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and some low; some copious, and some short; some pathetic, and others void of passion; some formed to instruct, and others not capable of it.
Now from these two circumstances, that is to say, from the accuracy of the imitation, and the merit of the subject imitated, the question, concerning which art is most excellent, must be tried and determined.
This, however, cannot be done, without a detail of particulars, that so there may be formed, on every part, just and accurate comparisons.
To begin, therefore, with painting.
ON THE SUBJECTS WHICH PAINTING IMITATES.
COMPARISON OF MUSIC WITH PAINTING.
ON THE SUBJECTS WHICH
THE fittest subjects for painting, are all such things and incidents as are peculiarly characterized by figure and colour.&
Of this kind are the whole mass of things inanimate and vegetable:" such as flowers, fruits, buildings, landscapes: the various tribes of animal figures; such as birds, beasts, herds, flocks: the motions and sounds peculiar to each animal species, when accompanied with configurations, which are obvious and remarkable: the human body in all its appearances, (as male, female; young, old; handsome, ugly,) and in all its attitudes, (as lying, sitting, standing, &c.:) the natural sounds peculiar to the human species, (such as crying, laughing, hallooing, &c.:)
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The reason is, that these things are almost wholly known to us by their colour and figure: besides, they are as motionless, for the most part, in nature, as in the imitation.
i Instances of this kind are the flying of birds, the galloping of horses, the roaring of lions, the crowing of cocks: and the reason is, that though to paint motion or sound be impossible, yet the motions and sounds here mentioned having an immediate and natural connection with a certain visible configuration of the parts, the mind, from a prospect of this configuration, conceives insensibly that which is concomitant; and hence it is, that, by a sort of fallacy, the sounds and motions appear to be painted also. On the contrary, not so in such
motions as the swimming of many kinds of fish, or in such sounds as the purring of a cat, because here is no such special configuration to be perceived. Homer, in his shield, describing the picture of a bull seized by two lions, says of the bull, d dè μακρὰ μεμυκὼς ̔́Ελκετο, “he, bellowing loudly, was dragged along." Where Eustathius, in commenting on this bellowing, says, ὡς ἐδήλου τῷ χήματι, “as he (the bull) made manifest (in the picture) by his figure or attitude." Eust. in J. 2. p. 1224.
The reason is of the same kind as that given in the note immediately preceding: and by the same rule, the observation must be confined to natural sounds only. In language, few of the speakers know the configurations which attend it.
all energies, passions, and affections of the soul, being in any degree more intense or violent than ordinary: all actions and events, whose integrity or wholeness depends upon a short and self-evident succession of incidents; or if the succession be extended, then such actions, at least, whose incidents are all along, during that succession, similar:" all actions which, being qualified as above, open themselves into a large variety of circumstances, concurring all in the same point of time:" all actions which are known, and known universally, rather than actions newly invented, or known but to few."
And thus much as to the subjects of painting.
II. In music, the fittest subjects of imitation are all such things and incidents as are most eminently characterized by motion and sound.P
Motion may be either slow or swift, even or uneven, broken
The reason is still of the same kind, viz. from their visible effects on the body: they naturally produce either to the countenance a particular redness or paleness, or a particular modification of its muscles, or else to the limbs a particular attitude. Now all these effects are solely referable to colour and figure, the two grand sensible media peculiar to painting. See Raphael's cartoons of St. Paul at Athens, and of his striking the sorcerer Elymas blind; see also the crucifixion of Polycrates, and the sufferings of the consul Regulus, both by Salvator Rosa. 1 For, of necessity, every picture is a punctum temporis, or "instant."
Such, for instance, as the storm at sea; whose incidents of vision may be nearly all included in foaming waves, a dark sky, ships out of their erect posture, and men hanging upon the ropes: or as a battle; which, from beginning to end, presents nothing else than blood, fire, smoke, and disorder. Now such events may be well imitated all at once; for how long soever they last, they are but repetitions of the same. Nicias, the painter, recommended much the same subjects, viz. a sea-fight, or a land-battle of cavalry; his reasons too are much the same with those mentioned in the following note. He concludes with a maxim, (little regarded by his successors, however important,) that the subject itself is as much a part of the painter's art, as the poet's fable is a part of poetry. See Demetrius Phal. p. 53. edit. Oxon.
n For painting is not bounded in extension, as it is in duration. Besides, it seems true in every species of composition, that, as far as perplexity and confusion may be avoided, and the wholeness of the piece may be preserved clear and intelligible, the more ample the magnitude, and the greater the
variety; the greater also, in proportion, the beauty and perfection. Noble instances of this are the pictures above mentioned in note k. See Aristot. Poet. c. 7. 'O de
καθ ̓ αὑτὴν φύσιν τοῦ πράγματος ὅρος, ἀεὶ μèv, etc. See also Characteristics, vol. i. p. 143. and Bossu, book i. c. 16. L'Achille d'Homere est si grand, &c.
• The reason is, that a picture being (as has been said) but a point or instant in a story well known, the spectator's memory will supply the previous and the subsequent: but this cannot be done where such knowledge is wanting. And therefore it may be justly questioned, whether the most celebrated subjects, borrowed by painting from history, would have been any of them intelligible through the medium of painting only, supposing history to have been silent, and to have given no additional informa
It may be here added, that Horace, conformably to this reasoning, recommends, even to poetic imitation, a known story before an unknown:
Tuque Rectius Iliacum carmen deducis in actus, Quam si proferres ignota, indictaque primus. Art. Poet. v. 128. And, indeed, as the being understood to others, either hearers or spectators, seems to be a common requisite to all mimetic arts whatever, (for to those who understand them not, they are in fact no mimetic arts,) it follows, that perspicuity must be essential to them all; and that no prudent artist would neglect, if it were possible, any just advantage to obtain this end. Now there can be no advantage greater than the notoriety of the subject imitated. P Page 28.
or continuous; sound may be either soft or loud, high or low. Wherever, therefore, any of these species of motion or sound may be found in an eminent (not a moderate or mean) degree, there will be room for musical imitation.
Thus, in the natural or inanimate world, music may imitate the glidings, murmurings, tossings, roarings, and other accidents of water, as perceived in fountains, cataracts, rivers, seas, &c.; the same of thunder; the same of winds, as well the stormy as the gentle. In the animal world, it may imitate the voice of some animals, but chiefly that of singing birds; it may also faintly copy some of their motions. In the human kind, it can also imitate some motions and sounds; and of sounds, those most perfectly, which are expressive of grief and anguish."
And thus much as to the subjects which music imitates. III. It remains, then, that we compare these two arts together. And here, indeed, as to musical imitation in general, it must be confessed, that, as it can, from its genius, imitate only sounds and motions; as there are not many motions, either in the animal or in the inanimate world, which are exclusively peculiar, even to any species, and scarcely any to an individual; as there are no natural sounds, which characterize, at least, lower than a species, (for the natural sounds of individuals are in every species the same:) further, as music does but imperfectly imitate even these sounds and motions; on the contrary, as figures, postures of figures, and colours characterize, not only every sensible species, but even every individual, and, for the most part, also the various energies and passions of every individual:" and further, as painting is able, with the highest accuracy and exactness, to imitate all these colours and figures, and while musical imitation pretends, at most, to no more than the raising of ideas similar, itself aspires to raise ideas the very same: in a word, as painting, in respect of its subjects, is equal to the noblest part of imitation, the imitating regular actions consisting of a whole and parts; and of such imitation, music is utterly incapable: from all this it must be confessed, that musical imitation is greatly below that of painting, and that at best it is but an imperfect thing.
As to the efficacy, therefore, of music, it must be derived from
As the walk of the giant Polypheme, in the pastoral of Acis and Galatea:
See what ample strides he takes, &c. As the shouts of a multitude, in the coronation anthem of God save the king, &c.
The reason is, that this species of musical imitation most nearly approaches nature: for grief, in most animals, declares itself by sounds, which are not unlike to long notes in the chromatic system. Of
this kind is the chorus of Baal's priests in the oratorio of Deborah :
Doleful tidings, how ye wound, &c.
The reason is, from the dissimilitude between the sounds and motions of nature, and those of music. Musical sounds are all produced from even vibration, most natural from uneven; musical motions are chiefly definite in their measure, most natural are indefinite.
" See note k of this chapter.
another source, which must be left for the present, to be considered of hereafter.*
There remains to be mentioned, imitation by poetry.
ON THE SUBJECTS WHICH POETRY IMITATES, BUT IMITATES ONLY
POETIC imitation includes every thing in it which is performed either by picture-imitation or musical; for its materials are words, and words are symbols by compact of all ideas.
Further, as words, beside their being symbols by compact, are also sounds variously distinguished by their aptness to be rapidly or slowly pronounced, and by the respective prevalence of mutes, liquids, or vowels, in their composition; it will follow, that, beside their compact-relation, they will have likewise a natural relation to all such things, between which and themselves there is any natural resemblance: thus, for instance, there is natural resemblance between all sorts of harsh and grating sounds. There is, therefore, (exclusive of its signification,) a natural relation between the sound of a vile hautboy, and of that verse in Virgil,
Stridenti miserum stipula disperdere carmen ;
or of that other in Milton,a
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw.
So also between the smooth swift gliding of a river, and of that verse in Horace,b
Labitur, et labetur in omne volubilis ævum.
And thus, in part, even poetic imitation has its foundation in nature but then this imitation goes not far; and taken without the meaning derived to the sounds from compact, is but little intelligible, however perfect and elaborate.
II. If, therefore, poetry be compared with painting, in respect of this its merely natural and inartificial resemblance, it may be justly said, that inasmuch as of this sort of resemblance, poetry (like music) has no other sources, than those two of sound and motion; inasmuch as it often wants these sources themselves, (for
numbers of words neither have, nor can have, any resemblance to those ideas of which they are the symbols ;) inasmuch as natural sounds and motions, which poetry thus imitates, are themselves but loose and indefinite accidents of those subjects to which they belong, and consequently do but loosely and indefinitely characterize them; lastly, inasmuch as poetic sounds and motions do but faintly resemble those of nature, which are themselves confessed to be so imperfect and vague. From all this it will follow, (as it has already followed of music,) that poetic imitation founded in mere natural resemblance is much inferior to that of painting, and at best but very imperfect.
III. As to the preference which such poetic imitation may claim before musical, or musical imitation before that, the merits on each side may appear perhaps equal. They both fetch their imitations from sound and motion. Now music seems to imitate nature better as to motion, and poetry as to sound. The reason is, that in motions, music has a greater variety; and in sounds, those of poetry approach nearer to nature.f
If, therefore, in sound the one have the preference, in motion the other, and the merit of sound and motion be supposed nearly equal, it will follow, that the merit of the two imitations will be nearly equal also.
ON THE SUBJECTS WHICH POETRY IMITATES, NOT BY MERE SOUNDS OR NATURAL MEDIA, BUT BY WORDS SIGNIFICANT; THE SUBJECTS AT THE SAME TIME BEING SUCH, TO WHICH THE GENIUS OF EACH OF THE OTHER TWO ARTS IS MOST PERFECTLY ADAPTED. ITS COMPARISON IN THESE SUBJECTS, FIRST WITH PAINTING, THEN WITH MUSIC.
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THE mimetic art of poetry has been hitherto considered, as fetching its imitation from mere natural resemblance. In this it has been shewn much inferior to painting, and nearly equal to music.
Music has no less than five different lengths of notes in ordinary use, reckoning from the semibreve to the semiquaver; all which may be infinitely compounded, even in any one time, or measure. Poetry, on the other hand, has but two lengths, or quantities, a long syllable and a short, (which is its half;) and all the variety of verse arises from such feet and metres, as these two species of syllables, by being
compounded, can be made produce.
f Musical sounds are produced by even vibrations, which scarcely any natural sounds are: on the contrary, words are the product of uneven vibration, and so are most natural sounds; add to this, that words are far more numerous than musical sounds. So that poetry, as to imitation by sound, seems to exceed music, not only in nearness of resemblance, but even in variety also.