« PreviousContinue »
At the cost of much labor and time, with “I believe the reader will now see that in the reward of much delight, and the these mosaics, which the careless traveler is in penalty of painful disappointment, we the habit of passing by with contempt, there carefully read in Venice Mr. Ruskin's is a depth of feeling and of meaning greater three volumes, verifying or refuting his of modern times; and without entering into
than in most of the best sketches from naturo statements and opinions by an appeal to any question whether these conventional reprethe churches, palaces, and pictures them- sentations are as good as, under the required selves. As the closing result of our limitations, it was impossible to render them, labors, we found the entire work the base- they are at all events good enough completely less fabric of a vision, glowing and intense to illustrate that mode of symbolical expression with the ornate coloring of words, and which
appeals altogether to thought, and in no
wise trusts to realization; and little, as in the beauteous with the filigree-woven tissue of poetic fancy. But the fairy structure, is likely to be believed, the fact is that this
present state of our schools, such an assertion so beauteous in the distance, vanished kind of expression is the only one alloroable in into thin air upon the near approach of noble art."* scrutiny. Foundation it had none, or such only as was false and fancy-framed. “The untraveled English reader” who In the end we admire in this great work “has no more idea of an olive tree than if just two things—the illustrations and the it grew in the fixed stars,” will be saved eloquence--especially the eloquence with from the trouble, and even from the dewhich we shall play and sport in delight sire of traveling in search of this knowto the end of time, as children do with ledge, by referring to the drawing which soap-suds, blowing them into bubbles and Mr. Ruskin has so considerately published wondering at the rainbow colors taken as a test at once of his own superior infrom all that is lovely in earth and beau- sight and of the world's contrasted ignoteous in heaven. But of all Mr. Ruskin's rance. Sad it is that the ignorant world baseless eloquence, the rapture on “the should, for well-nigh eight hundred years, olive-tree” is the most astounding. We have looked upon these olive tree mosahave again and again looked into the ics unconscious of their “ depth of feeling cupola of St. Mark, then at Mr. Ruskin's and of meaning,” insensible to the “ symillustration, and then again have once bolical expression which appeals altogether more drunk in the eloquent words-al- to thought”-an expression which assurways, however, with the same impression edly ought not to have been overlooked, -that of magnificent absurdity. With as we are told emphatically in italics that that literary chivalry which gives to Mr. it is the only one allowable in noble art.” Ruskin's warfare the spirit of knight- Sad it may be in the opinion of Mr. Rus. errantry, he challenges the untraveled kin that "the untraveled English reader" English reader to tell ” him “what an has been so long insensible to these inolive tree is like.” He assures us that “at scrutable beauties; but to our mind there least one third out of all the landscapes is something far sadder still: that he painted by English artists have been should fall an unconscious victim to a chosen from Italian scenery;" that shadowy eloquence, which he has no means "sketches in Greece and in the Holy Land of knowing to be just as worthless as it is have become as common as sketches on alluring. Such of the public as read for a Hampstead Heath ;" that “the olive higher end than to feel the ear tickling tree is one of the most characteristic with pleasurable sound, will do well to and beautiful features of all southern test Mr. Ruskin's brilliant fallacies by the scenery;” and yet, that “the untraveled plainer prose of more truthful writers. English reader " " has no more idea of an For example, as an antidote to Mr. Rusolive tree than if olives grew in the fixed kin's Byzantine mania, take the following stars.” Then the reader's sympathies are sane passage from M. Rio : appealed to—“For Christ's sake," " for the beloved Wisdom's sake," "for the
"Whenever we meet with a Madonna of a ashes of the Gethsemane agony," the blackish hue, dressed in the Oriental manner, olive tree ought not to have been so used with pointed and disproportionately elongated The reader thus highly wrought, and the the whole painted in a style much resembling
fingers, bearing a deformed infant in her arms, writer exalted to frenzy-pitch, both at that of the Chinese; or a Christ on the Cross, length collapse into the following conclusion :
* See "The Stones of Venice," vol. iii. chap. 4. VOL XLIV.-NO. III.
which would seem to have been copied from a be moulded into the spiritual types of the recently exhumed mummy, did not the streams Christian faith. Nevertheless, Byzanof blood which flow from each wound, on a tine art, the extinction of the classic, greenish and cadaverous body, announce that formed for the Christian the matrix of its life is not yet extinct; in both these cases it may be affirmed, without fear of mistake, to be new birth. The Byzantine Madonna, a work conceived by Greek artists, or executed described by M. Rio, as of " blackish hue, under their influence."
dressed in Oriental manner, in a style
much resembling that of the Chinese,” Byzantine art was, as we have said, at was, in fact, the rude type and germ of once of classic art the grave and of Christ- that spiritual beauty in which she was at ian the cradle; but, strange to say, as we last exalted as the queen of heaven, and have already seen, one thousand years had the worshiped of earth. With what arpassed away since the birth of Christ, and dor does the student trace the progressive yet Christian art still slumbered in preca- steps from this first repulsive form to the rious infancy-a sleep, too, which had the last perfected beauty — from a Madonna semblance of death. But the hour of its painted by St. Luke to the “ Virgin most awakening growth had come. The intel- pure” of Angelico or Perugino - " Thou ligence of Italy bursting into new life, ex- resplendent star, which shinest o'er the pressed itself in a newly-created beauty. main, blest Mother of our God, and ever Christian art then first began to make Virgin Queen !** With what tender itself worthy of the country of its nativity, watchfulness does the traveler in Italy to take from the Italian sky its serenity, mark the gradual transitions from the from the Italian mind its ardor and ima- lowest type of womanhood to the purity gination. The thoughts which gained which belongs to heavenly love, and that from the poet the melody of words, sought beauty which is religion! It were, indeed, from the painter the beauty of forms; and a labor of no common interest to trace, the epic which described paradise, purga- with the progressive growth of Italian art tory, and hell, inspired the pictures of and civilization, the corresponding exaltaGiotto and Orgagna, where Christ, come tion of each Christian portraiture ; how to judge the world, assigns to man his the St. John became more and more worhappiness or woe. But the poetic thought thy of the Saviour's love; how St. Peter was naturally matured before the pictorial grew into the rock of the Church ; with form; and thus while Dante wrote in the what power and dignity St. Paul bore thirteenth century, Leonardo, Raphael, the sword of the Spirit ; and, finally, as and Michael Angelo did not paint till the the highest consummation, how divinity fifteenth. By what gradual steps and shone through the features of the Saviour's successive stages the poetry of Christian face. truths developed themselves into matured The manner and the means by which and perfect pictorial forms, has always Christian art thus rose into life, health, seemed to us an inquiry of the most vital and beauty, out of the sieklied cradle of interest: How far the progression of the dark ages, where it so long slumbered Christian art was resultant from the ad- in the night — the laws which thus govvancement of civilization; how far deerned its organic growth, open a sphere pendent upon the revival of classic learn- to criticism both subtle and extended. ing, or upon a renewed appeal to nature; Entering on such a labor, we should how far incident to the characteristics of trace and strive to determine those subtle race or the beauties of climate; how much laws of nature by which the immaterial the offspring of a sensuous and imaginative thought and emotion so wondrously mould religion; or, finally, to what extent the themselves into form and expression in independent creation of these great artists, the human countenance and frame. We who seem to have come, as it were, by a should have to investigate the relation special providence just when most wanted. subsisting between representative minds
In one sense, as we have seen, the death and typical heads, to determine the deof classic art was the birth of the Christ- velopment and the features suited to the ian. It was perhaps fortunate that the old prophet or the apostle; and thus ascendcivilization should die out, in order that the new, unencumbered by the past, might
* See Ave Maris Stella, and see likewise Fra An
gelico's Madonna della Stella, in the Sacristy of Sta * See M. Rio's " Poetry of Christian Art," p. 30. Maria Novella, Florence.
ing from the earthly to the heavenly, to sonality, possessing an individual body and construct out of men angels, and to trans- soul capable of growth and of decay, cramute the natural body into the incorrupt- dled, as we have seen, in the fresco cataible body of the resurrection. Thus we comb, or in the mosaic church, then walkshould deal with the motives of men and ing the carth in strength and beauty, angels, with the laws which govern the teaching men to live righteously and die natural kingdom of the earth, and sway blessedly; and again, as we have not now the supernatural kingdom of the heavens. time to show, falling into decrepitude, and In this extended system of art-philosophy, finally sinking into the common grave of as written in the progressive history of Italian greatness, where it still lies in art-development, having determined the death, if without the hope of resurrection, framework and functions of the body, nat- at least leaving upon earth a blessed ural and spiritual, we must penetrate be- memory. neath the surface to the phases and move. In this somewhat discursive paper we ments of the soul itself. In those greatest, have treated of the vicissitudes and strugbecause most difficult and most compre gles of Christian art in those early days hensive, of art-creations, the last judg: when the open grave was eager to receive ments, which, from the twelfth century the precarious birth which the cradle down to the present times, have been con- seemed in vain to nurture into life. We tinuously represented both in painting and have seen that, the Church driven to the sculpture, we find the souls of all created Catacombs, persecution not only involved beings, men, angels demons, under every Christian art in darkness, but threatened possible emotion of surprise, ecstasy, or it with extinction. This first danger bedamnation. We need scarcely say that ing passed, a second scarcely less fatal, it becomes a question of much metaphysi- and in duration more protracted, seemed cal subtlety to determine how an angel to entail on the years of infancy the dewould have acted, felt, or appeared when crepitude of age. The nascent art, instead Christ, as judge, entered the heavenly of starting into life with the vital impulse choir—whether the righteous, when first of the new religion, became, for well-nigh they caught the splendor of the beatific one thousand years, implicated in the vision, would have fallen on their knees downfall and wreck of the Roman empire; in worship, have raised their hands in and thus, as we have seen, Roman-Christwonder, or covered their faces from ex- ian and Byzantine works long distorted cess of light; whether the lost, still as and disgraced the beauty and the truth arch-angels, though ruined, would assem- of the otherwise triumphant revelation. ble in war against the Highest, or whether, But when Italy, again rising out of ruins, as in the paintings of the middle ages, asserted for a second time, in supremacy they at once should fall into the form of of genius, her right to the empire of the demon-monsters stung by scorpions and world, Christian art once more rose from tormented by flames. Such questions, we the grave, and was borne exulting, on the say, cease to be merely artistic, and be- topmost wave of the incoming civilization. come a portion of human and divine phi- All the glory of Italy then fervently spoke losophy dependent upon the nature and in the language of art. The Italian clime, attributes of God, men, and angels. Hav- in its beauty and intensity; the Italian ing thus dealt with the laws of man's ma- manners, in their grace and charm; the terial body, and of his immaterial spirit, Italian mind in its ardent warmth and in their relation to art-treatment, it were fertile imagination; the Italian religion, in necessary to examine how art has, from its passion for scenic show — all that conage to age, conducted itself; what laws, stituted the wealth, and the glory, and the whether natural or artificial, it has ob- poetry of Italy, obtained through art adeserved or violated; how far the bodily quate expression. framework of art has been consonant with In the preceding narrative of the early the material structure of the world ; to stages of this national art, we have marked what extent art's inner and spiritual exist- the laws wbich governed the vicissitudes ence has shown itself accordant with the both of its rise and fall — have seen how spiritual laws which govern in man and those laws were linked with the destiny of actuate in God. Christian art thus re- empires, and involved in the first principles garded takes on in the entire range of its of human action. In such a survey the existence, as it were, an individual per- / rules of art are but the universal experi
ence of mankind; the painted picture but of nature, having the two aspects of mata portion of the enacted life; the country ter and of spirit — the two habitations of of a people's home, the current of a peo- earth and of heaven: and thus likewise ple's history, their affections, their hopes, have we seen that Christian art, uniting and their fears, all giving to art its cha- into one visible form these two aspects of racter and expression. Thus, as we have matter and of spirit, found a habitation on shown, the philosophy of art is but a por- earth, and gained its access to heaven, in tion of the wider philosophy of man and the land of Italy.
THE WORKS OF TII E LATE EDGAR ALLAN POE.*
EDGAR ALLAN POE was incontestably poor partner, both being in want of the one of the most worthless persons of whom commonest necessaries of life. we have any record in the world of let Nevertheless, even after this prostraters. Many authors may have been as tion, Poe seems to have arisen for a short idle; many as improvident; some as period, and to have signalized himself by drunken and dissipated ; and a few, per- some more literary activity. He wrote haps, as treacherous and ungrateful; but an essay, entitled “Eureka,” delivered he seems to have succeeded in attracting lectures, and his wife being then deadand combining, in bis own person, all the engaged himself to marry “one of the most floating vices which genius had hitherto brilliant women of New England." This shown itself capable of grasping in its engagment, however, is one that he means widest and most eccentric orbit.t
to break. “ Mark me,” he says, “I shall The few remaining incidents of his life not marry her.” In furtherance of this afford little or no variety or relief from gentlemanlike decision, he deliberately the foregoing history. They are all tinged gets drunk, and on the evening before the by the same gloom. His wife, whom he appointed bridal is found "reeling through had married when residing at Richmond, the streets, and in his drunkenness comdies. During her last illness, her mother mits, at her house, such outrages as renis met going about from place to place, in der it necessary to summon the police.” the bitter weather, half-starved and thinly He went from New-York with a " deterclad, with a poem or some other literary mination thus to induce the ending of the article, which she was striving to sell; or engagement,” and-succeeded. otherwise she was begging for
him and his His last journey is now to be taken.
He travels as far as Baltimore, but never * The Works of the late Edgar Allan Poe: with a
returns. He is seen a short time afterMemoir by Rurus WILMOT GRISWOLD, and Notices wards in that city, in such a state as is of his Life and Genius by N. P. Willis and J. R. induced by long-continued intoxication, LOWELL. 4 vols. New-York: 1857.
and after " a night of insanity and expos+ This first sentence of the article in the Edin, ure,” he is carried to a hospital, and there, burgh strikes the key-note of what the Reviewer has to say in regard to the character and conduct of on the evening of Sunday, the 7th day of Edgar Allan Poe. The tune is not an agreeable one, October, 1849, he dies, at the age of thirand we have no desire to follow the Reviewer in his ty-eight years! sad enunciation through the gloomy chapters of such a life as Edgar Poe presents. We prefer to pass by the words : “ It is a melancholy history;"
One of his biographers concludes with what may be said to the advantage of his talents and We trust that it will prove a profitable genius.
one; for unless we are mistaken, it in
volves a moral that may be studied with less curious rather than accurate, desuladvantage by future authors.
tory rather than wide; and his genius We have now to offer an opinion on grew rank in a half-cultivated soil.* the peculiar features and literary value of Considered apart from his poetry, Poe's Poe's productions in prose and verse. In fictions seem to resolve themselves for the reference to the former, we are disposed most part into two classes : one like to think that we can trace his inspiration those to which we have already adverted, in a great measure to the writings of God where a series of facts woven mysteriouswin and Charles Brockden Browne. There ly out of some unknown premises are is in each the same love of the morbid and brought apparently to a logical result; improbable; the same frequent straining the other, where the author deals strictly of the interest; the same tracing, step by with a single event; where there is little step, logically as it were and elaborately, or no preliminary matter, but the reader through all its complicated relations, a is at once hurried into a species of catasterrible mystery to its source. These trophe, or conclusion of the most exciting authors pursue events through all their character. These last-mentioned fictions possible involutions, but seldom deal with are necessarily short, because the sympacharacter. There is indeed a singular thy of the reader could not possibly rewant of the dramatic faculty in all these main at the high point of tension to which eminent persons. Godwin, it is true, in he is raised by the torture of the scene. his “Fleetwood” and “Mandeville," and In a few instances we encounter merely a Browne in “Ormond,” and “ Arthur Mer- gloomy scene, (sometimes very highly vyn,” made an effort to draw forth some wrought and picturesque,) or a human human peculiarities; but their personages being fashioned out of the most ghastly are little more, after all, than stately ab- materials—a tale, in short, without any stractions or impersonations of certain result, properly speaking. We look in at moodes or guesses of their own minds, the the death-bed of a man: we see him results of solitary thinking. Whatever writhe-utter a few words referable to latent qualities they possess, each of their some imperfectly disclosed event; or he figures reminds one somewhat of the co- professes to expound, under mesmeric incoon-a thing drawn from the entrails Huence, while he is dying, or when he is of it parent, with no apparent vitality dead, certain things which the human about it.
mind in its wakeful healthy state is quite Notwithstanding the appearance of incapable of comprehending. originality, due perhaps more to the eo It should not be forgotten that in some centricity of his life and the deformity of of these sketches, which are the most his moral character than to the vigor or mysterious in their treatment, the author freshness of his intellect, it is easy to trace has contrived to absolve himself from the throughout Edgar Poe's writings impres- necessity of verifying, in his usual mansions derived from authors which he had ner, the rationale of his design. He aschanced to read or contrivances which had cends into the cloudiest regions of metadwelt in his memory. So little indeed physics, of speculation-of conjecture-of can he be considered a truly original dreams! God, as we learn, amongst other writer, that he perpetually reminds us of things, from “Mesmeric revelation,” is something we have read before. Some-“ unparticled matter.” From M. Valdetimes he imitates the matter-of-fact pre- mar we collect, that a man, thrown into cision that gives such reality to the fictions a mesmeric state just before death, will of Defoe; sometimes he pursues the fantastical or horrible nightmares of Hoff
* It is a curious example of his superficial acman; sometimes a thought visits him from quaintance with the literature of other lands, that in the highly-wrought philosophy of Novalis, recapitulating the titles of a mysterious library of or the huge and irregular genius of Jean books in the House of Usher,” he quotes among a Paul; sometimes he loses himself, like the dently in complete ignorance of what he is talking Louis Lambert of Balzac, in the labyrinth about. Gresset's "Vertvert” is the antipodes of of transcendental speculation. But though Poe's " Raven;" but the comic interest of the former he resembles these writers in his love of poem, and the tragic interest of the latter, turns the marvelous, and in his ingenious treat- alike on the reiteration of bird-language: and it is ment of it, he is inferior to the least of not impossible that Poe may have had in his mind
some vague impression or recollection of Gresset's them in depth. His reading was doubt-celebrated parrot.