Page images
PDF
EPUB

6

than a well-lighted room with a low and flat roof. It is, then, evidently our wisdom to use such an advantage when it offers itself. ... Considering how rare access to churches of the noblest kind must always be, tenets of religion which dwell much on such a help to devo tion are likely to gravitate into mere fetish superstition.

An opposite danger is often remarked to accompany the use of all the fine arts as handmaids to religion, namely, that the would-be worshipper is so absorbed in mere beauties as never to rise into devotion. Music, painting, and architecture, are by him appreciated as such; and if criticised as such, then farewell to their religious influences. That the danger is real and imminent, the history of Italy and of modern Rome proves. What Romanist will claim for Rome a high place in his religious world? And yet where else bave these influences acted on so great a scale for so long a time! On the whole, therefore, we must assign an exceedingly subordinate place in religion to that beauty which the hand of man produces. Its author is not divine enough; it is dangerous to make much of his work. Only when it is so glorious as to rise above criticism, can it lift us higher than our common level.'

In the sentence in italics, we heartily believe that the true rule which should regulate the employment of art as a moral or religious aid, is enunciated. But Mr. Newman is not the first who has declared it. Lord Bacon implies the same thing when he concludes his chapter on Poesy, in the Advancement of Learning,' with the words, But it is not good to stay too long in the theatre;' and a modern poet has said

• The Muses are the helpmates

Of mankind, are born to be
Supporters of our moments,

Slack in faith ; their deity
Is but our own reflected :

Make them idols, and they flee;
Or worse, remain as tyrants,

Who, most tyrant-like, employ
The powers we give against us.

There are numerous evils, besides those mentioned by Mr. Newman, which may

arise from the use of the kind of art contemplated by him as anything more than an occasional stimulus.' Of these, probably the greatest is the production of a morbid refinement of the senses—a refinement that unfits them for the part they are intended to assume in the economy of a world where beauty is as rare as deformity is abundant. A man without an eye for beauty might be almost as well without an eye at all; but he is in not much better case whose habit of perception has attained that extreme and abnormal activity which is not uncommon among men who have long been abandoned to the seductive tyranny of ideal beauty. Art, however, though always working in the interest of beauty, expatiates, as we have seen, in a field far wider than that which beauty comprehends. Whatever is, is the legitimate subject of art. So far, indeed, is it from being confined to that which is in itself attractive, that art may safely employ facts and images which are rightly banished from ordinary conversation. If modern art is tender upon this score, it is less to its praise than to its disgrace and degradation, as not apprehending its high privilege of deriving from the entire universe a perfect and universal language. It is true, that the exercise of this privilege of artistical language, to its full extent, has often set limits to its audience. But who have been the persons excluded ? Surely not those to whom the kind of art in which such privilege is available, would, in any case, appeal.

The value of art may fitly be considered in connexion with two psychical facts, thus expressed by the great philosophical poet of our age, Mr. Wordsworth:

• It is a thing impossible to frame
Conceptions equal to the soul's desires ;
And the most difficult of tasks to keep,

Heights which the soul is competent to gain.' The supreme power of art in extending the vision of the soul is so widely allowed, that we need not insist upon it here; but there is a danger accompanying such extension, of which all are not aware: we mean, the danger of overlooking or neglecting the fact, that increased breadth of mental vision demands, but does not always give, a proportionate increase of mental strength. To be 'as wide as Asia, and as weak,' is to merit pity without having the means of moving it; in other words, to be contemptible: and this character is nowhere more common than among persons who apply themselves much to the contemplation of art, without comprehending its principal use, which is to correct the gravitating tendencies of the soul, in those seasons, too well known to all spiritual minds, when the spiritual sense is deadened, and the peace which passeth all understanding' flags, and demands a sign, in order to its sustenance. The arts, in their highest operation, are supporters of our moments slack in faith;' but those who have recourse to them as the main props of spiritual life, are likely to increase the kind of weakness which they are suited to correct. accustomed to, and in seasons of oppression from the senses, thirsting for, the sight of pure truth, receives help and refresh ment inexpressible from the sensuous embodiment of truth in works of art. When meditation fails to rouse the soul, when

An eye

all scientific affirmations of higher realities seem blank and barren, and when even the most impassioned eloquence does but show forth our own temporary impoverishment, by demonstrating to us the present wealth and happiness of the speaker, an inspired verse, à strain of true music, a turn in a Gothic abbey, or a glance at a picture, be it only of sheep reposing, with a distance of quiet mountains, will remind the soul of its rights, and restore it to its home. Or, if the sin which so easily besets us has been the conscious cause of such estrangement, and the sole restorative, a living repentance, delays its coming, how powerful an instrument, in the hands of God, is the vivid representation by art of sin's exceeding sinfulness! If these assertions of the use of Art, as the handmaid of Religion, have any truth in them, it is greatly to be regretted that the power of appreciating art is, at present, and long has been, less cultivated by religious men than by men who are quite incapable of deriving this kind of service from artistic productions.

Upon irreligious men, it is probably not the highest kind of art which operates most beneficially. The highest art induces an exceedingly refined and spiritual delight, that seldom exceeds the mild form of passion called emotion; it acts more upon the spirit than the pulses; and it commonly fails to satisfy the vulgar craving for the striking,' the pathetic,' and so forth. In the very first paragraph that follows, Mr. Newman points only to the lowest class of effects that the poems to which he alludes, if they are true poems, must be capable of producing: but these are the effects proper to the mental condition which he and we are now contemplating:

• All the generous side of human nature is nurtured and expanded by the contemplation of the Infinite. Hence it is that a sense of the sublime and beautiful, though it be not yet religion, supplies to morals an important part of that which it is reserved for religion to give in full power and divine harmony. Hence the glorious effect of high poetry, and of all that excites pure and beautiful imagination on the youthful mind. Therefore it is that to weep with Andromache, to shudder for Hector, to tremble at Achilles, to admire Alcestis, to rejoice with Admetus, constitute a better moral training than Paley's • Philosophy,' or Aristotle's • Ethics,' can give. Whatever throws the heart out of self, and swallows it up into some noble or beautiful idea, affords to the moralist precisely that which he wants, but cannot get within his own science. He may, as it were, build an elegant engine, but he has to look elsewhere for heat and moving power.'

It cannot be too much impressed upon the mind, that the moral and spiritual effects of art, whether high or low, have moderation in the use of art for the condition of their production and permanence. This truth is in no way derogatory to the dignity of art. The Bible itself, if studied as continually and exclusively as art is sometimes studied by its idolators, would fail to work its due effects: to inform the spirit by contemplation without disciplining the will by active life, is to sow in the heart seeds of despondency and despair, which must germinate and flourish whenever the will shall chance to be forced into strong and continued action; the discovery, always new, though a million times made, and sad enough in any case, of the impossibility of enacting pure truth and beauty, must cause a series of shocks too dreadful to be borne without injury to the mind, when the soul has received an amount of light which is out of all proportion to its strength. From this derangement of the balance and adjustment of the elements of life, has arisen the fact

the most melancholy one which can be proved from history—that very commonly

The poet in his youth begins in gladness,

But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness.' Let us conclude these remarks with a few words concerning the prospects of art as a teacher. The results of art which already exist will probably take a more important part in furthering the welfare of mankind than has yet been fulfilled by them. There are powers in operation which tend to the multiplication of works of art, and to the dissemination of a sound feeling for them, to an extent unprecedented in history. A library of poems and a portfolio of prints are now such easily attainable luxuries, that they will soon become necessaries : the latter will, to some extent, include architecture, of which the beauty and power are wonderfully susceptible of graphical transcription. Science has recently developed, and is still engaged in developing, means of repeating most of the essential features of painting, architecture, and sculpture, with a fidelity as astonishing as it is important—a fidelity whereby we have preserved to us even the authority of the original work-an advantage which none will undervalue but those who have yet to learn, that indestructible instincts, whether they seem to be reasonable or not, must be propitiated and not opposed. There is no man, nor will there ever be one, so unhuman as not to value a work of art—if he values it at all—the more for its being the direct and unquestionable work of the artist. No copy, however faithful, if it be not necessarily faithful, will satisfy this craving for original authority. Processes, we repeat, are now perfected, or are being perfected, by which this authority is continued in the copy, so that the true relative values of that and the original are almost the same as those of the printed poem and the manuscript. Mr. Ruskin says admirably, tható a finished work of a great artist is only better than its

sketch, if the sources of pleasure belonging to colour and realization are so employed as to increase the impressiveness of the thought. The thought, the pith of the matter, is always contained in the sketch, and this, at least, is susceptible of multiplication with its original authority, by our present methods of chemico-electrical, Daguerreotype, and Calyotype engraving.

The great interest that now attaches to art, regarded in the light in which we have been considering it, must soon cause the wide promulgation of rules and principles directing its employment. The golden rule in this, as in all else, will be found to be moderation. It will be found, that quite as much of art as can be made available for the good of any man's soul is easily to be obtained by him ; whatever has set a limit to his means in this way, will generally be discovered to have also limited his wants. It will, moreover, be discovered that, unless a man can devote a whole life of leisure to travel, he will not get much of the substantial good of art by leaving his native country in pursuit of it. One picture familiarly known, seen, and loved day by day like a near friend, is worth a hundred galleries superficially examined and transiently felt. Galleries and museums are places for artists and idle people. If you have an idle hour, visit them by all means, but have your palladium in your own house; a print by Albert Durer, à cast of a lump of gothic foliage, or a Calyotype transcript of a Greek statue or bas-relief, hung up where you see it every day, will work you more good than many holiday visits to the National Gallery, St. Alban's Abbey, or the Elgin room at the British Museum.

Great is the benefit which must result to the spiritual cul. ture of men, if they do no more than make the proper use of existing works of art. But we trust that there is reason for higher hope. May we not look forward to the rise of a new and devotional art, which, being devoid of the antiquarian element that always develops itself in works of art as the times which they partly represent are changed, shall make an appeal, whereto men may respond as easily and universally as the Greeks responded in the Periclean age to sculpture, or the inhabitants of Northern Europe, in the middle ages, to architecture. But the prerequisite to this better state of things is one, we fear, which few will have faith to anticipate-viz., that Europe should be the home of a Christianity making some approach towards a true catholicity—a catholicity far other than that which has its centre in the Vatican.

« PreviousContinue »