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From the point of view of æsthetics it is of course a serious fault of the Classical age that it failed to see that coloring and diction should be an essential and organic part of the design or composition. Had they rated poetic diction higher, they might have erred less in their practical handling of it. But in spite of this just criticism, the wise reader of eighteenth century poetry will tactfully adjust himself and read in the spirit in which the poetry was written. He will remember that the Classical age is no more truly represented by its poetic diction than by literary fragments and incompleted masterpieces.
The eighteenth century poets and readers loved the beauty of design, the beauty of the artistic whole, more than the beauty of fragments and diction, because they believed that beauty of design called into play the highest faculties of the mind. Such qualities as proportion, harmony, graceful disposition of parts to form a satisfying unity,-these appealed not to the sensual ear, but to the intelligence that loves divine order, truth, harmony-the intelligence that is disciplined to the desire for an organized world. To the Classicists this ideal of art seemed so clear and self-evident that they never seriously subjected it to critical examination. They constantly stated it as axiomatic. Hence the rules. If the end of art is so clearly determinable, it must be possible, they reasoned, to formulate principles to guide the artist in the attainment of that end. It was not that genius could be dispensed with; the artist must first have the divine urge. But genius must be educated and regulated. In the formulation of the rules the Classicists of course went to extremes, as have also, for example, some modern enthusiastic formulators of dramatic technique since Ibsen. How
ever, the definiteness of the rules does not mean that Corneille and Boileau, Dryden, Pope and Johnson, all believed that art can be produced by rules of thumb.
It is incorrect, also, to speak of the Classical conception of art as indicating a "hard and dry rationalism." Rationalism it certainly was, but why must all rationalism be called "hard and dry?" The rationalism of classical art and poetry was inherited in large measure from two of the greatest and most inspiring philosophical traditions of antiquity, Stoicism and Platonism, and it retained some of the fine and generous idealism of each of these two traditions.
The indebtedness of classical art theory to the great Stoical tradition is obvious enough. From this tradition was derived the key-doctrine of Nature. Pope's passage is familiar:
First follow Nature, and your judgment frame
One clear, unchang'd, and universal light,
But "Nature" is a
Art is the "imitation of Nature." word of many meanings; it is used in a different way in the twentieth century from what it was in the eighteenth. To us, it suggests the landscape, but the Classical poet had very little interest in the landscape for its own sake; he preferred to write about human life, especially the life of cultivated and intelligent humanity. Again, we have the philosophical term "Naturalism" which we apply both in ethics and in art, generally to sympathetic treatment of individual ideas and desires. This was the "Nature" which the
pleasant and indulgent Montaigne took for his guide more than three hundred years ago. In his own words, as translated by John Florio: "I have taken for my regard this ancient precept, very rawly and simply: That We cannot erre in following Nature: and that the soveraigne document is, for a man to conforme himselfe to her. I have not (as Socrates) by the power and vertue of reason, corrected my natural complexions, nor by Art hindered mine inclination. Looke how I came into the World, So I goe-on: I strive with nothing." Certainly this was not the Nature of Classical art. What the Classicist was interested in was not the individual peculiarity which separates the individual from his kind, but the Nature which is significant, typical, universal. Montaigne misinterpreted, probably with a delicious ironical intention, the "ancient precept" of the Stoics about "following Nature"; he turned their phrase upside down. For the Stoics meant by the term that universal Reason which pervades and gives meaning to the actual world, the ideal order towards which the actual world is striving. Order is heaven's first law; but the actual conditions of human life are chaotic; only through art does the divine element clearly emerge. Even Charles Gildon is stirred by the idealism of this conception. “Without Art," he says, "there can be no Order, and without Order, Harmony is sought in vain, where nothing but shocking Confusion can be found. Those scattered Sparks of a great Genius, which should shine with united Glory, are in the huddle of Ignorance or want of Art, so dissipated, and divided, and so blended with Contraries, that they are extremely obscured, if not entirely extinguished. Thus the particles and Seeds of Light in the Primocal Chaos struggled in vain to
exert their true Lustre, till Matter was by Art Divine brought into order, and this noble Poem of the Universe compleated in Number and Figures, by the Almighty Poet or Maker."
It is then fairly obvious that there is a heritage of Stoic idealism in the Classical conception of Nature. It is more difficult to show that the Classical age is tinged with Platonism. For the direct influence of Plato was not great during this period, nor did he have many conscious and enthusiastic followers, although the age was not lacking in these. His influence was rather indirect, and often indeed not recognized at the time as Platonic. The eighteenth century derived a large part of its ideas from the Renaissance, and often. spoke a language of whose ultimate origin it was unaware. For instance, the painter Jonathan Richardson probably had little time left after his painting and his Miltonic studies, to read either Plato or the Stoics. But note how he combines the language of both: "the painter," he says, in his Essay on the Theory of Painting (1715), "should consider what manner of handling will best conduce to the end he proposes, the Imitation of Nature, or the expressing those Raised Ideas he has conceived of possible perfection in Nature, and That he ought to turn his pencil to." In another place he says: "Perhaps nothing that is done is properly, and strictly Invention, but derived from something already seen, tho' sometimes compounded, and jumbled into Forms which Nature never produced: These Images laid up in our Minds are the Patterns by which we work when we do what is said to be done by invention. . . So that is said to be done by the Life which is done, the thing intended to be represented being set before us, tho' we neither follow it Intirely,
nor intend to do so, but Add, or Retrench by the help of preconceiv'd Ideas of a Beauty, and Perfection we imagine Nature is capable of, tho' 'tis rarely, or never found."
Now this Platonic interest in perfect Ideas is not so surprising in Richardson. Its sources are evident enough. Richardson had been reading French and Italian authorities on painting, among whom was still lingering some of the Platonic modes of thought of the Italian Renaissance. Moreover, the Classical school of art considered itself the school of Raphael; Raphael stood alone among the moderns in the perfection with which he had re-embodied the spirit of antique art; Raphael belonged with the Greeks. What language could be more apt in praising this pure beauty of the great master-painter, the beauty which all lesser painters also aspire to, than the phraseology of the Platonic philosophy?
But there were also other channels by which Plato's conception of ideal truth and ideal beauty were transmitted to the Classicists. The writings of Cicero, for instance, by their high authority and moderate tone, were admirably qualified to mediate between Plato and an age suspicious of enthusiasm and extravagance. Perhaps the most astonishing illustration of the natural affinity between Platonism and classical art and the indirect ways by which the two were united, is found in the treatise by Père André (1675-1766) on "The Beautiful" (1741). The beautiful which Père André had in mind was of course the art of the French Classical age; but the philosophical ideas in his volume are Platonic ideas borrowed from St. Augustine. As a rule, however, these Platonic ideas were more likely to circulate when they had ceased to be called Platonic.