movement and movement is change. That immorality is not the
cause but the effect of political decline is as little conceived by
Ruskin as that neither the one nor the other can be produced by artistic
degradation; in his system which makes artistic inferiority the visible
expression of moral corruption, and national misfortune its direct
punishment, there can be no room for any of the great laws of
development and decay which historical science is now beginning to
perceive. All things must be carried on upon the miraculous system of
Sunday school books, where planks of bridges give way from the cogent
mechanical reason that the little boys passing over them have just
been telling lies or stealing apples; God is for ever busy unbolting
trapdoors beneath the feet of the iniquitous and rolling stones down on
the heads of blasphemers. And this same necessity of condemning morally
a period whose artistic work in any particular line is æsthetically
worthless in Ruskin's judgment, not only leads him into the most absurd
misappreciation of the moral value of a time, but entirely forbids his
recognizing the fact that the decay of one art is frequently coincident
with, and in some measure due to, the efflorescence of another.
The independent development of painting required the decay of the
architecture of the middle ages, whose symbolical, purely decorative
tendency condemned painting to be a sort of allegorical or narrative
Arabesque; whose well defined arches might not be broken through by
daring perspective, whose delicate cornices might not enclose more than
a mere rigid and simply tinted mosaic, or mosaic-like fresco. When,
therefore, painting arose mature in the 16th century, architecture was
necessarily crumbling. But to Ruskin the 16th century, being the century
of bad architecture, is hopelessly immoral, and being immoral, its
painting, Raphael, Michel Angelo, Correggio, all except a few privileged
Venetians, must needs be swept away as so much rubbish; while the very
imperfect painting of the Giottesques, because it belongs to a time
whose morality must be high since its architecture is good, is
considered as the ideal of pictorial art. Again, Ruskin perceives that
the whole plastic art of the 18th century, architecture, sculpture, and
painting, are as bad as bad can be; the cause must necessarily be found
not in the inevitable decline of all plastic art since the Renaissance,
but in the fiendish wickedness of the 18th century, that abominable age
which first taught men the meaning of justice as distinguished from
mercy, of humanity as distinguished from charity: which first taught
us not to shrink from evil but to combat it. And thus, because
the 18th century is proved by its smirking furbelowed goddesses and
handkerchief-cravatted urns to be utterly, morally, abominable, the one
great art which flourished in this period, the glorious music of Bach,
and Gluck, and Marcello, and Mozart, must necessarily be silently carted
off to the dust heap of artistic baseness.

Thus the radical falsehood of the ethical system of æsthetics warps the
whole of Ruskin's view of the genius and evolution of art, of its
relations with national morality and political supremacy. But it does
more than this. It warps also Ruskin's view of art itself; its sophisms
force him to contradict, to stifle his own artistic instincts. For if,
as Ruskin has established, we are not permitted to love the beautiful
for its own sake, but only because it is supposed to represent a certain
moral excellence, that moral excellence must be the sole valuable
portion, and equally artistically valuable when separated from the
beautiful; while the beautiful must in itself be worthless, and
consequently dangerous. The absolutely ugly must, if it awaken virtuous
emotion, have a greater artistic value than the beautiful if it awaken
none; the macerated hermits, the lepers and cripples of the middle ages
must be artistically preferable to the healthy and beautiful athletes of
antiquity; compassion for the physically horrible is more virtuous than
the desire for the physically beautiful, therefore Ruskin would replace
the one by the other; forgetting, even as the middle ages forgot, that
the beautiful, the healthy, are the best and happiest for all of us;
that we are given sympathy with the physically evil only that we may
endure its contact long enough to transform it into the physically good:
that we compassionate disease only that we may cure it.

Thus this sophisticated sense of duty, which, applied to artistic
interests where it has no place, has merely caused injustice of all
sorts, and falsehood and unceasing contradiction: which has condemned
the artistically pure for its juxta-position with the morally impure:
which has preferred the inferior in art because it answered to the
definition of the superior in morals: which has placed Giotto above
Michel Angelo because the second could paint and the first only imagine:
which has condemned Greek art as long as it seemed beautiful and
acquitted it when it appeared ugly: which has legitimated colour art
with one verse of the bible and anathematised linear art with another:
which has so often rejected the excellent in art because it wanted the
excellent in conduct: which has come to the point of preferring that
disease and putrefaction which, in the physical world, are equivalent to
sin and corruption in the moral--this sophisticated sense of morality,
originally intended to sanction all that which in art is sanctioned by
its mere innocence and delightfulness, has at length destroyed the very
artistic system which it was to sustain. For the divine elements of
justice, and mercy, and honour, cannot be wasted in this world;
entrapped and imprisoned in order to consecrate by their presence the
already holy, rendered sterile and useless among those artistic things
with which they have no concern, they have at last sought for their
field of action, for their legitimate objects, and have burst forth,
shattering the whole edifice of art philosophy in which they were
enclosed, mere useless talismans. And it has come home to Ruskin, once
and again, that this virtue thus expended upon cornices and lintels,
upon lines and colours, while evil raged outside, is no virtue: that
this sanctified art is not holy; that, direct our intentions as we may,
think of God as much as we like, we cannot make art one whit the less
passive and egotistic; it has come home to him, and with the noble
candour of doubt which is his logical weakness and his moral strength,
he has confessed that he had never known one man really and exclusively
devoted to mere moral good, who cared for art at all. The elaborate
system of ethical æsthetics, the ingeniously far-fetched explanations of
physical beauty by moral excellence, the triumphant decision that art is
the kingdom of God, has, after all and at last, failed to redeem the
beautiful in the eyes of Ruskin. He has seen a ragged creature die of
starvation on a dung heap; and all the cathedrals of Christendom, all
the resplendent Turners and saintly Giottos in the world have seemed to
him black and hideous. He has argued and stormed, and patched up once
more his tattered theories, and talked more than ever of beauty being
virtue, and its appreciation religion, and God being in all fair
things; but all this latter talk has been vain; into the midst of art
discussions have for ever crept doubts whether art should be at all. The
placid paradise of art, whose every flower and grass blade is a generous
thought, whose every fruit is a noble action, where every bubbling of
waters and every bird's song is a hymn to the goodness of God, has
become suspicious to its own creator now that he realises by what it
is surrounded; to live in this sweet and noble impossible paradise,
where beauty is the mere visible expression of virtue, while the foul
world-swamp is stealthily being eaten into, washed away, absorbed by the
surrounding flood of hell: is this not a sin, this quiet dwelling in
holiness, and a worse sin than any being committed in the darkness and
jostle below?

In this way has Ruskin, one of the greatest thinkers on art and on
ethics, made morality sterile and art base in his desire to sanctify the
one by the other. Sterile and base, indeed, only theoretically: for the
instinct of the artist and of the moralist has ever broken out in noble
self-contradiction, in beautiful irrelevancies; in those wonderful,
almost prophetic passages which seem to make our souls more keen towards
beauty and more hardy for good. But all this is incidental, this which
is in reality Ruskin's great and useful work. He has made art more
beautiful and men better without knowing it--accidentally, without
premeditation, in words which are like the eternal truths, grand and
exquisite, which lie fragmentary and embedded in every system of
theology; the complete and systematic is worthless and even dangerous,
for it is false; the irrelevant, the contradictory, is precious, because
it is true to our better part. Ruskin has loved art instinctively,
fervently, for its own sake; but he has constantly feared lest this love
should be sinful or at least base. Like Augustine, he dreads that the
Devil maybe lurking in the beautiful sunshine; lest evil be hidden in
those beautiful shapes which distract his thoughts from higher subjects
of good and God; he trembles lest the beautiful should trouble his
senses and his fancy, and make him forget his promises to the Almighty.
He perceives that pleasure in art is more or less sensuous and selfish;
he is afraid lest some day he be called upon to account for the moments
he has not given to others, and be chastised for having permitted his
mind to follow the guidance of his senses; he trembles and repeats the
praise of God, the anathema of pride, he mumbles confused words about
"corrupt earth"--and "sinful man,"--even while looking at his works of
art, as some anchorite of old may instinctively have passed his fingers
across his beads and stammered out an _Ave_ when some sight of beauty
crossed his path and made his heart leap with unwonted pleasure. Ruskin
must tranquillize his conscience about art; he must persuade himself
that he is justified in employing his thoughts about it; and lest it be
a snare of the demon, he must make it a service of God. He must persuade
himself that all the pleasure he derives from art is the pleasure in
obeying God, in perceiving his goodness: that the pleasure he derives
from a flower is pleasure not in its curves and colours and scent, but
in its adaptation to its work, in its enjoyment of existence; that the
enjoyment he derives from a grand view is enjoyment of the kindness of
God, and the enjoyment in the sight of a noble face is enjoyment of the
expression of harmony with God's will; in short, all artistic pleasure
must become an act of adoration, otherwise, a jealous God, or a jealous
conscience, will smite him for abandoning the true altar for some golden
calf fashioned by man and inhabited by Satan. And to this constant
moralising, hallowing, nay, purifying of art, are due, as we have seen,
the greater number of Ruskin's errors; his system is false, and only
evil can spring from it; it is a pretence at a perfection which does not
exist, and which, like the pretence at the superhuman virtue of the
anchorite and mystic, must end in lamentable folly: in making men lie to
their own heart because they have sought to clothe all that is really
pure in a false garb of sanctity and have blushed at its naked reality;
because it makes a return to nature a return to sin, since what is
natural has been forbidden and what is innocent has been crookedly
obtained; because it tries to make us think we are nothing but soul, and
therefore turns us to brutes when we remember that we are also body, and
devils when we perceive that we are also reason. Because, in short, it
is a lie, and only falsehood can be born of it. For, in his constant
reference to a spiritual meaning, Ruskin has not only wasted and
sterilised our moral impulses, but has reduced art to mere foulness; in
his constant sanctifying of beauty he makes it appear impure. Above all,
in his unceasing attempt to attach a moral meaning to physical beauty,
he has lost sight of, he has denied, the great truth that all that which
is innocent is moral; that the morality of art is an independent quality
equivalent to, but separate from, the morality of action; that beauty
is the morality of the physical, as morality is the beauty of the
spiritual; that as the moral sense hallows the otherwise egotistic
relations of man to man, so also the æsthetic sense hallows the
otherwise brutish relations of man to matter; that separately but in
harmony, equally but differently, these two faculties make our lives
pure and noble. All this Ruskin has forgotten: he has made the enjoyment
of mere beauty a base pleasure, requiring a moral object to purify it,
and in so doing he has destroyed its own purifying power; he has
sanctified the already holy, and defiled with holy water, which implies
foulness, the dwelling of holiness.

This is the lesson to be derived from the attempt at noble self-delusion
which Ruskin has practised upon himself. There is not in the world that
harmony and perfection, nay, that analogy of good to good and evil to
evil for which our higher nature seeks. As we have said, there is
contradiction and anomaly: anomaly the most horrible, since our logical
sense must accept it, and our moral sense cannot: anomaly of good
springing from evil, and evil from good, of pollution of the noble and
hallowing of the foul by the force of inevitable sequence. There is also
isolation of one sort of good from the other, and clashing of their
interests. All this there is, and against it all our moral sense must
for ever protest, and against it, whether free in our endeavour or
merely pushed on by the universal necessity, we must struggle. We
must seek for ever to resolve the discord between good and good, to
disentangle the meshes of good and evil, to destroy the dreadful anomaly
of things. But we can do so, however partially, we can really wish to
do so, only if we have the courage to see that the lamentable discord
and the horrible tangle do exist: only if we do not shrink from the
battlefield of reality into an enervating Capua of moral idealism. And
thus we should admit that only morality is really moral, and only virtue
really virtuous; that physical beauty intrinsically possesses but an
æsthetic value quite separate from all moral value; that above it must
always remain a more generous world of feeling and endeavour. If we do
not shrink from this painful truth we shall see that physical beauty and
its egotistic enjoyment have yet a moral value of their own: the value
of being, in the lives of others, absolute pleasure, the giving of which
is positive good. For in this world all is not completed when we have
destroyed evil; it must be replaced by good. We must all of us work, but
we must work in different ways. One half of us are the destroyers of
evil, the wrestlers with all that is wrong in itself or begets wrong,
falsehood, injustice, disease, misery; sent to extirpate the bad,
laboriously to weed it out blade by blade, or boldly to plough and burn
it up by the sheaf, the field, the acre. But when this half of active
mankind has done its work, what would remain? A mere joyless desert of
painless vacuity; and the other half of the workers must come and sow
and plant absolute good, positive joy in this redeemed life soil; nay,
even while the work of destruction is far from completed, and most of
all, perhaps, then, do we require that in the very shadow of the yet
deep-rooted evil, the little tufts of good should rise up, and console
and strengthen us with their sight and their scent. And of all these
kinds of egotistic good which we must needs sow while evil is being
cleared away, art is one of the noblest and most necessary; and woe
betide those who, having the power of creating beauty, would leave their
allotted work and join the destroyers of falsehood and of evil. The
amount of absolute good in the world is comparatively small, and we must
seek to increase it for ever; but increased it cannot be except by the
full employment of our activities, and our activities can be fully
employed only in their own proper sphere. In every artist there is a
man, and the moral perfection of the man is more important than the
artistic perfection of the artist; but, in as far as the artist is an
artist, he must be satisfied to do well in his art. For, though art has
no moral meaning, it has a moral value; art is happiness, and to bestow
happiness is to create good.


  God sent a poet to reform His earth.--A. MARY F. ROBINSON.

"And meanwhile, what have you written?" asked Baldwin, tickling the
flies with his whip from off the horse's head, as they slowly ascended,
in the autumn afternoon, the hill of Montetramito, which with its ilex
and myrtle-grown black rocks, and its crumbling mounds, where the bright
green spruce pine clings to the washed-away scarlet sand, separates
the green and fertile plain of Lucca from the marshes of the Pisan
sea-shore. The two friends had met only an hour or so before at the foot
of the Apennine pass, and would part in not much more again. "And what
have you written?" repeated Baldwin.

"Nothing," answered the younger man, drearily, leaning back languidly in
the rickety little carriage. "Nothing, or rather too much; I don't know
which. Is trash too much or too little? Anyhow, there's none of it
remaining. I thrust all my manuscripts into my stove at Dresden, and the
chimney took fire in consequence. That's the tragic history of all my
poetical labours of the last two years." And Cyril, lying back in the
carriage with his arms folded beneath his head, smiled half-sadly, half
whimsically in the face of his friend.

But Baldwin did not laugh.

"Cyril," he answered, "do you remember on a birthday of yours--you were
a tiny boy, brought up like a girl, with curls and beautiful hands--one
of your sisters dared you to throw your presents into the garden well,
and you did it, before a number of admiring little girls: you felt
quite a hero or a little saint, didn't you? And then my little hero was
suddenly collared by a big boy fresh from school, who was his friend
Baldwin, and who pulled his ears soundly and told him to respect
people's presents a little more. Do you remember that? Well; I now see
that, with all your growing up, and writing, and philosophising, and
talking about duty and self-sacrifice, you are just the self-same
womanish and uncontrolled _poseur_, the same romantic braggadoccio that
you were at seven. I have no patience with you!" And Baldwin whisked the
whip angrily at the flies.

"Mere conceit: effeminate heroics again!" he went on. "Oh no, we must do
the very best! Be Shakespeare at least! Anything short of that would be
derogatory to our kingly nature! no idea of selecting the good (because
in whatever you do there must be talent), and trying to develop it; no
idea of doing the best with what gifts you have! For you are not going
to tell me that two years of your work was mere rubbish--contained
nothing of value. But, in point of fact, you don't care sufficiently for
your art to be satisfied to be the most you can; 'tis mere vanity with

Cyril became very red, but did not interrupt.

"I am sorry you think so ill of me," he said sadly, "and I dare say I
have given you good cause. I dare say I am all the things you say--vain,
and womanish, and insolently dissatisfied with myself, and idiotically
heroic. But not in this case, I assure you. I will explain why I
thought it right to do that. You see I know myself very well now. I
know my dangers; I am not like you--I am easily swayed. Had those poems
remained in existence, had I taken them to England, I am sure I should
not have resisted the temptation of showing them to my old encouragers,
of publishing them probably; and then, after the success of my other
book, and all their grand prophecies, the critics would have had to
praise up this one too; and I should have been drifted back again into
being a poet. Now, as I wrote you several times--only, of course, you
thought it all humbug and affectation--such a poet as I could be I am
determined I will not be. It was an act of self-defence--defence of
whatever of good there may be in me."

Baldwin groaned. "Defence of fiddlesticks! Defence of your vanity!"

"I don't think so," replied Cyril, "and I don't think you understand me
at all in this instance. There was no vanity in this matter. You know
that since some time I have been asking myself what moral right a man
has to consume his life writing verses, when there is so much evil to
remove, and every drop of thought or feeling we have is needed to make
the great river which is to wash out this Augean stable of a world. I
tried to put the doubt behind me, and to believe in Art for Art's own
sake, and such bosh. But the doubt pricked me. And when suddenly my
uncle left me all he had, I felt I must decide. As long as I was a mere
penniless creature I might write poetry, because there seemed nothing
else for me to do. But now it is different. This money and the power it
gives are mine only as long as I live; after my death they may go to
some blackguard; so, while I have them, I must give all my energies to
doing with them all the good that I possibly can."

"In that case better give them over to people who know best what to do
with them--societies or hospitals, or that sort of thing--and write your
verses as before. For I don't think your thoughts will add much to the
value of your money, Cyril. You've not a bit of practical head. Of
course you may, if you choose, look on idly while other people are
using your money. But I don't think it is specially worth doing."

Cyril sighed, hesitated, and then burst out rapidly--

"But it is the only thing I _can_ do--do you understand? I can't write
poetry any more. Perhaps that may be the only thing for which I was ever
fit, but I am fit for it no longer. I cannot do what I have got to despise
and detest. For I do despise and detest the sort of poetry which I should
write--mere ornamental uselessness, so much tapestry work or inlaid
upholstery. You believe in Art for Art's own sake--Goethianism--that
sort of thing, I know. It is all very well for you, who have an active
practical life with your Maremma drainings and mine diggings, a life in
which art, beauty, so forth, have only their due share, as repose and
refreshment. It was all very well in former days also, when the people
for whom artists worked had a deal of struggle and misery, and required
some pure pleasure to make life endurable; but now-a-days, and with the
people for whom I should write, things are different. What is wanted
now-a-days is not art, but life. By whom do you think, would all the
beautiful useful things I could write, all the fiddle-faddle about
trees and streams and statues and love and aspiration (fine aspiration,
which never takes a practical shape!) be read? By wretched overworked
creatures, into whose life they might bring a moment of sweetness,
like a spray of apple blossom or a bunch of sweet-peas into some black
garret? Nothing of the kind. They would be read by a lot of intellectual
Sybarites, shutting themselves out, with their abominable artistic
religion, from all crude real life; they would be merely so much more
hothouse scents or exotic music (_con sordino_), to make them snooze
their lives away. Of course it is something to be a poet like those of
former days; something to be Tasso, and be read by that poor devil of a
fever-stricken watchmaker whom we met down in the plain of Lucca; but
to be a poet for the cultured world of to-day--oh, I would rather be a
French cook, and invent indigestible dishes for epicures without any
appetite remaining to them."

So saying, Cyril jumped out of the gig, and ran up the steep last ascent
of the hill. He had persuaded himself of his moral rightness and felt
quite happy.

Suddenly the road made a sharp bend between the overhanging rocks, grown
in all their fissures with dark ilex tufts and yellow broom and pale
pink cyclamen; it turned, and widened into a flat grass-grown place,
surrounded by cypresses on the top and ridge of the hill. Cyril ran to
the edge and gave a cry of pleasure. Below was stretched a wide strip of
Maremma swamp-land, mottled green and brown--green where the grass was
under water, brown where it was burned into cinders by the sun; with
here and there a patch of shining pond or canal; and at the extremity of
this, distinguishable from the greyish amber sky only by its superior
and intense luminousness, the sea--not blue nor green, but grey,
silvery, steel-like, as a mirror in the full sunshine. Baldwin stopped
the gig beneath the cypresses.

"Look there," he said, pointing with his whip to a dark greenish band,
scarcely visible, which separated the land from the sea: "those are the
pine woods of Viareggio. It was into their sand and weeds that the sea
washed Shelley's body. Do you think we should be any the better off if
he had taken to practical work which he could not do, and declared that
poetry was a sort of French cookery?"

Baldwin tied the reins to the stem of a cypress, and threw himself down
on the warm sere grass on the brow of the hill, overlooking the tangle
of olive and vine and fig-trees of the slopes below.

"In Shelley's time," answered Cyril, leaning his head and shoulders
against one of the cypresses, and looking up into its dark branches,
compact in the centre, but delicate like feather and sparkling like
jet where their extremities stood out against the pale blue sky--"in
Shelley's time, things were rather different from what they are now.
There was a religion of progress to preach and be stoned for; there was
a cause of liberty to fight for--there were Bourbons and Lord Eldons,
and there was Greece and Spain and Italy. There was Italy still when
Mrs. Browning wrote: had she looked out of Casa Guidi windows now, on
to the hum-drum, shoulder-shrugging, penny-haggling, professorial,
municipal-councillorish Italy of to-day she could scarcely have felt in
the vein. The heroic has been done--"

"There is Servia and Montenegro, and there are Nihilists and Democrats,"
answered Baldwin.

"I know--but we can't sing about barbarous ruffians, nor about
half-besotten, half-knavish regicides; we can't be Democrats
now-a-days--at least I can't. Would you have a man sing parliamentary
debates, or High Church squabbles, or Disestablishment, or Woman's
rights, or anti-communism? sing the superb conquests of man over nature,
&c., like your Italian friends, your steam-engine and mammoth poet
Zanella? The wonders of science!--six or seven thousand dogs and cats
being flayed, roasted, baked, disembowelled, artificially ulcerated,
galvanized on ripped-up nerves, at Government expense, in all the
laboratories of Christendom, in order to discover the soul-secreting
apparatus, and how to cure old maids of liver complaint! Thank you. My
muse aspires not thereunto. What then? Progress? But it is assured. Why,
man, we can't even sing of despair, like the good people of the year
'20, since we all know that (bating a few myriads of sufferers and a
few centuries of agony) all is going to come quite right, to be quite
comfortable in this best of all possible worlds. What then remains,
again? Look around you. There remains the poetry of beauty--oh yes,
of pure beauty, to match the newest artistic chintzes; the poetry of
artistic nirvana, of the blissful sleep of all manliness and energy, to
the faint sound (heard through dreams) of paradisiac mysticism sung to
golden lutes, or of imaginary amorous hysterics, or of symphonies in
alliteration. And this when there is so much error, so much doubt, so
much suffering, when all our forces are required to push away a corner
of the load of evil still weighing on the world: this sort of thing I
cannot take to." And Cyril fiercely plucked out a tuft of lilac-flowered
thyme, and threw it into the precipice below, as if it had been the
poetry of which he was speaking.

"Do you know, Baldwin," went on Cyril, "you have destroyed successively
all my gods; you have shown me that my Holy Grails, in whose service,
one after another I felt happy and peaceful to live, like another
Parzival, or Galahaso, are not the sacred life-giving cup brought down
by angels, but mere ordinary vessels of brittle earth or stinking
pewter, mere more or less useful, but by no means holy things; ordinary
pots and pans, barber's basins like Mambrino's helmet, or blue china
teapots (worst degradation of all) like the Cimabue-Browns'. I believed
in the religion of Nature, and you showed me that Nature was sometimes
good and sometimes bad; that she produced the very foulness, physical
and moral, which she herself chastised men for; you showed me whole
races destined inevitably to moral perversion, and then punished for it.
So I gave up Nature. Then I took up the fashionable religion of Science,
and you showed me that it was the religion of a sort of Moloch, since it
accustomed us to acquiesce in all the evil which is part and parcel of
Nature, since it made us passive investigators into wrong when we ought
to be judges. After the positive, I threw myself into the mystic--into
the religion of all manner of mysterious connections and redemptions;
you showed me that the connections did not exist, and that all attempted
sanctification of things through mysticism was an abomination, since it
could not alter evil, and taught us to think it might be good. O my poor
Holy Grails! Then I took up the religion of love; and you proceeded to
expound to me that if love was restricted to a few worthy individuals,
it meant neglect of the world at large; and that if it meant love of
the world at large, it meant love of a great many utterly unworthy and
beastly people. You deprived me of humanitarianism, of positivism, of
mysticism; and then you did not even let me rest peaceably in pessimism,
telling me that to say that all was for the worst was as unjust as to
say that all was for the best. With a few of your curt sentences you
showed me that all these religions of mine were mere idolatries, and
that to rest in them for the sake of peace was to be utterly base. You
left me nothing but a vague religion of duty, of good; but you gave me
no means of seeing where my duty lay, of distinguishing good from evil.
You are a very useful rooter up of error, Baldwin; but you leave one's
soul as dry and barren and useless as sea shingle. You have taken away
all the falsehoods from my life, but you have not replaced them by

Baldwin listened quietly.

"Would you like to have the falsehoods back, Cyril?" he asked. "Would
you now like to be the holy knight, adoring and defending the pewter
basin or blue china teapot of humanitarianism, or positivism, or
mysticism, or æstheticism? And what becomes of the only religion which I
told you was the true one--the religion of good, of right? Do you think
it worthless now?"

"I think it is the religion of the Unknown God. Where shall I find Him?"

"In yourself, if you will look, Cyril."

Cyril was silent for a moment. "What is right?" he said. "In the
abstract--(oh, and it is so easy to find out in the abstract, compared
to the concrete!)--in the abstract, right is to improve things in the
world, to make it better for man and beast; never to steal justice, and
always to give mercy; to do all we can which can increase happiness,
and refrain from doing all which can diminish it. That is the only
definition I can see. But how vague!--and who is to tell me what I am to
do? And when I see a faint glimmer of certainty, when I perceive what
seems to me the right which I must do, who again interferes? My friend
Baldwin, who, after preaching to me that the only true religion is the
religion of diminishing evil and increasing good for the sake of so
doing, coolly writes to me, in half-a-dozen letters, that the sole duty
of the artist is to produce good art, and that good art is art which has
no aim beyond its own perfection. Why, it is a return to my old æsthetic
fetish worship, when I thought abstract ideas of beauty would set the
world right, as Amphion's harp set the stones building themselves.... Am
I justified in saying that you merely upset my beliefs, without helping
me to build up any; yes, even when I am striving after that religion of
right doing which you nominally call yours--?"

"You always rush to extremes, Cyril. If you would listen to, or read, my
words without letting your mind whirl off while so doing--"

"I listen to you far too much, Baldwin," interrupted Cyril, who would
not break the thread of his own ideas; "and first I want to read you a

Baldwin burst out laughing. "A sonnet! one of those burnt at Dresden--or
written in commemoration of your decision to write no more?"

"It is not by me at all, so there's an end to your amusement. I want you
to hear it because it embodies, and very nobly, what I have felt. I have
never even seen the author, and know nothing about her except that she
is a woman."

"A woman!" and Baldwin's tone was disagreeably expressive.

"I know you don't believe in women poets or women artists."

"Not much, so far, excepting Sappho and Mrs. Browning, certainly. But,
come, let's hear the sonnet. I do abominate women's verses, I confess;
but there are such multitudes of poetesses that Nature may sometimes
blunder in their production, and make one of them of the stuff intended
for a poet."

"Well then, listen," and Cyril drew a notebook from his pocket, and read
as follows:--

  "God sent a poet to reform His earth
   But when he came and found it cold and poor
   Harsh and unlovely, where each prosperous boor
   Held poets light for all their heavenly birth,
   He thought--Myself can make one better worth
   The living in than this--full of old lore,
   Music and light and love, where saints adore
   And angels, all within mine own soul's girth.
   But when at last he came to die, his soul
   Saw Earth (flying past to Heaven) with new love,
   And all the unused passion in him cried:
   'O God, your Heaven I know and weary of,
   Give me this world to work in and make whole.'
   God spoke: 'Therein, fool, thou hast lived and died.'"

Cyril paused for a moment. "Do you understand, Baldwin, how that
expresses my state of feeling?" he then asked.

"I do," answered the other, "and I understand that both you and the
author of the sonnet seem not to have understood in what manner God
intended that poets should improve the earth. And here I return to my
former remark, that when I said that the only true religion was the
religion not of nature, nor of mankind, nor of science, nor of art, but
the religion of good, and that the creation of perfect beauty is the
highest aim of the artist, I was not contradicting myself, but merely
stating two parts--a general and a particular--of the same proposition.
I don't know what your definition of right living may be; mine, the more
I think over the subject, has come to be this:--the destruction of the
greatest possible amount of evil and the creation of the greatest
possible amount of good in the world. And this is possible only by the
greatest amount of the best and most complete activity, and the greatest
amount of the best activity is possible only when everything is seen in
its right light, in order that everything may be used in its right
place. I have always preached to you that life must be activity; but
activity defeats itself if misapplied; it becomes a mere Danaides' work
of filling bottomless casks--pour and pour and pour in as much as you
will, the cask will always be empty. Now, in this world there are two
things to be done, and two distinct sets of people to do them: the one
work is the destruction of evil, the other the creation of good. Mind, I
say the _creation_ of good, for I consider that to do good--that is to
say, to act rightly--is not necessarily the same as to _create_ good.
Every one who does his allotted work is doing good; but the man who
tends the sick, or defends the oppressed, or discovers new truths, is
not creating good, but destroying evil--destroying evil in one of a
hundred shapes, as sickness, or injustice, or falsehood. But he merely
removes, he does not give; he leaves men as poor or as rich as they
would have been, had not disease, or injustice, or error stolen away
some of their life. The man who creates good is the one who not merely
removes pain, but adds pleasure to our lives. Through him we are
absolutely the richer. And this creator of good, as distinguished from
destroyer of evil, is, above all other men, the artist. The scientific
thinker may add pleasure to our lives, but in reality this truth of his
is valuable, not for the pleasure it gives, but for the pain it removes.
Science is warfare; we may consider it as a kind of sport, but in
reality it is a hunting down of the most dangerous kind of wild
animal--falsehood. A great many other things may give pleasure to our
lives--all our healthy activities, upper or lower, must; but the lower
ones are already fully exercised, and, if anything, require restraint;
so that French cooks and erotic poets ought rather to be exterminated
as productive of evil than encouraged as creative of good. And moral
satisfaction and love give us the best pleasures of all; but these are
pleasures which are not due to any special class created on purpose
for their production. Oh, I don't say that any artist can give you
the pleasure you have in knowing yourself to be acting rightly, or in
sympathizing and receiving sympathy; but the artist is the instrument,
the machine constructed to produce the only pleasures which can come
near these. Every one of us can destroy evil and create pleasure, in a
sort of incidental, amateurish way, within our own immediate circle;
but as the men of thought and of action are the professional destroyers
of evil, so the artists are the professional creators of good--they
work not for those immediately around them, but for the world at large.
So your artist is your typical professional creator of pleasure; he
is fitted out, as other men are not, to do this work; he is made of
infinitely finer stuff than other men, not as a whole man, but as an
artist: he has much more delicate hearing, much keener sight, much
defter fingers, much farther-reaching voice than other men; he is
specially prepared to receive and transmit impressions which would be
as wasted on other creatures, as the image in the camera on unprepared,
ordinary paper. Now, what I maintain is simply this, that if, according
to my definition, the object of destroying as much evil and creating as
much good can be attained only by the greatest activity rightly applied,
it is evident that a man endowed to be an artist--that is to say, a
creator of good for the whole world--is simply failing in his duty by
becoming a practical worker; that is to say, an amateur destroyer of
evil. What shall we say of this artist? We shall say that, in order
to indulge in the moral luxury, the moral amusement, of removing an
imperceptible amount of pain, he has defrauded the world of the immense
and long-lasting pleasure placed in his charge to give; we shall say
that, in order to feel himself a little virtuous, this man has simply
acted like a cheat and a thief."

Baldwin had spoken rapidly and earnestly, with a sort of uniform or only
gradually rising warmth, very different from the hesitating, fluctuating
sort of passion of his companion. There was a short silence; Cyril was
still seated under the tall, straight cypress, whose fallen fruit, like
carved balls of wood, strewed the sere grass, and whose compact hairy
trunk gave out a resinous scent, more precious and strange than that
of the fir: he felt that he was momentarily crushed, but had a vague
sense that there lurked somewhere reasons, and very potent ones, which
prevented his friend being completely victorious; and Baldwin was
patiently waiting for him to muster his ideas into order before
continuing the discussion. A slight breeze from the over-clouded sea
sent a shiver across the olives into the ravine below, turning their
feathery tops into a silver ripple, as of a breaking wave; the last
belated cicalas, invisible in the thick plumy branches of the cypresses,
sawed slowly and languidly in the languid late afternoon; and from
the farms hidden in the olive yards of the slope came faint sounds of
calling voices and barking dogs--just sound enough to make the stillness
more complete. "All that is very true," said Cyril at last, "and yet--I
don't know how to express it--I feel that there is still remaining to me
all my reason for doubt and dissatisfaction. You say that artistic work
is morally justifiable to the artist, since he is giving pleasure to
others. From this point of view you are perfectly right. But what I
feel is, that the pleasure which the artist thus gives is not morally
valuable to those who enjoy it. Do you follow? I mean that the
artist may be nobly and generously employed, and yet, by some fatal
contradiction, the men and women who receive his gifts are merely
selfishly gratified. He might not, perhaps, be better employed than in
giving pleasure, but they might surely be better employed than in merely
receiving it; and thus the selfishness of the enjoyment of the gift
seems to diminish the moral value of giving it. When an artist gives to
other men an hour of mere enjoyment, I don't know whether he ought to
be quite proud or not."

Baldwin merely laughed. "It is droll to see what sort of hypermoral
scruples some people indulge in now-a-days. So, your sense of the
necessity of doing good is so keen that you actually feel wretched at
the notion of your neighbours being simply happy, and no more, for an
hour. You are not sure whether, by thus taking them away for a moment
from the struggle with evil, letting them breathe and rest in the middle
of the battle, you may not be making them sin and be sinning yourself!
Why, my dear Cyril, if you condemn humanity to uninterrupted struggle
with evil, you create evil instead of destroying it; if mankind could
be persuaded to give up all of what you would call useless and selfish
pleasure, it would very soon become so utterly worn out and disheartened
as to be quite powerless to resist evil. If this is the system on which
poets would reform the world, it is very fortunate that they don't think
of it till they are flying to heaven."

"I can't make it out. You seem to be in the right, Baldwin, and yet I
still seem to be justified in sticking to my ideas," said Cyril. "Do you
see," he went on, "you have always preached to me that the highest aim
of the artist is the perfection of his own work; you have always told me
that art cannot be as much as it should if any extra-artistic purpose be
given to it. And while listening to you I have felt persuaded that all
this was most perfectly true. But then, an hour later, I have met the
same idea--the eternal phrase of art for art's own sake--in the mouths
and the books of men I completely despised; men who seemed to lose sight
of all the earnestness and duty of life, who had even what seemed to
me very base ideas about art itself, and at all events debased it by
associating it with effeminate, selfish, sensual mysticism. So that the
idea of art for art's own sake has come to have a disgusting meaning to

Baldwin had risen from the grass, and untied the horse from the trunk of
the cypress.

"There is a storm gathering," he said, pointing to the grey masses of
cloud, half-dissolved, which were gathering everywhere; "if we can get
to one of the villages on the coast without being half-drowned while
crossing the swamps, we shall be lucky. Get in, and we can discuss art
for art's own sake, and anything else you please, on the way."

In a minute the gig was rattling down the hill, among the great blasted
grey olives, and the vines with reddening foliage, and the farm-houses
with their fig and orange trees, their great tawny pumpkins lying
in heaps on the threshing-floor, and their autumn tapestry of
strung-together maize hanging massy and golden from the eaves to
the ground.

Baldwin resumed the subject where they had left it: "My own experience
is, that the men who go in for art for art's own sake, do so mainly from
a morbid shrinking from all the practical and moral objects which other
folk are apt to set up as the aim of art; in reality, they do not want
art, nor the legitimate pleasures of art: they want the sterile pleasure
of perceiving mere ingenuity and dexterity of handling; they hanker
vaguely after imaginary sensuous stimulation, spiced with all manner of
mystical rubbish, after some ineffable half-nauseous pleasure in strange
mixtures of beauty and nastiness; they enjoy above all things dabbling
and dipping alternately in virtue and vice, as in the steam and iced
water of a Turkish bath.... In short, these creatures want art not for
its own sake, but for the sake of excitement which the respectabilities
of society do not permit their obtaining, except in imaginative form. As
to art, real art, they treat it much worse than the most determined
utilitarian: the utilitarians turn art into a drudge; these æsthetic
folk make her into a pander and a prostitute. My reason for restricting
art to artistic aims is simply my principle that if things are to be
fully useful they must be restricted to their real use, according to the
idea of Goethe's Duke of Ferrara:--

  'Nicht alles dienet uns auf gleiche Weise;
   Wer vieles brauchen will, gebrauche jedes
   In seiner Art, so ist er wohl bedient.'

I want art in general not to meddle with the work of any of our other
energies, for the same reason that I want each art in particular not to
meddle with the work of any other art. Sculpture cannot do the same as
painting, nor painting the same as music, nor music the same as poetry;
and by attempting anything beyond its legitimate sphere each sacrifices
what it, and no other, can do. So, also, art in general has a definite
function in our lives; and if it attempts to perform the work of
philosophy, or practical benevolence, or science, or moralizing, or
anything not itself, it will merely fail in that, and neglect what it
could do."

"Oh yes," continued Baldwin after a minute, as they passed into the
twilight of a wood of old olives, grey, silvery, mysterious, rising tier
above tier on either side of the road, a faint flicker of yellow light
between their feathery branches. "Oh yes, I don't doubt that were I a
writer, and were I to expound my life-and-art philosophy to the world,
the world would tax me with great narrowness! Things are always too
narrow for people when they are kept in their place--kept within duty
and reason. Of course there is an infinite grandeur in chaos--in a
general wandering among the Unknown, in an universal straining and
hankering after the Impossible; it is grand to see the arts writhing and
shivering to atoms, like caged vipers, in their impotence to do what
they cannot. Only it would be simpler to let those do it who can; and my
system is the only one which can work. Despair is fine, and Nirvâna is
fine; but successful and useful activity is a good deal finer. Wherefore
I shall always say--'Each in his place and to his work;' and you,
therefore, my dear Cyril, to yours, which is poetry."

"I think your philosophy is quite right, Baldwin, only--only, somehow, I
can't get it to suit my moral condition," answered Cyril. "I do feel
quite persuaded that sculptors must not try to be painters, nor
musicians try to be poets, nor any of them try to be anything beyond
what they are. It is all quite rational, and right, and moral, but still
I am not satisfied about poetry. You see a poet is not quite in the same
case as any other sort of artist. The musician, inasmuch as musician,
knows only notes, has power only over sounds; and the painter similarly
as to form and colours; if either be something more, it is inasmuch as
he is a mere man, not an artist. But a poet, inasmuch as he is a poet,
knows, sees, feels a great many things which have a practical and moral
meaning: just because he is a poet, he knows that there is something
beyond poetry; he knows that there are in the world such things as
justice and injustice, good and evil, purity and foulness: he knows all
this, which the mere musician, the mere painter, does not--and knowing
it, perceiving, feeling, understanding it, with more intensity than
other men, is he to sweep it all out of his sight? is he to say to
justice and injustice, good and evil, purity and foulness, 'I know you,
but my work lies not with you?' Is he to do this? Oh, Baldwin, if he be
a man and an honest one, he surely cannot: he cannot set aside these
ideas and devote himself to his art for its own sake."

Baldwin listened attentively to the passionate words of his companion,
and twitching at a sprig of olive as a branch swept across their heads
in their rapid movement through the wood, he answered quietly:

"He will not set aside the ideas of justice and injustice, of good and
evil, of purity and impurity, Cyril. He will make use of them even as
the musician uses his sounds, or the painter uses his colours. Such
ideas are at least one-half of the poet's material, of the stuff out of
which he creates--the half which belongs exclusively to him, which he
does not share with any other artist; the half which gives poetry a
character in many respects different from that of painting or music. I
have always laughed at the Ruskinian idea of morality or immorality in
architecture, or painting, or music, and said that their morality and
immorality were beauty and ugliness. I have done so because moral ideas
don't enter into the arts of line, or colour, or sound, but only into
the subjects to which their visible and audible works are (usually
arbitrarily) attached. But with poetry the case is different; and if
the poet has got a keener perception (or ought to have) of right and
wrong than other men, it is because a sense of moral right and wrong is
required in his art, as a sense of colour is required in painting. I
have said 'art for art's own sake,' but I should have been more precise
in saying 'art for beauty's sake.' Now, in poetry, one half of beauty
and ugliness is purely ethical, and if the poet who deals with this
half, the half which comprises human emotion and action, has no sense
of right and wrong, he will fail as signally as some very dexterous
draughtsman, who should have no sense of physical beauty and ugliness,
and spend his time making wonderful drawings of all manner of diseased
growths. Of course, you may be a poet who does _not_ deal with the human
element, who writes only about trees and rivers, and in this case your
notions of right and wrong are as unnecessary to you as an artist as
they would be to a landscape painter. You use them in your life, but not
in your art. But as soon as a poet deals with human beings, and their
feelings and doings, he must have a correct sense of what, in such
feelings and doings, is right and what is wrong. And if he have not this
sense, he will not be in the same case as the painter or musician who is
deficient in the sense of pictorial or musical right and wrong. The
wise folk who have examined into our visual and acoustic nerves seem
to think, what to me seems extremely probable, that the impression of
æsthetic repulsion which we get from badly combined lines, or colours,
or sounds, is a sort of admonition that such combinations are more or
less destructive to our nerves of sight or of hearing; so, similarly,
the quite abstract aversion which we feel to an immoral effect in
literature, seems to me to be the admonition (while we are still
Platonically viewing the matter, and have not yet come personally into
contact with it) that our moral sense--what I may call our nerves of
right and wrong--is being disintegrated by this purely intellectual
contact with evil. And, moreover, our nerves of right and wrong are,
somehow, much less well protected than our visual or acoustic nerves:
they seem to be more on the surface of our nature, and they are much
more easily injured: it takes a good deal of bad painting and bad music
to deprave a man's eye or ear, and more than we can well conceive to
make him blind or deaf; but it takes less than we think of base
literature to injure a man's moral perception, to make him see and hear
moral things completely wrong. You see the good, simple, physical senses
look after themselves--are in a way isolated; but the moral sense is a
very complex matter, and interfered with in every possible manner by the
reason, the imagination, the bodily senses--so that injuring it through
any of these is extremely easy. And the people whom bad painting or
bad music had made half-blind or half-deaf would be less dangerous to
themselves and to others than those who had been made half-immoral by

"But at that rate," said Cyril, "we should never be permitted to write
except about moral action; if the morally right is the same for the poet
as the pictorially right for the painter. Baldwin, I think, I fear, that
all these are mere extemporized arguments for the purpose of making me
satisfied with poetry, which I never shall be again, I feel persuaded."

"Not at all," answered Baldwin. "I mean that the moral right or wrong of
poetry is not exactly what you mean. If we were bound never to write
except about good people, there would be an end to half the literature
of the world."

"That is exactly what I saw, and what showed me the hollowness of your
theory, Baldwin."

"Because you mistook my theory. There could be no human action or
interest if literature were to avoid all representation of evil: no more
tragedy, at any rate, and no more novels. But you must remember that the
impression given by a play or a poem is not the same as that given by a
picture or statue. The picture or statue is all we see; if it be ugly,
the impression is ugly. But in a work of literature we see not only the
actors and their actions, but the manner in which they are regarded by
the author; and in this manner of regarding them lies the morality or
immorality. You may have as many villains as you please, and the
impression may still be moral; and you may have as many saints as you
please, and the impression may still be immoral."

The road had suddenly emerged out of the olive woods covering the lowest
hill ranges, and in a few minutes they were driving through a perfect
desert. The road, a narrow white ribbon, stretched across a great flat
tract of country: field after field of Indian corn, stripped of its
leaves and looking like regiments of spindles, and of yellowish green
grass, half under water; on either side a ditch full of water-lilies,
widening into sedge-fringed canals, in which the hay of coarse long
grass was stacked in boats for sheer want of dry soil, or expanding into
shallow patches of water scarcely covering the grass, and reflecting,
against the green of the meadow below, the boldly peaked marble
mountains of Carrara, bare, intensely ribbed, veined, and the blue sky
and rainy black clouds. Green brown fields, tufts of reed, hill and sky
reflected in the inundated grass--nothing more, not a house, or shed, or
tree for miles around--in front only the stormy horizon where it touched
the sea.

"This is beautiful," cried Cyril. "I should like to come and live here.
It is much lovelier and more peaceful than all the woods and valleys in

Baldwin laughed. "It might be a good beginning for final Nirvâna," he
said. "These are the sea-swamps, the _padule_, where the serene Republic
of Lucca sent its political offenders. You were locked up in a tower,
the door bricked up, with food enough to last till your keeper came back
once a fortnight; the malaria did the rest."

"It is like some of our modern literature," answered Cyril, with a
shudder; "Maremma poetry--we have that sort of thing, too."

"By the way," went on Baldwin; "I don't think we quite came to the end
of our discussion about what a poet ought to do with his moral
instincts, if he has any."

"I know," answered Cyril, "and _I_ have meanwhile returned to my
previous conclusion that, now that all great singable strifes are at
an end, poetry cannot satisfy the moral cravings of a man."

"You think so?" asked Baldwin, looking rather contemptuously at his
companion. "You think so? Well, therein lies your mistake. I think, on
the contrary, that poetry requires more moral sense and energy than most
men can or will give to it. Do you know what a poet has to deal with,
at least a poet who does not confine himself to mere description of
inanimate things? He has to deal with the passions and actions of
mankind--that is to say, with a hundred problems of right and wrong. Of
course, men who have deliberately made up their mind on any question
of right and wrong, are not shaken by anything in a book; nay, they
probably scarcely remark it. But if you remember that in the inner life
of every man there must be moments of doubt and hesitation, there must
be problems vaguely knocking about, you will understand that for every
man there is the danger that in such a moment of doubt his eyes may fall
upon a sentence in a book--a sentence to other men trivial--which will
settle that doubt for ever, rightly or wrongly. There are few of us
so strong that the moment does not come when we would ask, as a good
Catholic does of a confessor, what is right and what is wrong, and take
the answer which is one of the two that have been struggling within
himself, as definite; and to us, who do not go to confession, a book,
any book casually taken up, may be this terribly powerful spiritual
director. People used to exaggerate the influence of books, because they
imagined that they could alter already settled opinions; now-a-days I
deliberately think that they underrate this influence, because they
forget how it may settle fluctuating opinion. The power of literature
is in this way very great."

"It has been formerly--yes, I grant it," answered Cyril; "but it is no
longer what it was; in our cut-and-dry days it is necessarily smaller."

"On the contrary, much greater now than perhaps almost at any other
time. These are not cut-and-dry days, Cyril, but the very reverse; you
must not let yourself be deceived by a certain superficial regularity,
by railway journeys and newspapers, and a general civilization of
hand-books and classes. In reality there is more room for indirect moral
perversion or enervation in our days than there has been for a good
while; for the upsetting of ideas, the infiltration of effete or foreign
modes of thought and feeling, is much greater in this quiet nineteenth
century than it was, for instance, in the Renaissance or the eighteenth
century. With all their scepticism, the people of those days had a great
fund of tradition about everything; they were floating about a good
deal, I admit, but they were fully persuaded of the existence of certain
very solid moral rocks, to which they might always tie their boat when
it grew over-rough; rocks of religion or deistic mysticism, or of social
_convenances_, which we have now discovered to be by no means granite,
but some sort of sea deposit, of hardened sand, whose formation we
understand and no longer rely upon. The most arrant sceptics of the past
had always one great safety, that they were in a groove; they saw,
understood, sympathized with only their own civilization. What they
thought right they had never seen questioned--they never imagined any
one could regard as wrong; hence the most liberal thinkers of former
days always strike us, with their blindness to all but their own
civilization, as such Philistines. Things have changed since then;
they began to change already, as soon as men began to look at other
civilizations; and the suggestive first-fruit of this early ethnographic
eclecticism may be seen in Diderot's very beastly books: he found that
the South Sea Islanders had not, on the subject of incest, the same
views as Christian folk; whereupon it struck him that those views
might be due to prejudice. It was not the development of the natural
sciences, but rather of the historic and ethnographic, which upset
people's ideas; it was the discovery of how our institutions, moral and
social (hitherto regarded as come straight from heaven), had formed
themselves, and how they were subject to variation. Speaking of poets,
look at a pure man, I believe a very pure man, Shelley, if you want to
understand the necessity of poets having a greater solidity of moral
judgment than the mere Jones and Browns who stick to their shop, and are
not troubled with theories. Add to the influence of scientific doubt,
of the doubt created by books on the origin of ideas and institutions
(showing of what moonshine they are often made), the utterly confusing
effect of our modern literary eclecticism, our comprehension and
sympathy with so many and hostile states of civilization, our jumbling
together of antique and mediæval, of barbarous and over-ripe and effete
civilizations, our intellectual and moral absorption of incompatible
past stages of thought and feeling, with the follies and vices inherent
in each;--sum up all this, and you will see that, with our science
and our culture, our self-swamping with other folk's ideas, we are
infinitely less morally steady than the good sceptics of the days of
Voltaire, who always believed in the supremacy of their own century,
their own country, their own institutions, their own conventionalities;
who were in danger only from their own follies and uncertainties, while
we are in danger from the follies and uncertainties of every past
century from which we have inherited. And you will see, if you look,
that that sceptical eighteenth century, which was very much more
credulous and conservative than ours, was very little divided and upset
in its ideas; certain things were universally admitted, and certain
other things universally rejected; in that day there was always the
master of the ceremonies--Propriety. He knew exactly what could be
permitted: in the dining-room, drunkards yelling filthy jests; in the
drawing-room, polite gentlemen stalking or tripping through their
minuets. It is different now-a-days."

Cyril nodded. "I understand what you mean," he said; "but I don't see
the application yet."

"Well," answered Baldwin, "I will show you one instance of the
application. Have you ever thought over the question of--how shall I
call it?--the ethics of the indecent?"

Cyril stared. "No, it never struck me that there were any. I don't write
indecent things, it doesn't amuse me. I feel not the smallest desire to
do so; if anything, I feel rather sick at such things; that is all."

"That is all for you, but not all for other people. You don't feel
attracted to write on some subjects; well, other people not only feel
attracted, but imagine that it is their duty even if they are not."

"They are swine; I have nothing to do with them." And Cyril looked as if
he had settled the matter.

"But they are not swine; at least, not all of them; or they are not
entirely swine, by any means," insisted Baldwin. "You are not going to
tell me that a man like Walt Whitman is a mere pig. Still there are
things of his which to you are simply piggish. Either Whitman is a beast
or you are a prude."

"That depends upon difference of nature," said Cyril quickly, vaguely
desirous of putting an end to a discussion which brought forward an

"That is merely repeating what I said," replied Baldwin. "But in reality
I think it is _not_ a difference of nature. I think it depends on a
difference of reasoned opinion; in short, upon a sophistication of ideas
on the part of Whitman. I think it depends in him and the really pure
men who uphold his abominations upon a simple logical misconception; a
confusion of the fact that certain phenomena have been inevitable, with
the supposition that those same certain phenomena are therefore
desirable--a confusion between what has been, and could not help being,
and what may be and ought to be. It is the attempt to solve a moral
problem by an historical test."

"I don't understand in the least, Baldwin."

"Why, thus: our modern familiarity with the intellectual work of all
times and races has made people perceive that in past days indecency was
always part and parcel of literature, and that to try to weed it out
is to completely alter the character of at least a good half of the
literature of the past. Hence, some of us moderns, shaken as we are in
all our conventional ideas, have argued that this so-called indecency
is a legitimate portion of all literature, and that the sooner it is
re-introduced into that of the present the better, if our literature is
to be really vital and honest. Now, these people do not perceive that
the literature of the past contained indecencies, merely because,
being infinitely less self-conscious, less responsible than now, the
literature of those days contained fragments of every portion of the
civilization which produced it. For besides what I might call absolute
indecency, in the sense of pruriency, the literature of the past is full
of filth pure and simple, like some Eastern town; a sure proof this,
that if certain subjects which we taboo were not tabooed then, it was
not from any conscious notion of their legitimacy, but from a general
habit of making literature, like the street of some Oriental or mediæval
town, the scene of every sort of human action, important or trifling,
noble or vile; regarding it as the place for which the finest works were
painted or carved, and into which all the slops were emptied. Hence, in
our wanderings through the literature of the past, our feet are for
ever stumbling into pools of filth, while our eyes are seeking for the
splendid traceries, the gorgeous colours above; our stomachs are turned
by stenches even while we are peeping in at some wonderful rose garden
or fruit orchard. I think you might almost count on your fingers the
books up to the year 1650, in which you are sure of encountering no
beastliness--choice gardens or bowers of the soul, or sacred chapels
kept carefully tidy and pure--viz., Milton, Spenser, the _Vita Nuova_,
Petrarch, Tasso--things, you see, mainly sacred or spiritualistic--sort
of churches where only devotion of some sort goes on; but if we go out
to where there is real life, life complete and thoughtless--Shakspeare,
Rabelais, Molière, Ariosto, Cervantes, Aristophanes, Horace--the evil
odours meet us again at every step. Well, now-a-days this has all been
misunderstood. People have imagined that an inevitable nuisance of the
past ought also to be a deliberately chosen nuisance of the present: a
line of argument which appears to me to be similar to that of a man,
who, because the people of Lisbon used, in the days of my grandfather,
to practise a very primitive system of sewerage, should recommend that
the inhabitants of modern London should habitually empty their slops on
to the heads of passers-by. I am crude? Well, it is by calling nasty
things by beautiful names that we are able to endure their existence. I
think that people who should attempt such literary revivals ought to be
fined, as the more practical revivers of old traditions certainly would

Cyril paused a moment. "I think that these sort of offenders, like
Whitman, are not evil-doers, but merely snobs: they offend not good
morals, but good taste."

"That's just such an artistic and well-bred distinction as I should
expect from you," answered Baldwin, rather contemptuously. "I wonder
what that word 'good taste' signifies to your mind? Everything and
nothing. They are offenders against good taste, you say. Well, let
us see how. If I hang a bright green curtain close to a bright blue
wall-paper, you will say it is bad taste; if I set Gray's 'Elegy' to
one of Strauss's waltzes, that is bad taste also; and if I display all
my grand furniture and plate (supposing I had it) to my poor neighbour,
whose chintz chair is all torn, and who breakfasts out of a cup without
a handle, that also is bad taste. Each for a good reason, and a
different one; in each case I am inflicting an injury, too slight and
inadvertent to be sin, against something: the green curtain and blue
paper combination pains your eye; the Gray's 'Elegy' and Strauss's waltz
combination annoys your common sense; the contrast between my riches and
your poverty inflicts a wound on your feelings; you see that all sins
against taste are merely a hurting of something in somebody. So that, if
writing indecent poems is an offence against good taste, it means that
it also inflicts some such injury. That injury is simply, as the world
has vaguely felt all along, an injury to your neighbour's morals."

"But," put in Cyril, "such a man as Whitman has no immoral intention,
nor is he immoral in the sense that Ariosto and Byron are sometimes
immoral. The man is not a libertine, but a realist. He wishes people to
live clean lives; all he says is, that everything which is legitimate,
innocent, necessary in life, is also legitimate and innocent in
literature. And although I should rather select other subjects to write
about, and would rather he did so likewise, I cannot deny that there is
logic in saying that there can be no harm in speaking of that which
there is no harm in doing."

"Yes," said Baldwin, "that is just the argument of such men. And the
answer is simply that there are things which are intended to be done and
_not_ to be spoken about. What you call logic is no logic at all, but
a mere appeal to ignorance. It so happens that the case is exactly
reversed--that there are a great many things which there is not the
smallest immorality in speaking about, and which it would be the most
glaring immorality to do. No one shrinks from talking about murder or
treachery; nay, even in the very domain of sexual relations there need
not be the smallest immorality, nothing at all perverting, in a play
which, like the whole Orestes trilogy, or _Othello_, or _Faust_, turns
upon adultery or seduction; no one also has the slightest instinct of
immorality in talking about the most fearful wholesale massacres. Yet
the world at large, ever since it has had any ideas of good and evil,
has had an instinct of immorality in talking of that without which not
one of us would exist, that which society sanctions and the church
blesses. And this exactly because it is as natural as murder--of which
we speak freely--is the contrary. For, exactly because certain instincts
are so essential and indispensable, Nature has made them so powerful and
excitable; there is no fear of their being too dormant, but there is
fear of their being too active, and the consequences of their excess
are so hideously dangerous to Nature itself, so destructive of all the
higher powers, of all the institutions of humanity; the over-activity of
the impulses to which we owe our birth is so ruinous of all that for
which we are born, social, domestic, and intellectual good, nay, to
physical existence itself, that Nature even has found it necessary to
restrain them by a counter-instinct--purity, chastity--such as has not
been given us to counteract the other physical instincts, as that of
eating, which can at most injure an individual glutton, but not affect
the general social order. Hence, the slightest artificial stimulus is a
danger to mankind, and the giving thereof a crime; for the experience of
all times tells us what modern psychology is beginning to explain--viz.,
the strange connection between the imagination and the senses, the
hitherto mysterious power of awakening physical desires, of almost
reproducing sensation, possessed by the mind, even as the mention of
dainty food is said to make the mouth water, and the description of a
surgical operation to make the nerves wince. So that the old intuition,
now called conventionalism, which connects indecency with immorality, is
entirely justified. Crime may be spoken of just because it is crime, and
our nature recoils therefrom; indeed, I think that now-a-days, when our
destructive instinct (except in small boys and professors of physiology)
is becoming effete, there has ceased to be any very demoralizing
influence in talking even of horrors. But the immorality of indecency is
quite unlike the immorality of--how shall I distinguish?--of ordinary
immorality. In the case of the latter the mischief lies in the
sophistication of the reason or the perversion of the sympathies; as,
for instance, in Machiavel's 'Prince,' or any of a hundred French
novels. In the former case, that of indecency, the immorality lies in
the risk of inducing a mood which may lead to excess--that is, to evil.
And, as a rule, I think this inducing of a mood is the commonest source
of moral danger, whether the mood be a sensual or a destructive one."

"I don't see how you make that out; although I now understand what at
first seemed to me mere inexplicable instincts--founded on nothing."

"Some things are inexplicable, perhaps, but be sure instincts are not
founded on nothing. Misconceptions are mere false conceptions; but a
good half of what people call social convention is based upon a
perfectly correct conception, only mankind has forgotten what that
conception was. Well, I should place the various sorts of demoralization
of which literature is capable in this order: No. 1, and least
dangerous, sophistication of judgment; No. 2, and more dangerous,
perversion of sympathy; No. 3, and most dangerous, inducement of
questionable frame of mind. And I place them thus because it seems to me
that this is the order of facility, and, consequently, universality; I
mean that fewest people can be found who depend sufficiently on their
deliberate ideas, and most effort is required to sophisticate them;
whereas, least effort is required, and most effect produced, in the
matter of inducing a mood; the perversion of sympathy is half-way. Of
course, if we could imagine (as once or twice has actually been the
case) that the moral ideas of a whole people were sophisticated, that
would be the worst, because the least remediable; but, in the first
place, people act but little from ideas, or few persons do, and it
is difficult to alter people's ideas; and, in the second place, the
sophistication of conscience of single individuals is kept in check by
the steadfastness of the mass of mankind, and, consequently, as in such
men as Diderot, reduced to mere talk, without corresponding action. But
a mood is easily induced without the reason even perceiving it, and
the more necessary the mood is to nature, the more easily it will be
aroused--the more unnatural an evil, the less danger of it; the more an
evil is the mere excess of the necessary, the more danger there is of

"It is curious how you marshal ideas into their right places," said
Cyril. "There remains one thing to be said about the ethics of
impropriety. The people who go in for writing upon subjects which thirty
years ago would have distinctly been forbidden, do not all of them write
as Whitman does: they are not all what I should call openly beastly.
They do their best, on the contrary, to spiritualize the merely animal."

"That is just the most mischievous thing they could possibly do,"
interrupted Baldwin. "I know the sort of poets you mean. They are the
folk who say that things are pure or impure, holy or foul, according as
we view them. They are not the brutal, straightforward, naturalistic
school; they are the mystico-sensual. Of the two, they are infinitely
the worse. For the straightforward naturalistic hogs generally turn your
stomach before they have had a chance of doing you any harm; but these
persuade themselves and you that, while you are just gloating over
sensual images, you are improving your soul. They call brute desire
passion, and love lust, and prostitution marriage, and the body the
soul. Oh! I know them; they are the worst pests we have in literature."

"But I don't think they are intentionally immoral, Baldwin."

"Do you think any writer ever was intentionally immoral, Cyril?"

"Well, I mean that these men really intend doing good. They think that
if only some subjects be treated seriously, without any sniggering or
grimacing, there ceases to be any harm in them. They say that they wish
to rescue from out of the mire where prudery has thrown it, that which
is clean in itself; they wish to show that the whole of Nature is holy;
they wish to purify by sanctifying."

Baldwin listened with a smile of contempt. "Of course such words seem
very fine," he said; "but a thing is either holy or is not holy: all
the incense of poetry and all the hocus-pocus words of mysticism cannot
alter its nature by a title. And woe betide us if we once think that
any such ceremony of sanctification can take place; woe betide us if
we disguise the foul as the innocent, or the merely indifferent as the
holy! There is in Nature a great deal which is foul: in that which men
are pleased to call unnatural, because Nature herself chastises it after
having produced it: there is in Nature an infinite amount of abominable
necessity and abominable possibility, which we have reason and
conscience to separate from that which within Nature itself is innocent
or holy. Mind, I say innocent _or_ holy; for innocence and holiness are
very different things. All our appetites, within due limits, are
innocent, but they are not therefore holy; and that is just what
mystico-sensual poetry fails to perceive, and in giving innocence the
rank of holiness it makes it sinful. Do you know what is the really
holy? It is that of which the world possesses too little, and can
never possess too much: it is justice, charity, heroism, self-command,
truthfulness, lovingness, beauty, genius--these things are holy. Place
them, if you will, on a poetic altar, that all men may see them, and
know them, and love them, and seek after them life-long without ever
wearying. But do not enshrine in poetic splendours the merely innocent;
that which bestows no merit on its possessor, that which we share with
every scoundrel and every animal, that which is so universal that it
must for ever be kept in check, and which, unless thus checked by that
in ourselves which is truly holy, will degrade us lower than beasts.
For in so doing--in thus attempting to glorify that in which there is
nothing glorious--you make men think that self-indulgence is sanctity,
you let them consume their lives in mere acquiescence with their lusts
and laziness, while all around is raging the great battle between
good and evil. Worst of all, in giving them this worship of a mystic
Ashtaroth or Belial, you hide from them the knowledge of the true God,
of the really and exclusively holy, of good, truth, beauty, to know and
receive which into our soul we must struggle lifelong with the world and
with ourselves; yes, struggle for the sake of the really holy with that
mere innocence which is for ever threatening to become guilt."

Baldwin paused; then resumed after a moment: "I believe that mankind
as it exists, with whatever noble qualities it possesses, has been
gradually evolved out of a very inferior sort of mankind or brutekind,
and will, I hope, be evolved into a very superior sort of mankind. And I
believe, as science teaches us, that this has been so far effected, and
will be further effected henceforward, by an increased activity of those
nobler portions of us which have been developed as it were by their own
activity; I believe, in short, that we can improve only by becoming
more and more different from the original brutes that we were. I have
said this to explain to you my feelings towards a young poet of my
acquaintance, who is very sincerely smitten with the desire to improve
mankind; and has deliberately determined to devote a very fine talent to
the glorification of what he calls pure passion, pure in the sense that
it can be studied in its greatest purity from the cats on the house

Cyril made a grimace of disgust.

"No, indeed," continued Baldwin, "that poet is not one of the
æsthetic-sensual lot you seem to think. He is pure, conscientious,
philanthropic; but he is eminently unreasoning. He is painfully
impressed by the want of seriousness and holiness with which mankind
regards marriage, and his ambition is to set mankind right on this
subject, even as another young poet-philanthropist tried to improve
family relations in his 'Laon and Cythna.' Now, if you were required
to use your poetical talents in order to raise the general view of
marriage, in order to show the sanctity of the love of a man and a
woman, how would you proceed?"

"I have often thought about that," answered Cyril; "but it has been done
over and over again, and I think with most deliberate solemnity and
beauty by Schiller and Goethe in the 'Song of the Bell' and in 'Hermann
and Dorothea.' Well, I think that poetry can do good work in this line
only if the poet see where the real holiness of such love lies; in the
love not of the male and the female, but of the man and the woman. For
there is nowhere, I think, greater room for moral beauty and dignity
than in the choosing by a man of the one creature from whom only death
can separate him; of the one friend, not of a phase of his life, but of
his whole life; of the one soul which will grow and mature always by the
side of his, and having blossomed and borne fruit of good, will gently
fade and droop together with his. But this is not the most holy part of
the choice, for he is choosing also the mother of his children, the
woman who is to give half their nature, half their training, to what
children must mean to every honest man: the one chance he possesses of
living as he would have wished to have lived, of being what he should
wish to have been, his one chance of redeeming his errors, of fulfilling
his hopes, of realizing in a measure his own ideals. And to me such a
choice, and love in the sense of such a choice, become not merely coldly
deliberate, but passionately instinctive, are holy with the holiness
that, as you say, is the only real one; holy in all it implies of
recognized beauty and goodness, of trust and hope, of all the excellence
of which it is at least the supposed forerunner; and its holiness is
that upon which all other holiness, all the truthfulness and justice
and beauty and goodness of mankind, depends. This is how I view the
sanctity of the love between man and woman; how all the greatest poets,
from Homer to Schiller, and from Schiller to Mrs. Browning, have viewed
it; and it is the only possible view that I can conceive."

Baldwin nodded. "This is how I also see the question. But my young
poet is not satisfied with this: he wishes to make men believe in the
holiness of that which is no more holy, and far oftener tends to be
unholy, than eating or drinking; and in order to make mankind adore, he
lavishes all his artistic powers on the construction of an æsthetical
temple wherein to enshrine, on the preparation of poetic incense with
which to surround, this species of holiness, carefully separated from
any extraneous holiness, such as family affection, intellectual
appreciation, moral sympathy; left in its complete unmixed simplicity of
brute appetite and physical longing and physical rapture; and the temple
which he constructs out of all that is beautiful in the world is a
harlot's chamber; and the incense which he cunningly distils out of all
the sights and sounds of Nature are filthy narcotics, which leave the
moral eyes dim, and the moral nerves tremulous, and the moral muscle
unstrung. In his desire to moralize he demoralizes; in his desire to
sanctify one item of life, he casts aside, he overlooks, forgets, all
that which in life is already possessed of holiness. Thus my young poet,
in wishing to improve mankind, to raise it, undoes for the time being
that weary work of the hundreds of centuries which have slowly changed
lust into love, the male and female into a man and a woman, the life of
the body into the life of the soul; poetry, one of the highest human
products, has, as it were, undone the work of evolution; poetry, which
is essentially a thing of the self-conscient intellect, has taken us
back to the time when creatures with two legs and no tail could not
speak, but only whine and yell and sob--a mode of converse, by the way,
more than sufficient for the intercourse of what he is pleased to call
the typical Bride and Bridegroom."

They had got out of the strange expanse of brown and green swamp, and
after traversing a strip of meagre redeemed land, with stunted trees and
yellowish vines, had reached the long narrow line of pine woods which
met the beach. They passed slowly through the midst of the woods,
brushing the rain-drops off the short, bright, green pines, their wheels
creaking over the slippery fallen needles embedded in the sand; while
the setting sun fell in hazy yellow beams through the brushwood, making
the crisp tree-tufts sparkle like green spun-glass, and their scaly
trunks flush rosy; and the stormy sea roared on the sands close by.

"I think your young poet ought to be birched," remarked Cyril; "and if
anything could add to my aversion, not for poetry, but for the poetic
profession, this would which you have just told me. You see how right I
was in saying that I would have more moral satisfaction in being a
French cook than in being a poet."

"By no means," answered Baldwin. "In the first place, my young poet
ought not to be birched; he ought to be made to reflect, to ask himself
seriously and simply, in plain prose, what ideal of life he has been
setting before his readers. He ought to be shown that a poet, inasmuch
as he is the artist whose material is human feeling and action, is not
as free an artist as the mere painter, or sculptor, or composer; he
ought to be made to understand that now-a-days, when the old rules of
conduct, religious and social, are for ever being questioned, every man
who writes of human conduct is required, is bound, to have sound ideas
on the subject: that, because now-a-days, for better or for worse,
poetry is no longer the irresponsible, uncontrolled, helter-skelter
performance of former times, but a very self-conscious, wide-awake,
deliberate matter, it can do both much more harm and much more good than
it could do before."

They were slowly driving along the beach, among the stunted pine shoots
and the rough grass and the yellow bindweed half buried in the sand,
and the heaps of sea-blackened branches, and bits of wood and uncouth
floating rubbish which the waves had deposited, with a sort of ironical
regularity, in a neat band upon the shore; down here on the coast the
storm had already broken, and the last thin rain was still falling,
dimpling the grey sand. The sun was just going to emerge from amidst
the thick blue-black storm-clouds and descend into a clear space, like
molten amber, above the black, white-crested, roaring sea; it descended
slowly, an immense pale luminous globe, gilding the borders of the
piled-up clouds above it, gilding the sheen of the waves and the wet
sand of the shore; and as it descended, the clouds gathered above it
into a vast canopy, a tawny orange diadem or reef of peaked vapours
encircling the liquid topaz in which the sun moved; tawnier became this
garland, larger the free sky, redder the black storm masses above; till
at last the reddening rays of the sun enlarged and divided into immense
beams of rosy light, cutting away the dark and leaving uncovered a rent
of purest blue. At last the yellow globe touched the black line of the
horizon, gilding the waters; then sank behind it and disappeared. The
wreath of vapours glowed golden, the pall of heaped-up storm-clouds
flushed purple, and bright yellow veinings, like filaments of gold,
streaked the pale amber where the sun had disappeared. The amber grew
orange, the tawny purple, the purple a lurid red, as of masses of
flame-lit smoke; all around, the sky blackened, until at last there
remained only one pile of livid purple clouds hanging over a streak of
yellow sky, and gradually dying away into black, with but here and there
a death-like rosy patch, mirrored deadlier red in the wet sand of the
beach. The two friends remained silent, like men listening to the last
bars, rolling out in broad succession of massy, gradually resolving
chords, of some great requiem mass--silent even for a while after all
was over. Then Cyril asked, pointing to a row of houses glimmering white
along the dark lines of coast, below the great marble crags of Carrara,
rising dim in the twilight--

"Is that the place where my friends will pick me up?"

"Yes," answered Baldwin, "that's the place. You will be picked up there
if you choose."

"I must, you know." And Cyril looked astonished, as if for the first
time it struck him that there might be no _must_ in the matter. "I
must--at least, I suppose I ought to--go back to England with them."

"You know that best," replied Baldwin, shortly. "But before we get
there I want to finish what we were saying about the moral value of
poetry, if you don't mind. I gave you the instance of Whitman and the
mystico-sensual school merely because it is one of the most evident;
but it is only one of many I could give you of the truth of what I
said, that if a poet, inasmuch as he is a poet, has--what the painter,
or sculptor, or musician, inasmuch as they are such, have not--a keener
sense of moral right and wrong than other men, it is because his
art requires it. Consider what it is deliberately to treat of human
character and emotion and action; consider what a strange chaos,
an often inextricable confusion of clean and foul, of healthy and
pestilent, you get among, in penetrating into the life of the human
soul; consider that the poet must pick his way through all this, amidst
very loathsome dangers which he often cannot foresee; and not alone,
but carrying in his moral arms the soul of his reader--of each of his
thousands of readers--a soul which, if he see not clearly his way, if he
miss his footing, or tread in the soft, sinking soil (soft with filthy
bogs), may be bespattered and soiled, perhaps for ever--may be sucked
into the swamp pool or poisoned by the swamp air; and that he must thus
carry, not one soul, but thousands of souls, unknown to him--souls in
many cases weak, sometimes already predisposed to some loathsome moral
malady, and which, by a certain amount of contact with what to the poet
himself might be innocuous, may be condemned to life-long disease. I do
not think that the poet's object is to moralize mankind; but I think
that the materials with which he must work are such that, while
practising his art, he may unconsciously do more mischief than all the
professed moralists in Christendom can consciously do good. The poet
is the artist, remember, who deliberately chooses as material for
his art the feelings and actions of man; he is the artist who plays
his melodies, not on catgut strings or metal stops, but upon human
passions; and whose playing touches not a mere mechanism of fibres and
membranes like the ear, but the human soul, which in its turn feels and
acts; he is the artist who, if he blunders, does not merely fatigue a
nerve, or paralyze for a moment a physical sense, but injures the whole
texture of our sympathies and deafens our conscience. And I ask you,
does such an artist, playing on such an instrument, not require moral
feeling far stronger and keener than that of any other man, who, if he
mistake evil for good, injures only himself and the few around him? You
have been doubting, Cyril, whether poetry is sufficient work for a man
who feels the difference between good and evil; you might more worthily
doubt whether any man knows good from evil with instinct sure enough to
suffice him as a poet. You thought poetry morally below you: are you
certain that you are morally up to its level?"

Cyril looked vaguely about him: at the black sea breaking on the
twilight sands, at the dark outline of pine-wood against the pale sky,
at the distant village lights--vaguely, and as if he saw nothing of it
all. The damp sea breeze blew in their faces, the waves moaned sullenly,
the pines creaked in the wind; the moon, hidden behind clouds, slowly
silvered into light their looser, outer folds, then emerged, spreading a
broad white sheen on the sands and the water.

"Are you still too good for poetry?" asked Baldwin; "or--has poetry
become too good for you?"

"I don't know," answered Cyril, in the tone of a man before whose mental
eyes things are taking a new shape. "I don't know--perhaps."


I have had the sense that now, before these foregoing pages be
definitely printed--before what have been living thoughts and feelings
be irrevocably composed and stiffened, embalmed, distinctly and
unmistakably prepared to last, as things are permitted to last, only in
death--I have had the sense that while yet I can, I must say one or two
more things. But now, I can scarcely tell why, it seems to me as if
there could by no means be anything to say. It is a mood, due to the
moment and place. All about me there is broad, scarce-flickering shadow
on the grass, and stirring of sunlit tree-tops and vague buzzing of
bees in the limes; and across the low ivied wall comes from the black,
crumbly-stoned chapel faint music of organ and white-sounding voices,
which swells and pierces through the silence (as a green reed bud swells
and pierces its soft scaly core) and dies away, making you suddenly very
conscious of twitter of sparrows and chucking of jackdaws; bringing
suddenly close home to you, with the silence, a sense of solid reality.
So, instead of saying what I wished, it seems to me most evident that
there is nothing to say, that there scarcely could have been anything
worth saying. It is enervate, I suppose; but so it is. I wonder how any
one can ever have felt inclined to write about art--how art can ever
have been worth writing about. Everything around seems so incomparably
more interesting does it not, than art; so entirely beyond the power
of writing to convey or imitate. Above, high up, there are two great
branches of lime, apparently printed distinctly on to the pale blue sky,
black wood dividing and subdividing and projecting, green leaves and
light yellow blossom, the sun shining straight through; it seems so
simple. But try and paint it: those two branches, which seem at first so
well-defined, so close together, so closely clapped against the sky, do
you now see how far apart they really are, how separated by a gulf of
luminous air, how freely suspended, poised, at infinite distance, in the
far receding pale blue; those green leaves and yellow blossoms, which
are not green nor yellow, but something shadowy and at the same time
luminous, are clearly defined and yet undefinable; the sunshine which we
thought at first one plain beam of light is now a white, vague sheen, a
shimmer; now one light spark, one tremulous star between the leaves, or
a waving network of rays, long, then short, white, coloured, iridescent,
shaking, shifting, dancing. Paint it, describe it if you have a mind to,
my friend the poet, my friend the painter; I have not.

This is one of those moments when reality, and the enjoyment thereof,
fill one with a sense, self-contemptuous, sceptical, almost cynical, and
yet pleasureable and stoically self-flattering in the recognition of
our own importance, a pervading illogical sense of the futility, the
unreality, the museum-glass-case uselessness of art. It seems as if art
were enjoyed because it has been produced, not produced because it is to
be enjoyed; as if mankind had acquired an elaborate pleasure in its
own works because they are its own works; as if all of us, instead of
passively receiving the impression of beauty in the same way that we
passively perceive the rustle of the branches, the twitter of the birds,
the light upon the grass, our soul staying quietly, as it were, at home,
and receiving these things as visits from nature; went forth, when art
appeals to us, on a sort of journey or grand tour, well provided with
guide-book knowledge, schooled beforehand which road to take, what
turnings of feeling to expect, what baggage of poetic and historic
association to lug with us, what little mole-hill eminences of thought
and feeling to stand upon, morally on tiptoe, looking down upon an
artistic scene upon which we have never before set eyes, and which is
yet as well-known, as drearily familiar to us as is the inside of our

Such is my present mood; fickle, contradictory, unworthy, slightly
apostatising and blasphemous to my own deeper convictions, to my own
written ideas, you say; you, my friend, the poet, who insist upon people
being steadfast, unchangeable in all their feelings, because you poets
keep your own moods quite steady, as photographers keep their victims,
until you have taken the concentrated likeness, and can shift your souls
into another equally steadfast, unchangeable pose. Such is my present
mood, and you may call me what names you please for having it. All that
concerns me is that most certainly this present mood of mine happens to
be the one, of all others, in which I am least likely to be able to
muster up those two or three remarks upon art with which I ought to
conclude, and finally despatch into the limbo of things printed this
collection of studies. The things must be said. If I carry my papers
home, sit down at my table, fix my eyes upon the patterned wall-paper,
I shall, in all probability, get back within five minutes all that the
usual ideas, the usual feelings about art, in the contemplation of that
patterned blankness; all that phantasmagoria of art appreciation for
which we carry all the necessary mechanism, self-manufactured (yet very
neat) out of fragments of culture and philosophy, in a sort of little
travelling case appended to our soul. A fact this, which is suggestive;
for does not our modern, imaginative appreciation of art, do not all
those wondrous beautiful and horrible dreams and nightmares, suggested
to us by a quite plain and unsuggestive picture, statue, or piece of
music, depend a little upon our contemplation of the methodical, zig-zag
and twirligig patterned vacuity of modern life? For I suspect that, in
former days (I confess I do not know exactly when), art may have been
perceived pretty much in the same manner in which we perceive nature:
that the enjoyed perception of a beautiful statue, of a picture, of a
grand song, may have come interrupting, with pleasant interludes of
quiet self-unconscious pleasure, the matter-of-fact, but not monotonous
business of life; even as my work now, my conscientious, deliberate,
attempted work, is for ever being interrupted by the flicker of the
lime-leaf shadows, light and clear, on my paper, by the breeze which
sweeps the branches and carries away the drying manuscript on the grass.

Now it seems to me quite evident that art cannot be any such thing, as
long as its enjoyment or supposed enjoyment is a sort of deliberate
mental gymnastics, which our desire for well-balanced activity, or our
wish to display a certain unnecessary gracefulness of intellectual
motions, impose upon us; setting aside a certain portion of our time for
counteracting, in the artistic gymnasiums (rows of soaped poles, and
hurdles, and ladders, and expanses of padded floor, quite as unlike as
may be from the climbable trees and jumpable brooks which we ought
to meet in our walks), called galleries, concerts, etc., the direful
slackening of our muscles and stiffening of our joints, almost
inevitable in our cramped intellectual shop life of to-day. We writhe,
clinging with arms and legs, up the soaped poles of æsthetic feeling,
slipping and rising again, straining and twisting, to plop down at last
on to the padding and the sawdust; we dangle, with constrained grace,
high in æsthetic contemplation, flying, with a clutching swing, from
idea to idea: distant, oscillating in mid air, like so many trapeze
acrobats; and then we think that an hour or so, every now and then, of
such exercise is all (except brutal slumber) that can be required as
repose in our intellectual life. For we are all of us getting more
and more into the habit of enjoying, not so much art, as the feelings
and thoughts, the theories and passions, for which we make it the
excuse. "Nay," you will say "you yourself have written, are printing,
correcting, and publishing a whole volume of whims and ideas about
art, you yourself are for ever theorising and becoming angry on the
subject--what right have you to object thereto in others?"

None, perhaps; I have never pretended that I am not as bad as my
neighbours; but the whole gist of these my theorisings is that people
should try and take art more simply than they do; that, if not called
upon to try and persuade others to simpler courses, they should not
theorise themselves. By theorising, I mean, incorrectly perhaps, all
manner of irrelevant fantasticating, whether it take the shape of
seeking in art for hidden psychological meanings or moral values, or of
using art merely as a suggestion of images and emotions, the perception
of which infallibly interferes with, and sometimes entirely replaces,
the perception of the art itself. To you, I know, all that I have
written seems extremely narrow, seems to limit excessively the powers of
art, the enjoyments we can derive therefrom. But I think otherwise; I
understand fully that, in the first place, there is included, under the
general name of art, the result of ever so many intellectual activities:
activities of mere psychological perception, of mere mechanical
imitation and handling, which, though belonging quite equally to other
concerns, such as science or handicraft, are yet pleasurable both to him
who exerts and to him who perceives them; I understand that there are
so many different sorts of pictures, statues, and poems, and so many
different kinds of minds to see and read them; I see that so many
questions of mental and physical why and how are connected with every
sort of visible or audible thing, that there is nothing, however utterly
bad and idiotic and abortive, among the productions of mankind (and,
consequently, among the things called works of art), out of which some
sort of intellect may not derive very keen enjoyment. The enjoyment,
however, may be merely similar to that with which a physiologist studies
a disease, or a psychologist a form of vice; and, to my mind, this sort
of enjoyment, which does not depend upon any perception of beauty, is no
more artistic than would be that of such men of science. And my wish is
merely that such pleasure be not substituted where there is an object
to afford, or a mind to receive, the mere simple, honest pleasure in
beauty. Moreover, with regard to your imputation of narrowness, I
think, on the contrary, that, could we break ourselves of our habit of
replacing or alloying real artistic interests with irrelevant matters,
we should (and this is to my mind a great reason for so doing) be
ridding ourselves of a great number of imaginary restrictions to our
enjoyment. For in many, nay, most artistic things there is, in greater
or less degree, beauty and enjoyableness; nor should we always despise
the less, since we cannot always obtain the greater. I do not mean
that all art is equally valuable; such intellectual democracy, Walt.
Whitmanish assertion of the equality of body and soul, good and
evil, high and low, being just the most brutal rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul
dishonesty that I know; but I think that in most art there is something
valuable, and that we ought to make the most of it, and doubtless
should, did not our eternal theorising interfere, with its arbitrary
standard and requirements. Were we guided solely by our feelings, we
should not be ashamed of taking a certain pleasure in the half-dapper,
half-grotesque stone nymphs and tritons, with golden-lichened tresses
and beards of green pond ooze, who smirk among the ill-clipped hedges,
and puff at their horns among the flags and lilies of every abandoned
Prince-Bishop or Margrave's garden, where the apricots ripen against the
palace wall, and the old portraits fade behind the blistered palace
shutters; we should not be ashamed of being just a little the better
pleased for some common dance tune, heard vaguely, and between our work,
from the neighbouring houses; we should not be ashamed of liking our
village church all the more for the atrocious stained glass which we
have decried as vandalism, when the sunlight falls rosy, and golden,
and green, through its monstrosities on to the extremely chaste, but
excessively dreary, grey arches and pillars. We should not be so
hypocritical to ourselves, so exclusive in our adoration of only the
best pictures, and statues, and music, to appreciate rightly whose
great merit we ought (but do not), to appreciate also the small, more
appreciable merit of the less perfect things of art. When, instead of
enjoying, we fantasticate in theory, we not only remove a proportion of
our attention from the work in hand, but also exclude ourselves from
getting the good we might from other things; one man will positively
whip his soul out of enjoying the sweet solemnity of Claude's sea
sunsets, the tragedy pomp of Poussin's black rustling ilex-groves,
and ominous green evening skies, because he seeks in painting a moral
sincerity which is incompatible with a false shadow or a lumpishly
rendered cloud. Another man thinks music ought to be the expression
of dramatic passion, and closes his ears to the splendours of poor
Rossini's vocal arabesques, theory-blinded to the sense that the powers
of creating beauty of the composer of _Tristram_, is after all akin to
the beauty making genius of the composer of _Semiramis_. Meanwhile, he
who merely enjoys is able to enjoy; is able (oh wonder of wonders) to be
what the man of theories never can be: just, because he can be grateful
for every amount of bestowed good.

There is another objection which you may make, which (though perhaps
unformulated) you certainly will feel, against me and my book. You have
an uncomfortable sense that in some way, although our artistic life may
gain, a certain amount of life which goes on in or about art--we do not
clearly know which--is being cramped: a life of the fancy and feelings,
which weave between ourselves and the things which surround us and the
things which are absent, between the present moment and the long-gone
past, strange crossed and recrossed threads, webs of association,
infinitely fine, iridescently connected by almost invisible filaments,
floating and oscillating in the vacuum of our lives, for ever changing,
breaking; reknotting their sensitive filaments. For in most of the
things which we see and hear with free, unpractical mind in the moments
when we belong to ourselves and to the present, there exists a capacity
for importance, nay for fascination, quite independent of beauty and of
the pleasures which beauty can give. There is in such things more than
what they can give alike to every one; there is also what they can give
to each separate; they have, besides the clear language of form, which
is equally intelligible to all men, a half articulate language for every
individual man, a language of associations, vague, poor, if you will,
broken by something which might be a laugh or a sob; an imperfect
irrational language, which is yet, even when spoken by some trifling
thing, by a bar or two of trivial melody, by a door such as we have many
times passed through, or a chair such as we have looked at when not,
as now, empty; by a mere scent or touch; is yet, this mumble-jumble
language, more dear to us than all the eloquence and poetry which our
soul hears from a great work of art. I grant you all this. But I do not
think that such things need be interfered with by looking at art simply
and with straightforwardness; interfered with they cannot be. Nor could
I wish it to be otherwise. For in some ways I do think that almost
better than the mere perception of the work of another, than the mere
perception of statue or picture or poem, is this evolving from out of
ourselves of vague beauty and goodness: our fancy and our feelings do
not create anything enduring, but they are active, they create. You
artists, you poets must be broad awake, for you can and are bound to
give to us the sober realities of beauty; but we who cannot, we can yet
sometimes dream, if but for a moment, of an intangible, vague fairyland;
and of this we must not be cheated. Out of the broken, fragmentary
realities of life there must arise, ever and again for all of us,
strange involuntary visions, which have greater power over us, more
charm for us, than all the art in the world. And of such things art has
no right to be jealous; they are beyond it. And thus, I will confess to
you, as I fasten together these last pages of my book, and rise from the
grass, sere in the sunshine, and sprinkled with daisies in the shadow
of each tree, I will confess to you that more nearly appealing to me,
dearer also, than antique bas-relief or song of Mozart, has been the
vague remembrance, evoked by trivial word or sight, of that early winter
afternoon on the ilex girded battlements of Belcaro, looking down upon
the sere oak-woods, flushed by the low sun, upon the hazy olive slopes
and walls and towers of Siena. And, moreover, I will even confess (as
severest self-chastisement to a writer on art, as complete expiation of
æsthetic dogmatism and fantastications), while we walk across the warm
grass and out through the low archway of black and flakewise crumbling
stone, that I foresee that many a time in the future there will arise
between me and the fresco or picture at which I am looking, a vision
of this old world garden, of the ivied chapel buttress, the flowering
lime, the daisied grass, the copper beech leaves, ruddy and diaphanous,
against the pale, moist English sky; that, sometimes, there will
come into my head something--something ill-defined, pleasurable,
painful--which will make me read only with my eyes; which will make me
(worst humiliation) lose the thread of my theories, of my thoughts, of
my sentence. And, after this confession, I think I can say no more.

  OXFORD, _July 21, 1881._

  _S. Cowan and Co., Strathmore Press, Perth._


In a very few cases, missing punctuation has been added, mainly full
stops. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

On the whole, Vernon Lee's quirky spellings have been retained; they
include, but are not limited to, words like spirt, feretting, devine,
charnal, langour, irridescent, crenelated, crotchetty, tomatos, boddices,
putrifying, braggadoccio, Monna Lisa, trellise, Lionardo, Lorenzo dei

The following changes were made to the text:

statutes became statues in the sentence:
 What like are these statues?

The name Wohlgemuth was misspelled as Wohlgemüth and has been corrected;
similarly, Walpürgisnacht was changed to Walpurgisnacht.

A superfluous "or" was deleted from the phrase "more or or less" in the
 (...)he should invent a more or less casuistic reason (...)

A quotation from Goethe's play "Torquato Tasso" was corrected in keeping
with the German original. Lee quotes it as follows, presumably from

 'Nicht alles dienet uns auf gleicher Weise:
  Wer viel gebrauchen will, gebrauche jedes
  Nach seiner Art: so ist er wohl bedient.'

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Belcaro - Being Essays on Sundry Aesthetical Questions" ***

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