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selves from receiving any pleasure from the polite arts, at the same time that they profess to love and admire them : for these rules, being always uppermost, give them such a propensity to criticise, that instead of giving up the reins of their imagination into their author's hands, their frigid minds are employed in examining whether the performance be according to the rules of art.
To those who are resolved to be criticks in spite of nature, and at the same time have no great disposition to much reading and study, I would recommend to them to assume the character of connoisseur, which may be purchased at a much cheaper rate than that of a critick in poetry.
The remembrance of a few names of painters, with their general characters, with a few rules of the academy, which they may pick up among the painters, will go a great way towards making a very notable connoisseur.
With a gentleman of this cast, I visited last week the Cartoons at Hampton-court; he was just returned from Italy, a connoisseur of course, and of course his mouth full of nothing but the grace of Raffaelle, the purity of Domenichino, the learning of Poussin, the air of Guido, the greatness of taste of the Caraches, and the sublimity and grand contorno of Michael Angelo ; with all the rest of the cant of criticism, which he emitted with that volubility which generally those orators have who annex no ideas to their words.
As we were passing through the rooms, in our way to the gallery, I made him observe a whole length of Charles the First by Vandyke, as a perfect
representation of the character as well as the figure of the man.
He agreed it was very fine, but it wanted spirit and contrast, and had not the flowing line, without which a figure could not possibly be graceful. When we entered the gallery, I thought I could perceive him recollecting his rules by which he was to criticise Raffaelle. I shall pass over his observation of the boats being too little, and other criticisms of that kind, till we arrived at " St. Paul preaching.” “ This,” says he,
is esteemed the most excellent of all the cartoons ; what nobleness, what dignity, there is in that figure of St. Paul! and yet what an addition to that nobleness could Raffaelle have given, had the art of contrast been known in his time! but, above all, the flowing line which constitutes grace and beauty! You would not have then seen an upright figure standing equally on both legs, and both hands stretched forward in the same direction, and his drapery, to all appearance, without the least art of disposition.” The following picture is the “ Charge to Peter." Here,” says he, " twelve upright figures ; what a pity it is that Raffaelle was not acquainted with the pyramidal principle! He would then have contrived the figures in the middle to have been on higher ground, or the figures at the extremities stooping or lying, which would not only have formed the group into the shape of a pyramid, but likewise contrasted the standing figures. Indeed,” added he, “I have often lamented that so great a genius as Raffaelle had not lived in this enlightened age, since the art
has been reduced to principles, and had had his education in one of the modern academies; what glorious works might we then have expected from his divine pencil !"
I shall trouble you no longer with my friend's observations, which, I suppose, you are now able to continue by yourself. It is curious to observe, that, at the same time that great admiration is pretended for a name of fixed reputation, objections are raised against those very qualities by which that great name was acquired.
Those criticks are continually lamenting that Raffaelle had not the colouring and harmony of Rubens, or the light and shadow of Rembrant, without considering how much the gay harmony of the former, and affectation of the latter, would take from the dignity of Raffaelle; and yet Rubens had great harmony, and Rembrant understood light and shadow: but what may be an excellence in a lower class of painting, becomes a blemish in a higher; as the quick, spritely turn, which is the life and beauty of epigrammatick compositions, would but ill suit with the majesty of heroick poetry
To conclude; I would not be thought to infer, from any thing that has been said, that rules are absolutely unnecessary : but to censure scrupulosity, a servile attention to minute exactness, which is sometimes inconsistent with higher excellency, and is lost in the blaze of expanded genius.
I do not know whether you will think painting a general subject. By inserting this letter, perhaps
you will incur the censure a man would deserve, whose business being to entertain a whole room, should turn his back to the company, and talk to a particular person.
I am, Sir, &c. *
NUMB. 77. SATURDAY, October 6, 1759.
Easy poetry is universally admired; but I know not whether any rule has yet been fixed, by which it may be decided when poetry can be properly called easy. Horace has told us, that it is such as every reader hopes to equal, but after long labour finds unattainable.” This is a very loose description, in which only the effect is noted; the qualities which produce this effect remain to be investigated.
Easy poetry is that in which natural thoughts are expressed without violence to the language. The discriminating character of ease consists principally in the diction ; for all true poetry requires that the sentiments be natural. Language suffers violence by harsh or by daring figures, by transposition, by unusual acceptations of words, and by any licence, which would be avoided by a writer of prose. Where any artifice appears in the construction of the verse, that verse is no longer easy. Any epithet
* By Sir Joshua Reynolds. C.
which can be ejected without diminution of the sense, any curious iteration of the same word, and all unusual, though not ungrammatical structure of speech, destroy the grace of easy poetry.
The first lines of Pope's Iliad afford examples of many licences which an easy writer must decline;
Achilles' wrath, to Greece the direful spring
In the first couplet the language is distorted by inversions, clogged with superfluities, and clouded by a harsh metaphor; and in the second there are two words used in an uncommon sense, and two epithets inserted only to lengthen the line ; all these practices may in a long work easily be pardoned, but they always produce some degree of obscurity and ruggedness.
Easy poetry has been so long excluded by ambition of ornament, and luxuriance of imagery, that its nature seems now to be forgotten. Affectation, however opposite to ease, is sometimes mistaken for it: and those who aspire to gentle elegance, collect female phrases and fashionable barbarisms, and imagine that style to be easy which custom has made familiar. Such was the idea of the poet who wrote the following verses to a countess cutting paper :
Pallas grew vap'rish once and odd,
She would not do the least right thing
Nor work, nor play, nor paint, nor sing.