Art was given for that-
God uses us to help each other so,
Lending our minds out.
fra lippo lippi. Robert Browning
THE RELIGIOUS INFLUENCE
EDWARD CARPENTER, B.A.
FELLOW OF TRINITY HALL.
DEIGHTON, BELL, AND CO.
LONDON: BELL AND DALDY.
PRINTED BY C. J. CLAY, M. A.
AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
The late Richard Burney, esq., M.A., of Christ's College, Cambridge, previously to his death on the 30th Nov. 1845, empowered his Cousin, Mr Archdeacon Burney, to offer, through the Vice-Chancellor, to the University of Cambridge, the sum of £3,500 Reduced Three per Cent. Stock, for the purpose of establishing an Annual Prize, to be awarded to the Graduate who should produce the best Essay on a subject to be set by the Vice-Chancellor.
On the day after this offer was communicated to the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Burney died; but his sister and executrix, Miss J. Caroline Burney, being desirous of carrying her brother's intentions into effect, generously renewed the offer.
The Prize is to be awarded to a Graduate of the University, who is not of more than three years' standing from admission to his first degree when the Essays are sent in, and who shall produce the best English Essay "on some moral or metaphysical subject, on the Existence, Nature, and Attributes of God, or on the Truth and Evidence of the Christian Religion." The successful Candidate is required to print his Essay; and after having delivered, or caused to be delivered, a copy of it to the University Library, the Library of Christ's College, the University Libraries of Oxford, Dublin, and Edinburgh, and to each of the Adjudicators of the Prize, he is to receive from the Vice-Chancellor the year's interest of the Stock, from which sum the Candidate is to pay the expenses of printing the Essay.
The Vice-Chancellor, the Master of Christ's College, and the Norrisian Professor of Divinity, are the Examiners of the Compositions and the Adjudicators of the Prize.
In the event of the exercises of two of the Candidates being deemed by the Examiners to possess equal merit, if one of such Candidates be a member of Christ's College, the Prize is to be adjudged to him.The subject proposed by the Vice-Chancellor for the year 1869 was :-
The legitimate province of Architecture, Painting, and Music, in the
service of Religion.
The Prize was awarded to the author of the following Essay.
In trying to estimate the influence of Art or its importance in the service of Religion, we seem to assume that Art has at any rate some relation to Religion. Yet this is, at the outset, a proposition which many would decline to accept. The general position of Art is indeed from its very nature extremely difficult to determine. If it is true, as many perhaps would maintain, that it deals with or unites two seemingly opposed ideas, the spiritual and the material, it seems likely enough that, on one side, people would incline to treat its influence as nothing but a more or less refined impression on the sensual nerves; or, on the other hand, would be content to remove it from everyday life into a mere sentiment ‘vague as all unsweet' easily mistaken for true religious feeling.
It is, I think, unnecessary to enter elaborately into any theory on the nature of Art. But there is a point in which it must always come into very close contact with Religion, whatever we may hold concerning its origin. There can be no doubt, it seems to me, that, whether it be in music or in architecture or in painting, true Art does, without exception, suggest to the mind the existence of something which is beyond, though ever present in, the sphere of everyday life; something which cannot easily be expressed at all, never clearly, which yet we feel to be akin with our deepest consciousness. I do not think that anyone who has loved music can be ignorant of the irresistible sense it awakens of another world, as it were, flowing ceaselessly around us, into which we are for the time translated with a passing insight into its mystery; nor is it possible to stand amidst beautiful architecture, whether it be in some joyous conception of human Art, or amongst the woods and mountains of Nature's handiwork, without experiencing that feeling of strange wonder and delight, whose very indefiniteness seems to imprint it all the deeper on our minds. Whatever its phase, and Art has many phases, it always comes to us with the sense of something veiled, of something still half-unexpressed, which in its fulness we desire yet find not.
So it happens too that no true artist is ever thoroughly satisfied with his work; that is the penalty of his greatness; though he wonder at its beauty, that very wonder oppresses him with the sense of all that is unexpressed and unshapen. Whatever then be the real nature of this mystery of Art, whether its existence be merely fanciful or whether it be founded on all truth, I say that, in that point, Art does bring us into contact with Religion. It is essentially opposed to a mere so-called Positivism, which really rejoices in negatives; it is essentially opposed to a mere worldly spirit. The true artist, or any who truly rejoice in Art, cannot be worldly; that is to say, with them the interests of ordinary life have bowed before the indescribable sense of something invisible. 'Faith in the whispers of the lonely muse is to them the evidence of things not seen; and therefore true Art, as Wordsworth says,
Requires the service of a mind and heart
Though sensitive, yet in its weakest part
It is a continual protest against that cowardly spirit which often, under the falsely-so-called name of science, would seek protection from the dreaded imputation of believing anything which it cannot prove, or of feeling any enthusiasm for what may possibly be an object of ridicule to others; and while such weakness of spirit will degrade a man of culture so far as to render him incapable of any effective work, the true scientific spirit or the true artistic spirit will, as may so often be seen, give permanent refinement to men of the meanest birth and education.
But I think that there are other, and more direct, ways in which Art comes into contact with Religion. If beauty in Art does excite in us anything more than a mere sensual pleasure, if in fact it provokes in the mind trains of thought and emotion, dimly enough perhaps realised yet sufficient to hold us with a strange power, it must be because the laws of material nature, by means of which the artistic spirit is expressed, are in some sort of correspondence with the invisible world of thought and feeling, and so serve to wake into action that spiritual world within us.
It is this correlation between the visible and the invisible kingdoms which is at once the stumblingblock and the clue in all theories of Art. It lies so near us that we are not in a position to contemplate it, so to speak, from without. The two worlds run so close and intermingle with each other so gradually that we cannot even draw the line of separation between them. Nay, if we take the analogy of all Nature, we may well believe that we never shall be able to draw the line of separation; but rather that we shall at last behold them both, as part of one great plan, identical in their essence though diverse in outward manifestation1.
1 It is useless to say that all our feelings of Beauty are only so many combinations of impressions derived from without, but have no further groundwork than that. As has been so often said before, the very faculty of receiving these feelings from without implies the pre-existence of something within us before our contact with the external world. Indeed the merest sensual impressions imply a receptive power, and the more science advances the more it shews us that our own sensations of light, colour, sound, odour, &c. have apparently no necessary connection with the particular movement of nature to which we ascribe them, but are only linked from the beginning to those external movements, so as to become always associated with them in our minds. And thus, as perception of hue or sound is a mysteriously innate fitness or correspondence between the external world and the mind, so is the perception of beauty in Art a fitness between the artistic production and an idea similarly pre-existent in us through an inward birth. Art is n fact symbolical, and arises both in perception and creation-that is, in the fitting of the mind to the external world and in the fitting of the external world to the mind.
We cannot then say how this linking together of mind and matter takes place, but we know that it is present with us in every act of consciousness. And so we may, in some sort, understand that if the outward world is the creation of One, and the laws of Nature the eternal modes of His operation, all the visible universe must indeed be a reflection, as it were, of His mind; and as we look upon it, if there is anything of divinity within us, it must leap forth to embrace that which it recognises as the manifestation of a kindred spirit. Nature in her fulness is God's art. Man is in a different position; he cannot (as far as we know at present) create his materials, but must make use of what Nature gives him, imitating and studying her till he is in some sort master of those outward things, and then using them to reflect again some little ray of the divine light which has found a home within him.
If then there is any truth in all this, we may well believe that Nature, in her splendour and her humility, in her labour and her repose, in her widefelt sympathy and her awe-inspiring changelessness, does indeed tell us something of the attributes of Him who fills her with life, and may truly excite in us emotions akin to the deepest religion. And what Nature does in her bounty, man's Art may follow out in lesser completeness. All men feel the desire to express that which is in them. Some appreciate and seize with a sudden inspiration the fitness of the visible world for that expression. These are the world's artists; they have the divine power (which all perhaps have in some degree) of giving light to the hidden thoughts within them by the symbolism of Nature. On the other hand, more men can appreciate the import of this symbolism without being able so readily to bend it to their own use; they are the great audience of Nature and of Art. Often they feel more deeply and rejoice more in the message than those whose tongues are not bound, but they cannot impart it so readily to others. Yet if their feelings are true they cannot resist the wish somehow or other to express that which has found a home in their hearts; and if not with chisel or pencil, yet in word and life to strive to picture forth that beauty which has been revealed to them. So true art, at any time, ought to imply both 'being and doing,' reception of the beautiful, and the endeavour to express it, to pass it on again to all the world.
Man's art must not, therefore, be thought to be a mere useless imitation of Nature. For though it may be said to be burdened with the same messages, yet to many it speaks with clearer tones than Nature does; for Nature is so exuberant, so overpowering in her fulness, that we are often bewildered by her, and cannot carry away anything but a vague astonishment at her greatness; but the artist can take some part of her message and, omitting the mass of her detailed beauty, convey a smaller meaning, it is true, but one more easily understood. Nor is it necessary that a fuller development of our receptive powers should cause us to discard all human art in favour of Nature. There is a pleasure in the sympathetic communication of ideas among fellow men, which can never perish; and may we not also add that in all men there is an originality, ever new in itself and ever of varying interest in its expression, which will always render his highest works valuable, even in the presence of Nature's transcendent teaching?
In the attempt of the spirit to mould the external world into some kind of expression of itself, there ensues a struggle, as it were, between the spiritual and the material, between the active and the inert throughout all Nature, between that which tends to life and that which tends to death. In this struggle, the triumph of the spiritual gives rise to what we term perfect beauty or felicitous expression. The material is moulded into perfect consonance with the hidden idea, and the beholder is filled with the most unbounded delight as that perfect fitness flashes upon him too as it flashed upon the forming mind.
When the struggle is on the side of the material, and the spirit is in danger of suffering defeat, there arises in beholder, according to the importance of the occasion, either an unavoidable sadness or a resistless sense of the ludicrous, a sense of the tragic or of the comic.
But when the spirit dies, when the active falls into the inert, when Life is swallowed up in Death, there results the most perfect ugliness.
In the great whole of Nature we have all these vividly presented to us amongst her details.
The latest researches of Science tend to represent all the phenomena of Nature as the results of a struggle between the moving forces of attraction or repulsion and the inertia resident in matter itself. The consequent motions of the particles of matter excite the various impressions in our minds. Nature is reduced to a duality; an active principle, if we choose so to name it, and a passive principle. We return, in fact, to the (vovy) and the (v\j) of the Neoplatonists.
Now it is to be observed that, in Nature, the more we discern the action of these energetic forces symbolised in matter-the more delicate in fact the equilibrium in which the material particles are held-the greater is the beauty presented to us; while, in proportion as the atoms lie in an inert state, fettered by mutual friction, or even by the over-intensity of some one force, such as gravity; the more stable, in short, the equilibrium, the more dull and uninteresting is the result. If we take, for instance, a crystal of some salt and pound it into a powdery mass, all the little particles of the mass are no doubt exercising forces upon one another whose tendency is, firstly to produce motion, and ultimately to bind the whole into closer unity; yet the particles do not move, because the counteracting effects of friction, and the superabundant attraction of gravity are too strong for the moving forces. But if now we dissolve this powder in water, then it is in such a condition that the mutual attractions of the particles can take effect, and the result is that the particles aggregate into a definite shape-a crystal. There is no great beauty in the comparatively inert mass of powder, but the crystal is a definite exponent, as it were, of the forces that have been acting, and its shape to some extent symbolises the nature of those forces. The crystal is therefore an artistic production. Again, consider a mass of soil; in it the component matters are thrown together at random; there they remain, and the more formlessly they are arranged, the less do they represent the action of any force, and the more dull and flat does the whole appear. How different this from the beautiful flower that springs from it! All the little subtle forces, provoked to action by placing the seed in the ground, have drawn, each in its proper place, the tiny particles from the earth, building up the leaves, and the stalk, and the flower, with its colours grouped in brighter array than Solomon. Yet in the tissues of the plant exactly the same particles are ranged as were formerly in the earth and air, but now their various forces have found a sphere of action; and the graceful form of the leaves, and the delicate bend of the stalk, and the quick, happy opening of the flower are now due to the mutual balance of powers which were before imprisoned in the dull 'dead' earth. If we assume any unknown vital principle as moulding the forms of leaf and tree, the argument is still the same. The beauty arises in the gradual overcoming of the unwillingness of matter to bend itself to the unseen forces. However, to those who study Nature the unvarying physical laws seem marvellous enough; and it is only because they are more complicated in their action in the case of plants and animals, that we seek refuge from the difficulty by supposing them superseded by something else. The more complicated they are, however, the more advanced is the beauty arising from their action, and thus it happens that the beauty of the human form is of a higher order than the beauty of shrub or tree, just as the beauty of waving grass than that of the crystal, or the beauty of the varying cloudlines than that of the arched waterfall.
When we come to speak of the beauty of animals in general, or of men, we must remember that if we believe they have any wills at all of their own, then their bodies are not merely the product of the forces of Nature, but are varied too by the effect of the indwelling power of the will. Here then is an element of imperfection due to the clash of these two powers. And in man, at any rate, as a responsible creature, there arises a conscious struggle for the mastery. Hence the defeat of the will in man and his degradation to brute nature generally presents us with the most complete impression of ugliness. The human face may be very beautiful in its outlines as a mere product of Nature; but who does not know the beauty added when its lines and curves have come at last to represent the triumph of a true and manly heart ? And who does not know how the most perfect features may be vilified and distorted by a life of sensuality?
The struggle between the will of man and the undeviating tread of Nature's forces is the highest subject of pictorial and dramatic art; and here, as everywhere, the defeat or entanglement of the invisible powers in the more material gives rise to the tragic, or the ludicrous. When the flower, which has so delicately built itself up, is touched by the first breath of decay, the scale is turned against all the invisible forces which held it together; and though it does not at once lose its beauty, yet that is then very different from the beauty of the joyous bursting of the bud. So no beauty in Art can be greater than that of the triumph of man, surrounded by adversities, over all the evils of his path: when he moulds trials, temptations, difficulties, and dangers, physical or moral, all to his own will, instead of Falling a prey to them. Nor can anything be more tragic than the crushing of his spirit beneath what seems an adverse fate, when bold resistance is overwhelmed by the relentless powers of external Nature, or the endeavour to stand against temptation foiled by the accumulated habits of many years. On the other hand, this very adversity of fate, when the occasion is one of little importance, transmutes the tragic into the ludicrous. The incongruity of a noble ideal and the wretched material fact is, at once, the source of all sadness and of all humour. Even Hamlet becomes ludicrous, when his mother says 'He's fat and scant o' breath,' and it is almost impossible to help laughing even at one's own misfortune when one's hat becomes a plaything for the wind and mocks the most ardent pursuit. So it happens that the misfortunes of others, because we consider them of little importance, become the themes of laughter to ourselves; and the trite saying that there is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous is constantly exemplified. It is difficult to say whether Shakespeare excelled most in tragedy or comedy. Thomas Hood was full of the quickest humour and the deepest melancholy. Wordsworth has scarcely a tinge of unavoidable sadness, perhaps no sense at all of the ridiculous. If Mendelssohn or Mozart were kings of exuberant fancy and happy expression, Beethoven, in his passionate sadness, combined with an occasional touch of the most intense humour, is for ever a type of a spirit struggling and striving to express itself with materials for ever too gross to embody the last splendour of that which it has conceived. So it is not a sign perhaps of the highest artist mind when his works are always expressive of the most complete satisfaction. If it were possible that materials should thoroughly express the glory that eye hath not seen nor ear heard, then it would be different; but this is not possible, and therefore, as we said before, there is always the sense, in true Art, of something veiled, something unexpressed; and the true artist knows it and weeps it.
To return; we said that there were three phases of the contest between the invisible and the visible worlds. The first, in which the former triumphs, and moulds all external things to itself in perfectly happy expression; the second, in which the struggle is waged with doubtful issue, where now one side seems to pull the balance down and now the other; and the third, in which the spirit lies dead, crushed down to inaction by the very things that it hoped to have inspired. And it will be seen that the domain of Art lies practically in the second of these three phases. Here and there, the artist may attain the heights of perfect felicity in his work: that is the object for which he is always craving. Here and there, he may give way to the third phase for a moment in order to have a foil, as it were, for other parts of his work. But, in the great mass, the human artist can only expect to range along the higher hopes of a doubtful warfare; and it is indeed this fact which, as I shall try to shew hereafter, makes human art of such importance to us; we feel more keenly its sympathy with the strivings of which we are conscious in ourselves, for the very reason that it is not always perfectly successful in its efforts-does not lie in a range altogether above us.
Before proceeding further, however, I think it will be of importance to insist on a distinction in Art which is often not attended to, and the neglect of which often, in consequence, gives rise to much confusion.
If Art is, as we have hinted, the attempt to express, by the analogy of outward things, certain undefined ideas of a spiritual nature, it is, I think, evident that man in this endeavour may proceed in two ways. He may either look on the great artist-book of Nature, whether animate or inanimate, and, by copying and studying parts of that, strive to embody again ideas which he sees there depicted, by to some extent reproducing Nature; or he may, on the other hand, fashion to himself new materials for his service, and, making use of them, express himself in a way that Nature never taught him or, at least, only distantly hinted to him. The first of these methods is followed in dramatic art, painting, sculpture, landscape gardening, and in any phase of the other arts that is in any way imitative of Nature; the second, in music, architecture, dancing and the like. Poetry may be said to belong to both classes; its descriptions and vivid presentations to the mind of things we may have seen and heard bring it under the first head; its use of rhythm and metre is a direct not a pictorial artistic expression, and belongs to the second class.
In thus making a distinction, it must always be borne in mind that such distinctions are only roughly true; painting may allow the introduction of much art of the second class, such as ornamental scroll-work, while music and architecture may often contain artistic imitations of Nature. Also I would say that, in calling the first class imitative, I do not wish the word to be understood quite literally. It is impossible to thoroughly imitate Nature, and if possible, such an imitation would not make the work artistic. In all pictorial art, if we choose so to name the first division, the art consists in the choice, out of Nature's abundance, of that which is most fitted to represent the artistic idea, and in the truthful combination of the materials so chosen. Therefore, if it is intended, in a drama or a picture, to represent such things as really have happened or exist, it is not necessary or possible to introduce every detail, but the artist endeavours to catch those only which are important for his purpose; and it is the triumph of the artistic mind to be able to seize these quickly and truthfully. If, again, he wishes to take some scene not directly from Nature but from the effort of his imagination, still he can only do so artistically by combining together the treasures he has stored up from a long study of Nature; and if, in this combination, he produces anything impossible or untruthful, his work is at once stamped as inartistic. A few lines seem to place many of Shakespeare's characters before us as living beings, and though they may never have existed, yet no one can read his plays without feeling that they might have existed, and that as such they are most perfect studies of Nature portrayed by a master-hand. Look closely at one of Turner's pictures, and it will be evident that he has not attempted to imitate Nature's multiplicity of detail; yet the few touches he has used have each carried their weight to give with incomparable clearness that effect of Nature which he desired to reproduce1. The poet, though he may carry in his mind the clearest image of that which he is depicting, confines his art to the representation of a few particulars only, and on the truthfulness of this choice depends the success of the production.
1 It must not be thought that there is no beauty in the fulness of Nature's detail, and that this can be safely omitted without losing anything of the whole. This is not true; but, since it is impossible to represent the whole, it has been customary to omit this detail. Pre-raphaelitism was a protest against this custom.
In all these cases the art consists in the embodiment of ideas by the reproduction of images derived from Nature. But when we turn to the other class of Art, which we may call symbolic, the matter is different. For although, in the case, for instance, of architecture, it is possible to say that the thought of piling stones on one another was suggested by the wonderful forms of rock and crag, or the indefinite interlacing of arches by the embrace of lofty trees; yet it is clear that there is nothing in Nature like a cathedral, nor anything in wood or mountain which it was designed to be a representation of. So we may say that the effects of music are hinted at in the songs of birds or the deep rolling of the torrents; but we cannot really doubt that, in the cadences of his voice, and in the concerted music of his orchestras, man uses a form of expression entirely his own and as independent of Nature as anything can be. In poetry, as we said before, there is a rhythm and a metre which belong to the symbolic class. For if such rhythm is sometimes used to imitate an actual effect of Nature, as in Southey's Lodore, yet this is not its legitimate province, but rather it is an instrument solely of the poet's own creating, whereby he gives force to his artistic ideas, while his words picture forth the same idea by the means of images gathered from the world around.
It may seem forced to some to insist on this distinction between pictorial or descriptive art and that which is more directly constructive or symbolical; but the distinction is of some importance, and many have recognised it so far as to refuse any possible similarity of nature or design to painting and music, and to deny all unity to the different branches of Art. In truth, however, the struggle which I have spoken of as the groundwork of Art underlies everything we see, whether it be in the building up of matter throughout external Nature by the action of intangible forces, or whether it be in the struggle with that Nature again which takes place when the human will comes in contact with it; and beauty arises whenever the more spiritual succeeds in moulding the more material to itself, whether it be, as we noticed before, in the gradual rearing up of a graceful tree from the inert earth, or whether it be in the triumph of the spiritual will in man over the sensual tendencies of his earthly nature. Therefore, as we recognise its own peculiar beauty in every scene of Nature, so wherever man too succeeds in moulding things successfully to his higher ideas we may justly call his efforts artistic; whether it be in dress, or in language, or in the carnage of his body, or handwriting, or tone of the voice-the successful cultivation of each of these is an art, and impresses us more or less with a sense of beauty. The difference, of which I have spoken, between what may be called pictorial art and that which we have called symbolic, lies rather in the form of the art. That is to say, the former has been developed more directly through an imitation of the scenes which Nature presents and of the materials which she uses, while the latter is more due to man's constructive originality, which enables him to use new materials with a power of combination entirely his own. Thus it happens that, to a certain small extent, the former may be more acquired by study than the latter. In painting, for instance, a person who has a mind capable of seizing and appreciating the important points of a scene may by careful study and use of his materials become a very fair artist, even without any special gift towards form or colour; but in music it is notorious that a man may have the finest appreciative faculty and even the most brilliant imaginative power, and yet, if he be destitute of the natural ear which ought, unconsciously almost, to give body to his thoughts, he will never be able to attain the essential freedom of expression. So real grace of action or of oratory is not altogether attainable by study, it must to a certain extent be inborn. Of course in all these latter forms of Art, such as music, architecture, oratory, men may study from one another, as painters from Nature; but it is clear that this study alone, even combined with the most appreciative powers, can never produce Art of a really high order.
This difference in form being allowed, there is really the closest unity of nature in all Art. For though, at first sight, it might appear that there could be no resemblance in the ideas conveyed by a beautiful painting and a four-part song, or in the manner of expression in each; yet, the more closely we consider them, the more we shall see that, in fact, the very same principles and modes of treatment do prevail in both.
If we go back to Nature as our primal teacher, we shall find that she never acts, in the most minute matter, without following out certain ideas or principles, which we call the Laws of Nature, and which are indeed the modes according to which, as far as we are concerned, the Author of Nature has chosen to express His will. Nor can we doubt that these laws are indeed very closely connected with Him. They are not mere arbitrary rules serving to give rise to a casual world, or to be replaced by a new set when this world is worn out; but really, if there is any truth in Him who made them, they are the eternal expressions to us of a perfection that as yet we are only dreaming of. And surely we are justified in deducing this a priori, for does it not acquire redoubled force when we discover what are these principles of Nature's action ?-when we see her, first of all, stretching arms of endless might throughout all creation, holding and enveloping everything with unceasing force, through the wonderful grasp of suns or the inconceivably minute inclination of the tiny atoms to one another-and then, on the other hand, when we see her keeping all that mighty power in check as she moves on submissively within her own fixed bounds in perfect moderation, wreathing the light halo round the delicate firefly with the same fingers as she spreads the morning upon the mountains and the thundercloud along the valley-and when we see her, by the light of science, remaining permanent and indestructible through all the years, and yet, from moment to moment of time, shaking herself out and out with endless variety of change-when we see every little plant and animal fulfilling itself in happy individuality, and, at the same instant, bound by the strongest links of sympathetic dependence on every other part of creation, all things different yet all things for ever knit together fast and close-do we not feel that all these principles, purely scientific as they are, are also consonant with what we know of our highest conceptions ? Do they not speak to us of a Will, embracing everything, ‘which shall endure when all that seems shall suffer shock'-a Will all-powerful, yet not capricious, whose mode of operation is is (sic) itself Reason, fixed, inviolable?-of a creative Intelligence of unchanging essence, for ever assuming new and newer phases through all time? of a Heart, strong in its own personality to live and to act, and yet filled with the fulness of all love and sympathy?
If we take these, and all other laws discoverable in Nature, as indicative of Divine perfection, I think it becomes evident that it is the sphere of all Art, of whatever kind, to embody some or all of these laws or ideas1 in its works. And here we shall find the real affinity of all forms of Art. The artist, whatever materials he uses, must, either consciously or unconsciously, mould them to obey these laws. When he takes his art from Nature he copies Nature so as to give force and expression to certain of them which he perceives there; and those details which are not of importance for this purpose he may omit. When he moulds his materials for himself, as in architecture or music, he must still mould them to express these ideas, otherwise his work is not artistic. I do not for a moment mean to say that every musician or architect has consciously endeavoured to represent any such ideas; but, in casting about to discover how to convey truthfully what was in him, he has of necessity shapen to himself a mode of expression in which their presence is traceable.
1 "That which, contemplated objectively, we call a Law; the same, contemplated subjectively, is an Idea."-Coleridge, On Church and State.
It is impossible within the limits of the present essay to trace the embodiment of all these laws of Nature in the different branches of Art; and, besides, science as yet has only brought us to the threshold of Nature's storehouse, and therefore we are still ignorant of the vast variety of her action, and the fulness of meaning of the principles according to which she acts. It may be sufficient, however, to take one of these principles, the Law of Continuity, which has been so remarkably expanded by the later researches of science; and with it the complementary law, the Law of Variety. To take the latter first; throughout all external Nature there is no sameness, no monotony; no two successive events are exactly the same, no two objects have exactly the same qualities, whether they be two undulations of light or whether they be two offspring of the same parents; this principle is of immense importance in science, as in the theory of the Variation of Species, for instance. But the principle of continuity is even more so; it tells us that through all this variety runs a perfect oneness of nature, linking all things together with the ties of a common brotherhood. The physical phenomena of the external world, sound, light, heat, electricity, have a common origin; they may really be looked upon as what the botanist or zoologist would call varieties of the same species; while in botany and zoology again this blending of species is unfailingly present. Moss and fern, fish and reptile, even animal and vegetable; who can draw the line between them? a kindred nature seems to envelop every form of life.
Now let us turn to Art; and take that of the simplest kind, the expression of beauty in form merely. Both these laws must be present together. The straight line is continuous, but it is certainly monotonous, and therefore perhaps the least beautiful of all lines. The circle is better, there is a change of direction, but a want of variety about that change; the line keeps on bending always at the same rate; an ellipse or oval is more beautiful, and curves, such as the parabola or hyperbola, which may suggest infinite possibilities of change, best of all. On the other hand, a broken line, or a curve which suddenly changes its direction, are not beautiful; and it is to be remarked that such curves do absolutely not occur in Nature; though many lines do approach the case so nearly as to suggest discontinuity, and with it to suggest a painful sense of incompleteness. With colouring, again, the importance of these principles should never be overlooked; a monotonous shade of colour is not known in Nature and ought not to be in Art; on the other hand, discontinuity of colouring is equally faulty; every colour modifies the adjacent colours by throwing over them a tinge of its complementary colour, and that not suddenly but by infinitely delicate gradations, and to disregard this is as wanting to Art as it is untrue to Nature. If we turn to art in sound, though the material is different, we may trace these same principles (amongst others) with as much certainty as before. There is no melody, for instance, in the repetition of the same sound without variety; more beauty is found in a chromatic scale proceeding by semitones; but here there is a monotony in the intervals, and the diatonic scale is more pleasing. Introduce varieties in time (subject, of course, to other laws, such as that of order, which may here come in) and the effect is better, and, as a general rule, the more complete the variety introduced, in the tones of the notes, in the intervals of sound between them, in the intervals of time between them, the more complete is the impression; provided always this variety be introduced subject to an internal continuity. The continuity of two sounds is perhaps greatest, that is, there is the least real change produced in the movement of the conveying air or the receiving ear, not when they are nearest together on the keyboard of a piano, or the page of music, but when they are related by some simple interval, such as an octave or a fifth or fourth. This is sufficiently shewn by the difficulty sometimes found in making a large pipe sound its proper bass note; it will glide off into the octave above on the smallest provocation. The next approach to continuity is obtained in the delicate gradation from one note to another through the intermediate sounds, as when a violinist slides his finger along the string from one position to another. According with this, we find that the ruder forms of melody, as the jodeling of the Swiss, incline more to the use of harmonic intervals, thirds, fifths, and octaves; while modern music has shewn a great tendency towards chromatic modulation. But in every beautiful air, that perfect continuity of sound is always one of the most remarkable features. It is worth the trouble to take some well-known melody which commends itself for its beauty, and to examine it with respect to these two principles only. The continuity will be shewn not only in the absence of abrupt successions of notes, but also in the absence of abrupt changes of style or time, and in the continuance of the same theme or idea throughout the whole. On the other hand, it will be found that the same notes or intervals never recur monotonously, the theme is never treated twice in exactly the same way; if the air is ascending in one part, it descends again in another, if the time is quickened in one part, it is lengthened out in another, and so on. All the, pleasure of an air with variations is due to this principle of continuance under variety of form.
So we might take the principle of power associated with perfect moderation, or of complete individuality in every part associated with sympathetic harmony throughout, or whatever other principle Nature affords, and so trace their importance in every branch of Art. But, for our purpose here, it is sufficient to allow that, in respect of all these ideas, all branches of Art, whatever be their origin, are one; and thus the question before us will be very much simplified, and, by allowing this unity of Art, we shall be able to avoid the mistake of giving undue preference to any branch to which we may be naturally inclined, and shall be ready, if we perceive any one particular advantage to spring from one branch of Art, to allow the possibility of its accruing too from other branches.
The more then we believe that Art is the expression, more or less complete, of something inward and invisible, the less can we doubt its influence on the spiritual nature of man. And, in fact, men do not doubt its influence; nothing is more common than to say that the study of Art refines mankind, and I think it is evident that the effort to mould outward things to one's inward nature, or the constant sight of that effort by those who live in the presence of artistic works, must at last, for good or ill, have a very permanent effect. This has been very beautifully expressed by Wordsworth in his well-known description of Lucy and the effect produced on her by constant contact with the beauties of Nature:
.... hers shall be the breathing balm, And hers the silence and the calm Of mute insensate things.
The floating clouds their state shall lend To her; for her the willow bend;
Nor shall she fail to see
Even in the motions of the storm
Grace that shall mould the maiden's form
By silent sympathy.
That which we cannot study so easily in individual cases, we may study with considerable certainty in large bodies of men. How evident is the close connection of national Art with national character and national religion! If we turn to Egypt, that ever-wonderful birthplace of human Art and Science, how striking is the connection between their strange forms of the redeeming Osiris and his destroying brother Set, of the snake-like Apep or the wonderful Isis of a myriad names, and the highly mystical religion of their priestly philosophers! How clearly do their colossal figures, their temples built with enormous blocks of stone, their vast Pyramids, all speak of a people crushed down with a sense of oppression, suffocated by the sight of these immutable works of art, or these staring monstrosities, to a terrible degradation! Never was a philosophic caste more learned, never was a people more wanting in all spirit and all originality than in Egypt. Does not the glittering mosque of the Mahometan with its thousand steepled minarets suggest the strange fascination of destiny which makes a fatalist out of the gay and sensuous Moor or even of the grave Arab? The dark rock-hewn sanctuaries of India, or the long vista of temple chambers ending in a blackness only broken by the restless eye of the sacred hawk in Egypt or the glitter of the golden cherubim in Jerusalem, speak of religions whose first and fundamental thought was the mysterious and unapproachable sanctity of the Most High; and no one can doubt that they did diffuse this thought among the beholders, filling them with an awe which might well suggest the words, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.' How quickly does the Corinthian style of architecture suggest a many-sided cultivation, refined, yet luxurious and unaspiring, such as belonged to the days when the Grecian glory had been tarnished by contact with Asia; or how certainly we read the simple beauty of the hardy Dorian or the stern massiveness of the Roman character in the works of their hands! And what a change from all this to the Gothic! nothing ever before expressed in such beautiful language the aspiration of an upward-looking heart. The hope of immortality, which lay silent, at least, and hid in every national religion before, has here blossomed in stone in every line and column; and the chaste unworldliness of that hope was plainly enough written in the pure grey stone and subdued colouring which now in an age of ‘restoration' is often indeed in danger of defacement by masses of gaudy gilt and paint.
In music again, although we do not know much of its nature among ancient peoples, how easy it is among moderns to trace, for instance, the cheerful sociability of the Germans in their Mozart, or their mystical tendencies in their Beethoven or Schumann, or both combined in Bach; to hear the light originality of the French in their Offenbach; or the straightforward energy and somewhat formal greatness of the English character in their adopted Handel. The contrast of the intense formality of thought belonging to the end of the 17th century and the spiritual tendency of the early part of the 19th is as strongly marked between the works of Buononcini and Mendelssohn as between the thoughts of Dryden and Shelley.
The cultivation of Art, whether among individuals or nations, has this virtue at least, that it not only shews them to possess capabilities a little beyond the sphere of everyday life, but it also shews that they have a source of pleasure, and therefore a motive for action, very different from the gross pleasures which man has in common with the brutes. Thus, in its merely negative aspect, the love of Art and its cultivation may do very much by winning away the mind from the pursuit of those animal indulgences which must at last stamp it with the seal of degradation. In this way, as I hinted before, Art becomes a stepping-stone towards Religion. Nothing is more commonly seen than the wish to cultivate Art, among men who, having spent years in the absorbing pursuit of money, look restlessly round at last for some more refined pleasure which shall satisfy the want in their minds, when mere wealth has lost its charm. Then they spend their riches in buying celebrated pictures, or filling their houses with frequent concerts and musical entertainments, not perhaps so much because they really enjoy works of first rate art as because they feel that here, at any rate, there is something which is worth cultivating and which will in its turn hold them, as others, with a charm of which they were ignorant before.
As the love of Art and of all that is beautiful grows stronger and stronger in man, the more certain does its power become. The more distasteful to him become the pleasures he delighted in before, the more hateful to him become all kinds of deformity; and herein consists its refining influence. For since, in the world, evil is so often associated with ugliness, and indeed, if we could see aright, always so, it thus happens that the love of beauty makes men shrink more and more from the very sight or contact of physical or moral evil; it tends to make them live more and more apart from the world, from its sickening strife, from its harsh blindness, and from its 'hollow greetings where no kindness is;' and it leads them to seek an inner life of ideal beauty where the sights and sounds of the noisy world shall be once and for all shut out. In this very power lies at once the danger and the virtue of the study of Art. No one, who has known anything of the lives of poets or painters or musicians, can doubt that it makes men shrink away, almost with terror, from the struggle of outer life. The susceptibilities and keener feelings which Art educes, and which do necessarily belong to a higher civilisation, make us at the same time so much more liable to be wounded by the thorns of a rude world. As a man, turning his back now on the civilisation of the England of to-day, and setting his foot through all the centuries back again to the barbarous life of the early Britons, would shrink from mixing with them and their rude habits and would at last perhaps sink into a moody loneliness; so the true artist mind that has leaped many years beyond his race, with the dower of deeper thoughts and quicker sympathies belonging to a new age, feels himself ajar with the insensate criticism or the blind sensuality of his time, and is in danger himself too of flying from the forms of misery which meet him in crowded cities, of crimes which deface the fair seeming of village and hamlet, and the narrow-minded pride which runs its thread through the most educated even or religious society. So, one after another, how often has it happened that the Dante, or the Turner, or the Beethoven of his time has exiled himself or been exiled from the world, with the one complaint on his lips, so beautifully expressed by Shelley:-
With famine or wind-walking pestilence,
Blind lightning, or the deaf sea, not with man!
Cruel, cold, formal man; righteous in words,
In deeds a Cain
Here then the question arises which is indeed the very gist of the question immediately before us. Does Art offer any incentive to positive life and action? does it afford any counteracting influence to that spirit of cowardly inaction and retreat which is the curse of quick and delicate sensibilities? I think it is clear that Art, properly studied, does offer such an incentive. True Art, if it draws more sharply for us the distinction between the beautiful and the hateful, is constantly presenting us with the struggle between the active powers on the one side and the heavy, inactive tendencies on the other, and raising in our minds a constant hope on the side of the spiritual and a constant joy in its triumph. By virtue of its relation to the whole spirit of Nature, it brings us into closer contact with the very ‘life of things,' and so seems to urge us on to a freer life and nobler expression of our higher thoughts and aspirations. If the grandeur and majesty of some beautiful cathedral, where the restless murmurs of the outer world are caught, as in a delicate ocean shell, but never avail to disturb its solemn peacefulness or to mar the deep rolling of its organ tones-if that majesty tend to fill us with a contempt of all the petty affairs of life; or if the beautiful outlines of its tall, fluted columns, lost in the dim height of the roof, seem to carry us away with hidden desires, unfitting us for the common round of everyday work; is it not also true, that all these things awake in us, if we look upon them aright, a real longing to tune our lives into harmony with them; to make every act of ours, like the stones in the cathedral, each in its place contribute to the grandeur of a whole life; and every day to point upwards and upwards with its fellows towards a shadowed hope that waits us far above? If some great Madonna picture hanging there, with joyous face burdened with the message of overflowing love, seem at first sight to have the effect of making the sight of sinful men and women hateful to us; is it not much more its rightful effect to cast over them the veil of its loving presence and invest all mankind with the halo of its own brightness, and to awake a wish in each beholder to make himself also worthy of the goodness which he sees there depicted? I do not think we can doubt that Art, if properly studied, has this incentive effect. Yet it might be exceedingly difficult to prove this from cases of well-known individuals or from the history of nations, on account of the intangible nature of the point at issue. There are cases, however, of men like Mendelssohn, of sterling goodness, whose goodness was yet so associated with their art, that we can hardly help believing that one of the strongest motives to the blamelessness of their lives was the wish to be worthy of that beauty that had taken their souls captive with an irresistible attraction. And I think it cannot be denied that there is, among the Roman Catholics, or amongst those of the Anglican Church who make most use of the impressions produced by music and painting and architecture, a readiness and energy of well-doing and a veneration, often wanting amongst those who discard all such aids.
It appears to me certain that man's relation to Art in any shape ought always to imply two processes, the receptive and the creative. In those men whom we call artists it is evidently so. They receive the idea first, either from Nature or from the workings of their own imagination, in what may be called a perfectly passive state; for indeed that wonderful working of the imagination has little to do with a man's own will, but he looks on, as from without, waiting silently for what it may bring to him. Then, after that, they set to work-and it must always be remembered that it is real work and not a mere pastime-to express themselves in language which will convey to others all the beauty they have seen. And the case is not different with those other men who receive the message of Art, but are not by the world called artists. If they are to study Art to any purpose, they must become artists too; they cannot be content with mere receiving, they must be up and doing also. And there is none so weak but that he may find one means of expression. Pen or pencil may fail, the ear for sound or the eye for colour may be blunt, but everyone may try to realise in his own actions something of that sense of beauty, which is ever restless within him till it has found an outlet. In this sense everyone may be an artist; nay, in this sense everyone must be an artist, or his love of Art will fade into a mere sensual pleasure, and his power of rendering become a piece of mechanical trickery. For this sense of the word Art is not a forced one; the highest and truest Art of all is in a man's own life; where his will, deriving its inspiration from above, comes into the field with all the crowded passions and the blind instincts and affections which, for good or evil, are the last outcome of the material nature that man shares with the lowest animals; where it draws some to its side, making them its servants for good; shakes itself free from the clinging grasp of others, and seeks to develop all together into a harmonious whole, crowned with order and might. Here is a struggle, and here may be a spiritual triumph, which may well seem to be the type of all other arts, and here is a moral beauty round which all the other beauty in Nature and Art seems to wreathe itself as round the very source of its brightness.
No one can continue to hear or feel the beauty of Art who does not listen to her words, and that not with a vain, dilettante languor, but with the steady effort to fully realise them, and to lead a life worthy of her message. This is the case with everything else. As Butler remarks in his Analogy, some impressions, when constantly repeated, seem at last to wear out and fade away till we are no longer conscious of them. Others again grow and grow upon us with a tremendous power. And the difference will always be found to depend on this, that in the second case the impression has borne fruit in action, in the first it has not. Many instances of this will occur to everyone; such, for instance, as the readiness with which a man will learn to sleep through any amount of unimportant noise, while he will hear with extraordinary quickness any the slightest sound at which he is accustomed to rouse himself.
The evil of cultivating a study of Art which bears no fruit in action is that we thus lose one of the best and strongest motives to good; and, by degrading the love of beauty, degrade ourselves too at the same time. With Art this degradation is unhappily possible to a great degree without any immediate consciousness on our part; for this reason, that the laws of beauty in Art being, as we have seen, the most complete development of the physical laws of Nature, and our bodies being perhaps the highest products of the working of those laws, it comes to pass that things which are consonant with the development of all those laws are beneficial to our bodies, and therefore also agreeable to our senses. Hence Art carries with it a pleasure purely sensuous, as is quite evident, whether in the quick, stimulating changes of music, or in the healthy air and pleasing variety of the scenes of Nature. Nor do I wish to inveigh against the indulgence of this sensual enjoyment, I think its existence only serves to shew how difficult or impossible it is to draw any marked dividing line between our higher nature and our more animal instincts. But I think this sensual side, so to speak, to all Art does make it possible for men to go on pursuing it with pleasure under the impression that they are aiming at its highest beauty, when they are really losing themselves by degrees in the degradation of a simply mechanical and meaningless pastime. It is a warning to us, in all our pursuits or employments, never to lose their best and truest worth by mistaking the value of the letter and the spirit. How often does the study of flowers, for instance, degenerate into a mere childish scrambling after everything new, with little regard for the relative value of the new discovery, and none for its beauty, except in so far as it be a rarity or a monstrosity! And so with other sciences. But in the pursuit of Art, I would almost say that it is the rule; the beauty of every composition is lost in the anxiety to criticise, with becoming skill, some new variety of detail. An unexpected succession of chords, a new way of putting on the colours, or a curious effect produced, anything that being novel is not of vital importance, is sufficient to send the art-critic into a discourse in which all appreciation of the spirit of the composition is forgotten.
If this is one danger of Art, that other of its gradual degradation to a sensational mockery, though not perhaps quite so common in our country and time, is still equally important. If we look back at the ancient civilisations, we can see how often this very thing became the stumblingblock over which they fell. At Athens perhaps especially does this force itself upon us. No nation started with such an intense veneration for the beautiful, moral and physical, and with such high artistic capabilities as the Greeks, and as long as they preserved the vigour and purity of that feeling by a career of noble action, they produced some of the greatest spirits and the finest artistic works of the world; but when after their contact with Asia they began to decline, it was because that high sense had degraded itself into a handmaid to luxury, and so the true Art left them, or rather, in fact, they deserted it.
It is not at all difficult to see the presence of this evil in modern society. How many there are who, starting with real capabilities for the appreciation of Art, stultify their whole lives by a craving after the sensual excitement it affords them! Music loses its charm unless it is made to startle the ear by a succession of false effects or by passages of glittering execution. Paintings must be daubed with dull flats of glaring colour. The drama, the opera, romance, all are voted uninteresting unless they embody the weakest sensation art. Anything for a new excitement, nothing for a true thought so expressed as to place the artist and his audience in perfect accord. This is all easy enough to understand. All art has, and ought to have, a power of excitement in it; but the excitement so produced is not meant to evaporate away into thin air. If persons who delight in ‘sensation' of every kind had accustomed themselves from the beginning, whenever it excited any higher feeling or impulse within them, to act up to that feeling or impulse, their art would now be a very different thing from what it is; but, in fact, each delay deadens the receptivity for excitement, and then new and newer phases must be sought. Whatever it is, whether reading poetry, or hearing sermons, or going to the opera, or indulgence in dram-drinking, everything which produces a false excitement, that is, an excitement which does not bear fruit in action, is poisonous to body and soul of man.
It is this very thing which is the bane of women's education of the present day. Their sensibility or receptiveness is now, as a rule, so great in proportion to their capability of action, that it completely outgrows the latter, and having then no support falls into a miserable ruin; and this in consequence not only of a complicated state of civilisation, but also of a training which dwarfs all power of action, all tendency to originality. A girl may use up her paints and ‘do' trees and mountains after the copies of her master, in the conventional style; but to study from Nature or to produce a style of her own with real hard work is thought unnecessary and perhaps unfeminine; and, supposing she has no special faculty in art, with the very few other outlets for women's action that there are, it cannot be wondered at that the habit of feeling without acting becomes at last so familiar to her. Women are often apparently more cruel than men, not because they are not naturally more sensitive, but because they are not accustomed to realise their feelings in action; and so they say and do things with little consideration for the hardships or the labour they may thus impose on others.
On the other hand, if men strive to realise their art in true work, its influence on them becomes immense. Each contact with it renders their receptive powers more delicate instead of more gross. To such people the excitements which are the indulgence of the infatuated become absolutely painful, and they shrink from the noisy music and the thrilling novels and the grotesquely hideous dramas which please the unimpressionable minds of the crowd. Gradually to them Nature and Art unfold a glory which is for ever hid from those who do not seek; beauties which lie concealed in the most unpretending productions of the great masters; pearls which are trampled upon by the ignorant; the splendour of Nature showered down through leaf and tree and fleecy cloud, with a wealth of beauty which fills them with untold delight.
From all this it seems to me indisputable that Art does awake in the thoughtful observer a very strong desire for accordant action. Goethe asks in one of his smaller poems* what profit there is in Nature or Art if it do not awake a creative power in the soul, and teach it to find expression through the fingers.
*Monolog des Liebkabers.
It is this incentive power in Art, then, which makes it possible for it to be of service to Religion. For though, in virtue of its refining power, it might exalt and intensify our spiritual thoughts, yet, if it were only destined to awake them to a short life unfruitful of action, it could only be of service to a sickly and barren religion, condemned like itself to wither away in the rays of the morning sun. If we agree to what has been said, we may well believe that Art has really a very high office to fulfil. All her worthiness springs from a ground akin to that of the deepest religion. True Art is a sort of unconscious piety, springing from a veneration and delight in the Divine glory, without any distinct reference to personal relation, or even without conscious knowledge of the nature of that it delights in. Thus it may, naturally enough, form a real support to a personal religion. Carlyle says:- ‘Art also and Literature are intimately blended with Religion; as it were, outworks and abutments by which that highest pinnacle in our inward world gradually connects itself with the general level and becomes accessible therefrom.' Farther on he writes of ‘that unspeakable Beauty which in its highest clearness is Religion, is the inspiration of a Prophet, yet in some degree must inspire every singer were his theme never so humble.'
Lecky, in his History of Morals, has very ingeniously remarked that there are two kinds of religion. First, that in which the mass of conscious motive powers and affections is disinclined to good and is only kept in train by the almost painful effort of a strong will, following the promptings of the most spiritual conscience or reason. The other, that in which the preponderance of the conscious motives is on the side of good, and where, consequently, the person follows the good joyfully and without constraint or forced effort. As a rule, I think this distinction is that between man's religion and woman's religion, the religion of duty and aspiration and the religion of love. But however this may be, I think it will be interesting to inquire what is the influence of Art on each phase.
It is clear that on the latter kind of religion the power of Art must be very great. The sensitiveness of feeling cultivated by Art brings before us so many motives to good, to kindness, to generosity, to modesty, that it produces a habit, so to speak, of good feeling; and, if obeyed, of good action also. At the same time, as we hinted before, it brings forward many motives to inaction; the very sensitiveness of feeling, which it produces, urges us to fly from the haunts of misery and evil; the distaste of that which is hideous, the longing after that which is beautiful, make the task of facing sin and its offspring in their very stronghold all the more harassing and difficult. He whose mind is cultivated with the delight in all that is refined and lovely, not only feels positive pain in meeting with and combating the defects of the world, but also in order to do so must give up much of the joy which for the time he might experience in other scenes. This is the burden of the blessing of the artist's nature. Quicker sensibilities to good and lovely, quicker shrinking from sin and death. He who sees most, sacrifices most when he descends into the arena to struggle with evil; for it must be remembered that he must, in a certain sense, descend. He must be willing, in order to raise other men, to lay aside his higher thoughts and feelings so that he may sympathise thoroughly and truly with them and put himself in their position. He must be willing to be misunderstood and calumniated and scoffed at, to be hated and ridiculed by turns; and he must be content to leave his highest work unappreciated and unfinished, in the hope that it may bring forth fruit in its time. The cultivation of Art does, in fact, like all true cultivation, give rise to a fuller life in every way; in multiplying the possibilities of happiness it multiplies the possibilities of grief; in other words, it, as all civilisation does, increases the manifold relations of man, and raises him from the dull monotonous existence of the peasant who drives the team to the quick full life of the educated man who finds interest and excitement and sorrow and delight in a thousand things about his path. The blind need not therefore be unduly envious of the seeing; if he is unconscious of many of the joys of the latter, he is also free from many of his sorrows and responsibilities. He who has seen the light must go forth, his face beaming like that of Moses, to give light to others; to shine in the darkness, though the darkness comprehend it not. He must stand alone, his office to fold his sympathy about others, to reap sympathy from none. Every great man who has hewn out one step for the world, has laid his body to level the road or to be a stepping-stone for future generations, has saved mankind only through the depth of his own solitude. He, the Master-Christ, who looked through all his nation and time and saw but misery cankered with sin, may well have prayed that the cup might pass from him, for his nature was sensitive beyond what we dream; yet he too shrank not from that terrible solitude of his whole life, but was content, according to the eternal law, to sacrifice himself, while he descended to the weakness of men in order to draw all men after him.
But if those who possess not the cultivation of Art need not envy those who have to steer their way through complications arising from this very cultivation, it is none the less true that they cannot escape them ultimately. Through all creation, the same unfailing tendency which spreads the arms of the sea-polyp out and out into newer forms and refines and builds up the lowest creatures onwards and onwards towards the most complicated-that same tendency inevitably, as one should hope, gives birth some time or other, in every human mind, to the appreciation of something which has a beauty beyond the sensual, the appreciation, that is, in however small degree, of the beautiful in Art; and therewith a new delight arises that involves a new responsibility, and upon the working out of that responsibility depends the continuance of that delight and the growth of Art into a true servant of real religion, or the degradation of that delight again to the dust and ashes of a mere sensuality and the weakening of the spirit of man by an unbalanced refinement which makes his last state worse than his first.
So much for the study of Art in general on a religion springing from a naturally good and impulsive heart. But, as I said before, we may also recognise a religion which, for the sake of simplicity, we put in another class; that in which the temptations of sensual motives are very strongly felt, but are conquered by the force of a will whose volitions spring from a severe sense of duty (for I must recognise the existence of a sense of this kind, differing from ordinary actuating principles or motives in that, by its very nature, the calculation of profit or pleasure is precluded). In this case the motive forces to action are more complicated, and a greater struggle is carried on. And here the influence of Art seems to come in, for since it is always presenting us with the strife between the more spiritual and the more material forces and, through the sense of beauty, enlisting our sympathies in the triumph of the former, it does no doubt, even though unconsciously, reinforce by its presence the spiritual will within us to clearer action. But, besides this positive influence, it has also a more negative, power; I mean that it takes away the keenness and edge from many of our more sensual motives and thus gives to the will more chance of victory. In many cases, as we noticed before, pleasures of a sensual or violently exciting tendency become extremely distasteful through the cultivation of Art, or at any rate the interest in them is lost; and in each of such cases so many foes of our higher nature are disarmed. For instance, the refining art may bring before us inclinations to good which we should not otherwise have; it may make a man more inclined to treat his horse kindly, or even to put himself to considerable trouble in order to save it from injury or pain. Or, on the other hand, it may be of service to a sense of duty by weakening opposing motives, as in the case of a person who should think it inconsistent with his duty to go to a prize-fight; and who, taking great delight in it at first, should afterwards, by the cultivation of true Art, come to feel a distaste for the want of refinement or the cruelty and false excitement that he would meet with there.
In each of these cases Art would be likely to make action on the side of right more habitual. But Schiller, in his Essay on the Moral Use of Aesthetics, only allows that Art furthers morality in those cases, like the latter, in which it gives assistance, as it were, to the moral will, but does not supersede it. In the other cases, where Art supplies a motive of itself and the feeling of duty does not come into play, he maintains that morality is not concerned and the case ceases to be a point in question. He gives the instance of a prisoner who was tempted, when his guard had fallen* asleep, oppressed by the heat of the day, to kill him and so escape; but was withheld from his murderous intent, not by the firmness of a moral will, but by the strong sense of beauty which urged him not to commit so dishonourable and hateful an act. Here, Schiller remarks, the resulting action was only determined by the balance of pain and pleasure within the man, and no credit can possibly be due to it as good or bad. On the other hand, where the motive of Art is only ancillary to the effort of the will acting under the conviction of duty, the action still remains within the bounds of morality, and Art may be clearly accounted as of service in promoting the momentary victory of the will, as well as in securing its habitual ascendancy.
I do not wish to enter into a discussion which has evidently no limits. But I think it is certainly not necessary to confine the importance of Art to the latter case. Good habits are of so much importance that it is well to cultivate them, even when our resulting actions are not consciously prompted by feelings of moral obligation; and besides, the feeling of duty is perhaps after all not so much a distinct sense within us, which throws its light on some of our actions and at other times withholds it, as a pervading consciousness (whose source is hid from us) that some motives, some pains and pleasures, are of a higher class than others, and demand our more unquestioning and uncalculating obedience; so that this sense is urging us always, through every moment of our lives, step by step to cease from following the more sensual and to incline ever to the more far-reaching and spiritual portion of our nature, even though every wrench, thus loosening us from our lower selves, be painful. So, even when the toilsome following of duty is not involved, in an action where the higher motives seem clearly to preponderate, this sense of the superior right of these motives is none the less present, and is perhaps not consciously perceived only because its presence through years of just action has become habitual. I think, indeed, that we recognise a superior goodness in those whose virtue is, like the growth of a flower, joyful and unconscious, to what we see in those who build themselves painfully and with effort, as one who would mould the same flower in wax. Love, in fact, does at a single glance from above what the sense of duty does slowly from below; it shews out in the first splendour of its illumination the real relative value of things, it touches the mountain summits with a glory which makes us aspire to reach them, and gently folds away the hollows and vales of life in the deep mist to which we feel we can no more descend:
for that higher vision
Poisons all meaner choice for evermore.
But duty stands at our first starting far below the veil of stretching clouds, and urges us onwards with an unconditional ‘Excelsior,' when we can see neither sky nor peak nor sunlit glow, but only that one step is higher than the last, and cries to us to hold a faith which is the evidence of things not seen, until a new revelation pierce the clouds with a new vision of hope.
Art and Nature stand evermore by our side with a spirituality which burns brighter and brighter through the veil of the senses. Evermore they wake in us the consciousness that each step we take is not of importance for itself alone, but because it makes our next step the easier; till at last, we cannot say when, the veil of material things is rent and we stand in the sunlight of God's presence: the vision of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on which the angels of light move to and fro with their glad message, till we exclaim, ‘Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not.' If the dream of Jacob tell us nothing else, we cannot doubt that it teaches that any place or action may become to us the revelation of God's eternal presence. Nor can we doubt that all our senses are thus too, if rightly used, fitted to educate us onward from step to step to a greater and greater fulness of spiritual life. They are the outward touch of the Divine hands moulding us from the first dawn of life ever closer to Himself. Through them the infant derives its first consciousness; through them the child learns obedience; the boy, courage and power; the man, thoughtfulness; and the artist, everywhere and at every time, a deep communion with the Spirit of all power and truth, whom to know is eternal life.
Thus Art is really more cognate to Religion than to a formal Morality. For if it does not present us directly with the thought of a personal Deity, yet it delights in everything to embody the idea of personality or power; and while it makes its appeal to us through our emotions and affections, which ever seek for a personal being to which to attach themselves, it throws round the object of our search a halo of mystery which belongs to our thoughts of Him whose ways are past finding out.
If we now turn to the influence of Art in the various religious services or ceremonials, we shall see this more clearly. All religions, from the earliest to the most enlightened, have embodied the ideas of personality and mystery; the rudest fetichism investing these ideas with all the terrors of a demon-god, the purest Christianity holding them as the centre of all emotions of love and sympathy. What appears to have been the very earliest symbol of deity-the serpent-seems also to have owed its importance to its embodiment in one of these two ideas. The snake, with its glittering, fascinating eyes, intensely alive, unlike all other creatures, yet exercising mysterious influence on them, even on man; endued with inexplicable powers of gliding motion, a secrecy of movement unassisted by leg or wing or any of the ordinary means-with these endowments it became, even in the times of vast civilisations which now sleep in the thick forests of Ceylon and Burmah, the representative of highest divinity.
The hieroglyphic tracery, the ‘dim religious light' of the Eastern temples, the mystic dances of the Therapeutae, were all to a certain extent artistic embodiments of that same sense of the mysteriousness, the infinitude, of the Being to whom the worship was paid.
Greece cherished a religion which chiefly embodied the thought of personality, and which was so closely connected with their Art that we can scarcely disentangle the two. Under the hands of their poets and sculptors the great whole of Nature became a theatre of individual gods. Day and night, spring and winter, rock and stream and tree were invested with a conception of personality whose exact meaning it is difficult now to determine, but which perhaps in its highest sense is best expressed by Virgil in his well-known lines:-
Principio coelum ac terrain camposque liquentes Lucentemque globum Lunae Titaniaque astra Spiritus intus alit: totamque infusa per artus Mens agitat molem et magno se corpore miscet.
Thus, to them, Nature became almost one with humanity through the gods; for the latter, drawn from Nature, were invested with a human shape and became the ancestors and contemporaries of traditional heroes. And so, finally, the gods became the mediators, but only the mediators, between the terrible necessity of Nature and the helplessness of humanity. The hapless Oedipus might cry to Zeus for deliverance, but Zeus himself was crowned from above by a higher power-Nemesis, or the inexorable Ate-who was indeed nothing else than the unfailing misery which for ever follows in the wake of evil. The Greek Art thus took to itself the whole field of theology, and through the mouths of such men as Aeschylus led the nation in a path which we cannot but call glorions, since it brought forth the philosophy of the Stoics. But when the Stoical element died away and the Will of man was no longer called to stand against the natural forces, Art simultaneously became degraded by sensuality; and, dragging down the conception of the gods with it, left them to be nothing better than a butt for the shafts of ridicule and contempt.
How different was all this from the results of Brahminism! yet both sprang from the seeing of divinity in Nature; but one people invested this divinity with the strong reflection of its own sense of personality, the other with the longing for a mystic union in which all should ‘fuse the skirts of self again' and remerge into the general soul. And I think it is not too much to say that, in both cases, Art, springing up originally as the expression of the religious idea, became ultimately the leader of that religion, and was responsible to a very great degree for its rise or fall.
In modern times, painting and music have risen by the side of architecture to great importance in religious service. As far as the influence of painting is concerned, in respect to Christianity, I shall not include its bare representation of the facts of Christ's life as belonging to our subject. In so far as a picture merely conveys the relation of a fact, it does not strictly come under the domain of Art; and, we may also say, it can have little or no influence on the religious condition of any beholder. But as soon as a picture conveys something more than this-the ideal struggle with evil, the triumph of hope, the purity of a sublime faith-then it becomes a work of Art, and becomes too a determining power of great importance to the spiritual nature of man. How inexpressibly painful, how little promotive of good is a meanly conceived and badly executed picture of the crucifixion! On the other hand, how beautiful and how full of all great thoughts is one by some masterhand in which the ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?' of the fainting man is crowned by the glorious ‘It is finished' of the triumphant Godhead. The great Italian pictures have been, from time to time, since the days of Cimabue, the rallying points and centres of the love and religious enthusiasm of the people. And the Madonnas of Raffaelle or the Sibyls of Guido and Guercino, still hold before them crowds of gazers, in their silence attesting the deep thoughts with which they are inspired.
What then are we to say to all the pictures of inferior Art, or of no Art at all, which fill the various churches of Europe? There are many so bad that, even to the most uncritical and enthusiastic spirit, they can present nothing but a bare fact-that St Anthony kept pigs for instance, or that St Benedict lived in a cave and had bread and water brought to him by a neighbouring monk. These appear to me absolutely to do no good, rather, in fact, to do harm; their direct tendency is to put forward the superstitious or magical idea of religion, and to make people wish to be hogherds or to live in a cave, under the impression that such a proceeding will put their souls in a more favourable light. It is the same with pictures of the life of Christ. If they serve only to breed a familiarity with the mere outward history of his actions, without setting before people a spiritual example for all time with a force which urges the beholder to follow it, they become worse than useless, for they deaden his receptivity by the force of habit, without leaving him any counterbalancing advantage.
Again, when a picture has some claim to artistic power, but does not embody the highest Art, it will certainly carry many evils along with the good it does; for though it may, to an uneducated person or to one wanting in any critical faculty, seem to awake high feelings and desires; yet, amongst the many who will discover glaring errors in it, there are generally very few, who, at the same time, have sufficient liberality of mind not to be prejudiced by it against the very religion which it is meant to uphold. This is just the case with much of our church music; but, above all, is it the case with the gaudy pictures that cover the walls of Roman Catholic churches and chapels in France and even in Italy. There, a large class of the educated have sprung aside with contempt from what they call the religion of the common herd. They, no doubt, despise the shallowness of doctrine with which the people are put off; but one great stumblingblock is the tawdry Art which, in gilding and paint, in altar-piece or vestment, seems to offer an insult to every educated mind, and to represent a mocking farce carried on by the priesthood. This last is not perhaps really the case; the priests, as a rule, are honest and true men, who have no intention of presenting to the people a religion that they do not believe in themselves. But in most cases, no doubt, they know and recognise that they must present it to the people in a form somewhat different from that in which they receive it themselves: as indeed every cultivated man must know that he must lay aside very much of that which is most impressive to him, if he would produce any impression on the mob. Nothing seems more certain and, at the same time, more disappointing than the reflection that the things which are the highest in Art, which seem to speak their message so clearly and beautifully that none could fail to comprehend, do in reality convey absolutely no impression to the uncultivated, and that these latter must after all be educated by means of broad contrasts and violent discords before they can learn to appreciate the value of proportion and harmony. But this fact often turns what ought to be the sympathy of the refined into a mere heartless contempt; of evil issue to both parties. This contempt, which converts those who would be the Liberal section into a mere party of scoffers, is finding a home in England too as well as in France. Here too they cannot separate the accidental from the essential, they will not see that men practically connect the same spiritual thoughts with a great variety of forms chosen according to their education. So, because their neighbour derives peace of mind from the singing of the ‘Old Hundredth,' while they, for their part, are perhaps only pained by the untuneful efforts of the singers, and would rather, for the same purpose, seek some secluded scene of Nature; they, with great illiberality, charge him with deceit, and would be glad to see him and his Psalm-tunes and all the concomitants swept clean away. For this same reason it happens that, in Germany, the women, who represent the uneducated class, go to church; but the men not only do not go, but despise those who do and the whole affair; and, to a certain extent, for no other reason than that the composition of the music and of the hymns and sermon is not of a very high order.
If this is an evil arising from Art of a low order, on the critical side; there is also an evil, which we need but briefly mention here, arising on the sentimental side. Sensation Art, while it produces certain emotional effects, is really thoroughly false; it encourages the habit of a passive indulgence in the excitement of feeling, while by its want of real spirituality it omits to make any demands for responsive action. Many will recognise the kind of Art I especially mean in tunes composed in minor keys by men who are not really artists, or in the harrowing novels, unworthy of the name of romance, which are the works of popular writers of the present day. It is needless to say that this sensation Art ought to be unfailingly banished from all service in religion. Yet there is a good deal of it in the highly wrought effects of the Roman Catholic ceremonial, as well as in some of the hymns of our own Church.
But what shall we say of the influence of Art-of painting, for instance-of a really high class? Here, I think, there can be little question that, if it be properly made use of, the good effect is very great. In one of his smaller writings, Schiller compares the influence of the drama for good with that of religion itself. He calls attention to the great difference there is between the knowledge of what may be right and the motive powers which induce men to follow the good. Laws, and commandments, and maxims, may all point out the path, and to a certain extent disclose the results of not following it; but they are after all purely negative; they offer no self-subsistent motive to action. For this we must go to feeling, which is the motive power that God has given us. If intellect is the guide to action, feeling is the source of it. Religion is the highest development of feeling; and Art, as it ever cultivates us towards a higher life, makes us more susceptible to true feeling and more capable of exhibiting that feeling in right action. In this view a high Art may be of the utmost importance to religion. Pictures, for instance, truthfully representing the life of Christ in its spiritual beauty, must go far to make us endeavour to imitate his tenderness and humility, his wise charity, his unassuming stedfastness, in our own lives; they must wake in us deep feelings of reverence and love and high aspirations seeking for fulfilment in every thought and action.
What we have said of painting is mostly applicable too to music and architecture. Anything like sensational music, that is, music in which truth is sacrificed to the attempt at false effects, ought to be strictly banished from all service in religion. Nothing can be more evil than the mockery which all worship becomes, when people assemble together in order to enjoy a temporary exaltation of emotion which will leave them only more depressed and insusceptible of good influences than before. I think, in this respect, the whole tenor of religious life among the Roman Catholics is very much in keeping with the sensational tendency of their ceremonial. All the responsibility of religious action is thrown on the priest. For the layman it is sufficient that his feelings should be deeply moved to penitence for his sins; he then confesses to the priest, feels that he is satisfactorily absolved, and then most probably throws all further care off his mind. The use of penance was formerly much insisted on, and perhaps rightly enough, in order that the offender by his continued actions might prove that his remorse was not a merely evanescent emotion. But the simple impress of good intention which is common to most people when their feelings are excited is not necessarily of at all a good tendency; and may, as is probably the case if due to bad Art, be productive only of evil.
In architecture there is not so much opportunity for sensation Art. As a rule, people appear to be susceptible to the higher effects of good architecture, while that which is bad produces little or no impression, one way or the other. There is however, I think, in the modern rage for gaudy restoration and disproportionate labour bestowed on carving, an observable tendency in the direction of missing the spirit in the attention to minute and comparatively unimportant details, which is so characteristic of false Art.
In both music and architecture there is much Art of that mediocre kind which commends itself to the inexperienced, while to others its virtues seem swallowed up in its many and prominent faults. Practically, it would seem necessary, if we allow Art at all in the service of religious ceremonial, to introduce a great deal of Art of this doubtful kind. For if the Church is to be the instructor of the great mass of the people, she must address herself on the whole, not to those who through their wealth or education are in this respect comparatively independent of her, and who can find Art for themselves in their own homes, but to those who are uneducated and in want of help from without. To these a very high order of Art would perhaps be in danger of becoming meaningless. At the same time it is clearly advisable not to allow a mediocre Art to become too familiar, but on the contrary to urge the popular taste constantly towards an appreciation of the best models. And I do not think that it can ever be really necessary to make use of a very inferior Art. Let the style be simple enough and the matter sufficiently easy of comprehension, and it will not be long before the popular taste comes to appreciate and delight in works of really true merit.
I think then that this is worthy of great attention, with respect to the use of Art simply in our ceremonials. It ought to be the endeavour of everyone, who has a hand in such matters, to introduce Art of the very best kind, whether it be in architecture or painting or church-decoration, or in the chants and anthems and organ voluntaries. At the same time, except perhaps in those rare cases in which the congregation is necessarily only taken from the most educated classes, the Art introduced ought to be very simple in style, especially in the case of music. The attempt, so common now, to introduce elaborate services, which only a small minority perhaps of the congregation can follow, is extremely reprehensible. It adds to what is already a great evil-the tendency to make religious services a luxury and recreation for the rich, while they cease to present any meaning or attraction to the poor. Let the music be good, so that it may as little as possible be a stumblingblock to the refined taste of the educated; let it be simple and quiet, so that all may join in it without difficulty or offence.
Allowing then the importance of Art for the advancement of religion, whether in the private life of each individual or in the public ceremonials of a church; it remains for us to ask, with respect to the latter, to what extent the Art introduced ought to be carried, and how far the services ought to be made to rely on its use. The answer to this, if any definite answer can be given, must lie in the consideration noticed before, that nothing can be of service to religion when it ceases to produce anything more than a vague sentiment which springs up forthwith because it has no depth of earth. As soon therefore as men go to church with the view (consciously entertained or not) of enjoying the excitement of striking music, or as soon as the object of finding a happy means of expressing prayer or thanksgiving and of truly entering into the communion of saints has given place to the wish for a tension of feeling merely for its own sake, and therefore not genuine, then the effect produced has ceased to have any relation to religion, and can only lead to a false belief in the real worth of the emotion. As a rule, any excitement which carries a man to a level of emotion very much above that of his ordinary life is not genuine-in the sense that it can never find expression in that man's actions. It is utterly disproportioned to all the habits and tendencies of his nature, and therefore it is impossible that he can suddenly turn and twist all that nature into conformity with it. To raise such violent feeling therefore, deliberately and artificially, cannot be otherwise than false and bad. Happily for us, we are not capable of emotions and insight very much beyond ourselves. What we feel or see is through experience derived from ourselves. If it were not so our progress would indeed be short. If we could for a moment realise, in all its fulness, the eternal splendour towards which we are striving, and could then look back on the weakness and misery of our own attempts, we should cease all further effort in despair, and so sink back into the terrible listlessness which contemplates a high ideal only with the sense of the uselessness of trying to attain to it. This is a danger, however, to which the excitable and imaginative are quite liable enough.
I should say, therefore, that the use of Art in religious ceremonial ought to be moderate; it ought, if possible, not to exceed what is natural and fairly within the limits of ordinary life. Of course it is impossible to give any exact rule: as impossible as it would be to attempt to circumscribe every man's mind within the same bounds. But, if the Church is to address herself to the great mass of the people, it soon becomes tolerably evident that she must choose a mean as nearly suitable as possible to the ideas of all classes, with a balance perhaps in favour of the poorer and more ignorant, because, as I said before, the more educated ought to be able to lay aside the wish for what might be injurious or unmeaning to those who have not the same cultivation as themselves.
The instant any outward show or form ceases to be valued on account of the impulse it gives to the mind towards the attainment of something beyond, and begins to be only prized for its own sake, it immediately becomes the source of the besetting evil of all religions-the superstitious worship of the symbol. It can hardly be otherwise. The people see some outward act or object set up as of vast importance, long after the meaning, which gave it importance, has been forgotten; and so they cannot but think that there is some inherent virtue in the outward thing, independently of any other consideration. Religion degenerates into magic; and spiritual worship becomes ‘dry as summer dust' amidst the stifling aridity of a ceremonial routine.
To take the ritualistic tendency of the last few years: those more educated men, who see in its many symbols only the passing forms used to embody high and spiritual thought, may find in it a great help to devotion and right action; and it is quite conceivable that there should be a vast body of people to whom a service of complicated ritual would be the only service really suitable. At the same time there are, no doubt, very many who do not see or consider the truth meant to be conveyed by these symbols, but only attach importance to the symbols themselves. These therefore, though they may frequent the ceremonials, are really learning to worship the letter instead of the spirit, and are in danger of losing their sense of religion in the coils of superstition. I take this case merely as an example that the ceremonial is made for man, not man for the ceremonial.
Ritualism is good for those to whom it conveys the sense of something which transcends all ritualism; bad for those to whom it is in itself all in all. The absence of all ritual is good for those to whom it suggests that He whom they worship cares not for burnt-offering or sacrifice, since all the beasts of the forest are His and the cattle on a thousand hills, and that the Spirit bloweth where it listeth, uncaring of the tradition of men; bad for those who see in it only a sign that the touch of the material is hateful and terrible to God, and that earth and all our natural thoughts and affections are for ever at deadly warfare with the aspiration of the spirit within us.
Of all incentives to perfection, the true love of the beautiful in the world around us is one of the most powerful and widely spread. Yet it is not so on account of any inherent virtue in the outward objects which we call beautiful; they vanish, they fade away, as words that are borne but for a moment on the sounding air. What remains, what cannot perish, is the inner meaning which they bring to our minds. Though we are not conscious of it, its influence is not lost. Something is added to the mind which makes it impossible for it ever to be again as it was before. Thus through our discipleship to the all of Nature we are nursed and taught by the Divine wisdom. Through the great fellowship of human Art do we spread that teaching, influencing each other daily and hourly, as certainly as perhaps insensibly, upwards to the very fountain-head of action. In this sense it is indeed true that we are a part of all that we have met. Every impression of beauty brings with it something new wherewith to clothe the soul. Nor less is it true that we are a part of all that we have done. ‘Our actions make a moral tradition for our individual selves.' Our spirits haunt the places in which our bodies have moved. Our mind becomes ‘a mansion for all lovely forms,' the memory ‘a dwelling-place for all sweet sounds and harmonies.' And we may be sure that we may apply to all true Art those thoughts on the influence of Nature so beautifully expressed by Wordsworth:-
'Tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead From joy to joy; for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful-faith, that all which we behold Is full of blessings.
CAMBRIDGE : PRINTED BY C. J. CLAY, M.A. AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS.