Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

stems it may suggest the flowing locks of a maiden's hair, glittering in the light or lifted by the breeze, when,“ winnowed by the gentle air, her silken tresses darkly flow," which, whatever be the origin of the name, may easily have been suggested to those who gave it its present appellation. If a beautiful quality does not consist in this reflex suggestiveness, it is difficult to discover in what it does consist.

The principle here contended for would seem to hold good in all kindred qualities, in all æsthetic emotionsawe, contempt, disgust. Let us try sublimity: a peasant and an astronomer, both looking at the moon, receive the same sensations, yet how different the emotions in the mind of each! They both see a circular disc of silver light, diversified by certain bright and shaded patches; but these sensations, which to the peasant are the basis of a few narrow or ordinary thoughts, are to the philosopher food for a thousand reflections passing “the flaming bounds of Place and Time." The former thinks of the orb as a luminous body in the sky about the size and distance of the sun, appearing at intervals and giving light by night, and beyond this the object is little or nothing to him. The latter, on the other hand, looks upon it as a satellite with a magnitude about one-fiftieth smaller than that of our earth, as two or three hundred thousand miles away, and revolving round our globe by very peculiar movements; he looks upon its lines and patches as mountains and valleys, cliffs and volcanoes; he looks upon it as the chief cause and regulator of the tides ; he looks upon it as travelling in implicit obedience to the laws of gravitation inherent in itself, in the earth, in the sun, and in all the heavenly bodies; he looks on it as an agent transmitting borrowed light; he looks on it as a means of calculating the distance of the sun from the earth and of solving many other important astronomical problems; he sees in it the Artemis of the Greeks and the Diana of the Romans; and he recalls the mythological stories and poetic associations attached to this orb in the imaginative literature of the ancients; and thus to him the moon becomes very sublime. Now it is evident, as Berkeley long ago observed, that none of these suggestions are in the moon itself, else would the peasant experience them as well as his companion; they must therefore be attached to the object by the mind, and subsequently drawn upon as original qualities. It would be easy to trace this principle in ugliness and meanness, but the process is obvious and unnecessary; we therefore return to beauty.

If it be objected that a fern, being the work of nature, could not originally have suggested lace, which is a work of art, I answer that the fern, therefore, could not originally have been so beautiful as it is now. This suggestion is in addition to its other suggestions: that a plant now suggests a work of art is no reason why it should not originally have suggested works of nature alone.

Let us take another example of beauty, say a primrose. A primrose is beautiful because of its suggestions; to those to whom it suggests many pleasant things it is very beautiful, and to those to whom it suggests scarcely any it is hardly at all beautiful. But what can a primrose suggest? A primrose, in the first place, may suggest its own sweet fragrance, while in the next place its form suggests a variety of other flowers to which it bears a greater or less resemblance — the primula, polyanthus, pansy, violet, cowslip, anemone, cineraria, for example. Its colour is pure and bright and pleasant, and thus may, with its shape, suggest a variety of other objects of a similar pure and bright colour. It may suggest cream, or pine-apple, or ivory, and the many beautiful articles into which that commodity is wrought; it may suggest the un blemished human skin; it may suggest a little butterfly lighted on a bank and fanning its wings in the warm air; it may suggest a bright button, or a pretty shell on the seashore, or a “rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear.” It is like a coin, or a gold or silver medal, or a glowworm radiating its beams in all directions, or it burns like a candle shining in the dark, or like a “good deed in a naughty world;" it mellows like a planet rising through the shade, suspended in heaven, steadfast, silent, and divine; or, lastly, it may suggest the sun himself, the source of light and heat and life. To a poetic mind it might suggest a hundred other things, but these I have mentioned will serve our purpose. Now it is such suggestiveness as this, and such alone, that constitutes the objective element of beauty. Let a boor and a poet both look at a primrose, and each will have the same sensations of colour, figure, and shape. Consider, however, the difference between the subsequent effects of these sensations in the two minds, and then inquire in what this difference consists if not in the number of suggestions and the amount of emotion consequent upon them. To a poet, the flower, besides begetting wonder and awe at the perfection of its workmanship, and the intricate simplicity of its structure, which reaches sublimity, will suggest images, resemblances, analogies, associations, and reminiscences of the type called pleasurable; to the boor it will suggest nothing perhaps except its own odour. Wordsworth puts it well when he says, “A primrose by a river's brim a yellow primrose was to him, and it was nothing more." It is this fertility of suggestiveness that constitutes a poetic mind, and the absence of it that causes the want of poetic appreciation. If this proposition be true and the above examples be held correct, it were superfluous to go through the other objects before named with a view of proving that the beauty in each case consists in suggestiveness. Poetry appears to be nothing more than the liberation of beautiful analogies. A poet must first have a variety of experiences; he must then combine, associate, compare, and elaborate them, so as to express in language what he already feels as unworded truths, as latent suggestions, as hidden influences.

[graphic]

But it may be objected, can we have suggestions which we do not recognise or associations which we do not perceive? I reply, Multitudes; and a little reason will convince us of this fact. We cannot have feelings which we do not feel; we have the feelings but we do not recognise their cause. Suggestions, analogies, resemblances have passed through the understanding and operated on the soul, but with such celerity that their presence was never detected though their effect was felt; it is a recognition of these analogies when expressed by others that constitutes a genuine appreciation of poetry. In reading Milton's “ L'Allégro” or “Il Penseroso” for the first time, we recognise the similes and metaphors as the unnoticed causes of former feelings in our own mind, and we rejoice in the elaboration by another of what we never could have elaborated for ourselves. When we come across such miniature eclogues as are contained in the following expressions in the first of the above-named poems—“ Laughter holding both his sides; the lark startling the dull night, from his watch-tower in the skies, till the dappled dawn doth rise; the cock, with lively din, scatters the rear of darkness thin, and stoutly struts his dames before; the eastern gate, where the great sun begins his state, robed in flames and amber light, the clouds in thousand liveries dight; mountains on whose barren breast the labouring clouds do often rest; towers and battlements bosomed high in tufted trees; the chequered shade; the spicy nut-brown ale; the busy hum of men; ladies whose bright eyes rain influence; against eating cares; married to immortal verse; the melting voice through mazes running; the chains that tie the hidden soul of harmony,” &c.; or when we encounter the following in the second of the abovenamed poems—“The gay motes that people the sunbeams; looks commercing with the skies, thy rapt soul sitting in thine eyes; forget thyself to marble ; a sad, leaden, downward cast; Philomel will deign a song in her sweetest, saddest plight, smoothing the rugged brow of night; the wandering moon riding near her highest noon, like one that had been led astray; oft as if her head she bowed stooping through a fleecy cloud; the curfew's sullen roar; such notes as drew iron tears down Pluto's cheek; civilsuited morn; kercheft in a comely cloud; a shower ending with minute drops from off the eaves; pine or monumental oak; the bee with honeyed thigh; the dew-feathered sleep; storied windows, casting a dim religious light;"—when, I say, we meet with such idyllic epithets as these, do we not seize upon them as our own by prescription, though we never before contemplated the expressions ? Do we not claim the resemblances as old friends whom we have long known by the tones of their voice but whose faces we had never before beheld ? Do we not recollect that we have felt all their influence before, but have never arrested the thoughts which produced them, have never introduced those influences to the understanding, were never able to clothe them in appropriate language, or perhaps to utter them at all ?

[graphic]

It need not surprise that we should thus feel the effect of activities we do not recognise while physical science is full of similar facts. Physical philosophers tell us that colour is caused by light vibrating variously on the retina, but always with incredible rapidity, the swiftest vibrations being those caused by violet, which gives six hundred and ninety-nine millions of millions per second, and the slowest being those caused by red, which gives four hundred and seventy-four millions of millions per second ! “Thus the sensation of red is produced by imparting to the optic nerve four hundred and seventy-four millions of millions of impulses per second, while the sensation of violet is produced by imparting to the nerve six hundred and ninetynine millions of millions of impulses per second. At this prodigious rate is the retina hit by the waves of light.” 1 Not only has mankind for thousands of years been entirely oblivious of this fact, though daily experiencing its effect, but even now those who know and believe it are as far

1 Professor Tyndall, “Notes on Light,” p. 35.

« ПредишнаНапред »