[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]



OCTOBER, 1872.

ART. I.Fraser's Magazine for October, 1857. London.


It has been wisely observed that the reason why discussions upon art are so difficult is that we do not remark in art the ascensional phases evident in the development of science, that the definition applicable to scientific progress cannot be applied to progress in art, which latter we are fain to describe as developing itself when, from age to age, it changes its aspects and nature, without ever departing from consonance with beauty. This view of things, doubtless a right view, would seem, at first sight, to afford but a dismal outlook to the lovers of systematic art-philosophy; and yet we held it to be a right view, as firmly as we do now, when we recorded, some years ago, our belief in an ordered classification of the fine arts.* After taking occasion to discredit a classification proposed by the acute and learned M. Taine, we wrote as follows:-" It would have been extraordinary if the encyclopædic mind, which propounded a classification of the sciences, had not also furnished one of the arts; and, accordingly, we find Comte, after objecting to the very division now advanced by M. Taine, delivering his own classification on the principle applied to the sciences—that of decreasing generality and increasing intensity, involving, in the case of the arts, increasing technicality. The order thus established is : poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture an order which corresponds with that of historical growth, and which is so fully demonstrated in the work cited, that the question of its propriety and utility need not be entered upon.

The “work cited” was the Discours sur l'Ensemble du Positivisme (Paris, 1848), with the greater portion of which,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

* See London Quarterly Review for October, 1868. Article : "Art-Philosophy and Art-Criticism,"



relating to social and political questions, we had not then, and have not now, any concern. The section on æsthetics, however, embodying a large array of sane and deep artphilosophy, we held sufficient to excuse us from going over The arguments in support of the classification of the arts ; nor do we now propose to bring those arguments forward seriatim, although, as far as they may chance to occur in support of what we have to say about the relative positions and respective functions of poetry and music, we shall not scruple to make use of them.

The whole question of classifying the arts might, at a hasty glance, be deemed trivial, but reflection cannot fail to leave in the mind conviction of numerous ways



undue glorification or depression of any one of the arts, when sanctioned by philosophic authority or popular opinion, cannot but lead to evil results; and a part of our present task will be to strike a balance between philosophic over-valuation and popular under-valuation. But before we get to that part of our subject, it behoves us to admit the great difficulty that there must always be in working out systematic views of art, and to face without wonder the differences of opinion shown by even philosophic minds, of close relationship one to another, concerning art questions; for, as regards this very matter of classifying, it is quite true that, although the abstract sciences may each be traced out with logical clearness, from their known or assumed origin to their perfection (or advanced stage, if still incomplete), yet, in the case of the arts, essentially less rigid and logical than the sciences, in the same degree that the emotions are less rigid and logical than the intellect, no regular and unbroken pedigree can be traced.

In the domain of science, man has before him the universe, which it is his essential duty to understand, so far as it lies within the scope of his intellectual powers to do so; and he must, of necessity, begin to wrestle with the lowest and most simple phenomena before his powers can well be exercised analytically and synthetically on the higher and more complex. But in art he is not so much an explorer as he is a creator by means of his emotional nature; and thus national or individual idiosyncrasy may have almost any weight in determining whether one or another of known arts shall be warmly persisted in and perfected; whereas, of the abstract sciences, no one can be thoroughly understood if any of greater simplicity be neglected or ignored. Hence it is that, while the history of science is comparatively compact and consequent,

[blocks in formation]

an historical survey of art discovers innumerable lacune and apparent anomalies.

Not the least striking of these historical peculiarities, at a first glance, is the long period between the unknown birth of music and the splendid modern culmination of that art in the hands of the great German masters. But, notwithstanding the fact that poetry had produced some half-dozen literatures of the first order before music had come to one great period, and that, meantime, painting, sculpture, and architecture had all fulfilled themselves with the highest magnificence in different countries and epochs, there is not, as far as we can judge from the historical materials accessible to us, any reasonable doubt that the genesis of the arts has taken place in the order already noted, that of music being next to that of poetry.

The more we search the records made by travellers concerning their observations of the habits and manners of primitive peoples, the more cause we see to believe in the existence of this natural order of birth. It is true that the most primitive specimens of humanity ever observed by travellers have not been so low in the scale that a still lower ancestry could not be conceived; but, in the lowest states we know, we are able to discern the germs of all art in energetic fragments of speech of a semi-poetic character. Indeed, it seems merely rational that the first form of art to make its appearance should be that which demands no machinery, no implements of any kind, not even the faculty of chronicling itself

, and which, in this its elementary state, is mere spontaneous utterance-human, but savagely human-of some passionate phases of feeling that will find vent. Looking a step higher than this, at the dance-chants of savages, we find the fragmentary poetic utterances have reached a monorhythmic intonation, constituting the first element of music, and passing, naturally enough, into chants accompanied on such rude instruments as can be devised by people with no glimmering of industry properly so-called. How fast a race possessed of these two beginnings of art developes itself to the need and possibility of other arts must depend on many intricate combinations of circumstance; but it is tolerably clear that these must come first, as a very decided step in the manufacturing or industrial direction must be made before painting in its most barbarous form can exist, a further step being needful before sculpture can arise, and a still further one before architecture can come into being as an art.

But beside the evidence of barbarous dance-chants in this

« ForrigeFortsett »