« ForrigeFortsett »
Poetry and Painting. Poetry is superior to painting; for poetry is progressive, painting stationary, in its capabilities of description. Poetry elevates the soul through every gradation of thought and feeling, producing its greatest effects at the last. Painting begins precisely where poetry breaks off,—with the climax of the subject, and lets down the mind from the catastrophe through the details of the story, imperceptibly soothing it from sublime astonishment into tranquil approbation. Painting is limited to a movement of time and an eye-glance of space ; but it must be confessed that it can make that moment last for ages, and render that eye-glance illustrious as the sun. Poetry is restrained neither to time nor place; resembling the sun himself, it may shine successively all round the globe, and endure till “ the earth, and the works therein, shall be burnt
Painting exhibits its whole purpose at one view, but with a generality of character which requires previous acquaintance with that purpose before the spectator can judge whether it has been effected; we must know all that was intended to be done before we can comprehend what has actually been done. Then, indeed, if the aim has been successfully accomplished, the glory of the artist is consummated at once; and while the enthusiasm of admiration settles down into calm delight, or spreads itself in patient and interested examination of particulars, the mind goes back through all the difficulties which have been overcome in the management and conduct of the performance as a work of art, and all the circumstances which must have concurred to bring the story, if the subject be narrative, the scenery if it be landscape, or the person if it be portrait, to that special crisis, light, or aspect which has enabled the inventor to exhibit the sum of his ideas so felicitously as to imply the various antecedent, accompanying, and conventional incidents which are necessary to be understood before the beholder can perfectly gather from the forms and colours before his eye the fine fancies, deep feelings, and glorious combinations of external objects which pre-existed in the artist's mind; and out of a thousand of which he has produced one partaking of all and concentrating their excellences, like the Venus of Apelles, to which the beauties of Greece lent their loveliness, and were abundantly repaid by having that part in her which she borrowed from them. Perhaps in portrait alone can painting claim the advantage of poetry; because there the pencil perpetuates the very features, air, and personal appearance of the individual represented; and when that individual is one of emi. nence,-a hero, a patriot, a poet, an orator,-it is the vehicle of the highest pleasure which the art can communicate; and in this respect portrait-painting (however disparaged) is the highest point of the art itself,-being at once the most real, intellectual, and imaginative.
A poem is a campaign, in which all the marches, sufferings, toils, and conflicts of the hero are successively developed to final victory. A painting is the triumph after victory, when the conqueror, the captives, the spoils, and the trophies are displayed in one pageant of magnificence, --implying, undoubtedly, all the means, the labour, and diversities of fortune by which the achievement was attended, but without manifesting them to the uninformed bystanders. Without previous knowledge, therefore, of the subject, the figures in the most perfect historical group are nameless; the business in which they are engaged is obscure; while often the country, the age, and even the class of life to which they be
longed, can be only imperfectly guessed. Of consequence, little comparative interest will be excited. The child's question, “Is it true ?" immediately occurs; and just in proportion as we ascertain the facts, the person, the whole story, we are charmed, affected, or surprised by the power of the master. Without the book the wand of the enchanter cannot work the spell.
Landscape-painting is that which is most easily understood at first sight; because the objects of which it is composed are as familiar to our eyes as the words in which they could be explained are to our ears; so that we recognise them at once, and can judge without commentary of the grouping and perspective. But the pleasure in contemplating the most exquisite productions of Claude Lorraine, Gaspar Poussin, and other great masters, is exceedingly enhanced by consideration of the skill of the artists in creating, what never, indeed, for one moment becomes an illusion, but that which enables the mind within itself to form an ideal prototype worthy of the pictured representation. Even when we know that the scenes are from nature, admiration of the pencil that drew them is the highest ingredient of our delight in beholding them,-unless by local, historical, or personal associations, the trees, the streams, the hills, or the buildings remind us of things greater and dearer than themselves. This, of course, is the most exalted gratification which landscapepainting can offer; yet poetry, which, in distinct delineations of natural objects, is otherwise inferior, has decided pre-eminence here.
The following stanzas from probably a hasty, but certainly a happy, effusion of Thomas Campbell's, in the dew and blossom of his youthful poetry, will exemplify this fact. Thcy refer to a morning walk, in company with a Russian lady, to a place called "the Fountain of the Thorn," on an eminence near Vienna, commanding a view of the city,
the Danube, and the neighbouring country to a vast extent :
“Ah' how long shall I delight
In the memory of that morn
To the Fountain of the Thorn!
“And beheld his waves and islands
Flashing, glittering in the sun,
To the mountains of the Hun.
“There was gladness in the sky,
There was verdure all around;
Look'd on rich historic ground,
“Over Aspern's field of glory
Noontide's disiant haze was cast,
Teem'd with visions of the past."
What could a painter do with this? Assuredly he might produce a landscape as superb as ever emaa nated, in colours of this world, from the pencils of Titian or Rubens. All the elements are at hand. A bird's-eye prospect from a height overlooking a majestic river, studded with islands, “flashing, glittering in the sun;" the “gorgeous towers” of an imperial city; the verdure of woods on every side ; over all, a brilliant sky; and far away, beneath the haze of summer-noon, long lines of undulated hills, lessening, lightening, vanishing from the view. The canvass might be covered with all these; yet, though they might dazzle the eye, and enchant the imagina.
* The introductory and concluding verses, being merely complimentary, are omitted. The poem itself first appeared in this country in the “Family Magazine of November, 1830," edited by Mr. thoberl, who acknow. ledges that he copied them from a German periodical published at Vienna They were probably written about the year 1802.
tion, like a glimpse into fairy-land.--unexplained, they would be mere abstractions, and the picture would be valued solely as a work of art; but let a label be attached with the word Vienna upon it, then, indeed, a new and nobler interest would be felt in the whole, and curiosity to find out every part when we knew that a real city, stream, and landscape were depicted. This, however, would be the extent to which the painter could transport the eye and the mind of his admirer.
Here, then, begins the triumph of poetry, which, while it can adorn, more or less perfectly, all the subjects of painting drawn from visible nature, has the whole invisible world to itself,-thoughts, feelings, imaginations, affections, all that memory can preserve of things past, and all that prescience can conceive or forbode of things to come. These it can express, minutely or comprehensively, in mass or in detail, foreshortened or progressive, line by line, shade' by shade, till it completely possesses the reader, and puts him as completely in possession of all that is most nearly or remotely associated with the theme in discussion. In the instance before us, the poet does this with the fewest possible phrases; and yet with such brilliance and force of allusion that the reader has only to follow, direction, the retrospective avenues opened on every hand.
After shedding the glory of sunshine on the "waves and islands” of the river, the green luxuriance of the champaign, and the “ gorgeous towers" of the metropolis,-in three words he lets in the daylight of past ages upon the scene. His“ rich historic ground” calls up the actions and actors of the mightiest events ever exhibited on that theatre; the mountains of the Hun, the field of Aspern, the hills of Turkish story, are crowded with armies, fouted with banners, and shaken with the tramp of chivalry and the march of phalanxed legions. They