Imatges de pàgina

circumstance. It is not from a similar cause that the power of music is so limited. Musical tones are like the painter's colors, and are the same in London as in Paris. They are not affected by the Babylonian curse. Some musical composers have endeavoured to convey fixed ideas to their audience: but except in the mere imitation of natural sounds, they have, I believe, always failed. If a thousand persons were desired to interpret the precise meaning of a new musical composition that trusted for its effect entirely to its intrinsic power of expression, and was unaccompanied by words and unconnected with particular associations, the listeners would not be more numerous than the opinions. They might all agree that the music was melancholy or cheerful, simple or scientific, beautiful or sublime, but this would be the extent of their unanimity. They might easily agree as to its general character, but not as to its particular meaning. I almost fear that these remarks will not only be unpopular but offensive. Many of the votaries of music are so bigotted in their faith and so ardent in their temperament, that they have no toleration for those daring freethinkers who either doubt or deny the supposed attributes of their idol. Let me, however, give music its just praise. It cannot convey defined and fired ideas ; but still it obtains, by whatever means, a powerfu linfluence on the passions. It kindles the imagination, and softens and subdues the heart. Of all sensual gratifications, it is the most nearly allied to those influences which operate immediately on the intellect, and by this congeniality or proximity, it exercises through the thin partition of the senses, an indirect and highly beneficial power upon the intellect itself. To return to the critic alluded to in the early part of this article. He says that “the object of art is to produce an effect not in nature, but beyond it and superior.” If nothing can be said to be in nature that is not the servile copy of individual models and

actual details, the critic is right; and the subjects of high art, are superior to nature. But this is not the case. The perfection of art is nature and nothing more. The most exquisite and refined conceptions of female loveliness that ever glowed in the mind of a Raffaelle are as true to nature as the vulgar and literal representations of a Teniers. The characteristic difference in the productions of these two artists consists not in the degree of nature which they embody, but in the kind or order of it. Raffaelle selects, generalizes, and combines his materials with consummate taste and a noble feeling for the beautiful and sublime. Teniers is content to copy nature in her humblest forms, and depends more upon his fleshly vision than his inward eye. But that high truth which men of genius arrive at through the imagination, is as much a portion of nature as the meanest detail that is obvious to the ordinary spectator. A great artist views not objects with a microscopic eye, nor subjects them to rule and measurement, nor confines his studies to individual forms or accidental circumstances; but generalizes his notions of beauty, and gathers a store of glorious images from the wide range of nature. Thus it may often happen that a common observer, who is ignorant of the less obvious charms of nature, may fancy her surpassed on the artist’s canvas, because, less favored than her worshipper and representative, he has not seen her in her secret places, nor imbibed the breath and spirit of her beauty. They who have studied nature with a poet's or a painter's reverence have rarely been guilty of the almost blasphemous supposition that she is to be excelled by the work of mortal hands. The most imaginative conceptions of beauty are nothing but the reflection thrown upon the mind by the actual loveliness of nature. Sir Joshua Reynolds has observed, that we can no more form an idea of beauty superior to nature than we can form an idea of a sixth sense, or any other excellence out of the limits of the human mind. Burke has also maintained

that the power of imagination is incapable of producing anything

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absolutely new, and that it can only vary those ideas which it has received from the senses. To praise the Fornarina of Raffaelle or the landscapes of Claude on account of their out-doing nature, is a mockery of art. In both instances a competent judge recognizes that perfect truth and consistency which never could exist in any work of art that was “not to be found in nature.” That which is out of nature must be unnatural. There may be mysteries in a religious creed above human reason, but there is no excellence in art which is above nature.

“Nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean; so o'er that art
Which you say adds to mature, is an art
Which nature makes.”
Winter's Tale.

He who says he has met with no living form so lovely as the Fornarina or the Venus de Medicis, adduces no proof that such loveliness is inconsistent with actual nature. Many a lover has recognized a far finer form in the first sweet conqueror of his heart. Much depends upon the tone and character of the observer's mind. A poet or a painter sees a great deal more in a figure or a landscape than a pedant or a mathematician. Love and enthusiasm and sensibility have a wonderful effect upon the eye, and enable it to discover a thousand graces that escape a dimmer vision. Lord Byron was so struck with the superiority of living nature to the noblest works of art, that in his Don Juan he calls

the whole class of sculptors “a race of mere impostors.”
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“I’ve seen much finer women ripe and real
Than all the nonsense of their stone ideal.
I'll tell you why I say so, for 'tis just
One should not rail without a decent cause:
There was an Irish lady, to whose bust
I ne'er saw justice done, and yet she was
A frequent model; and if e'er she must
Yield to stern Time and Nature's wrinkling laws,
They will destroy a face which mortal thought
Ne'er compassed, nor less mortal chisel wrought.”


The blank verse of the regular drama has been thought by some critics to be as open to objection as the singing at the Opera. Now even supposing for a moment that they are both inconsistent with truth and nature, the latter is at all events far more so than the former. Then why defend the greater sin by the lesser But I do not admit that the blank verse of Shakespeare interferes in the slightest degree with that illusion or vraisemblance on the regular stage which is so constantly interrupted or destroyed by the singing at the Opera. In the first place, dramatic verse is not like heroic verse. It is freer and more flexible in its construction, and approaches almost as nearly to colloquial language as does well-written prose. The mind of the hearer is never shocked by its improbability, as it is by the singing of warriors and sages on all possible occasions, whether trivial or important. Who can forbear to smile when he hears some bloody veteran detailing his plans or breathing out his last breath upon the field of battle in a flourish of quavers ? Dramatic blank verse is far more natural than the prose of Macpherson's Ossian, which almost seems to require to be chanted. Neither is the number of the feet so rigidly regulated as in other forms of verse. Dr. Johnson used to repeat with approbation the remark of some unknown critic, that blank verse is verse only to the eye, and that there are very few reciters of blank verse who enable the hearer to say where the lines end or begin. In real life, men unconsciously measure out and harmonize their language, and in this way adapt it to their several circumstances. When a man addresses a large assembly of his fellow-creatures upon some solemn and important occasion, his words are better chosen and his sentences more harmonious than when he is giving some ordinary domestic directions to his servants, or talking over the frivolous intelligence of the day; and this is not always an indication of a desire of display, but in fact more frequently arises from the deep in

terest which the speaker takes in his cause or subject. It is the same in the private circle. Our tones are grave and our words are measured when we wish to be impressive or are labouring with weighty thoughts. When a person of sensibility is detailing his sorrows and misfortunes, how soft and slow is his utterance, how smooth and rythmical are his sentences ! His voice is subdued into a gentle though querulous murmur, like that of the “complaining brooks.” How musical are a lover's words ! Shakespeare attends to these matters with “a learned spirit.” In his comic scenes he often allows the verse to run into ordinary and irregular prose. His clowns speak like clowns; but when a king speaks it is with that majestic measurement of his words which we look for in the representative of dignity and power. Thus there is nothing out of nature or that serves to destroy the dramatic illusion in the blank verse of Shakespeare, but there is no authority or precedent in real life for the conjunction of music and action


in the Lyric drama.

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