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Clare, the Northamptonshire peasant; the genuine nursling of Nature, whose genius was born with him, and whose works are effused from the immediate impulses of his own mind, as excited by external objects and his own internal sensations; he, we say, unwarped by art or the prejudices of literature, exclaims :
- Taste is from heaven,
Like bare blank leaves, he turns unbeeded by.” And it is this principle of taste or genius, call it what you will ;—but which, however, we would distinguish thus :Taste, as the power of perceiving the sublime and beautiful, by virtue of their relation to similar elements constituting the human intellect,
" Mind ! mind! alone!-bear witness, heaven and earth,
The living fountain in itself contains
Of beauteous and subline!” -and genius, as the prefiguration of these elements in which taste is substantiated, -unborrowed from external objects, but co-existent in the constitution of the individual mind, and exertent in the processes of imagination and fancy,-(and wherefore should judgment be pretermitted?)—for which we are prepared to contend. This gift of Heaven-this incommunicable faculty-or rather preternatural conformation of all the faculties of the soul, hath ingenious and presumptuous sophistry endeavoured to create by accident, and mould by education. It has appropriated to itself all the gifts of Heaven, and claimed the power of exerting whatever talent it elects to acquire. The phenomena of genius it hath resolved into mere outward circumstance, forgetting that circumstance, though it may contract or enlarge, can never produce, and with promethean audacity deemed by adopting the same means to create the same aptitude; but its professors soon feel that they still want that divine energy which pervades and exalts the inert materials of art, and gives life to its slumbering elements; "that
quality, without which judgment is cold, and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates;” and of which if they attempt to possess themselves by dishonest violence, the vulture and the rock are but feeble emblems of their vexation and dismay.
The same sophistry which would thus deprive genius of its original and underived existence, would also deny to it its power of creation. Nothing is more common than to speak of its creative power ;-appeal to philosophy and she denies the fact, and metaphysicians define it all away into sensation and reflexion, perception and combination. With them the sentient is all, the spiritual nature of man nothing. They profess to treat of his mind, and they confound it with the corporeal organ; they cannot conceive it abstracted from matter and removed from sense. With them all ideas are externally derived, and fancy and imagination are phlegmatic imitators, or at best but quick collectors and appropriators of the goods of others, the treasures of antiquity, the knowledge of the world. They communicate nothing, but derive all. According to them the sublime and eloquent Barry mistook the operations of his own mind and the nature of art, when he vehemently exclaimed—“Go home from the academy, light up your lamps, and exercise yourselves in the creative part of your art with Homer, with Livy, and all the great characters, ancient and modern, for your companions and counsellors.
This burst of vehemence involves the truth upon the great question at issue. The manifestation of genius belongs to Nature, the development to Education. That only can be educed which already exists.
This power of creation consists not in the plot of the poem the story of the picture, nor the group of the sculpture. We exclaim only, when smitten with these, upon the wonderful invention of the poet, the painter, or the sculptor. It is only when smitten with the originality of the sentiments and ideas in the poet, the characters, actions, attitudes, and passionate representations (which are the same thing) of the painter or the sculptor, that we admire the creative genius of each. These are our feelings and expressions on the specific occasions, and by them we are borne out in assuming, that it is the ideas which are the creation of genius, as by them only it is that we determine the originality or nerit of its productions.
This “creative part" of art, is often called the poetical, both in painting and sculpture. The term poet, is a Greek term, and signifies a creator.
Painting has its Milton, as well as Poetry. The Death on the Pale Horse, of West, is a masterly exertion of creative of poetic power; a subject requiring a genius kindred to Milton's, to compass in all its majesty and might. West hath compassed it; he hath left nothing to be desired. To him, with reference to this work, may be applied, with some little alteration, the lines of Andrew Marvel, upon the Paradise Lost:
“ Thou hast not mist one thought that could be fit,
And all that was improper dost omit,
But to detect their ignorance or theft." It is, perhaps, the most perfect work of art in the universe. Here he had an ample field to exercise the creative power of genius, as well as the aggregative and associating processes of imagination and fancy. He has asserted the plastic power of his own mind by that daring departure from the shadowy portraiture of death, which the “Old Blind Man of Britain” had left as a model to succeeding intellects. For that shape,
“ If shape it might be called, that shape had none,
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb,
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed;" - he has given you a gigantic figure that is like nothing in real existence, and had no resemblance in the visions of imagination. Neither the grave nor the world, has any thing like the tremendous skull, the head, the neck, the arms, and that one cold foot in which the conception of West is embodied, -that indistinct and icy figure, invested with the sable robe-. cold as the dead, yet animated with a rage, that, as it were, ignites his appalling physiognomy with a vital spark-a life in death;- his features burn frore, parching the air,
"And cold performs the effect of fire.” Nor in this alone has he asserted his creative genius; the steeds on which his riders are enthroned, are not of mortal breed; they are guided by the will of their riders,—and instinct with their spirits. The black horse hath the same diagonal squint as his inscrutable master,--that daring combination of justice and of scepticism, which at the same moment announces the decisions of Omnipotence, and the doubts of puny man, and is typical at once of that hopeless philosophy which suspects something wrong in the constitution of creation, and that first and Omniscient wisdom, which, notwithstanding all the mysteries of circumstance, the pa
VOL. II. PART I.
radoxes of time, and the inconsistencies of creeds, knows that whatever is, is right. The principle of this combination is original, and bespeaks a genius in the highest degree plastic and comprehensive. The writer of the present Essay will conclude this critical notice with a poetical description, which, for this purpose, he has extracted from a larger poem, and in which he has endeavoured to comprise all the leading features in the composition of the picture.
6 DEATH ON THE PALE HORSE.”
The vision was from heaven-the thunder pealed, -
He left no desolation. But not so
From their dire nostrils went consuming plague ;
I looked again and lo, beneath the foot