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insights-nowhere as a complete system; and the great diffusion of the works of the two Schlegels, already translated, is an evidence that the subject itself is not uncongenial. But to attain some more complete insight into Art, to produce something higher than acute fragmentary criticism, we must go back to Germany and obtain some idea of it as a science. It is to facilitate this purpose that we propose introducing to our readers the works we have placed at the head of this article.
The definite meaning of the word 'æsthetics' it may not be superfluous to explain. The mere word is vague and poor enough; it was invented by Baumgarten many years ago to express “ the doctrine of emotions” (ab aiolávouai), because Art addresses the feelings rather than the intellect. But this, as all abstract terms, requires elucidation; and this elucidation can only be completely gained by a study of the thing, to which after a few remarks we shall address ourselves.
Æsthetics then is the philosophy of Art. It is not criticism, neither is it technical knowledge, but the theory of the inner life and essence of Art. It is not purely empirical, like criticism, which is the knowledge of peculiar facts or laws, derived from observation of works; but the theory of Art generally—the development of the fundamental Idea through its particular forms and manifestations, thus deducing all secondary laws, all critical canons, from the one primary law. Such is æsthetics as a science—the à-priori theory of Art-the absolute statement of the conditions, means and end of Art, rigorously deduced from philosophical principles. Criticism of course, if it would be philosophical, must grow out of an æsthetical foundation, as the practical and applied form of its philosophy, and so in common conversation or writing, æsthetics and criticism are often confounded. Nor is there much harm in this, if the empirical and philosophical natures of the two be always distinguished. When an incident, character, or sentiment, is said to be not æsthetical, it is meant that such is a violation of the feeling which it is the end of Art to produce. Prosaic passages are therefore nonæsthetical, as also are contradictions of known laws of pleasurable emotion. Criticism is to æsthetics what the practice of medicine is to physiology—the application to
particular cases of the fundamental knowledge of the constitution and organization of man, aided by a mass of particular observations. Æsthetics is the physiology of Art, and as all Art has a philosophical foundation, so it necessarily demands a philosophical elucidation. The necessity for a philosophical fundus, not only to criticism, but to all forms of speculation, cannot, one would think, for an instant be doubted, and certainly not by those imbued with German literature, where the existence of such a stratum lying underneath the whole of practical thought is the one thing prominent and distinctive.
But the deplorable condition in which criticism is tossing restlessly about on the great ocean of uncertainty, on all points deeper than mere technic, may be best ascertained by a consideration of the want of definiteness, the want of unanimity on the first question of all-on the question which must be clearly comprehended and solved before one single step can be taken, containing as it does the germ of all Artwe mean the oft-mooted question-What is poetry? Have there not been innumerable essays, disquisitions, discussions, definitions and prefaces on this subject, and are we nearer the mark? Alas, no! The only cheering sign in the whole matter is the restlessness, which, not satisfied with these vague generalities, ever prompts men to fresh attempts. This is an old question, and one which, from its very simplicity and our familiarity with its subject, is not easily analysed. Hence the vagueness and inapplicability of all definitions. Men do not look steadily and patiently at the thing, but follow its shifting lights, dancing now here, now there, and give us but a sense of their own uneasiness for result. Thus when Schlegel calls it “ the mirror of ideas eternally true," he is not only wrong (as we shall see), but extremely vague--what application can be made of such a definition ? Schiller does not advance the matter by calling it “ the representation of the supersensuous.” Aristotle's celebrated dictum of poetry being an “imitative art,” does not distinguish it from the other arts, and is moreover false. To say poetry is an imitative art is saying nothing if true, but it is not true. An image is defined by Quatremère de Quincey to be “morally speaking the same as its model, though physically
it is some other,” and imitation is “to produce the resem-
“The other shape,
Fierce as ten furies-terrible as hell.” If poetry is an imitative art-imitative of what? of external reality? images of what ? of things seen or felt? Of what is the above passage imitative? “Whoever attentively consi“ders the best passages of poetry will find that it does not in “ general produce its end by raising the images of things, but “ by exciting a passion similar to that which real objects will “ excite by other means $.” This is profoundly true, and goes to the root of the matter. Even in description, when imitation would naturally be more close, the poet does not present images of the thing described. “Descriptive poetry consists, “ no doubt, in description, but in description of things as they " appear, not as they are ; and it paints them, not in their bare “natural lineaments, but arrayed in the colours and seen “through the medium of the imagination set in action by the “ feelings. If a poet is to describe a lion, he will not set about
* On Imitation in the Fine Arts.
† Hegel's theory of language quite settles this point. We will only select one position. The name, according to him, has the same value as the representation, and it supplies its place in memory. Pronounce the name of a lion, and there is no need of the image of a lion, the name being the intellectual existence of the thing.
I Burke, 'On the Sublime and Beautiful.' A book undeservedly neglected. If some of his theories be false, there are, nevertheless, admirable remarks scattered through it.
& Vide Burke, 'On the Sublime,' Part II. Sec. 3, 4,5; and Part V. Sec. 5,6,7.
“it as a naturalist would, intent on stating the truth, but by “suggesting the most striking likenesses and contrasts which “ might occur to a mind contemplating the lion in the state of “awe, wonder, or terror, which the spectacle naturally ex“ cites *.” The error we are uprooting is deeply seated and far-spread; its traces are constantly visible in criticism; and it was so firmly believed in by Dr. Darwin, that he made it the groundwork of his poetry. A signal instance of his misapprehension occurs in the Botanic Garden,' where he thus criticises Pope: “Mr. Pope has written a bad verse in the “ Windsor Forest,
And Kennet swift, for silver eels renown'd.' “ The word "renown'd' does not present the idea of a visible “ object to the mind, and thence is prosaic. But change the “ line thus,
“And Kennet swift, where silver graylings play,' “it becomes poetry, because the scenery is then brought before “the eye.” If this were once admitted it would sweep away the finest poetry, and substitute an animated catalogue of things. This error is, as indeed is all error, an incomplete truth. It is true in part, and only false when applied to the whole. An image that is addressed to the eye should of course be clear and defined, or it is useless. Images in poetry are used to intensify, or render intelligible that which would otherwise not be so clear, and therefore a visual object may be brought to illustrate one that is not visual—but when thus selected it should be correct. So far Darwin's theory is admissible; but he makes the grand mistake of supposing that all images in poetry must be addressed to the eye; forgetting that the other senses, physical and moral (so to speak), are also addressed. Poetry then is not an imitative art, in any sense which may be legitimately given to imitation; nor can we think, with the Marquis de Santillana, that it is an invention of " useful things," which, being enveloped in a beautiful veil, are arranged, exposed and concealed according to a certain calculation, measurement and weight. “ E que es la “poesia, que en nuestra vulgar llamamos gaya sciencia, sino un “ fingimento de cosas utiles, è veladas con una hermosa cobertura,
* Monthly Repository, vol. vii. p. 63.
“ compuestas, distinguidas, escondidas por cierto cuento, peso è “medida ?” Our English critics talk elaborately about its being derived from trocéw, and meaning creation—whereupon many rhetorical flourishes, and the thing is done!
Done certainly, and to the complete satisfaction of the doer, but unhappily to the complete satisfaction of no other mortal, since the only possible value of a definition is, not the mere utterance of rhetoric, but the being able to use a searching, definite expression as a safety-lamp to guide us through the perplexed labyrinth of philosophy; and that no man can grasp any lamp hitherto proffered, arises from the fact of its being, like Macbeth's dagger, a mere phantom “ proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain" of the definer a delusive Will-o'-the-wisp leading the confiding traveller through the muddiest bogs of error. The old scientific writers used to comfort their ignorance by saying that “nature abhors a vacuum,” and so most men think poetry abhors a definition. We, on the contrary, think she abhors nothing, but eminently invites inspection; and “let us therefore,” to use the words of a philosophical critic, “ attempt, in the way " of modest inquiry, not to coerce and confine nature within “the bounds of an arbitrary definition, but rather to find the “boundaries which she herself has set, and erect a barrier “ around them; not calling mankind to account for having “misapplied the word poetry, but attempting to clear up to “ them the conception which they already attach to it, and “ to bring before their minds as a distinct principle that which “ as a vague feeling has really guided them in their actual “ employment of the term *."
We think Poetry demands two separate definitions, each the complement to the other.
1. Its abstract nature, i. e. Art as Art—the “ spirit which informs" architecture, sculpture, painting, music and poetry, considered in its abstract existence.
2. Its concrete nature, i. e. poetry as an individual art, and as such distinguished from the others, and from all forms of thought whatever. These definitions we offer as
1. Poetry is the beautiful phasis of a religious Idea.
* Monthly Repository, vol. vii. p. 60.