|Sir Uvedale Price|
|An essay on the picturesque, as compared with the sublime and the beautiful; and, on the use of studying pictures, for the purpose of improving real landscape.|
|Martin John “The Bard”, 1817|
|There is no country, I believe – if we except China – where the art of laying out grounds is so much cultivated as it now is in England. Formerly the decorations near the house were infinitely more magnificent and expensive than they are at present; but the embellishments of what are called the grounds, and of all the extensive scenery round the place were much less attended to; and, in general, the park, with all it’s timbers and thickets, was left in a state of picturesque neglect. As these embellishments are now extended over a whole district, and as they give a new peculiar character to the general face of the country, it is well worth considering whether they give a natural and a beautiful one – and whether the present system of improving – to use a short, though often an inaccurate term – is founded on any just principles of taste.|
|In order to examine the question, the first enquiry will naturally be, whether there is any standard to which, in point of grouping and of general composition, works of this sort can be referred; any authority higher than that of the persons who have gained the most general and popular reputation by those works, and whose method of conducting them has had the most extensive influence on the general taste? I think there is a standard – there are authorities of an infinitely higher kind – the authorities of those great artists who have most diligently studied the beauties of nature, both in their grandest and most general effects, and in their minutest detail – who have observed every variety of form and of colour – have been able to select and combine, and then, by the magic of their art, to fix upon the canvass all these various beauties.|
|But however highly I may think of the art of painting, compared with that of improving, nothing can be farther from my intention – and I wish to impress it in the strongest manner on the reader’s mind than to recommend the study of pictures in preference to that of nature, much less to the exclusion of it. Whoever studies art alone, will have a narrow pedantic manner of considering all objects, and of referring them solely to the minute and practical purposes of that art – whatever it be – to which his attention has been particularly directed. Of this Mr Brown’s followers afford a very striking example; and if it be right that everything should be referred to art, at least let it be referred to one, whose variety, compared to the monotony of what is called improvement, appears infinite, but which again falls as short of the boundless variety of the mistress of all art.|
|The use, therefore, of studying pictures, is not merely to make us acquainted with the combinations and effects that are contained in them, but to guide us, by means of those general heads – as they may be called – of composition, in our search of the numberless and untouched varieties and beauties of nature; for as he who studies art only will have a confined taste, so he who looks at nature only, will have a vague and unsettled one; and in this more extended sense I shall interpret the Italian proverb, “Chi s’insegna, ha un pazzo per maestro,” – He is a fool who does not profit by the experience of others|
|We are therefore to profit by the experience contained in pictures, but not to consent ourselves with that experience only; nor are we to consider even those of the highest class as absolute and infallible standards, but as the best and the only standards we have; as compositions, which, like most of the great classical authors, have been consecrated by long uninterrupted admiration, and which therefore have a similar claim to influence our judgement, and to form our taste in all that is within their province. These are the reasons for studying copies of nature, thought the original is before us, that we may not lose the benefit of what is of such great moment in all arts and sciences, the accumulated experience of past ages; and with respect to the art of improving, we may look upon pictures as a set of experiments of the different ways in which trees, buildings, water, &c. may be disposed, grouped and accompanied, in the most beautiful and striking manner, and in every style, from the most simple and rural, to the grandest and most ornamental. Many of those objects, that are scarcely marked as they lie scattered over the face of nature, when brought together in the compass of a small space of canvass are forcibly impressed upon the eye, which by that means learns how to separate, to select, and to combine.|
|Who can doubt whether Shakespeare and Fielding had not infinitely more amusement from society in all its various views than common observers? I believe it can be as little doubted, that the having read such authors may give any man, however acute his penetration, more enlarged views of human nature in general, as well as a more intimate acquaintance with particular characters, than he would have had from the observation of nature only; that many combinations of characters and of incidents, which might otherwise have escaped his notice, would forcibly strike him, from the recollection of scenes and passages in such writers; that in all these cases, the pleasure we receive from what passes in real life is rendered infinitely more poignant, by a resemblance to what we have read, or have seen on the stage. Such an observer will not divide what passes into scenes and chapters, and be pleased with it in proportion as it will do for a novel or a play, but he will be pleased on the same principles as Shakespeare or Fielding would have been. The parallel that I wish to establish is very obvious: the works of genius in writing awaken and direct our attention towards many striking scenes and characters, which might otherwise escape us in real life, and the works of genius in painting point out to our notice a thousand effects and combinations of the happiest, though not of the most obvious kind, in real scenery.|
|Had the art of improving been cultivated for as long a time, and upon as settled principles as that of painting, and were there extant various works of genius, which, like those of the art, had stood the test of ages ( though from the great change which the growth and decay of trees must produce in the original design of the artist, this is hardly possible) there would not be the same necessity of referring and comparing the works of reality to those of imitation; but as the case stands at present, the only models of composition that approach to perfection, the only fixed and unchanging selections from the works of nature united with those of art, are in the pictures and designs of the most eminent masters.|
|But although certain happy compositions, detached from the general mass of objects and considered by themselves, have the greatest and most lasting effect both in nature and painting; and though the painter, in respect to his own art, may think of those only, and give himself no concern about the rest, he cannot do so if he be an improver as well as a painter; for he might then neglect or injure what was essential to the whole, by attending only to a part. By this we may peceive a great and obvious difference between a painter who confines himself to his own profession, and one who should add to it that of an improver; the first would only have to observe what formed a single composition or picture, which he might transfer upon his canvass; the second must consider the whole range of scenery in which not only the most striking pictures or compositions are to be shown to advantage, but where all the intermediate parts, with all their bearings, relations, and connections, must be taken into the account. I have supposed, what I wish were oftener the case, an union of the two professions; for it can hardly be doubted, that he who can best select the happiest compositions from the general mass of objects, and knows the principles on which he makes those selections, must also be the best qualified, should he turn his thoughts that way, to arrange the connections throughout an extensive scenery.|
|He must likewise be the most competent judge – and nothing in the whole art of improvement requires a nicer discrimination – where, and in what degree, some inferior beauties should be sacrificed, in order to give greater effect to those of a higher order. I am far from meaning by this, that every painter is capable of becoming an improver in the good sense of the word, but only such as to a liberal mind, join a strong feeling for nature as well as art, and have directed their attention to the arrangement of real scenery; for there is a wide difference between looking at nature merely with a view to making pictures, and looking at pictures with a view to the improvement of our ideas of nature: the former often does contrast the taste when pursued too closely; the latter, I believe, as generally refines and enlarges it. The greatest painters were men of enlarged and liberal minds, and well acquainted with many arts besides their own. Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Raphael, Titian, were not merely patronised by the sovereigns of that period; they were considered almost as friends by such men as Leo, Francis, and Charles, and were intimately connected with Aretino, Castiglione, and all the eminent wits of that time.|
|Those great artists – nor need I have so far back for examples – considered pictures and nature as throwing a reciprocal light on each other, and as connected with history, poetry, and all the fine arts; but the practice of too many lovers of painting has been very different, and has, I believe, contributed in a great degree, and with great reason, to give a prejudice against the study of pictures as a preparation to that of nature. In the same manner that many painters consider natural scenery merely with a reference to their own practice, many connoisseurs consider pictures merely with a reference to other pictures, as a school in which they may learn the routine of their connoisseurship – that is an acquaintance with the most prominent marks and peculiarities of different masters: but they rarely look upon them in that point of view in which alone they can produce any real advantage – as a school in which we may learn to enlarge, refine, and correct our ideas of nature, and in return, may qualify ourselves by this more liberal course of study, to be real judges of what is excellent in imitation. This reflection may account for what otherwise seems quite unaccountable – namely, that many enthusiastic admirers and collectors of Claude, Poussin, &c. should have suffered professed improvers to deprive the general and extended scenery of their places of all that those painters would have most admired and copied.|
|The great object of our present inquiry seems to be, what is that mode of study which will best enable a man, of a liberal and intelligent mind, to judge of the forms, colours, effects, and combinations of visible objects – to judge of them either as single compositions, which may be considered by themselves without reference to what surrounds them, or else as parts of scenery, the arrangement of which must be more or less regulated and restrained by what joins them, and the connection of which with the general scenery must be constantly attended to? Such knowledge and judgement comprehend the whole science of improvement with regard to it’s effect on the eye: and I believe can never be perfectly acquired, unless to the study of natural scenery, and of the various styles of gardening at different periods, the improver adds the theory at least of that art, the very essence of which is connection – a principle of all others the most adapted to correct the chief defects of improvers. Connection is a principle always present to the painter’s mind, if he deserve that name; and by the guidance of which he considers all sets of objects, whatever may be their character or boundaries, from the most extensive prospect to the most confined wood scene: neither referring everything to the narrow limits of his canvass, nor despising what will not suit it, unless, indeed, the limits of his mind be equally narrow and contracted; for when I speak of a painter, I mean an artist, not a mechanic.|
|Whatever minute and partial objections may be made to the study of pictures for the purpose of improvement – many of which I have discussed in my letter to Mr Repton – yet certainly the great leading principles of the one art – as general composition – grouping the separate parts – harmony of tints – unity of character, are equally applicable to the other. I may add also, what is so very essential to the painter, though at first sight it seems hardly within the province of the improver – breadth and effect of light and shade.
These are called the principles of painting, because that art has pointed them out more clearly, by separating what was most striking and well combined, from the less interesting and scattered objects of general scenery; but they are in reality the general principles on which the effect of all visible objects must depend, and which it must be referred.
|Nothing can be more directly at war with all these principles, founded as they are in truth and in nature, than the present system of laying out grounds. A painter, or whoever views objects with a painter’s eye, looks with indifference, if not with disgust, at the clumps, the belts, the made water, and the eternal smoothness and sameness of a finished place. An improver, on the other hand, considers these as the most perfect embellishment, as the last finishing touches that nature can receive from art; and, consequently, must think the finest composition of Claude, whom I mention as the most ornamented of all the great masters, comparatively rude and imperfect; though he probably might allow, in Mr Brown’s phrase, that it had “capabilities”.|
|The account in Peregrine Pickle, of the gentleman who had improved Vandyke’s portraits of his ancestors, used to strike me as rather outre; but I met with a similar instance some years ago, that makes it appear much less so. I was looking at a collection of pictures with Gainsborough; among the rest the housekeeper showed us a portrait of her master, which she said was by Sir Joshua Reynolds; we both stared, for not only the touch and the colouring, but the whole style of the drapery and the general effect had no resemblance to his manner. Upon examining the housekeeper more particularly, we discovered that her master had had everything but the face – not retouched from the colours having faded – but totally changed, and newly composed, as well as painted, by another – and, I need not add, an inferior hand.|
|Such a man would have felt as little scruple in making a Claude like his own place, as in making his own portrait like a scare-crow.
But no one, I believe, has as yet been daring enough to improve a picture of Claude, or at least to acknowledge it; yet I do not think it extravagant to suppose that a man, thoroughly persuaded, from his own taste and from the authority of such a writer as Mr Walpole, that an art unknown to every age and climate – that of creating landscapes – had advanced with master-steps to vigorous perfection; that enough had been done to establish such a school of landscape as cannot be found in the rest of the globe; and that Milton’s description of Paradise seems to have been copied from some piece of modern gardening; - that such a man, full of enthusiasm for this new art, and with little veneration for that of painting, should choose to show the world what Claude might have been, had he had the advantage of seeing the works of Mr Brown. The only difference he would make between improving a picture and a real scene, would be that of employing a painter instead of a gardener.
|What would more immediately strike him would be the total want of that leading feature of all modern improvements – the clump; and of course he would order several of them to be placed in the most open and conspicuous spots, with, perhaps, here and there a patch of larches, as forming a strong contrast in shape and colour to the Scotch Firs. His eye, which had been used to see even the natural groups of trees in improved places, made as separate and clump-like as possible, would be shocked to see those of Claude – some with their stems half concealed by bushes and thickets; others standing alone, but, by means of those thickets, or of detached trees, connected with other groups of various sizes and shapes. All this rubbish must be totally cleared away, the ground made everywhere quite smooth and level, and each group left upon the grass perfectly distinct and separate.|
|Having been accustomed to whiten all distant buildings, those of Claude, from the effect of his soft vapoury atmosphere, would appear to him too indistinct; the painter, of course, would be ordered to give them a smarter appearance, which might possibly be communicated to the nearer buildings also. Few modern houses or ornamental buildings are so placed among trees, and partially hidden by them, as to conceal much of the skill of the architect, of the expense of the possessor; but in Claude, not only ruins, but temples and palaces, are often so mixed with trees, that the tops overhang their balustrades, and the luxuriant branches shoot between the openings of their magnificent columns and porticos; as he would not suffer his own buildings to be so masked, neither would he those of Claude; and those luxuriant boughs, with all that obstructed a full view of them, the painter would be told to expunge, and carefully to restore the ornaments they had concealed.|
|The last finishing, both to places and pictures, is water. In Claude, it partakes of the general softness and dressed appearance of his scenes, and the accompaniments have, perhaps, less of rudeness than in any other master. One of my country men at Rome was observing, that the water in the Colonna Claude had rather too dressed and artificial an appearance. A Frenchman, who was also looking at the picture, cried out, “Cependant, Monsieur, on pourroit y donner une si belle fete!” This was very characteristic of that gay nation, but it is equally so of a number of Claude’s pictures. They have an air de fete beyond all others; and there is no painter whose works ought to be so much studied for highly dressed yet varied nature. Yet, compared with those of a piece of made water, or of an improved river, his banks are perfectly savage; parts of them covered with trees and bushes that hang over the water; and near the edge of it, tussucks of rushes, large stones, and stumps; the ground sometimes smooth, sometimes broken and abrupt, and seldom keeping, for a long space, the same level from the water – no curves that answer each other – no resemblance, in short, to what the improver had been used to admire: a few strokes of the painter’s brush would reduce the bank on each side to one level, to one green; would make curve answer curve, without bush or tree to hinder the eye from enjoying the uniform smoothness and verdure, and from pursuing without interruption the continued sweep of these serpentine lines; - a little cleaning and polishing of the foreground, would give the last touches of improvement, and complete the picture.|
|There is not a person, in the smallest degree conversant with painting, who would not at the same time be shocked and diverted at the black spots and the white spots – the naked water – the naked buildings – the scattered unconnected groups of trees, and all the gross and glaring violations of every principle of the art; and yet this, without any exaggeration, is the method in which many scenes worthy of Claude’s pencil, have been improved. It is then possible to imagine, that the beauties of imitation should be so distinct from those of reality, nay, so completely at variance, that what disgraces and makes a picture ridiculous, should become ornamental when applied to nature?|
|From my own knowledge I can say, that however valuable the study of pictures may be for giving perfection to professors of landscape gardening, the painting of them does not always produce this effect. Artists, and especially young artists, have, not unfrequently, their tastes so much narrowed by their devotion to certain styles of subject, as to be incapable of enjoying, or even of tolerating any thing in nature, however excellent it may be, if it be of a different character from that which they affect in their works. By attempting to become artists, they have ceased to be men, or to be able to sympathise with the universality of human feelings. It would be vain to expect that landscape gardeners could be made of such men, with the hope of their producing scenes which should give general delight to minds expanded by education, and the love of nature. I have sometimes travelled through the most interesting countries with individuals of this cast, and found that great as was the delight which I was experiencing from the contemplation of the scenes we passed through, nothing could call forth one exclamation of pleasure from my companions, until something chanced to arise before their eyes of a character in harmony with that of the subjects they were most prone to paint. Such men would pass over nine-tenths of the finest places in England, and refuse to give any other opinion than that all was barren.|
|That artist, indeed, who has followed and observed nature throughout all her different walks – who can draw enjoyment from associating himself with her in her softest and quietest scenes, and in her more placid moods, as well as when she wildly wanders amid the dark woods and rocky fastnesses, and by the thundering cataracts of her mountains – such a man as this, I say, may well prove a profound master, not only in the composition of pictures on canvass, but in that also of those which may be created in actual landscape; but for excellence in that generalization necessary for landscape gardening, I consider that a very universal study of pictures will do more to accomplish the individual, than the particular practice of any one style of painting them. It appears indeed to me, that nothing can possibly tend more to educate the mind, for the just conception of such a true taste in landscape gardening as may enable its possessor to prosecute this delightful art with the hope of generally awakening agreeable associations in cultivated minds, than the frequent and extensive study of works of the best landscape painters, modern as well as ancient. Nay, I cannot doubt that the great growth of the art of landscape painting, and the immense multiplication of that art in our days, as well as of the art of landscape drawing and engraving, all of which are daily increasing the taste for the enjoyment of the works produced by them, must have a tendancy to augment the general love of nature, and so to multiply the individuals of that cultivated class who are prepared to receive agreeable impressions from its happier combinations…………|
|There are few words whose meaning has been less accurately determined that that of the word picturesque.
In general, I believe, it is applied to every object, and every kind of scenery, which has been or might be represented with good effect in painting-just as the word beautiful, when we speak of visible nature, is applied to every object and every kind of scenery that in any way give pleasure to the eye-and these seem to be the significations of both words, taken in their most extended and popular sense. A more precise and distinct idea of beauty has been given in an essay, the early splendour of which not even the full meridian blaze of its illustrious author has been able to extinguish; but the picturesque, considered as a separate character, has never yet been accurately distinguished from the sublime and the beautiful; though no one has ever pretended that they are synonymous, (for it is sometimes used in contradistinction to them), such a distinction must exist.
|Mr Gilpin, from whose very ingenious and extensive observations on this subject I have received great pleasure and instruction, appears to have adopted this common acceptation, not merely as such, but as giving an exact and determinate idea of the word; for he defines picturesque objects to be those “which please from some quality capable of being illustrated in painting;” or, as he again defines it in his Letter to Sir Joshua Reynolds, “such objects as are proper subjects for painting.” Both these definitions seem to me-what may perhaps appear a contradiction-at once too vague and too confined; for though we are not to expect any definition to be so accurate and comprehensive as both to supply the place and stand the test of investigation, yet if it do not in some degree separate the thing defined from all others, it differs little from any general truth on the same subject. For instance, it is very true that picturesque objects do please from some quality capable of being illustrated in painting; but so also does every object that is represented in painting if it please at all, otherwise it would not have been painted; and hence we ought to conclude, what certainly is not meant, that all objects which please in pictures are therefore picturesque-for no distinction or exclusion is made. Were any other person to define picturesque objects to be those which please from some striking effect of form, colour, or light and shadow-such a definition would indeed give but a very indistinct idea of the thing defined; but it would be hardly more vague, and at the same time much less confined that the others, for it would not have an exclusive reference to a particular art.|
|I hope to show in the course of this work, that the picturesque has a character not less separate and distinct than either the sublime or the beautiful, nor less independent of the art of painting. It has indeed been pointed out and illustrated by that art, and is one of it’s most striking ornaments; but has not beauty been pointed out and illustrated by that art also, nay, according to the poet, brought into existence by it?|
|Si Venerem Cous nunquam posuisset Apelles,
Mersa sub acquoreis illa lateret aquis.
|Examine the forms of the early Italian painters, or of those who, at a later period, lived where the study of the antique, then fully operating at Rome on minds highly prepared for its influence, had not yet taught them to separate what is beautiful, from the general mass: you might almost conclude that beauty did not then exist; yet those painters were capable of exact imitation, though not of selection. Examine grandeur of form in the same manner; look at the dry meagre forms of Albert Durer-a man of genius even in Raphael’s estimation-of Pietro Perugino, Andrea Mantegna &c., and compare them with those of M. Angelo and Raphael: nature was not more dry and meagre in Germany or Perugia that at Rome. Compare their landscapes and backgrounds with those of Titian; nature was not changed, but a mind of a higher east, and instructed by the experience of all who had gone before, rejected minute detail; and pointed out, by means of such selections, and such combinations as were congenial to its own sublime conceptions, in what forms, in what colours, and in what effects, grandeur in landscape consisted. Can it then be doubted that grandeur and beauty have been pointed out and illustrated by painting as well as picturesqueness? Yet, would it be a just definition of sublime or of beautiful objects, to say that they were such (and, let the words be taken in their most liberal construction) as pleased from some quality capable of being illustrated in painting, or, that proper subjects for that art? The ancients, indeed, not only referred beauty of form to painting, but even beauty of colour; and the poet who could describe his mistress’s complexion by comparing it to the tints of Apelles’s pictures, must have thought that beauty of every kind was highly illustrated by the art to which he referred.|
|The principles of those two leading characters in nature the sublime and the beautiful have been fully illustrated and discriminated by a great master; but even when I first read that most original work, I felt that there were numberless objects which give great delight to the eye, and yet differ widely from the beautiful as from the sublime. The reflections which I have since been led to make, have convinced me that these objects form a distinct class, and belong to what may properly be called the picturesque|
|That term, as we may judge from its etymology, is applied only to objects of sight; and, indeed, in so confined a manner as to be supposed merely to have a reference to the art from which it is named. I am well convinced, however, that the name and reference only are limited and uncertain, and that the qualities which make objects picturesque, are not only as distinct as those which make them beautiful or sublime, but are equally extended to all our sensations by whatever organs they are received; and that music-though it appears like a solecism-may be as truly picturesque, according to the general principles of picturesqueness, as it may be beautiful or sublime, according to those of beauty or sublimity.|
|But there is one circumstance particularly adverse to this part of my essay: I mean the manifest derivation of the word picturesque. The Italian pittoresco is, I imagine, of earlier date than either the English or the French word, the latter of which, pittoresque, is clearly taken from it, having no analogy to its own tongue. Pittoresco is derived, not like picturesque, from the thing painted, but from the painter; and this difference is not wholly immaterial. The English word refers to the performance, and the objects most suited to it: the Italian and French words have a reference to the turn of mind common to painters; who, from the constant habit of examining all the peculiar effects and combinations, as well as the general appearance of nature, are struck with numberless circumstances, even where they are incapable of being represented, to which an unpractised eye pays little or no attention. The English word naturally draws the reader’s mind towards pictures; and from that partial and confined view of the subject, what is in truth only an illustration of picturesqueness, becomes the foundation of it. The words sublime and beautiful have not the same etymological reference to any one visible art, and therefore are applied to objects of the other senses: sublime, indeed, in the language from which it is taken, and in its plain sense, means high; and therefore, perhaps, in strictness, should relate to objects of sight only; yet we no more scruple to call one of Handel’s chorusses sublime, than Corelli’s famous pastorale beautiful. But should any person simply, and without any qualifying expressions, call a capricious movement of Scarlatti or Haydn picturesque, he would, with great reason, be laughed at, for it is not a term applied to sounds; yet such a movement, from its sudden, unexpected, and abrupt transitions-from a certain playful wildness of character and appearance of irregularity, is no less analogous to similar scenery in nature, than the concerto or the chorus, to what is grand or beautiful to the eye.|
|There is, indeed, a general harmony and correspondence in all our sensations when they arise from similar causes, though they affect us by means of different senses; and these causes, as Mr. Burke has admirably pointed out, can never be so clearly ascertained when we confine our observations to one sense only.
I must here observe, and I wish the reader to keep it in his mind, that the inquiry is not in what sense certain words are used in the best authors, still less what is their common, and vulgar use, and abuse; but whether there be certain qualities, which uniformly produce the same effects in all visible objects, and, according to the same analogy, in objects of hearing and of all the other senses; and which qualities, though frequently blended and united with others in the same object or set of objects, may be separated from them, and assigned to the class to which they belong.
|If it can be shown that a character composed of these qualities, and distinct from all others, does universally prevail; if it can be traced in the different objects of art and of nature, and appears consistent throughout, it surely deserves a distinct title; but, with respect to the real ground of inquiry, it matters little whether such a character, or the set of objects belonging to it, be called beautiful, sublime, or picturesque, or by any other name, or by no name at all.|
|Beauty is so much the most enchanting and popular quality, that it is often applied as the highest commendation to whatever gives us pleasure, or raises our admiration, be the cause what it will. Mr Burke has given several instances of these ill-judged applications, and of the confusion of ideas which result from them; but there is nothing more ill-judged, or more likely to create confusion, if we at all agree with Mr. Burke in his idea of beauty, than the mode which prevails of joining together two words of a different, and in some respects of an opposite meaning, and calling the character by the title of Picturesque Beauty.|
|I must observe, however, that I by no means object to the expression itself; I only object to it as a general term for the character, and as comprehending every kind of scenery, and every set of objects which look well in a picture. That is the sense, as far as I have observed, in which it is very commonly used; consequently, an old hovel, an old cart-horse, or an old woman, are often, in that sense, full of picturesque beauty; and certainly the application of the last term to such objects, must tend to confuse our ideas: but were the expression restrained to those objects only, in which the picturesque and the beautiful are mixed together, and so mixed that the result, according to common apprehension, is beautiful; and were it never used when the picturesque-as it no less frequently happens-is mixed solely with what is terrible, ugly, or deformed, I should highly approve of the expression, and wish for more distinctions of the same kind.|
|In reality, the picturesque not only differs from the beautiful in those qualities which Mr Burke has so justly ascribed to it, but arises from qualities the most diametrically opposite.
According to Mr Burke, one of the most essential qualities of beauty is smoothness; now, as the perfection of smoothness is absolute equality and uniformity of surface, wherever that prevails there can be but little variety or intricacy; as, for instance, in smooth level banks, on a small, or in open downs, on a large scale. Another essential quality of beauty is gradual variation; that is-to make use of Mr Burke’s expression-where the lines do not vary in a sudden and broken manner, and where there is no sudden protuberance: it requires but little reflection to perceive, that the exclusion of all but flowing lines cannot promote variety; and that sudden protuberances, and lines that cross each other in a sudden and broken manner, are among the most fruitful causes of intricacy.
|I am therefore persuaded, that the two opposite qualities of roughness, and of sudden variation, joined to that of irregularity, are the most efficient causes of the picturesque.
This, I think, will appear very clearly, if we take a view of those objects, both natural and artificial, that are allowed to be picturesque, and compare them with those which are as generally allowed to be beautiful.
|A temple or palace of Grecian architecture in its perfect entire state, and with its surface and colour smooth and even, either in painting or reality, is beautiful; in ruin it is picturesque. Observe the process by which Time, the great author of such changes, converts a beautiful object into a picturesque one: First, by means of weather stains, partial incrustations, mosses, &c. it at the same time takes off from the uniformity of the surface, and of the colour; that is, gives a degree of roughness, and variety of tint. Next, the various accidents of weather loosen the stones themselves; they tumble in irregular masses upon what the perhaps smooth turf or pavement, or nicely-trimmed walks and shrubberies-now mixed and overgrown with wild plants and creepers, that crawl over, and shoot among the fallen ruins. Sedums, wall-flowers, and other vegetables that bear drought, find nourishment in the decayed cement from which the stones have been detached; birds convey their foods into the chinks, and yew, elder, and other berried plants project from the sides; while the ivy mantlesover other parts, and crowns the top. The even, regular lines of the doors and windows are broken, and through their ivy-fringed openings is displayed, in a more broken and picturesque manner, that striking image in Virgil,|
|“Apparet domus intus, et atria longa patescunt;
Apparent Priami et veterum penetralia regum.”
|Gothic architecture is generally considered as more picturesque, though less beautiful, than Grecian; and upon the same principle that a ruin is more so than a new edifice. The first thing that strikes the eye in approaching any building, is the general outline, and the effect of the openings. In Grecian buildings, the general lines of the roof are straight; and even when varied and adorned by a dome or a pediment, the whole has a character of symmetry and regularity. But symmetry, which in works of art particularly accords with the beautiful, is in the same degree adverse to the picturesque; and among the various causes of the superior picturesqueness of ruins, compared with entire buildings, and destruction of symmetry is by no means the least powerful.
In Gothic buildings, the outline of the summit presents such a variety of forms, of turrets and pinnacles, some upon, some fretted and variously enriched, that even where there is an exact correspondence of parts, it is often disguised by an appearance of splendid confusion and irregularity. There is a line in Dryden’s Palamon and Arcite, which might be interpreted according to this idea, though I do not suppose he intended to convey any such meaning-
|“And all appear’d irregularly great.”|
|In the doors and windows of Gothic churches, the pointed arch has an much variety as any regular figure can well have; the eye, too, is less strongly conducted that by the parallel lines in the Grecian style, from the top of one aperture to that of another; and every person must be struck with the extreme richness and intricacy of some of the principal windows of our cathedrals and ruined abbeys. In these last is displayed the triumph of the picturesque; and their charms to a painter’s eye are often so great, as to rival those which arise from the chaste ornaments, and the noble and elegant simplicity of Grecian architecture.|
|Some people may, perhaps, be unwilling to allow, that in ruins of Grecian and Gothic architecture, any considerable part of the spectator’s pleasure arises from the picturesque circumstances; and may choose to attribute the whole, to what may justly claim a great share in that pleasure – the elegance or grandeur of their forms – the veneration of high antiquity – or the solemnity of religious awe; in a word, to the mixture of the two other characters. But were this true, yet there are many buildings, highly interesting to all who have united the study of art with that of nature, in which beauty and grandeur are equally out of the question – such as hovels, cottages, mills, insides of old barns, stables, &c. whenever they have any marked and peculiar effect of form, tint, or light and shadow. In mills particularly, such is the extreme intricacy of the wheels and the wood work – such the singular variety of forms and of lights and shadows, of mosses and weather stains from the constant moisture, of plants springing from the rough joints of the stones – such the assemblage of every thing which most conduces to picturesqueness, that, even without the addition of water, an old mill has the greatest charm for a painter.|
|It is owing to the same causes, that a building with scaffolding has often a more picturesque appearance, than the building itself when the scaffolding is taken away; that old, mossy, rough-hewn park pales of unequal heights are an ornament to landscape, especially when they are partially concealed by thickets, while a neat post and rail, regularly continued round a field, and seen without any interruption, is one of the most unpicturesque, as being one of the most uniform, of all boundaries.|
|But among all the objects of nature, there is none in which roughness and smoothness more strongly mark the distinction between the two characters, than in water. A calm, clear lake, with the reflections of all that surrounds it, viewed under the influence of a setting sun, at the close of an evening clear and serene as its own surface, is perhaps, of all scenes, the most congenial to our ideas of beauty in its strictest, and in its most general acceptation.|
|Nay, though the scenery around should be the most wild and picturesque – I might almost say the most savage – every thing is so softened and melted together by the reflection of such a mirror, that the prevailing idea, even then, might possibly be that of beauty, so long as the water itself was chiefly regarded. On the other hand, all water of which the surface is broken, and the motion abrupt and irregular, as universally accords with our ideas of the picturesque; and whenever the word is mentioned, rapid and stoney torrents and waterfalls, and waves dashing against rocks, are among the first objects that present themselves to our imagination. The two characters also approach and balance each other, as roughness or smoothness, as gentle undulation or abruptness prevail.|
|Among trees, it is not the smooth young beech nor the fresh and tender ash, but the rugged old oak or knotty wych elm that are picturesque; nor is it necessary they should be of great bulk – it is sufficient if they are rough, mossy, with a character of age, and with sudden variations in their forms. The limbs of huge trees shattered by lightning or tempestuous winds, are in the highest degree picturesque; but whatever is caused by those dreaded powers of destruction, must always have a tincture of the sublime.
There is a simile in Ariosto in which the two characters are finely united:-
|“Quale stordito, e stupido aratore,
Poi ch’e passato il fulmine, si leva
Di, la, dove l’altissimo fragore
Presso, agli uccisi buoi steso l’aveva;
Che mira sensa fronde, et senza onore,
Il Pin che da lontan veder soleva,
Tal si levo’l Pagano.”
|Milton seems to have thought of this simile, but the sublimity both of his subject and of his genius, made him reject those picturesque circumstances, the variety of which, while it amuses, distracts the mind, and has kept it fixed on a few grand and awful images;-|
|“As when heaven’s fire
Has seathed the forest oaks or mountain pines,
With singed top their stately growth, though bare,
Stands on the blasted heath.”
|If we next take a view of those animals that are called picturesque, the same qualities will be found to prevail. The ass is generally thought to be more picturesque than the horse; and among horses, it is the wild and rough forester, or the worn-out cart-horse to which that title is applied. The sleek pampered steed, with his high arched crest and flowing mane, is frequently represented in painting; but his prevailing character, whether there or in reality, is that of beauty.|
|In pursuing the same mode of inquiry with respect to other animals, we find that the Pomeranian and the rough water-dog are more picturesque than the smooth spaniel or the greyhound, the shaggy goat than the sheep; and these last are more so when their fleeces are ragged and worn away in parts, than when they are of equal thickness, or when they have lately been shorn. No animal, indeed, is so constantly introduced in landscape as the sheep, but that, as I observed before, does not prove superior picturesqueness; and I imagine, that, besides their innocent character, so suited to pastoral scenes, of which they are the natural inhabitants, it arises from their being of a tint at once brilliant and mellow, which unites happily with all objects; and also from their producing, when in groups, however slightly the detail may be expressed, broader masses of light and shadow than any other animal. The reverse of this is true with regard to deer; their general effect in groups is comparatively meagre and spotty, but their wild appearance, their lively action, their sudden bounds, and the intricacy of their branching horns, are circumstances in the highest degree picturesque.|
|Wild and savage animals, like scenes of the same description, have generally a marked and picturesque character; and, as such scenes are less strongly impressed with that character when all is calm and serene than when the clouds are agitated and variously tossed about, so whatever may be the appearance of any animal in a tranquil state, it becomes more picturesque when suddenly altered by the influence of some violent emotion; and it is curious to observe how all that disturbs inward calm produces a correspondent roughness without. The bristles of the chafed and foaming boar – the quills on the fretful porcupine – are suddenly raised by sudden emotion, and the angry lion exhibits the same picturesque marks of rage and fierceness.|
|It is true, that in all animals where great strength and destructive fierceness are united, there is a mixture of grandeur, but the principles on which a greater or lesser degree of picturesqueness is founded may clearly be distinguished; the lion, for instance, with his shaggy mane, is much more picturesque than the lioness, though she is equally an object of terror.|
|The effect of smoothness or roughness in producing the beautiful or the picturesque, is again clearly exemplified in birds. Nothing is more truly consonant to our ideas of beauty, than their plumage when smooth and undisturbed, and when the eye glides over it without interruption; nothing, on the other hand, has so picturesque an appearance as their feathers, when ruffled by any accidental circumstance, or by any sudden passion in the animal. When inflamed with anger or with desire, the first symptoms appear in their ruffled plumage; the game cock, when he attacks his rival, raises the feathers of his neck, the purple pheasant his crest, and the peacock, when he feels the return of spring, shows his passion in the same manner –|
|“And every feather shivers with delight.”|
|The picturesque character in birds of prey arises from the angular form of their beak, the rough feathers on their legs, their crooked talons, their action and energy. All these circumstances are in the strongest degree apparent in the eagle; but, from his size as well as courage, from the force of his beak and talons, formidable even to man, and likewise from all our earliest associations, the bird of Jove is always very much connected with ideas of grandeur.|
|Many birds have received from nature the same picturesque appearance which in others happens only accidentally; such are those whose heads and necks are adorned with ruffs, with crests, and with tufts of plumes, not lying smoothly over each other, as those of the back, but loosely and irregularly disposed. These are, perhaps, the most striking and attractive of all birds, as having that degree of roughness and irregularity which gives a spirit to smoothness and symmetry; and where in them or in other objects these last qualities prevail, the result of the whole is justly called beautiful.|
|In our own species, objects merely picturesque are to be found among the wandering tribes of gypsies and beggars; who, in all the qualities which give them that character, bear a close analogy to the wild forester and the worn-out cart-horse, and again to old mills, hovels, and other inanimate objects of the same kind. Most dignified characters, such as a Belisarius, or a Marius in age and exile, have the same mixture of picturesqueness and of decayed grandeur, as the venerable remains of the magnificence of past ages.|
|If we ascend to the highest order of created beings, as painted by the grandest of our poets, they, in their state of glory and happiness, raise no ideas but those of beauty and sublimity; the picturesque, as in earthy objects, only shows itself when they are in a state of ruin –|
Less than archangel ruin’d, and the excess
Of glory obscured” –
|when shadows have obscured their original brightness, and that uniform, though angelic expression of pure love and joy, has been destroyed by a variety of warring passions:|
|“Darken’d so, yet shone
Above them all the archangel; but his face
Deep scars of thunder had entrench’d, and care
Sat on his faded cheek, but under brows
Of dauntless courage and considerate pride
Waiting revenge; cruel his eye, but cast
Signs of remorse and passion.”………..
|From all that has been stated in the last chapter, picturesqueness appears to hold a station between beauty and sublimity; and, on that count, perhaps, is more frequently, and more happily blended with them both, than they are with each other. It is, however, perfectly distinct from either. Beauty and picturesqueness are indeed evidently founded on very opposite qualities; the one on smoothness, the other on roughness; the one on gradual, the other on sudden variation; the one on ideas of youth and freshness, the other on those of age, and even of decay.|
|But as most of the qualities of visible beauty are made known to us through the medium of another sense, the sight itself is hardly more to be considered than the touch, in regard to all those sensations which are excited by beautiful forms; and the distinction between the beautiful and the picturesque will, perhaps, be most strongly pointed out by means of the latter sense. I am aware that this is liable to a gross and obvious ridicule; but, for that reason, none but gross and commonplace minds will dwell upon it.|
|Mr. Burke has observed, that "men are carried to the sex in general, as it is the sex, and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to particulars by personal beauty;" he adds, "I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them--and there are so many that do so--they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them."|
|These sentiments of tenderness and affection, nature has taught us to express by caresses, by gentle pressure; these are the endearments we make use of, where sex is totally out of the question, to beautiful children, to beautiful animals, and even to things inanimate; and where the size and character, as in trees, buildings, &c., exclude any such relation, still something of the same difference of impression between them and rugged objects appears to subsist; that impression, however, is diminished, as the size of any beautiful object is increased; and as it approaches towards grandeur and magnificence, it recedes from loveliness.|
|As the eye borrows many of its sensations from the touch, so that again seems to borrow others from the sight. Soft, fresh, and beautiful colours, though "not sensible to feeling as to sight," give us an inclination to try their effect on the touch; whereas, if the colour be not beautiful, that inclination, I believe, is always diminished, and in objects merely picturesque, and void of all beauty, is rarely excited. I have read, indeed, in some fairy tale; of a country, where age and wrinkles were loved and caressed, and youth and freshness neglected; but in real life, I fancy, the most picturesque old woman, however her admirer may ogle her on that account, is perfectly safe from his caresses.|
|It has been observed in a former part, that symmetry, which perfectly accords with the beautiful, is in the same degree adverse to the picturesque; and this circumstance forms a strongly marked distinction between the two characters. The general symmetry which prevails in the forms of animals is obvious; but as no precise standard of it in each species has been made or acknowledged, any slight deviation from what is most usual is scarcely attended to. In the human form, however, from our being more nearly interested in all that belongs to it, symmetry has been more accurately defined; and, as far as human observation and selection can fix a standard for beauty, it has been fixed by the Grecian sculptors. That standard is acknowledged in all the most civilized parts of Europe: a near approach to it, makes the person to be called regularly beautiful; a departure from it, whatever striking and attractive peculiarity it may bestow, is still a departure from that perfection of ideal beauty, so diligently sought after, and so nearly attained by those great artists, from the few precious remains of whose works, we have gained some idea of the refined art which raised them to such high eminence; for by their means we have learned to distinguish what is most exquisite and perfect, from the more ordinary degrees of excellence.|
|There are several expressions in the language of a neighbouring people, of lively imagination, and distinguished gallantry and attention to the other sex, which seem to imply an uncertain idea of some character, which was not precisely beauty, but which, from whatever causes, produced striking and pleasing effects: such are une physionomie de fantaisie, and the well-known expression un certain je ne sais quoi; it is also common to say of a woman--que sans etre belle elle est piquante- -a word, by the by, that in many points answers very exactly to the picturesque. The amusing history of Roxalana and the Sultan, is also the history of the piquant, which is fully exemplified in her person and her manners: Marmontel certainly did not intend to give the petit nez retrousse as a beautiful feature; but to show how much such a striking irregularity might accord and co-operate with the same sort of irregularity in the character of the mind. The playful, unequal, coquettish Roxalana, full of sudden turns and caprices, is opposed to the beautiful, tender, and constant Elvira; and the effects of irritation, to those of softness and languor: the tendency of the qualities of beauty alone towards monotony, are no less happily insinuated.|
|Although there are generally received standards with respect to animals, yet those who have been in the habit of breeding them and of attending to their forms, have fixed to themselves certain standards of perfection. Mr. Bakewell, like Phidias or Apelles, had probably formed in his mind an idea of perfection beyond what he had seen in nature; and which, like them, though be a different process, he was constantly endeavoring to embody. It may be said, that this perfection relates only to their disposition to produce fat upon the most profitable parts--a very garazier-like and material idea of beauty it fairly must be owned; but still, if a standard of shape (from whatever cause) be acknowledged, and called beautiful, any departure from that settled correspondence and symmetry of parts, will certainly, within that jurisdiction, be considered as a an irregularity in the form, and a consequent departure from beauty, however striking the object may be in its general appearance. More marked and sudden deviations from the general symmetry of animals, whether arising from particular conformation, from accident, or from the effects of age or disease, often very strongly attract the painter's notice, and are recorded by him; many of these would, on the contrary, by most men be called deformities, and not without reason. I shall hereafter have occasion to show the connection, as well as the distinction, that subsists between deformity and picturesqueness.|
|If we turn from animal to vegetable nature, many of the most beautiful flowers have a high degree of symmetry; so much so, that their colours appear to be laid on after a regular and finished design: but beauty is so much the prevailing character of flowers, that no one seeks for any thing picturesque among them. In trees, on the other hand, every thing appears so loose and irregular, that symmetry seems out of the question; yet still the same analogy subsists. Cowley has very accurately enumerated the chief qualities of beauty, in his description of what he considers as one of the most beautiful of trees--the lime. He has not forgot symmetry in the catalogue of its charms, though it is probable that few readers will agree with him in admiring the degree or the style of it, which is displayed in the lime: but exact symmetry in all things was then extravagantly in fashion, as it is now--perhaps too violently--in disgrace.|
|Stat Philyra; haud omnes formosior altera surgit Inter Hamadryades; mollisima, candida, laevis, Et viridante coma, et bene olenti flore superba, Spartgit odoratum late atque aequaliter umbram.
If we take candida for clear, as candidi fontes; and viridante, as peculiarly fresh and verdant, we have every quality of beauty separately considered. A beautiful tree, considered in point of form only, must have a certain correspondence of parts, and a comparative regularity proportion; whereas inequality and irregularity alone will give to a tree a picturesque appearance, more especially if the effects of age as well as of accident are conspicuous: when, for instance, some of the limbs are shattered, and the broken stump remains in the void space; when others, half twisted round by winds, hand downwards; while; while others again shoot in an opposite direction, and perhaps some large bough projects sideways from below the stag- headed top, and then suddenly turns upwards, and rise above it. The general proportions of such trees, whether tall or short, thick or slender, is not material to their character as picturesque objects; but where beauty, elegance, and gracefulness are concerned, a short thick proportion will not give an idea of those qualities. There certainly are a great variety of pleasing forms and proportions in trees, and different men have different predilections, just as they have with respect to their own species; but I never knew any person, who, if he observed at all, was not struck with the gracefulness and elegance of a tree, whose proportion was rather tall, whose stem had an easy sweep, but which returned again in such a manner, that the whole appeared completely poised and balanced, and whose boughs wore in some degree pendent, but towards their extremities made a gentle curve upwards: if to such a form you add fresh foliage and bark, you have every quality assigned to beauty.
|In the last chapter I described the process by which a beautiful artificial object becomes picturesque: I will now show the similar effect of the same kind of process in natural objects; and, more fully to illustrate the subject, will compare at the same moment the effect of that process on animate and inanimate objects. It cannot be said that there is much general analogy between a tree and a human figure; but there is a great deal in the particular qualities which make them either beautiful or picturesque. Almost all the qualities of beauty, as might naturally be expected, belong to youth; and, among them all, none is more consonant to our ideas of beauty, or gives so general an impression of it as freshness;--without it, the most perfect form wants its most precious finish; wherever it begins to depart, wherever marks of age, or of unhealthiness appear, though other effects, other sympathies, other characters may arise, there must be a diminution of beauty. Freshness, which equally belongs to vegetable and animal beauty, is one of the most striking and attractive qualities in the general appearance of a beautiful object; whether of a tree in its most flourishing state, or of a human figure in its highest perfection. In either, the smallest diminution of that quality, from age or disease, is a manifest diminution of beauty; for, as it was remarked by a writer of the highest eminence, venustas et pulchritudo corporis secerni non protest a valetudine.|
|Besides the relation, which in point of freshness in the general appearance, a beautiful plant or a beautiful person bear to each other, there is likewise a correspondence in particular parts--the luxuriancy of foliage, answers to that of hair; the delicate smoothness of bark, to that of the skin; and the clear, even tender colour of it, to that of the complexion. There is also, in the bark and the skin, though much more sensibly in the latter, another beauty arising from a look of softness and suppleness, so opposite to the hard and dry appearance, which, as well as roughness, is brought on by age; and which peculiar softness--arising in this case from the free circulation of juices to every part, and in contra-distinction to what is dry, though yielding to pressure--is well expressed by the Greek word [*****]; a word whose meaning I shall have occasion to dwell more fully upon hereafter.|
|The earliest, and most perceptible, attacks of time, are made on the bark, and on the skin; which at first, however, merely lose their evenness of surface, and perfect clearness of colour: by degrees, the lines grow stronger in each; the tint more dingy; often unequal and in spots; and, in proportion as either trees or men advance towards decay, the regular progress of time, and often the effects of accident, occasion great and partial changes in their forms. In trees, the various hollows and inequalities which are produced by some parts failing, and others in consequence of falling in; from accidental marks and protuberances, and from other circumstances which a long course of years gives rise to, are obvious; and many correspondent changes from similar causes in the human form, are no less obvious. By such changes, that nice symmetry and correspondence of parts so essential to beauty, is in both destroyed; in both, the hand of time roughens the surface, and traces still deeper furrows; a few leaves, a few hairs, are thinly scattered on their summits; that light, airy aspiring look of youth is gone, and both seem shrunk and tottering, and ready to fall with the next blast.|
|Such is the change from beauty--and to what? surely not to a higher, or an equal degree, or to a different style of beauty. No--nor to any thing that resembles it: and yet, that both these objects, even in this last state, have often strong attractions for painters--their works afford sufficient testimony; and they are called picturesque--the general application of the term to such objects, makes equally clear; and that they totally differ from what is beautiful--the common feelings of mankind no less convincingly prove. One misapprehension I would wish to guard against. I do not mean to infer, from the instances I have given, that an object, to be picturesque, must be old and decayed; but that the most beautiful objects will become so from the effects of age and decay; and I believe it is equally true, that those which are naturally of a strongly marked and peculiar character, are likely to become still more picturesque by the process I have mentioned.|
|I have now very fully stated the principal circumstances by which the picturesque is separated from the beautiful. It is equally distinct from the sublime; for, though there are some qualities common to them both, yet they differ in many essential points, and proceed from very different causes. In the first place, greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime. I would by no means lay too much stress on greatness of dimension, but what Mr. Burke has observed with regard to buildings is true of many natural objects, such as rocks, cascades, &c., where the scale is too diminutive, no greatness of manner will give them grandeur. The picturesque has no connection with dimension of any kind, and is as often found in the smallest as in the largest objects. The sublime, being founded on principles of awe and terror, never descends to any thing light or playful; the picturesque, whose characteristics are intricacy and variety, is equally adapted to the grandest and to the gayest scenery. Infinity is one of the most efficient causes of the sublime: the boundless ocean, for that reason, inspires awful sensations; to give it picturesqueness you must destroy that cause of its sublimity, for it is on the shape and disposition of its boundaries that the picturesque must in great measure depend.|
|Uniformity, which is so great an enemy to the picturesque, is not only compatible with the sublime, but often the cause of it. That general, equal gloom which is spread over all nature before a storm, with the stillness, so nobly described by Shakspeare, is in the highest degree sublime—|
|"And as we often see, against a storm,
A silence in the heavens, the wrack stand still,
The bold winds speechless, and the orb itself
As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
Does rend the region"
|The picturesque requires greater variety, and does not show itself the dreadful thunder has rent the region, has tossed the clouds into a thousand towering forms, and opened, as it were, the recesses of the sky. A blaze of light unmixed with shade, on the same principles, tends to the sublime only. Milton has placed light, in its most glorious brightness, as an inaccessible barrier round the throne of the Almighty -|
|"For God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity."
|And such is the power he has given even to its diminished splendour -|
|"That the brightest seraphim
Approach not, but with both wings veil their eyes."
|In one place, indeed, he has introduced very picturesque circumstances in his sublime representation of the Deity, but it is of the Deity in wrath; it is when, from the weakness and narrowness of our conceptions, we give the names and the effects of our passions to the all-perfect Creator: -|
|"And clouds began
To darken all the hill, and smoke to roll
In dusky wreaths reluctant flames, the sign
Of wrath awakened."
|In general, however, where the glory, power, or majesty of God are represented, he has avoided that variety of form and of colouring which might take off from simple and uniform grandeur, and has encompassed the divine essence with unapproached Iight, or with the majesty of darkness.|
|Again, if we descend to earth, a perpendicular rock, of vast bulk and height, though bare and unbroken, or a deep chasm, under the same circumstances, are objects which produce awful sensations; but without some variety and intricacy, either in themselves or their accompaniments, they will not be picturesque. Lastly, a most essential difference between the two characters is, that the sublime, by its solemnity, takes off from tho loveliness of beauty, whereas the picturesque renders it more captivating. This last difference is happily pointed out and illustrated in the most ingenious and pleasing of all fictions, that of Venus Cestus. Juno, however beautiful, had no captivating charms till she had put on the magic girdle--in other words, till she had exchanged her stately dignity for playfulness and coquetry.|
|According to Mr. Burke,4 the passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment is that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended with sonic degree of horror; the sublime, also, being founded on ideas of pain and terror, like them operates by stretching the fibres beyond their natural tone. The passion excited by beauty complacency; it acts by relaxing the fibres somewhat below their natural tone, and this is accompanied by an inward sense of melting and languor. I have heard this part of Mr. Burke's book criticised, on a supposition that pleasure is more generally produced from the stimulated than from their being relaxed. To me it appears, that Mr. Burke is right with respect to that pleasure which is the effect of beauty, or whatever has an analogy to beauty, according to the principles he has laid down.|
|If we examine our feelings on a warm genial day, in a spot full of the softest beauties of nature, the fragrance of spring breathing around us--pleasure then seems to be our natural state, to be received not sought after; it is the happiness of existing to sensations of delight only--we are unwilling to move, almost to think, and desire only to feel, to enjoy. In pursuing the same train of ideas, I may add that the effect of the picturesque is curiosity; an effect which, though less splendid and powerful, has a more general influence. Those who have felt the excitement produced by the intricacies of wild romantic mountainous scenes, can tell how curiosity, while it prompts us to scale every rocky promontory, to explore every new recess, by its active agency cops the fibres to their full tone; and thus picturesqueness, when mixed with either of the other characters, corrects the languor of beauty, or the tension of sublimity. But as the nature of every corrective must effect of what it is to correct, so does the picturesque when united to either of the others. It is the coquetry of nature--it makes beauty more amusing, more varied, more playful, but also|
|"Less winningly soft, less amiably mild."|
|Again, by its variety, its intricacy, its partial concealments, it excites that active curiosity which gives play to the mind, loosening those iron bonds with which astonishment chains up its faculties. This seems to be perfectly applicable to tragi-comedy, and is at once its apology and condemnation. Whatever relieves the mind from a strong impression, of course weakens that impression.|
|Where characters, however distinct in their nature, are perpetually mixed together in such various degrees and manners, it is not always easy to draw the exact line of separation; I think, however, we may conclude, that where an object, or a set of objects, are without smoothness or grandeur, but from their intricacy, their sudden and irregular deviations, their variety of forms, tints, and lights and shadows, are interesting to a cultivated eye, they are simply picturesque. Such, for instance, are the rough banks that often enclose a by-road or a hollow lane: imagine the size of these banks and the space between them to be increased, till the lane becomes a deep dell, the coves, large caverns, the peeping stones, hanging rocks, so that the whole may impress an idea of awe and grandeur--the sublime will then be mixed with the picturesque, though the scale only, not the style of the scenery would be changed. On the other hand, if parts of the banks were smooth and gently sloping, or if in the middle space the turf were soft and close bitten, or if a gentle stream passed between them, whose clear, unbroken surface reflected all their varieties--the beautiful and the picturesque, by means of that softness and smoothness, would then be united.|
|I may here observe, that as softness is become a visible quality as well as smoothness, so also, from the same kind of sympathy, it is a principle of beauty in many visible objects; but as the hardest bodies are those which receive the highest polish, and consequently the highest degree of smoothness, there must be a number of objects in which smoothness and softness are for that reason incompatible. The one, however, is not unfrequently mistaken for the other, and I have more than once heard of pictures which were so smoothly finished that they looked like ivory, commended for their softness.|
|The skin of a delicate woman is an example of softness and smoothness united; but if by art a higher polish be given to the skin, the softness, and in that case I may add the beauty, is destroyed. Fur, moss, hair, wool, &c. are comparatively rough, but they are soft, and yield to pressure, and therefore take off from the appearance of hardness, and also edginess. A stone or rock, when polished by water, is smoother, but less soft than when covered with moss; and upon this principle the wooded banks of a river have often a softer general effect than the bare shaven border of a canal. There is the same difference between the grass of a pleasure-ground mowed to the quick, and that of a fresh meadow; and it frequently happens, that continual mowing destroys the verdure as well as the softness. So much does excessive attachment to one principle destroy its own ends.|
|Before I end this chapter, I wish to say a few words with respect to my adoption of Mr. Burke's doctrine. It has been asserted that I have pre-supposed our ideas of the sublime and beautiful to be clearly settled,5 whereas the least attention to what I have written would have shown the contrary. As far as my own opinion is concerned, I certainly am convinced of the general truth and accuracy of Mr. Burke's system, for the foundation of my own; but I must be very ignorant of human nature, to suppose "our ideas clearly settled" on any question of that kind. I therefore have always spoken cautiously, and even doubtingly, to avoid the imputation of judging for others; I have said, if we agree with Mr. Burke, according to Mr. Burke; and in the next chapter to this, I have stated that Mr. Burke has done a great deal towards settling the vague and contradictory ideas, &c. These passages so very plainly show how little I presumed to suppose our ideas were clearly settled, that no person who had read the book with any degree of attention could have made such a remark; and I must say--that whoever does venture to criticise what he has not considered, is much more his own enemy than the author's.|
|By way of convincing his readers that Mr. Burke's ideas of the sublime are unworthy of being attended to, Mr. G. Mason has the following remark, which I have taken care to copy very exactly:-- "The majority of thinking and learned men whom it has been my lot to converse with on such subjects, are as well persuaded of terror's being the cause of sublime, as that Tenterden steeple is of Goodwin sands." As Mr. Mason seems very conversant with the classics, as well as with English authors, and as the sublime in poetry has been discussed by writers of high authority, and the sublimity of many passages very generally acknowledged, I could wish that he and his learned friends would take the trouble of examining such passages in Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, and all the poets who are most eminent for their sublimity; and should they find, as surely they will, that almost all of them are founded upon terror, or on those modifications of it which Mr. Burke has so admirably pointed out, they may, perhaps, be inclined to speak somewhat less contemptuously of his researches. They may even be led to reflect, what must have been the depth and penetration of that man's mind, who, scarcely arrived at manhood, clearly saw how one great principle, acknowledged cause of the sublime in poetry, was likewise the most powerful cause of sublimity in all objects whatsoever; pursued it though all the works of art and of nature, and explained, illustrated, and adorned his discovery, with that ingenuity, and that brilliancy of language, in which he stands unrivalled.|
|A number of sublime passages in poetry will of course present themselves to a person so well read in the classics as Mr. Mason, but I will beg leave to remind him, and those who reject Mr. Burke's doctrine of a few instances, in which if terror be not the cause of the sublime, I have no idea of any cause of any effect. It is natural to begin by the great father of all poetry, and by a passage which Longinus has particularly dwelt upon: it is that celebrated one in the Iliad,6 where Homer has described Jupiter thundering above, Neptune shaking the earth beneath, and Pluto starting from his throne with terror, lest his secret and dreary abodes should be burst open to the day. From this short exposition the reader may judge what is the principle on which the sublimity of this passage is founded.|
|The most sublime passage, according to my idea, in Virgil, or perhaps in any other poet, is that magnificent personification of a thunder storm.|
|"Ipse Pater, media nimborum in nocte, corusca
Fulmina molitur dextra, quo maxima motu
Terro tremit, fugere, et mortalia corda
Per gentes humilis stravit pavor--Ille flagranti
Aut Atho aut Rhodopen, aut alta Cerunia telo
|Divest these two passages of terror, what remains? In this last particularly, the sublime opposition between the cause and the effect of terror, more strongly than in any other, illustrates the principle. And I may here observe, that one circumstance which gives peculiar grandeur to personifications, is the attributing of natural events to the immediate action of some angry and powerful agent.|
|"Ipse Pater media, &c.
Neptunus muros saevoque emota tridente
|Whenever Dante is mentioned, the inscription over the gates of hell, and the Conto Ugolino, are among the first things which occur. Paradise Lost is wrought up to a higher pitch of awful terror any other poem; to a mind full of poetical fire, he added the most studied attention to effect; and I think there is a singular instance of attention, and of the use he made of terror, in one of his most famous similes.|
|"As when the sun, new risen,
Looks through the horizontal misty air,
Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations."
|The circumstances are perfectly applicable to the fallen archangel; but Milton possibly felt that the sun himself, when shorn of his beams in eclipse, was a less magnificent object than when in full splendour, therefore added that dignified image of terror,|
|"And with fear of change
|It might even be conjectured, that he had literally added that last image; for the pause (which no poet took more pains to vary,) is the same as in the proceeding line, and the half verse which follows,|
|"Darken'd so, yet shone,"|
|would do equally well, in point of metre and of sense, after|
|"On half the nations."|
|From Shakspeare also, a number of detached passages might be quoted, to prove what surely needs no additional argument; but that most original creator, and most accurate observer, of whom no Englishman can speak, without enthusiasm, has furnished a more ample proof of the sublime effect of unremitting terror. Let those who have read, or seen his tragedies, consider which among them all is most strikingly sublime--which of them most powerfully seizes on the imagination, and rivets the attention--I believe almost every voice will give it for Macbeth. In that all is terror; and therefore either Aristotle, Longinus, Shakspeare, and Burke, or Mr. G. Mason, and his learned friends, have been totally wrong in their sublime, and of its causes.|
|That the same principle prevails in all natural scenery, has been so fully and clearly explained by Mr. Burke, that what is placed further arguments seem superfluous; yet, in it sometimes happens that what is placed in a different, though less striking light, may chance to make an impression on particular minds, I will mention a few things which have occurred to me. I am persuaded that it would be difficult to conceive any set of objects, to which, however grand in themselves, an addition of terror would not give a higher degree of sublimity ; and surely that must be a cause, and a principal cause, the increase of which increases the effect--the absence of which, weakens, or destroys it. The sea is at all times a grand object; need I say how much that grandeur is increased by the violence of another element, and again, by thunder and lightning? Why are rocks and precipices more sublime, when the tide dashes at the foot of them, forbidding all access, or cutting off all retreat, than when we can with ease approach, or retire from them? How is it that Shakespeare has heightened the sublimity of Dover Cliff, so much beyond what the real scene exhibits? by terror; he has placed terror above on the brink of the abyss; in the middle where|
|"Half way down
Hangs one who gathers samphire--dreadful trade!"
|And even on the beach below, drawing an idea of terror from the comparative deficiency of one sense:|
|"The murmuring surge
That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes, Cannot be heard so high;--I'll look no more Lest my brain turn."
|The nearer any grand or terrible objects in nature press upon the mind, (provided that mind is able to contemplate them with awe, but without abject fear,) the more sublime will be their effects. The most savage rocks, precipices, and cataracts, as they keep their stations, are only awful; but should an earthquake shake their foundations, and open a now gulf beneath the cataract--he, who removed from immediate danger, could dare at such a moment to gaze on such a spectacle, would surely have sensations of a much higher kind, than those which were impressed upon him when all was still and unmoved.|
|Of the three characters, two only are in any degree subject to the improver; to create the sublime is above our contracted powers, though we may sometimes heighten, and at all times lower its effects by art. It is, therefore, on a proper attention to the beautiful and the picturesque, that the art of improving real landscapes must depend.|
|[There may be instances, indeed, in which the sublime may, in one sense be created, so far at least as any one locality may be considered--I mean by the bringing into view some grand object, by the removal of some obstacle of fence, of ground, or of wood, which may exclude it from observation. I know a case, where a friend of mine by the judicious removal of ground, has opened up a view of a grand expansive branch of the ocean so as to bring it, as it were, under the windows of his mansion, though it is, in reality, several miles off. The view of sublime rocks, or mountains, or of magnificent waterfalls, or rivers, or lakes, is often lost for want of a little boldness in the sacrifice of a few trees. But no part of the art of landscape gardening requires greater caution, or more judgment than this, for rashness or ignorance may, perhaps, in a few hours, do such damage as ages may be required to repair. As for any attempt actually to create a sublime object, that would indeed be as absurd and presumptuous, as it would be certain of failure.--E.]|
|As beauty is the most pleasing of all ideas to the human mind, it is very natural that it should be most sought after, and that the name should have been applied to every species of excellence. Mr. Burke has done a great deal towards settling the vague and contradictory ideas which were entertained on that subject, by investigating its principal causes and effects; but as the best things are often perverted to the worst purposes, so his admirable treatise has, perhaps, been one cause of the insipidity which has prevailed under the name of improvement. Few places have any claim to sublimity, and where nature has not given them that character, art is ineffectual; beauty, therefore, is the great object, and improvers have learned, from the highest authority, that two of its principal causes are smoothness, and gradual variation; these qualities are in themselves very seducing, but they are still more so, when applied to the surface of the ground, from its being in every man's power to produce them; it requires neither taste, nor invention, but merely the mechanical hand and eye of many a common labourer; and he who can make a nice asparagus bed, has one of the most essential qualifications of an improver, and may soon learn the whole mystery of slopes and hanging levels.|
|If the principles of the beautiful, according to Mr. Burke, and those of the picturesque according to my ideas, be just, it seldom happens that those two qualities are perfectly unmixed; and I believe, it is for want of observing how nature has blended them, and from attempting to make objects beautiful by dint of smoothness and flowing lines, that so much insipidity has arisen.|
|[It has arisen, and ever will arise from any attempt to produce beauty by there mere employment of any one of its qualities only, when, to produce its perfection, it is necessary to select and combine them, and this too in such a manner as that the associations produced by them shall not be incongruous, but be perfectly in harmony with the nature and character of the object. As the composition of beauty, therefore, must be varied in each individual case, it would be vain to lay down a general rule for compounding it, as one would give a receipt for making a particular pudding. I conceive that it is in the tact, and discrimination, and judgment displayed in the selection, and composition of objects to produce beauty, that the faculty of what is called good taste consists. The smallest reflection upon the examples of Sir Uvedale Price brings forward in the few following paragraphs of this Chapter, will at once show that something more than mere smoothness, at least, is required to constitute beauty Nay, he proves that a due proportion of roughness is equally essential; and I conceive that it would be equally easy to prove, that all the different ingredients proposed by others, may, in certain objects, be found individually operating in combination with others towards the composition of beauty.--E.]|
|The most enchanting object the eye of man can behold--that which immediately presents itself to his imagination when beauty is mentioned--that, in comparison of which all other beauty appears tasteless and uninteresting--is tho face of a beautiful woman; and there, where nature has fixed the throne of beauty, the very seat of its empire, observe how she has guarded it, in her most perfect models, from its two dangerous foes, insipidity and monotony.|
|The eye-brows, and the eye-lashes, by their projecting shade over the transparent surface of the eye, and above all the hair, by its comparative roughness and its partial concealments, accompany and relieve the softness, clearness, and smoothness of all the rest; where the hair has no natural roughness, it is often artificially curled and crisped, and it cannot be supposed that both sexes have often so often mistaken in what would best become them. As the general surface of a beautiful face is soft and smooth, its general form consists of lines that insensibly melt into each other; yet if we may judge from those remains of ancient arts, which are considered as models of beauty, the Grecian sculptors were of opinion that a line nearly straight of the nose and forehead was required, to give a zest to all the other waving lines of the face.|
|Flowers are the most delicate and beautiful of all inanimate objects; but their queen the rose, grows on a rough thorny bush with jagged leaves. The moss rose has the addition of a rough hairy fringe, which almost makes a part of the flower itself. The arbutus, with its fruit, its pendent flowers, and rich glossy foliage, is perhaps the most beautiful of all the hardier evergreen shrubs; but the bark of it is rugged, and the leaves, which like those of the rose, are sawed at the edges, have those edges pointed upwards, and clustering in spikes; and it may possibly be from that circumstance, and from the boughs having the same upright tendency, that Virgil calls it arbutus horrida, or, as it stands in some manuscripts, horrens. Among the foreign oaks, maples, &c. those are particularly esteemed, the leaves of which (according to a common, though perhaps contradictory phrase) are beautifully jagged.|
|The oriental plane has always been reckoned a tree of tho greatest beauty; Xerxes' passion for one of them is well known, as also the high estimation they were held in by the Greeks and Romans. The surface of their leaves is smooth and glossy, and of a bright pleasant green; but they are so deeply indented, and so full of sharp angles, that the tree itself is often distinguished by the name of the true jagged oriental plane.|
|The vine leaf has, in all respects, a strong resemblance to the leaf of the plane; and that extreme richness of effect, which every body must be struck with in them both, is greatly owing to those sharp angles, to those sudden variations, so contrary to the idea of beauty when considered by itself. The leaf of the Burgundy vine is rough, and its inferiority, in point of beauty, to the smooth-leaved vines, is, I think, very apparent, and clearly owing to that circumstance. On the other hand, a cluster of fine grapes, in point of form, tint, and light and shadow, is a specimen of unmixed beauty; and the vine with its fruit, may be cited as one of the most striking instances of the union of the two characters, in which, however, that of beauty infinitely prevails; and who will venture to assert, that the charm of the whole would be greater, by separating them--by taking off all the angles, and sharp points, and making the outline of the leaves as round and flowing as that of the fruit? The effect of these jagged points and angles is more strongly marked in sculpture-- especially in vases of metal--where the vine leaf, if imprudently handled, would at least prove that sharpness is very contrary to the beautiful in feeling; and the analogy between the two senses is surely very just. It may also be remarked, that in all such works sharpness of execution is a term of high praise.|
|I must here observe (and I must beg to call the reader's attention to what, in my idea, throws a strong light on the whole of the subject,) that almost all ornaments are rough, and most of them sharp, which is a mode of roughness; and, considered analogically, the most contrary to beauty of any mode. But as the ornaments are rough, so the ground is generally smooth; which shows, that though smoothness be tho most essential quality of beauty, without which it can scarcely exist--yet that roughness, in its different modes and degrees, is the ornament, the fringe of beauty, that which gives it life and spirit, and preserves it from baldness and insipidity.|
|A moment's consideration, indeed, will show us, that the obvious, the only process in ornamenting any smooth surface, independently of colour, must be that of making it less smooth, that is, comparatively rough: there must be different degrees of roughness, of sharpness, of projections the character of those ornaments that have been admired for ages. The column is smooth; the ornamental part, the capital, is rough: of a building smooth, the frieze and cornice rough and suddenly projecting: it is so in vases, in embroidery, in every thing that admits of ornament; and as ornament is the most prominent and striking part of a beautiful whole, it is frequently taken for the most essential part, and obtains the first place in descriptions. Thus Virgil in speaking of a part of dress highly ornamented says,|
|"Pallam gemmis auroque rigentem."|
|And Dryden in the same spirit, when describing the cup that contained the heart of Guiscard, calls it,|
|"A goblet rich with gems, and rough with gold."|
|A plain stone building, may not only be very beautiful, but by many persons be thought peculiarly so from its simplicity; but were an architect to decorate the shafts, as well as the capitals of his columns, and all the smooth stone work of his house or temple, there are few people who would not be sensible of the difference between a beautiful building, and one richly ornamented. This, in my mind, is the spirit of that famous reproof of Apelles (among all the painters of antiquity the most renowned for beauty) to one of his scholars who was loading a Helen with ornaments; "Young man," said he, "not being able to paint her beautiful, you have made her rich."|
|All that has just been said on the effect, which, in objects of sight, a due proportion of roughness and sharpness gives to smoothness, as likewise on the danger of making these two qualities too predominant, may, I think, be very aptly illustrated by means of another sense. Discords in music, which are analogous to sharp and angular objects of sight, are introduced by the most judicious composers, in their accompaniments to the sweetest and most flowing melodies, in order to relieve the ear from that languor and weariness, which Iong continued smoothness always brings on. But, on the other hand, should a composer, from too great a fondness for discords and extraneous modulations, neglect the flow and smoothness of melody, or should he smother a sweet and simple air beneath a load even of the richest harmony, he would resemble an architect, who, from a false notion of the picturesque, should destroy all repose and continuity in his designs, by the number of breaks and projections, or should try to improve some elegant and simple building, by loading it with a profusion of ornaments.|
|The must beautiful and melodious of all sounds, that of the human voice in its highest perfection, appears to the greatest advantage when there is some degree of sharpness in the instrument which accompanies it; as in the harp, the violin, or the harpsichord: the flute, and even the organ have too much of the same quality of sound; they give no relief to the voice; it is like accompanying smooth water with smooth banks; yet will any one say, that separately considered, the sound of the harp or the violin is as beautiful as that of a fine human voice, or that they ought to be classed together? or that discords are as beautiful as concords, or that both are beautiful, because when they are mixed with judgment, the whole is more delightful? Does not this show that what is very justly called beautiful, from the essential qualities of beauty being predominant, is frequently, nay generally composite; and that we act against the constant practice of nature and of judicious art, when we endeavour to make objects more beautiful, by depriving them of what gives beauty some of its most powerful attractions?|
|[But why does the human voice affect us more powerfully than the sound of a musical instrument? Is it because its tones are finer, more delicate, or more powerful? I suspect not. The most magnificent human voices can be excelled in all these particulars by certain instruments, when played on by the best performers. The greater influence which the human voice possesses over us, arises from the circumstance of its being the human voice. For, as the influence which instrumental music has over us, arises from the association which its tones awaken with the feelings and passions of human nature, so it follows, that the human voice, as being more immediately connected with these, must be in itself a superior vehicle for their expression. It has also the immense advantage of being able to give utterance to those sentiments of poetry, with which the notes have been harmoniously associated. In support of this view, the experience of every one must bear witness to the fact, that it is by no means always the finest voice, considering it as an instrument, that most deeply touches the human heart, and that feeling and powerful expression, will always awaken more chords of sympathy, and more general emotions in the minds of the authors, than the finest toned voices can possibly do without it. Nay, the very power which instrumental music possesses over us, depends entirely on the extent to which this mental feeling and expression can be imitated.--E.]|