Page images
PDF
EPUB

highest expression of itself. With moments of doubt whether all the vicpoetry the immediate appeal is the tories won by Greek art have not cost smallest of all; and although it is held us more than a defeat. that poetry is the marriage of sound Mr. George Moore in one of his early and sense, sense is so far the predom- essays raised this interesting speculainating partner that we only care to tion: what would have happened to read poetry in an unknown tongue for Japanese art if a cargo of the Elgin a very short time many people, for marbles had been wrecked on the instance, cannot tolerate more than coast of Japan? A speculation that is two verses of Burns's “Poor Mailie." more to the taste of our day is: what With sculpture and painting the two might have happened here if, before properties merge more intricately into the Renaissance, a cargo of Egyptian one another, for in the one operation and Assyrian figures had found its of the eye both things claim equal at- way ashore on both sides of the Chantention. A picture appeals to us by nel? Each year, however, sees more its design and color before we have and more examples of the ancient art considered what it represents. That of the East assembling in European immediate effect, however, has an or- museums, and the impact of this peneganic relation to the content of the trating expressiveness upon the more picture. It is conceived by the artist, sensitive minds of our generation is consciously or unconsciously, as the probably one of the causes of the dissymbol of his subject, and is the last satisfaction with the whole trend of art thing to disappear. So we find in old that is now becoming manifest all over and faded works by good masters Europe. But the more potent influwonderful ghosts of form and color ence has been the new knowledge of after features, dress, and action have Chinese art which has moved Western almost disappeared. In every real artists to the greatest heart-searchings. work of art this quality that is not The whole art of the Orient is at last representation exists, and apart from receiving respectful study-its signifiall veracity of statement, or beauty of cance as well as its form—and the the subject-matter, or illustration of artists are beginning to follow the stulife, it is what makes the painting a dents, and their studies are carrying work of art. Primitive art has this them far in directions that first-hand expressiveness; and although like madness to their older contemwe may argue that it was the result poraries. For instance, the Indian of incapacity to represent objects, that many-limbed figures, which a generaas soon as the primitive could draw tion ago were dismissed as barbaric his images better he did so, and that and debased forms of art, are now this is what we understand by the thought no more strange than the cenprogress of art, it does not follow that taurs and fauns of the Greeks, and it this lost expressiveness is not worth has become the focus of discussion much of what we have gained, or whether they do not represent further rather, that something of its spirit possibilities of making sculpture more cannot be recovered and developed symphonic or precessional, the many in another way than that of the limbs, it is argued, having power to Greeks and the Renaissance. Even suggest infinity. In a word, the questhe stoutest of us, as he has stood by tion is raised whether the drift of art the eternal-looking figures in the As- was really Westward. syrian and Egyptian rooms in the The new learning of Oriental art British Museum, must have had his bulks, more and more formidably every

seem

day, and the forces are gathering in this year, have accepted and carried yet all parts of Europe. The solid founda- further the negation of the subjecttions (especially in the Grafton Gal- matter, but they seek to make the lery) are beginning to tremble under- composition monumental in its own foot, and men are asking one another right by the value of the pigment, the whether there is any law (or by-law). strength and intensity of color, and on earth why there should not be more the simplification of form to shapes than one Renaissance. In Italian art that convey this sense of permanence. before the Renaissance the masters The other group, which includes John, exercised a plastic freedom over their Lamb, and Grant, in England, and designs and a power to intensify and Maurice Denis, and a number of exaggerate expressiveness that gives Frenchmen, seeks to revive the importhem often a curious kinship with tance of subject-matter, and to conEastern art, this power fading in the centrate upon the emotional signifitifteenth century and in the seven- cance that arises from the subject. teenth dying away (shall we say?) in Whether we agree or not that they the enigmatic smile-faintly Chinese- have found the remedies, we must adof the Mona Lisa. It may be that some mit that both sections are serious day, when Oriental learning has about serious things, and that their wrought a complete change, people search for

monumental form and will say of her (for, of course, she will style is all for the good. It is signifi. be rediscovered by then) that she was cant that many of the most learned smiling at the wrong Renaissance. and most thoughtful of our critics Since the powerful influence of that

here and in France have given their Renaissance, art has gone fast and far general support to the movement; that along the road to complete imitation

it has attracted back to contemporary of nature. But as the artist's power painting the more serious section of of representation has enlarged, the

our connoisseurs who want art to be problems of this function have in an anything but a solace for tired minds; increasing measure occupied his mind,

and that it has stabbed through the and the objects upon which he has

indifference to art into which the genexercised it have slackened their de- eral public had fallen since the Premand upon his power to invent and Raphaelites. magnify. There were, of course, a

How far the movement is leading host of other factors, such as the mod- us, and how changed the criteria of ern concern with light, which became

criticism are becoming, may be gauged the "hero of the picture," but the de

from an excerpt from a Post-Imprescline in the importance of the subject

sionist article in the “Burlington Magamatter and a lessening capacity for

zine" by Mr. Clive Bell, a leading pregnant design are indisputable. The apologist of the school, who puts the question that fails to be considered is case for perfect freedom in this way: whether the synthesists (to group to- “Either all works of art have somegether the French Post-Impressionists thing in common, or when we speak and the Augustus John group in Eng.

of 'works of art' we gibber. What is land under one ugly but convenient ti

this quality? What quality is shared

by all works that stir our aesthetic tle) do not really go far to remedy the

emotions? What quality is common two disabilities into which modern art

to St. Sophia and the windows at has fallen. The one group, which in

Chartres, Mexican sculpture, Chinese cludes most of the living Frenchmen carpets, Giotto's frescoes, the masterwho exhibited at the Grafton Gallery pieces of Poussin, of Cézanne, and of

[ocr errors]

Henri Matisse? Only one answer ciple so deeply rooted in the human seems possible significant form. In

race, is, at the least, unlikely, but that each, forms and relations of forms

such an attempt is valuable as a corstir our aesthetic emotions. Form is

rective of the ills of modern artthe one quality common to all works

the otiose condition of our classicalists, of visual art."

the indigestion of our Impressionists— The claim is distinctly staked out

is surely undeniable. that the plastic arts are not repre Nevertheless, England, at least, need sentative but presentative like music.

have little fear of Post-Impressionism The purest form of art by this theory

or any other form of imported art. would be art purged of its content,

England only imports what can be and reduced to cubes and patterns, for dealt with by her national temperathen there would be nothing but form

ment, and that she speedily transforms and the relations of form. Cézanne,

into a home product on which the origVan Gogh, and Gauguin had this in

inal exporter cannot find his trade common, that they sought to reclaim

marks. How different is the wayward, the ancient prerogative of the artist

dainty Impressionism of Steer, Clauto deal with his subject after his own

sen, McTaggart (who got Impressionlaw. Their transfigurations were ex

ism by wireless, for he never saw a pressed in terms of abstract form.

Monet till he was over sixty), of the They were synthesists above every

Glasgow School, of Brabazon, Holmes thing else. A few of their Frencb

and

Houston, from Impressionism followers seek, like John and Lamb, to

that seized and possessed Monet, transfigure their subjects in terms of

Renoir and Pissarro, to whom their significant form, but the majority are

art was a new religion! The prevailcontent with the aim of form without

ing instinct of English art is the desire concern for the subject. England there

for beauty, and we pay the penalty in fore, at a time when she has not made

the national cult of prettiness, which up her mind whether pictorial art can

is as far into her territory as most of be severed from literary associations,

us can enter. Our boast might be that finds herself facing the spectacle of

we make two pretty things grow pictorial art trying to sever itself from

where one idea grew before. Howall associations. Can pictorial art live

ever the mandarins may rage against apart from its association content like

them, even our pioneers are never music, or will it become gibberish, as

ahead of beauty. But the French can poetry does when the poet seeks to

forget her in their search for truths, use words for their rhythmic value

and it is they who must take their conapart from their meaning? Can it

solation from Whitman's lines: give up ethics and cease to have the

The Great Masters responsibility of poetry without lower

Do not seek beauty, they are sought; ing its whole value to the human race? For ever touching them, or close upon The answer surely is that it cannot;

them, follows beauty, that although works of art have in Longing, fain, lovesick. common the language of significant No characteristic of the Englishman form, a work of art to be great must is more clearly expressed in his art also have a moral value that can be than his love of an harmonious life expressed in that form, as form in within the walls of that much-vaunted poetry rises to its heights when it is castle of his, which is inviolate, beexpressing its most ecstatic thoughts. cause the authorities know perfectly That any movement can alter a prin- well that nothing dangerous is con

cealed within. (Whoever heard of a of artist-explorers to whom we have really dangerous English anarchist?) no equivalent. It is this spirit that We have an incurable gift (called England needs most, for in our island "Spirit of Campromise") for taking an art loses her divine fierceness and ideal, domesticating it, and making it challenge, and we forget that beauty some ng with which we can live should be more than sweetness, that harmoniously. Life must be pleasant art at her noblest can be "terrible as and seemly. The French have a gift an army with banners." Therefore for making life fit an ideal-or be let us not shut our gates to all that damned. It was they who had the comes with the smoky flares of the Revolution and the Commune. There Post-Impressionists. is a shy, wild-flower quality in our What the future may hold for EngEnglish art that makes it perhaps lish art is more than ever an enigma; seem fragile and accidental when seen but of one thing we may be sure: beside the art of contemporary schools l'ost-Impressionism, either as a poison of the Continent, with their strong in- or a medicine, will never be taken here tensive culture. But England's spon- in its purity. You never get in Eng. taneous charm never altogether fails, land the empty vessel. Artist, muand is ever springing up under the sician, writer, politician—their capacity most unlikely hedgerows and in queer is always nearly full: only a little can company to carry us through seasons go on top and the body of the liquor when professional crops on the Conti- remains much the same. None of our nent have perished in the drought. national bogeys are really dangerous.

But the continuous, laborious, seri. No anarchists, Jesuits, or Post-Impres. ousness so characteristic of the French sionists can ever have their will of us. mind is as alien to us as is its gaiety. South Kensington and Hammersmith French genius takes pains in the real can sleep safe o' nights, well guarded sense of the word. Millet, Degas, by the Spirit of Compromise, formidaMonet, and Cézanne belong to a line ble to Art as to Anarchy. The Edinburgh Review.

James Bone.

THE ASCENDANCY OF WORDSWORTH.

In 1884, James Russell Lowell, in the whose genius places him next to Milcourse of his presidential address to ton. This tardiness of recognition by the Wordsworth Society, said of the public is due partly to WordsWordsworth, "Popular, let us admit, worth's own attitude, and partly to the he can never be”; and certainly the unfortunate period in which he lived. slight recognition given to the poetry One can scarcely wonder that he was of Wordsworth at that period justified laughed to scorn because of his simthe American Ambassador's somewhat plicity cult. Revolting from the pessimistic outlook. Yet to-day, de- tawdry glitter of Moore and Byron, he spite the fact that this is considered an resolved to produce a new and pure unpoetical age, one may say with as- kind of poetry that should be based surance that the popularity of Words- upon truth and simplicity of diction. worth's poetry, unlike that of his To a certain extent he was justified in contemporaries, is in the ascendant his demand for simplicity, but through with public opinion, and that presently an entire lack of humor the cult was he will take the full honors due to one carried to as ridiculous an excess as

on

reason

that which characterized the very Thoughts that do often lie too deep for school of poetry to which he was so

tears'? opposed.

And though in one of his letters he It is not to be wondered at that a declares: "I have not written down to public brought up on the poetry of the level of superficial observers or unMoore and Byron should find nothing thinking minds,” the result of his work attractive in the somewhat barren was to make men both observe and work of Wordsworth, for the latter de think. His rugged honesty would not liberately precluded himself from using permit him to conceal the inner music every artifice, legitimate or other- of the heart, and hence his poetry wise, that had been used by what one touches some corresponding chord in might term the Italian School of the soul of his reader. poetry, of which Byron was the bril- There can be no doubt that Wordsliant figurehead. Time has demon- worth derived inspiration and strength strated to us that Wordsworth was from his solitude, and he might as most earnest in this idiosyncrasy of truthfully have referred to his inspirhis; he put forward vehement claims ing thoughts, as to the daffodils, when to recognition on the strength of poetry be wrote; of the Idiot Boy type, which now

For oft, when on my couch I lie, moves one, not to laughter, but to pity In vacant or in pensive mood, at the spectacle of a man endowed They flash upon that inward eye with the highest poetical gifts wasting Which is the bliss of solitude." them the production of work Some men find inspiration amid the that, by

of the crippling throng of humanity, some find it on the restrictions which in his excess of silent mountain tops; it was in the latzeal he imposed upon himself, could ter place that Wordsworth found the not possibly demonstrate his true deep, imperishable truths which he proability.

claimed in immortal verse. Genius breaks the bonds of theories, Hazlitt, a man endowed with the and Wordsworth unconsciously found bighest critical faculties, was not slow himself in a style that neither con- to recognize the true merit of Wordsformed to the school he opposed nor worth; indeed, the warmth of his to the rules he had himself laid down. praise contrasts greatly with the apaWe now read his poetry, not because thetic attitude of the poet's contemhis muse found expression in the dic- poraries. “Mr. Wordsworth is the most tion of an ordinary man, but because original poet now living . his in following his self-imposed cult of poems open a finer and deeper vein of simplicity he expressed himself in lan- thought and feeling than any poet in guage as far removed from that of the modern times has done or attempted. ordinary man as was that of the poets He has produced a deeper impression to whom he took exception. His was and on a smaller circle than any of his a grandeur that outshone the scintillat- contemporaries. His powers have been ing archaicisms of the most romantic mistaken by the age," was Hazlitt's of poets. The simplicity which he in- tribute, and it required much courage sisted on was one not so much of dic- and great insight for a critic to make tion as of thought. His philosophy such a statement at a time when never got beyond Nature; why should Byron and Scott were at the zenith of it when

their popularity. "The meanest flower that blows can

We are given, then, the remarkable give

spectacle of a man who never mis

« PreviousContinue »