BLESSED are the shadows of porches and cloisters! Blessed the walls that shut us out from the dusty, dazzling world, and shed upon us the repose and consolation of our own serene humanity! We, harassed among the base utilities of life, made weary and sore by the ceaseless struggles of emulation and daily warfare, turn wistfully to the Peripatetic among the shady groves of Athens,— dream of quiet Saracenic courts, echoing with plashy fountains,— of hooded monks, pacing away their cloistered lives beneath storied vaults and little patches of sky,— knowing, while we dream, that out of these came of yore the happiness of the old eurekas and the deep sweetness of ancient knowledge. And then, away from the city of our toil, the tumult of our ambitions, we gratefully find Vallombrosas of our own, where we walk not alone, but in the pleasant companionship of elevated thoughts, and of old sages and masters, long passed away, hut still wise and gentle to those who approach them with faith and simplicity. Here, like those chimes which wander unheeded over the house-tops of the roaring town, till they drop down blessed dews of Heaven into still, grass-grown courts and deserted by-ways, the great universal human heart beats closer to our own, and our whole being palpitates with almost ethereal sympathies. Voices of old minstrels, wandering down to us on loving lips through the generations, murmur in our ears the dear burden of human affection for men and things; and the same tale is poured abundantly into our hearts by all those great masters who, through their Art, have become to us oracles of Beauty and eloquent interpreters of the Love of God.
There are few persons so hardened in the practical life as not to have recognized that in these moments of large and spiritual stillness all the processes of the mind seem to be instinctively attuned to harmonies almost celestial. Experience and memory present their pictures softened and made gentle by some mysterious power. The imagination is swayed by the sweetest impulses of humanity; and the whole man is changed. The mere instincts of affinity are purified and deepened into tend crest affection, and all the external relations of existence
More moving delicate and full of life,
Into the eye and prospect of the soul,”
than when they offered themselves to the ordinary waking senses. This is a wonder and a mystery. I sometimes believe, thinking on these things, that we have inherited from our father Adam a habit of day-dreaming; that in this exile of coarse and work-day life our heated brows are sometimes fanned with breezes from some half-remembered Araby the Blest, and there instinctively come over us such visions of beatitude that the Paradise we have lost is recalled to us, and we live once more among the dreamy and grateful splendors of Eden. These moods come upon us so like memories ! But you, graybeard travellers in the Desert of Life, you are not to be deceived by the trickery of the elements; you know the moist mirage ; you are not to be beguiled by it from your track ; let the unwary dream dreams of bubbling wellsprings and pleasant shade, of palmy oases and tranquil repose; as for you, you must goad your camels and press onward for Jerusalem.
But I like to chase phantoms; I hate the plodding of the caravans. I turn aside and spread my own tent apart. Will you tarry awhile under its shadow, O serious and gentle stranger, and listen to some poor words of mine ?
These memories of Eden! Let us cherish them, for they are not worthless or deceitful. We, who, when we can, carry our hearts in our eyes, know very well, and have often said it before, that Eden is not so many days’journey away from our feet that we may not inhale its perfumes and press our brows against its sod whenever we wish. It is not cant, I hope, to say that Eden is not lost entirely. There stands no angel at its gates with flaming sword ; nor did it fade away with all its legendary beauties, drop its leaves into the melancholy streams, leaving no trace behind of its glades and winding alleys, its stretches of flowery mead, its sunny hill-sides, and valleys of happiness and peace. But Eden still blooms wherever Beauty is in Nature; and Beauty, we know, is everywhere. We cannot escape from it, if we would. It is ever knocking at the door of our hearts in sweet and unexpected missions of grace and tenderness. We are haunted by it in our loneliest walks. Almost unconsciously, out of flowers and trees, earth and sky, sunrises aud sunsets,—out of mosses under the feet, mosses and pebbles and grasses,— out of the loveliness of moon and stars, their harmonies and changes,— out of sea-foam, and what seafoam reveals to us of the rich and strange things beneath the waters far down,— out of sweet human eyes, — out of all these things creeps into our spirits the knowledge tlmt God is Love, and His handiwork the expression of ineffable tenderness and affection. I believe, indeed, that the principle of Beauty, philosophically speaking, pervades all material objects, all motions and sounds in Nature, — that it enters intimately into the very idea of Creation. But we, poor finite beings, do not seek for it, as we do for gold and gems. We remain content with those conventional manifestations of it which are continually and instinctively touching our senses as we walk the earth. Fearfully and wonderfully as we are made, there is no quality in our being so blessed as this sensitiveness to Beauty, All the organs of our life are attuned by it to that vast universal symphony which, in spite of the warring elements of passion and prejudice, unites us in friendly sympathies with all mankind. If
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,”—
if it can so move some of us, who have cared to open the portals of our hearts to receive and cherish the -little waif,— why, verily, the simple violet that blooms alike under every sky, the passing cloud that floats changing ever over every land, gathering equal glories from the sunsets of Italy and Labrador, are more potent missionaries of peace and good-will to all the earth than the most persuasive accents of human eloquence.
“ The stretchèd metre of an antique song,”
they flow from our grateful lips in ready words. But we do not suspect how these manifestations of material Beauty are received by the mysterious alembic of the soul, — how they are worked up there by exquisite and subtile processes of moral chemistry, humanized, spiritualized, and appropriated unconsciously to sweet uses of piety and affection. We do not know how the star, the flower, the dear human face, the movement of a wave, the song of a bird,— we do not know how these things enter into the heart, become ideal, mingle with human emotions, consecrate and are consecrated, and come forth once more into light, but transfigured into tenderest sympathies and the gentle offices of charity and grace. There was Wordsworth,— he knew something of this still machinery, this “ kiss of toothèd wheels” within the soul of man. Listen to him,— he had been to Tintern Abbey and heard once more the “ soft inland murmur ” of the Wye: —
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:—feelings, too,
Of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.”
And then who that has ever read it can forget his exquisite picture in the “ Education of a little Child ” ? —
In many a secret place,
Where rivulets dance tlieir wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face ! ”
The material Beauty of the world, as exhibited in the manifold objects, sounds, perfumes, motions of Nature, is created for a nobler purpose than only to delight the senses and please the æsthetic faculties. I believe it is the distant source whence flow all our dear daily affections. We know, that, according to the suggestions of our merely human passions and instincts, we ease our hearts of Love by heaping treasures and the choicest gifts of fancy in the laps of those whom we most dearly cherish. We take no credit to ourselves for such precious prodigalities ; for they are the inevitable and disinterested outpourings of affection. They are received as such. And when we cast our eyes abroad and behold the loving prodigality of a divine hand, wo accept the manifestation, arc made happy in the consciousness of being beloved, and, constituted as we are in the image and likeness of God, express our instinctive gratitude in those fine human sympathies which impress the seal of Truth on the primary idea of our creation.
And so, blessed are the shadows of porches and cloisters ! Blessed the hours of serene meditation, when the “ tender grace of days that are dead,” of flowers that have faded, of scenes “ gone glimmering through the dream of things that were,” comes back to us with a new meaning, softening and refining the heart to unexpected capacities of affection. But how they fade away, these ghostly and unsubstantial pageants, when they “ scent the morning air ” ! How they leave in our hearts nought but the dim consciousness that we are capable of an existence ineffably deeper and vaster than that which we lead in the visible world ! Nought but this ? Alas, poor human nature ! do we leave the casket of Pandora open in wanton carelessness, and let all escape but the mere scent of the roses ? Or does there not remain behind an indefinable presence to comfort and console us,— the precious Ideal of Beauty,—
“ The light that never was on sea or land, The inspiration and the poet’s dream ”? The human heart forever yearns to create,— this is the pure antique word for it,— to give expression and life to an evasive loveliness that haunts the soul in those moments when the body is laid asleep and the spirit walks. There is a continual and godlike longing to embody these elusive phantoms of Beauty. But the immortal songs which remain unsung, the exquisite idyls which gasp for words, the bewildering and restless imagery which seeks in vain the eternal repose of marble or of canvas,—while these confess the affectionate and divine desires of humanity, they prove how few there are to whom, it is given to learn the great lesson of Creation. When one arises among us, who, like Pygmalion, makes no useless appeal to the Goddess of Beauty for the gift of life for his Ideal, and who creates as he wTas created, we cherish him as a great interpreter of human love. AVe call him poet, composer, artist, and speak of him reverently as Master. We say that his lips have been wet with dews of Hybla, — that, like the sage of Crotona, he has heard the music of the spheres, — that he comes to us, another Numa, radiant and inspired from the kisses of Egeria.
Thus, as infinite Love begets infinite Beauty, so does infinite Beauty reflect into finite perceptions that image of its divine parentage which the antique world worshipped under the personification of Astarte, Aphrodite, Venus, and recognized as the great creative principle lying at the root of all high Art.
There is a curious passage in Boehme, which relates how Satan, when asked the cause of the enmity of God and his own consequent downfall, replied, — “I wished to be an Artist.” So, according to antique tradition, Prometheus manufactured a man and woman of clay, animated them with fire stolen from the chariot of the Sun, and was punished for the crime of Creation ; Titans chained him to the rocks of the Indian Caucasus for thirty thousand years !
This Ideal, this Aphrodite of old mythologies, still reigns over the world of Art, and every truly noble effort of the artist is saturated with her spirit, as with a religion. It is impossible for a true work of Art to exist, unless this great creative principle of Love be present in its inception, in its execution, in its detail. It must be pervaded with the warmth of human, passionate affection. The skill which we are so apt to worship is but the instrument in the hands of Love. It is the means by which this humanity is transferred to the work, and there idealized in the forms of Nature. Thus the test of Art is in our own hearts. It is not something far away from us, throwing into our presence gleaming reflections from some supernal source of Light and Beauty; but it is very near to us, — so near, that, like the other blessings which lie at our feet, we overlook it in our far-reaching searches after the imaginary good. AVo, poor underlings, have been taught in the school of sad experience the mortal agony of Love without Skill, — the power of perception, without the power of utterance. We know how dumb are the sweet melodies of our souls, — how fleeting their opulent and dreamy pageantries. But we have not fully learned the utter emptiness and desolation of Skill without Love. We accept its sounding brass and tinkling cymbals for immortal harmonies. AVe look reverently upon its tortured marbles and its canvases stained with academic knowledge as revelations of higher intelligence ; forgetting, that, if we go down to the quiet places of our own souls, we shall find there the universe reflected, like a microcosm, in the dark well-springs, and that out of these well-springs in the deep silence rises the beautiful Ideal, Anadyomene, to compensate and comfort us for the vacancy of Life. If we know ourselves, it is not to the dogmas of critics, the artificial rules of æsthetics, that we most wisely resort for judgments concerning works of Art. Though technical externals and the address of manipulation naturally take possession of our senses and warp our opinions, there are depths of immortal Truth within us, rarely sounded, indeed, but which can afford a standard and a criterion far nobler than the schools can give us.
The broken statues and columns and traditions and fragmentary classics which Greece has left us are so still and tranquil to the eye and ear, that we search in vain for the Delphic wisdom they contain, till we find it echoed in the sympathetic depths of our souls, and repeated in the half-impalpable Ideals there. It is to Greece that we must look for the external type of these Ideals, whose existence we but half suspect within us. It is not pleasant, perhaps, to think that we were nearly unconscious of the highest capacities of our humanity, till we recognized their full expression in the ashes of a distant and dead civilization, — that we did not know ourselves, till
In pathless wildernesses”
uttered knowledge to us among the ghastly ruins of Ilellas. It is good for us to lend a spiritual ear to these ancient whisperings, and hear nymph calling to nymph and faun to faun, as they caper merrily with the god Pan through the silence. It is good for us to listen to that “ inextinguishable laughter ” of the happy immortals of Olympus, ever mingling with all the voices of Nature and setting them to the still sweet music of humanity,—good, because so we are reminded how close we are to the outward world, and how all its developments are figurative expressions of our near relationships with the visible Beauty of things. Thus it is that the poetic truths of old religions exquisitely vindicate themselves; thus we find, even we moderns, with our downward eyes and our wrinkled brows, that we still worship at the mythological altars of childlike divinities; and when we can get away from the distracting Bedlam of steam-shrieks and machinery, we behold the secrets of our own hearts, the Lares and Penates of our own households, reflected in the “white ideals” on antique vases and medallions.
Abstract lines are the most concentrated expressions of human ideas, and, as such, are peculiarly sensitive to the critical tests of all theories of the Beautiful. Distinguished from the more usual and direct means by which artists express their inspirations and appeal to the sympathies of men, distinct from the common language of Art, which contents itself with conveying merely local and individual ideas, abstract lines are recognized as the grand hieroglyphic symbolism of the aggregate of human thought, the artistic manifestations of the great human Cosmos. The natural world, passing through the mind of man, is immediately interpreted and humanized by his creative power, and assumes the colors, forms, and harmonies of Painting, Sculpture, and Music. But abstract lines, as we find them in Architecture and in the ceramic arts, are the independent developments of this creative power, coming directly from humanity itself, and obtaining from the outward world only the most distant motives of composition. Thus it is an inevitable deduction that Architecture is the most human of all arts, and its lines the most human of all lines.
and the affectionate devotion with which this gift is received by finite intelligences from the hand of God is expressed in Art, when its infinite depth can he so expressed at all, in a twofold language,— the one objective, the other subjective; the one recalling the immediate Source of the emotion, and presenting it palpably to the senses, arrayed in all the ineffable tenderness of Art, which is Love, — the other, portraying rather the emotion than the cause of it, and by an instinctive and universal symbolism expressing the deep and serious joy with which the “thing of beauty” is welcomed to the heart. Hence come those lines which æsthetic writers term “ Lines of Beauty,” so eloquent to us with an uncomprehended meaning, — so near, and yet so far,—so simple, and yet so mysterious,— so animated with life and thought and musical motion, and yet so still and serene and spiritual. Links which bind us fraternally to old intelligences, tendrils by which the soul climbs up to a wider view of the glimmering landscape, they are grateful and consoling to us. We look with cognizant eyes at tlicir subtile affinities with some unexpressed part of human life, anil, turning one to another, are apt to murmur,
The mysteries of orb and cycle, with which old astrologers girded human life, and sought to define from celestial phenomena the horoscope of man, have been brought down to modern applications by learned philosophers and mathematicians. These have labored with a godlike energy and skill to trace the interior relationships existing between the recondite revelations of their Geometry, their wonderful laws of mathematical harmonies and unities, and those lines which by common consent are understood to be exponential of certain phases of our own existence. No well-organized intellect can fail to perceive that a sublime and immortal Truth underlies these speculations. Undoubtedly, in the straight line,in the conic sections, in the innumerable composite curves of the mathematician, lie the germs of all these symbolic expressions. But the artist, whose lines of Beauty vary continually with the emotions which produce them, who feels in his own human heart the irresistible impulse which gives an exquisite balance and poise to those lines, cannot allow that the spirit of his compositions is governed by the exact and rigid formulæ of the philosopher to any greater extent or in any other manner than as the numbers of the poet are ruled by the grammar of his language. These formulae may be applied as a curious test to ascertain what strange sympathies there may he between such lines and the vast organic harmonies of Nature and the Universe ; hut they do not enter into the sold of their creation any more than the limitations of counterpoint find rhythm laid their incubus on the lyre of Apollo. The porches where Callicrates, Hermogenes, and Callimachus walked were guarded by no such Cerberus as the disciples of Plato encountered at the entrance of the groves of the Academy, —
“ Oὐϑεὶç ἀγεωμέтρητoç &3949;ἰσίτω,”
“ Let no one ignorant of Geometry enter here ”;
but the divine Aphrodite welcomed all mankind to the tender teachings of the Wild Acanthus, the Honeysuckle, and the Sea-Shell, and all the deep utterances of boundless Beauty.
Truly, it is sad and dispiriting to the artist to find that all modern æsthetical writings limit and straiten the free walks of highest Art with strict laws deduced from rigid science, with mathematical proportions and the formal restrictions of fixed lines and curves, nicely adapted from the frigidities of Euclid. The line A B must equal the line C D ; somewhere in space must he found the centre or the focus of every curve ; and every angle must subtend a certain arc, to be easily found on reference to the tables of the text-books. “ The melancholy days have come” for Art, when the meditative student finds his early footsteps loud among these dry, withered, and sapless leaves, instead of brushing away the dews by the fountains of perpetual youth. I am aware of no extant English work on Greek Lines which does not aim to reduce that magnificent old Hellenic poetry to the cold, hard limitations of Geometry. Modem Pharisees nail that antique Ideal of loveliness and purity to a mathematical cross.
Now it is capable of distinct proof, that abstract Lines of Beauty, even in a greater degree than any other expressions of Art, are born and baptized in Love. Because parabolic curves frequently coincide with these lines, it is no proof that they created them.
The Water-Lily, or Lotus, perpetually occurs in Oriental mythology as the sublime and hallowed symbol of the productive power in Nature,—the emblem of that great life-giving principle which the Hindu and the Egyptian and all early nations instinctively elevated to the highest and most cherished place in their Pantheons. Payne Knight, quoted in Mr. Squier’s work on the “Antiquities of America,” ingeniously attributes the adoption of this symbol to the fact, that the Lotus, instead of rejecting its seeds from the vessels where they are germinated, nourishes them in its bosom till they have become perfect plants, when, arrayed in all the irresistible panoply of grace and beauty, tney spring forth, Minerva-like, float down the current, and take root wherever deposited. And so it was used by nearly all the early peoples to express the creative spirit which gives life and vegetation to matter. Lacshmi, the beautiful Hindu goddess of abundance, corresponding to the Venus Aphrodite of the Greeks, was called “ the Lotus-born,” as having ascended from the ocean in this flower. Here, again, is the inevitable intermingling of the eternal principles of Beauty, Love, and the Creative Power in that pure triune medallion image which the ancients so tenderly cherished and so exquisitely worshipped with vestal fires and continual sacrifices of Art. Old Father Nile, reflecting in his deep, mysterious breast the monstrous temples of Nubia and Pylæ, bears eloquent witness to the earnestness and sincerity of the old votive homage to Isis, “ the Lotus-crowned ” Venus of Egypt. For the symbolic Water-Lily, recreated by human Art, blooms forever in the capitals of Karnac and Thebes, and wherever columns were reared and lintels laid throughout the length and breadth of the “ Land of Bondage.” It is the key-note of all that architecture; and a brief examination into the principles of this new birth of the Lotus, of the monumental straightening and stiffening of its graceful and easy lines, will afford some insight into the strange processes of the human mind, when it follows the grandest impulse of Love, and out of the material beauties of Nature creates a work of Art.
It is well known that the religion of the old Egyptians led them to regard this life as a mere temporary incident, an unimportant phase of their progress toward that larger and grander state imaged to them with mysterious sublimity in the idea of Death or Eternity. In accordance with this belief, they expressed in their dwellings the sentiment of transitoriness and vicissitude, and in their tombs the immortality of calm repose. And so their houses have crumbled into dust ages ago, but their tombs are eternal. In all the relations of Life the sentiment of Death was present in some form or other. The hallowed mummies of their ancestors were the most sacred mortgages of their debts, and to redeem them speedily was a point of the highest honor. They had corpses at their feasts to remind them how transitory were the glory and happiness of the world, how eternal the tranquillity of Death.
Now, how was this prevailing idea expressed in their Art? They looked around them and saw that all Organic Life was full of movement and wavy lines; their much-loved Lotus undulated and bent playfully to the solemn flow of the great Nile; the Ibis fluttered with continual motion ; their own bodies were full of ever-changing curves; and their whole visible existence was unsteady, like the waves of the sea. But when the temporary Life was changed, and “ this mortal put on immortality,” their eyes and souls were filled with the utter stillness and repose of its external aspects; its features became rigid and fixed, and were settled to an everlasting and immutable calm; the vibrating grace of its lines departed, and their ever-varying complexity became simplified, and assumed the straightness and stiffness of Death. So the straight line, the natural expression of eternal repose, in contradistinction to the wavy line, which represents the animal movements of Life, became the motive and spirit of their Art. The anomaly of Death in Life was present in every development of the creative faculty, and no architectural feature could be so slight and unimportant as not to be thoroughly permeated with this sentiment. The tender and graceful lines of the Lotus became sublime and monumental under the religious loyalty of Egyptian chisels; and these lines, whether grouped or single, in the severity of their fateful repose, in their stateliness and immobility, wherever found, are awful with the presence of a grand serious humanity long passed away from any other contact with living creatures. The rendering of the human form, under this impulse of Art, produced results in which the idea of mutability was so overwhelmed in this grandeur of immortality, that we cry
O vacant eyes! from which the soul has gone
To gaze in other lands,”
bend not upon us, living and loving mortals, that stony stare of death,—lest we too, as smit with the basilisk, be turned into monumental stone, and all the dear grace and movement of life be lost forever !
And moulded in colossal calm,”
all the lines of this lost Art thus recall the sentiment of endless repose, and even the necessary curves of its mouldings are dead with straightness. The Love which produced these lines was not the passionate Love which we understand and feel; they were not the result of a sensuous impulse; but the Egyptian artist seemed ever to be standing alone in the midst of a trackless and limitless desert,— around him earth and sky meeting with no kiss of affection, no palpitating embrace of mutual sympathy; he felt himself encircled by a calm and pitiless Destiny, the cold expression of a Fate from which he could not flee, and in himself the centre and soul of it all. Oppressed thus with a vast sense of spiritual loneliness, when lie uttered the inspirations of Art, the memories of playful palms and floating lilies and fluttering wings, though they came warm to the Love of his heart, were attuned in the outward expression to the deep, solemn, prevailing monotone of his humanity. His Love for the Lotus and the Ibis, more profound than the passion of the senses, dwelt serene in the bottom of his soul, and thence came forth transfigured and dedicated to the very noblest uses of Life. And this is the Art of Egypt.
But among all the old nations which have perished with their gods, Greece appeals to our closest sympathies. She looks upon us with the smile of childhood, free, contented, and happy, with no ascetic self-denials to check her wild-flower growth, no stern religion to bind the liberty of her actions. All her external aspects are in harmony with the weakness and the strength of human nature. We recognize ourselves in her, and find all the characteristics of our own humanity there developed into a theism so divine, clothed with a personification so exquisite and poetical, that the Hellenic mythology seems still to live in our hearts, a silent and shadowy religion without ceremonies or altars or sacrifices. The festive gods of the “ Iliad ” made man a deity to himself, and his soul the dwelling-place of Ideal Beauty. In this Ideal they lived and moved and had their being, and came forth thence, bronze, marble, chryselephantine, a statuesque and naked humanity, chaste in uncomprehended sin and glorified in antique virtue. The Beauty of this natural Life and the Love of it was the soul of the Greek Ideal; and the nation continually cherished and cultivated and refined this Ideal with impulses from groves of Arcadia, vales of Tempe, and flowery slopes of Attica, from the manliness of Olympic Games and the loveliness of Spartan Helens. They cherished and cultivated and refined it, because here they set up their altars to known gods and worshipped attributes which they could understand. The Ideal was their religion, and the Art which came from it the expression of their highest aspiration.
Lines of Beauty, produced in such a soil, were not, as might at first be supposed, tropic growths of wanton and luxurious curves, wild, spontaneous utterances of superabundant Life. The finely studied perception of the Greek artist admitted no merely animal, vegetable, instinctive, licentious renderings of what Nature was ever giving him with a liberal hand in the whorls of shells, the veins of leaves, the life of flames, the convolutions of serpents, the curly tresses of woman, the lazy grace of clouds, the easy sway of tendrils, flowers, and human motion. He was no literal interpreter of her whispered secrets. But the Grace of his Art was a deliberate grace, — a grace of thought and study. His lines were crea-tions, and not instincts or imitations. They came from the depth of his Love, and it was his religion so to nurture and educate his sensitiveness to Beauty and his power to love and create it, that his works of Art should be deeds of passionate worship and expressions of a godlike humanity. Unlike the Egyptian’s, there was nothing in his creed to check the sweet excess of Life, and no grim shadow, “ feared of man,” scared him in his walks, or preached to him sermons of mortality in the stones and violets of the wayside. Life was hallowed and dear to him for its own sake. He saw it was lovable, and he made it the theme of his noblest poems, his subtilest philosophies, and his highest Art. Hence the infinite joy and endless laughter on Olympus, the day-long feasting, the silver stir of strings in the hollow shell of the exquisite Phœbus, “the soft song of the Muse with voices sweetly replying.”
I believe that all true Lines of Grace and Beauty, in their highest, intellectual, human significance, may be concentrated and expressed in one ; not a precise and exact line, like a formula of mathematics, to which the neophyte can refer for deductions of Grace to suit any premises or conditions. This, of course, is contrary to the spirit of beautiful design ; and the ingenious Hay, who maintains that his “composite ellipse” is capable of universal application in the arts of ornamental composition, and that by its use any desirable lines in mouldings or vases can be mechanically produced, especially Greek lines, falls into the grave error of endeavoring to materialize and fix that animula vagula, blandula, that coy and evasive spirit of Art, which is its peculiar characteristic, and gives to its works inspiration, harmony, and poetic sentiment. Ideal Beauty can be hatched from no geometrical eggs. But the line which I refer to, as the expression of most subtile Grace, pretends to be merely a type of that large language of forms with which the most refined intellects of antiquity uttered their Love, and their joyful worship of Aphrodite. This line, of course, is Greek.
The three great distinctive eras of Art, in a purely psychological sense, have been the Egyptian, the Grecian, and the Romanesque,— including in the latter term both Roman Art itself and all subsequent Art, whether derived directly or indirectly from Rome, as the Byzantine, the Moresque, the Mediæval, and the Renaissance. Selecting the most characteristic works to which these great eras respectively gave birth, it is not difficult, by comparison, to ascertain the masterspirit, or type, to which each of these three families may be reduced. If we place these types side by side, the result will be as in the diagram, presenting to the eye, at one view, the concentration of three civilizations, DESTINY, LOVE, and LIFE ; — Destiny, finding utterance In the stern and inflexible simplicity of the tombs and obelisks of Egypt; Love, expressing itself in the statuesque and thoughtful grace of Grecian temples, statues, and urns; Life, in the sensuous and impulsive change, evident in all the developments of Art, since Greece became Achaia, a province of the Roman Empire. Here we behold the perpetual youth, the immortal genius of Hellas, tempering the solid repose of Egypt with the passion of Life. This intermediate Beauty is the essence of the age of Pericles ; and in it “ the capable eye ” may discover the pose of the Cnidian Venus of Praxiteles, of the Jupiter Olympics of Phidias, and the other lost wonders of ancient chisels, and, more directly, the tender severity of Doric capitals, and the secret grace of the shafts of the Parthenon.
You remember Pliny’s account of the visit of Apelles to the great painter Protogenes, at Rhodes ; — how, not finding him at home, Apelles inscribed a line upon a board, assuring the slave that this line would signify to the master who had been to see him. Whatever the line was, Protogenes, we hear, recognized in it the hand of the greatest limner of Greece. It was the signature of that Ideal, known to the antique world by its wider developments in the famous pictures of the Venus Anadyomene, and Alexander with the Thunderbolt, hung in the temple of Diana at Ephesus.
The gravity with which this apparently trifling anecdote is given us from antiquity evidently proves that it was one of the household tales of old Greece. It did not seem absurd in those times, when Art was recognized as a great Unity, an elaborate system of infinite language founded on the simplest elements of Life, and in its grandest and widest flowings bearing ever in its bosom, like a great river, die memory of the little weeping Naiad far up among the mountains with her “ impoverished urn.” And so every great national Art, growing up naturally out of the necessities of an earnest people, expressing the grand motives of their Life, as that of the Greeks and the Egyptians and the mediæval nations of Europe, is founded on the simplest laws. So long as these laws are obeyed in simplicity and Love, Art is good and true ; so long as it remembers the purity and earnestness of its childhood, the strength that is ordained out of the mouth of babes is present in all its expressions; but when it spreads itself abroad in the fens and marshes of humanity, it has lost the purity of its aim, the singleness and unity of its action,— it becomes stagnant, and sleeps in the Death of Idleness.
Therefore I believe in the expressiveness of single lines as symbols of the grandest phases of human Life. And when one studies Greek Art, the whole motive of it seems so childlike and so simple that the impulse to seek ior that little Naiad which is the fountain and source of it all is irresistible. Look at the line I have traced, and see if there is not a curious humanity about it. It is impossible to produce it with a wanton flourish of the pencil, as I have done in that wavy, licentious curve, which Hogarth, In his quaint “Analysis ot Beauty,” assumes as the line of true Grace ; nor yet are its infinite motions governed by any cold mathematical laws. In it is the earnest and deliberate labor of Love. There are thought and tenderness in every instant of it; but this thought is grave and almost solemn, and this tenderness is chastened and purified by wise reserve. Measure it by time, and you will find it no momentary delight, no voluptuous excess which comes and goes in a breath ; but there is a whole cycle of deep human feeling in it. It is the serene joy of a nation, and not the passionate impulse of a man. Observe, from beginning to end, its intention is to give expression by the serpentine line to that sentiment of beautiful Life which was the worship of the Greeks ; but they did not toss it off, like a wine-cup at a feast. They prolonged it through all the varied emotions of a lifetime with exquisite art, making it the path of their education in childhood and of their wider experience as men. All the impulses of humanity they bent to a kindly parallelism with it. This is that famous principle of Variety in Unity which St. Augustine and hosts of other philosophers considered the true Ideal of Beauty. Start with this line from the top upon its journeying : look at the hesitation of it, ere it launches into action ; how it cherishes its resources, and gathers up its strength! — with a confidence in its beautiful Destiny, and yet a chaste shrinking from the full enjoyment of it, how inevitably, but how purely, it yields itself up to the sudden curve! It does not embrace this curve with a sensuous sweep, nor does it, like Sappho, throw itself with quick passion into the tide. It enters with maidenly and dignified reserve into its new Life; and then how is this new Life spent ? As you glance at it, it seems almost ascetic, and reminds you of the rigid fatalism of Egypt. Its grace is almost strangled, as those other serpents were in the grasp of the child Hercules. But if you watch it attentively, you will find it ever changing, though with subtilest refinement, ever human, and true to the great laws of emotion. There is no straight line here, — no Death in Life, — but the severity and composure of intellectual meditation,— meditation, moving with serious pleasure along the grooves of happy change, —
Were governed by a strain
Of music, audible to it alone! ”
As the eye is cheated out of its rectitude, following this grave delight, and seems to dilate and grow dreamy in the cool shade of imaginative cloisters and groves, the wanton jovousness of Life, with its long waving lily-stems and the luscious pending of vines, comes with dim recollections into the mind, but modified bv a certain habitual chastity of thought. Follow the line still farther, and you will find it grateful to the sight, neither fatiguing with excess of monotony nor cloying the appetite with change. And when the round hour is full and the end comes, this end is met by a Fate, which does not clip with the shears of Atropos and leave an aching void, but fulfils itself in gentleness and peace. The line bends quietly and unconsciously towards the beautiful consummation, and then dies, because its work is done.
This is the way the Greeks made that Line which represents to “ the capable eye ’ the true Attic civilization. And when we examine the innumerable lines of Grecian architecture, we find that they never for an instant lost sight of this Ideal. The fine humanity of it was everywhere present, and mingled not only with such grand and heroic lines as those of the sloping pediments and long-drawn entablatures of the Parthenon and Thescion, bending them into curves so subtilely modulated that our coarse perceptions did not perceive the variations from the dead straight lines till the careful admeasurements of Penrose and Cockerel and their confrères of France assured us of the fact, — not only did it make these enormous harp-strings vibrate with deep human soul-music, but there is not an abstract line in moulding, column, or vase, belonging to old Greece or the islands of the Ægean or Ionia or the colonies of Italy, which does not have the same intensity of meaning, the same statuesque Life of thought. Besides, I very much doubt if the same line, in all its parts and proportions, is ever repeated twice,—certainly not with any emphasis ; and this is following out the great law of our existence, which Varies the emotion infinitely with the occasion which produced it. Let us suppose, for example, that a moulding was needed to crown a column with fitting glory and grace. Now the capital of a column may fairly be called the throne of Ideal expression ; it is the cour d'honneur of Art. The architect in this emergency did not set himself at “ the antique,” and seek for authorities, and reproduce and copy; for he desired not only an abstract line of Beauty there, but a line which in every respect should answer all the requirements of its peculiar position, a line which should have its individual and essential relationships with the other lines around it, those of shaft, architrave, frieze, and cornice, should swell its fitting melody into the great fugue. And so, between the summit of the long shaft and that square block, the abacus, on which reposes the dead weight of the lintel of Greece, the Doric echinus was fashioned, crowning the serene Atlas-labor of the column with exquisite glory, and uniting the upright and horizontal masses of the order with a marriage ring, whose beauty is its perfect fitness. The profile of this moulding may be rudely likened to the upper and middle parts of the line assumed as the representative of the Greek Ideal. But it varied ever with the exigency of circumstances. Over the short and solid shafts of Pæstum, it became flat and almost horizontal; they needed there an expression of emphatic and sudden grace; they meet the abacus with a moulding of passionate energy, in which the soft undulations of Beauty are nearly lost in a masculine earnestness of purpose. On the other hand, the more slender and feminine columns of the Parthenon glide into the echinus with gentleness and sweetness, crown themselves with a diadem of chastity, as if it grew there by Fate, preordained from the base of the shaft, like a flower from the root. It was created as with “ the Dorian mood of soft recorders.” Between these two extremes there is an infinity of change, everywhere modified and governed by “ the study of imagination.”
The same characteristics of nervous grace and severe intellectual restraint are found wherever the true Greek artist put his hand and his heart to work. Every moulding bears the impress of utter refinement, and modulates the light which falls upon it with exquisite and harmonious gradations of shade. The sun, as it touches it, makes visible music there, as if it were the harp of Me moon,— now giving us a shadow-line sharp, strict, and defined, now drawing along a beam of quick and dazzling light, and now dying away softly and insensibly into cool shade again. All the phenomena of reflected lights, half lights, and broken lights are brought in and attuned to the great dædal melody of the edifice. The antiquities of Attica afford nothing frivolous or capricious or merely fanciful, no playful extravagances or wanton meanderings of line ; but ever loyal to the purity of a high Ideal, they present to us, even from their ruins, a wonderful and very evident Unity of expression, pervading and governing every possible mood and manner of thought. No phase of Art that ever existed gives us a line so very human and simple in itself as this Greek type, and so pliable to all the uses of monumental language. If this type were a mere mathematical type, its applicability to the expression of human emotions ■would be limited to a formalism absolutely fatal to the freedom of thought in Art. But because it lias its birth in intense Love, in refined appreciation of all the movements of Life and all the utterances of Creation, because it is the humanized essence of these motions and developments, it becomes thus an inestimable Unity, containing within itself the germs of a new world of ever new delight.
When this type in Greek Art was brought to bear on the interpretation of natural forms into architectural language, we shall curiously discover that the creative pride of the artist and his reverence for the integrity of his Ideal were so great, that he not only subjected these forms to a rigid subservience to the abstract line till Nature was nearly lost in Art, but the immediate adoption of these forms under any circumstances was limited to some three or four of the most ordinary vegetable productions of Greece and to one sea-shell. This wise reserve and self-restraint, among the boundless riches of a delicious climate and a soil teeming with fertility, present to us the best proof of the fastidious purity of artistic intentions. Nature poured out at the feet of the Greek artist a most plenteous offering, and the lap of Flora overflowed for him with tempting garlands of Beauty; but he did not gather these up with any greedy ami indiscriminate hand, he did not intoxicate himself at the harvest of the vineyard. Full of the divinity of high purpose, and intent upon the nobler aim of creating a pure work of Art, he considered serenely what wore his needs for decoration, took lovingly a few of the most ordinary forms, and, studying the creative sentiment of them, breathed a new and immortal life into them, and tenderly and hesitatingly applied them to the work of illustrating his grand Ideal. These leaves and flowers were selected not for their own sake, though lie felt them to be beautiful, but for the decorative motive they suggested, the humanity there was in them, and the harmony they had with the emergencies of his design. The design was not bent to accommodate them, but they were translated and lifted up into the sphere of Art.
A drawing of the lonic capitals of the temple of Minerva Polias in the Ereehtheum is accessible to nearly everybody. It is well to turn to it and see what use the Greeks, under such impulses, made of the Wild Honeysuckle and of SeaShells. Perhaps this capital affords one of the most instructive epitomes of Greek Art, inasmuch as in its composition use is made of so much that Nature gave, and those gifts are so tenderly modelled and wrought into such exquisite harmony and eloquent repose. Examine the volute : this is the nearest approach to a mathematical result that can be found in Grecian architecture ; yet this very approximation is one of the greatest triumphs of Art. No geometrical rule has been discovered which can exactly produce the spirals of the Erechtheum, nor can they be found in shells. In avoiding the exuberance of the latter and the rigid formalism of the former, a work of human thought and Love has been evolved. Follow one of these volutes with your eye from its centre outwards, taking all its congeries of lines into companionship ; you find your sympathies at once strangely engaged. There is an intoxication in the gradual and melodious expansion of these curves. They seem to be full of destiny, hearing you along, as upon an inevitable tide, towards some larger sphere of action. Ere you have grown weary with the monotony of the spiral, you find that the system of lines which compose it gradually leave their obedience to the centrifugal forces of the volute, and, assuming new relationships of parts, sweep gracefully across the summit of the shaft, and become presently entangled in the reversed motion of the other volute, at whose centre Ariadne seems to stand, gathering together all the clues of this labyrinth of Beauty. This may seem fanciful to one who regards these things as matters of formalism. But inasmuch as, to the studious eye of affection, they suggest human action and human sympathies, this is a proof that they had their birth in some corresponding affection. It is the inanimate body of Geometry made spiritual and living by the Love of the human heart. And when a later generation reduced the Ionic volutes to rule, and endeavored to inscribe them with the gyrations of the compass, they have no further interest for us, save as a mathematical problem with an unknown value equal to a mysterious symbol x, in which the soul takes no comfort. But true Art, using the volute, inevitably makes it eloquent with an intensity of meaning, a delicacy of expression, which awaken certain very inward and very poetic sentiments, akin to those from which it was evolved in the process of creation. When we reasonably regard the printed words of an author, we not only behold an ingenious collection of alphabetical symbols, but are placed by them in direct contact with the mind which brought them together, and, for the moment, our train of thought so entirely coincides with that of the writer, that, though perhaps he died centuries ago, he may be said to live again in us. This great work of architectural Art has the same immortal life ; and though it may not so often find a heart capable of discerning the sentiment and intention of it under the outward lines, yet that heart, when found, is touched very deeply and very tenderly. We imbibe the creative impulse of the artist, and the beautiful thing has a new life in our affections. Studying it, we become artists and poets ere we are aware. The alphabet becomes a living soul.
Under the volutes of this capital, and belting the top of the shaft, is a broad band of ornamentation, so happy and effectual in its uses, and so pure and perfect in its details, that a careful examination of it will, perhaps, afford us some knowledge of that spiritual essence in the antique Ideal out of which arose the silent and motionless Beauty of Greek marbles.
Here are brought together the sentiments of certain vegetable productions of Greece, hut sentiments so entirely subordinated to the flexure of the abstract line, that their natural significance is almost lost in a new and more human meaning. Here is the Honeysuckle, the wildest, the most elastic and undulating of plants, under the severe discipline of order and artistic symmetry, assuming a strict and chaste propriety, a formal elegance, which render it at once monumental and dignified. The harmonious succession and repetition of parts, the graceful contrasts of curves and the strict poise and balance of them, their unity in variety, their entire subjection to æsthetic laws, their serious and emphatic earnestness of purpose, — these qualities combine in the creation of one of the purest works of Art ever conceived by the human mind. It is called the Ionic Anthemion, and suggests in its composition all the creative powers of Greece. Its value is not alone in the sensuous gratification of the eye, as with the Arabesque tangles of the Alhambra, but it is more especially in its complete intellectual expression, the evidence there is in it of thoughtfulness and judgment and deliberate care. The inventor studied not alone the plant, but his own spiritual relationships with it; and ere he made his interpretation, he considered how, in mythological traditions, each flower once bore a human shape, and how Daphne and Syrinx, Narcissus and Philemon, and those other idyllic beings, were eased of the stress of human emotions by becoming Laurels and Reeds and Daffodils and sturdy Oaks, and how human nature was thus diffused through all created things and was epigrammatically expressed in them.
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious meanings in the forms of Nature.” Like Faustus, he was permitted to look into her deep bosom, as into the bosom of a friend,— to find his brothers in the still wood, in the air, and in the water,—to see himself and the mysterious wonders of his own breast in the movements of the elements. And so he took Nature as a figurative exponent of humanity, and extracted the symbolic truths from her productions, and used them nobly in his Art.
Garbett, an English æsthetical writer, assures us that the Anthemion bears not the slightest resemblance to the Honeysuckle or any other plant, “ being no representation of anything in Nature, but simply the necessary result of the complete and systematic attempt to combine unity and variety by the principle of gradation.” But here he speaks like a geometer, and not like an artist. He seeks rather for the resemblance of form than the resemblance of spirit, and, failing to realize the object of his search, he endeavors to find a cause for this exquisite effect in pure reason. With equal perversity, Poe endeavored to persuade the public that his “Raven” was the result of mere æsthetical deductions!
And here the old burden of our song must once again be beard: If we would know the golden secret of the Greek Ideal, we must ourselves first learn how to love with the wisdom and chastity of old Hellenic passion. We must sacrifice Taste and Fancy and Prejudice, whose specious superficialities are embodied in the errors of modern Art, — we must sacrifice these at the shrine of the true Aphrodite ; else the modern Procrustes will continue to stretch and torture Greek Lines on geometrical beds, and the æsthetie Pharisees around us will still crucify the Greek Ideal.
[To be continued.]