« ElőzőTovább »
Most humor is connected, not with what is essential, natural, and universal, but with what is limited, exceptional, and extravagant. The mass of humor, in order to be current, must be so connected: “And so from hour to hour it ripes and ripes, and then from hour to hour it rots and rots." In Shakespeare, instead of humor being bound to evanescent circumstances, and dying when they die, the circumstances are bound to immortal humor, and must live because that lives.
Primarily, we find the source of Shakespeare's lasting and growing power in the inspiration of his genius; but we must also esteem it as a very important, though secondary condition of his influence, that his language was English. It was a happy circumstance that this language was in itself a grand medium of expression, more than equal even to the measure of his own greatness; the condition in which he found it was also as fortunate. It was in that middle stage which always seems the best adapted to embody the representative poet of a literature and of a race; and Shakespeare must now surely be considered the representative poet not only of the English race, but also of English literature, however numerous henceforth may be its diversities and modifications. His genius was born in due time, and English speech was ready for its birth. The elements of which this composite language consisted were no longer crude and uncombined: their separateness of origin appeared no longer in disjointed and unassimilated graftings; all had lost their differences; and, with the native Saxon root as a centre of vital unity, constituted a whole, complete alike in music and in meaning, adequate to whatever man would sing or say. Thus fresh, strong, rich, sweet, it answered to the passions and the thoughts of that new, that stirring age ; it was cultivated and moulded from the energies and wants of the inward nature, and was yet free from those artificial influences to which it has since been subjected. It was a fit dialect, when it came to the prime of its vigor, for the spirit of Shakespeare; and exactly at that season the spirit of Shakespeare was poured into it. If the spirit of Shakespeare gave to it such mental treasures as an individual genius never gave before to a national tongue, in return, no national tongue ever gave to an individual genius such a compass of glory as Eng
lish has given, and is destined to give, to the spirit of Shakespeare. This, the tongue of four or five millions merely when Shakespeare wrote, is now heard over the continents and islands of the globe ; and wherever it is read or spoken, the name of him who for an obscure theatre once composed his dramas, is sounded with reverence and rapture.' Who can conceive the immensity of that public which the English language prepares for Shakespeare with the growth of generations? The English language spreads in Europe ; it is the language of this great and increasing American nation; it will be that of the millions who are to fill Australia, and to cover every habitable spot that gleams in the Pacific; if Britain continues to sway India, authority, profit, and ambition will confer dominance on her language, and extend it through many regions of Asia ; but wherever this language is known, there Shakespeare's genius will be also known. Some have fears that, in such diffusion, English must be broken into a variety of dialects, and be lost in a chaos of corruptions and adaptations. We do not share in these fears. The English language has not, by means of elementary roots, the independent, native sufficiency which the Greek or the German has; it has, however, an admirable substitute, in the facility with which it naturalizes new and foreign words. The facility of annexing and incorporating words is as great in the English language, as that of annexing and incorporating territory is in the English government. We remember a time, not long since, when English critics wailed dolefully over the corruption of the language by peculiarities of American phraseology; but of late we have seen not a few English critics adopt some of our most exceptional peculiarities, merely on account of their expressiveness, and without our justification of circumstance and necessity. But there are two volumes on which we rest our strongest confidence for the preservation, through all vicissitudes, of our language in its genius and its unity; - one volume contains the writings of Shakespeare; the other, the authorized translation of the Bible ;– for both will continue to be read and studied, each in its own sphere, while the mind of man has thought for the natural and the supernatural, — while idea, incident, character, and passion impart interest to life, — while God, existence, eternity, and mystery give infinite meaning unto death.
Art. III. – ART AND ARTISTS.
1. Vite de' piu eccellenti Pittori, Scultori, ed Architetti, G. Vasari.
1550. 2. WINCKELMANN'S Werke : Donanöschingen. 1825. 3. Lessing's Werke: Laocoon. Berlin. 1840. 4. GOETHE's Werke : Italiänische Reise ; Einleitung in die Propyläen ;
Der Sammler und die Seinigen, &c. , Stuttgart. 1840. 5. Handbuch der Geschichte der Malerei in Italien seit Constantin dem
Grossen. Von Dr. F. KUGLER. Berlin. 1837. 6. Handbuch der Kunstgeschichte. Von Dr. F. KUGLER. Stuttgart.
1842. 7. Kunstwerke und Künstler in England, Paris, und Deutschland. Von
Dr. G. F. WAAGEN. Berlin. 1837. 8. Handbuch der Archäologie der Kunst. Von K. 0. MÜLLER. Bres
lau. 1848. . A. 2 2
The opening of our public galleries of art, and of the collections of the works of our own artists, in our principal cities, at this time, leads us to call attention, by the above list, to a few of the many valuable works of research and criticism with which, from time to time, the study of art has been enriched. The great wealth of German literature in this department is too well known to need to be more than referred to, and the fact that nearly all the most valuable works on this subject in that language, as well as in Italian, are now accessible in English translations, puts it in the power of every one, whose taste and leisure may lead him in that direction, to possess himself of the most reliable results of art, history, and criticism. In this connection, the works of Professor Waagen of Berlin recommend themselves to all those already tolerably versed in the history of art, as of great value in giving the general results at which modern criticism has arrived, in applying the maxims and principles of the earlier German pioneers in art,
– Winckelmann, Lessing, and Goethe. To this is added a profound knowledge and critical love of all the minutiæ of art, which give a peculiar charm to his writings, and a great confidence in the judgments he pronounces. For general reading and reference the works of Vasari and Kugler are too well known and appreciated to require any special recom
mendation, while the learned and profound works of K. 0. Müller, greatly valued in Germany, need only time to take their stand in general estimation beside more popular works. Where special and direct illustration is desired, the Gallery of Casts and Sculpture in our Athenæum is, as is well known, particularly rich in those works which have been made marked objects of criticism and admiration by critics of all time, while the collection of pictures and prints in the same institution, and the prints in possession of Harvard College, put it within the reach of every student to become critically familiar with all the principal existing works of art.
Art has existed in all nations in some proportion to their advancement in civilization and refinement. Its origin must be found in a natural power of the human mind to reproduce circumstances or events at some point in their progress. Its object is to instruct and please, by giving representations of what is most beautiful and elevating in the world. The art of painting, for instance, is a means employed by the painter to represent what he has seen in nature, and what he has felt and thought in his own mind and experience.
Practically, what the painter desires to effect, is to make others see exactly what he has seen in nature or in his own mind, and to see it in such a way that it shall produce on them precisely the same effect which it has done on himself. This is the point at which art joins itself to the moral world, and wherein conscientiousness develops itself in the artist. He has learned that certain natural effects give rise to certain sentiments in those who experience them, and that in proportion to the perfection of the artist is the certainty of the effect. It follows that this power of absolute influence which the good artist feels, and which enables him to count almost at will upon certain results, must in an equal degree render him responsible that what he presents shall combine in one the good, the true, and the beautiful. And not only this, but that he should represent his works of art on the ascending, and not on the descending scale; that is, that his work should not be more complete than the idea which it contains, but should rather suggest more than it tells, leading the mind from the story involved in it to the sentiment which gave it birth.
Herein is the necessity of truth in art, that Nature contains infinite secrets in all her manifestations, and that the artist's power lies, first, in seeing certain of these secrets in nature, and secondly, in reproducing that nature with such exactness as that others, shall perceive the same, from the truth with which he has selected and the beauty with which he has reproduced just those qualities in nature which he has found to produce a certain effect upon himself.
Of course, in speaking of nature in these connections, we mean the whole natural world, including the moral and spiritual elements, as distinguished from God and the human soul. In other words, as comprising all those elements which lie between God as the teacher and governor, and man as the taught and governed. All this middle ground we would include as the region of nature and the sphere of art. God uses the natural world, in all its variety and infinity, but in a different degree and measure, as a means of teaching and of governing (which is but a part of teaching) individual men and women. In doing this he gives to certain individuals a particular aptitude to perceive and to communicate (each in his own proportion) what teaching and guidance is intended to be conveyed by some special operation in nature.
These men, according to their gifts, we call teachers, religious and secular, artists, poets, and by many other names. In proportion to the faithfulness with which they deliver the lesson they have been taught, are they great men. Their mission is to communicate to others what God has shown to them through the natural world, in all its truth, beauty, and goodness. For what comes from God must be perfectly good, and perfectly beautiful, and perfectly true. Here we come to what may, by way of distinction, be called merit in the artist, spiritually considered. In the providence of God, it is ordained that no teacher shall have all perception directly communicated to him by God's immediate gift. Most of those gifted with the faculty of teaching have a direct perception of God's lessons through nature only in one aspect. The exercise of faith and pupilage in these consists in gaining by diligence, and by the use of intermediate means, the perceptions necessary to the complete view of God's teaching.