- T93, Band 3: Erobere!
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Criticism, however, is built anywhere but upon the rock. Instead of taking a straight line, like the venerable ass which was praised by the Eleatic philosopher, they went off zigzag, to right, to left, in every One and aii. So they bounced off to the left. So they bounced off to the right. Why does not the critic take the one plain path before him, proceeding instantly to inquire into the nature of pleasure, its laws, its conditions, its requirements, its causes, its effects, its whole history? Whenever I have insisted with my friends on this point, as to the necessity of recog- nising criticism as the science of pleasure, the invariable rejoinder has been that there is no use in attempting such a science, because the nature of pleasure eludes our scrutiny, and there is no accounting for tastes.
But the rejoinder is irre- levant. Chemistry was at one time a diCBcult study, and seemed to be a useless one. If art be the minister, criticism must be the science of pleasure, is so obvious a truth, that since in the history of literature and art the inference has never been drawn except once in a faint way, to be mentioned by and by , a doubt may arise in some minds as to the extent to which the production of pleasure has been admitted in criticism as the first principle of art.
I proceed, accordingly, to take a rapid survey of the chief schools of criticism that have ruled in the repuUic of letters, with express reference to their opinion of pleasure and the end of art. Speaking ronndly, there are but two "f great systems of criticism.
But these divided systems may be subdivided, and perhaps the plainest method of arranging the critical opinions of paist ages is to take them by countries. It will be convenient to glance in succession at the critical schools of Greece,ltaly, Spain, France, Germany, and England. And from this survey,. In our old Anglo-Saxon poetry, the harp is de- scribed as " the wood of pleasure," and that is the universal conception of art.
Homer, Plato, and Aristotle are the leaders of Greek thought, and their word may be taken for what constitutes the Greek idea of the end of poetry. The uppermost thought in Homer's mind, when he speaks of Phemius and Demo- docus, is that their duty is to delight, to charm, to soothe.
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When the strain of the bard makes Ulysses weep, it is hushed, because its object is defeak'd, and it is desired that all should rejoice togotlier. Wherever the minstrel is referred to, his chief business is described in the Greek verb to delight. What the great poet of Greece thus indicated, the great philosophers expressed in logical fonn. That pleasure is the end of poetry, is the pervading idea of Aristotle's treatise on the subject.
To Plato's view I have already more than once referred. He excluded the poets from his republic for tin's, as a cliief reason, that poetry has pleasure for its leading aim. In another of his works he defines the pleasure, which poetry aims at, to be that which a man of virtue.
The argument is, that because pleasure is a be- coming — that is, a state not of being, but of going to be — it is unbecoming. He starts with the Cyrenaic definition of pleasure as a state not of being, but of change, and he argues that the gods are unchangeable, therefore not capable of pleasure.
Pleasure which is a becoming, is imbecoming to their nature; and man seeking pleasure seeks that which is unseemly and un- godlike.
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Think of this argument what we will, the very fact of its being urged against poetry in this way, brings into a very strong light the conviction of Plato as to the meaning of classical art. And what was Plato's, what was Aristotle's view of the object of art, we find consistently maintained in Greek literature while it pre- served any vitality. Is it a tme or a faJ. But is it tnie? Is the pleasure which it affords, the pleasure of a truth or that of a lie?
The question naturally arose from their critical jx int of view, which led them to look for tlie definition of art in its form. They defined art as an imitation, which is hut a nar- rower name for fiction. It will he found, indeed, tliroughout the history of criticism, that so long as it started from the Greek point of view, followed tlu? Greek metliod, and accepted the Greek definition of art, that this question as to the truth of fiction was a constant trouble. And when th? Greek raised liis doubt as to the truth of art, let it be rememl ered that he had in his mind something very different from what we should now be thinking of were we to question the truthfulness of this or that particular work of art.
A work of art may be perfectly true in our sense of the word, that is to say, drawn to.
The first suggestion of the Greek doubt, as to Treatment the reahty of the foundation of pleasure in art, question. It is said that when Thespis came to Athens with his strolling stage, and drew great crowds to his plays, Solon, then an old man, asked him if he was not ashamed to tell so many lies before the people, and striking his staff on the groimd, growled out that if lies are allowed to enter into a nation's pleasures, they will, ere long, enter into its business. Gorgias said that tragedy is a cheat, in which he who does the cheat is more honest than he who does it not, and he who accepts the cheat is wiser than he who refuses it.
Many of the Greeks accepted the cheat so simply that, for example, they accused Euripides of impiety for putting impiety into the mouth of one of his dramatic personages. And not a few of their painters undertook to How the cheat with the utmost frankness.
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Apelles had to deceive. Zeuxis suffered a grievous disappointment when, having painted. CHAPTER a boy carrying grapes, the birds came to peck at —1 the fruit but were not alarmed at the apparition of the boy. There are other stories of the same kind, as that of the painted curtain, and yet again that of the sculptor Pygmalion, who became enamoured of the feminine statue chiselled by himself.
Life is wanting to enable them to show their fury. I might quote whole pages from Vasari to show how an artist and a critic of the Cinque Cento thought of art. He says tliat one of. He says that the instru- ments, in a picture of St. Cecilia, lie scattered around her, and do not seem to be painted, but to be the real objects.
He says of Raphael's pictures generally that they are scarcely to be called pictures, but rather the reality, for the flesh trembles, the breathing is visible, the pulses beat, and life is in its utmost force through all his works. In Italian art also it may be. Many another picture might be mentioned in which a similar treatment is adopted, and especially by the painters before Raphael, as Dominic Ghirlan- dajo, and men of that stamp.
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But everybody knows the crowning work of Raphael, and that, therefore, may serve best for an illustration. What are we to make of the two Dominicans? If, instead of the two bald-pated, black-robed monks, the artist had placed on the Mount of Transfiguration a couple of wild bulls feeding or fighting, they would puzzle one less than his two monks.. Why is their monastic garb in- truded among the majestic foldings of celestial.
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And yet Raphael introduces on the scene two modem monks to share the vision! Not only is the Gospel narrative thus violated; there is a still stranger anomaly. The three disciples are lying down, blinded with the light and bewildered in their minds. The Dominicans are kneeling up- right and looking on. Raphael has deliberately introduced into his picture — the spectator. More than one generation has passed away, and there the figures in the picture have remained unchanged.
The Italians, when, on the canvas of Ghirlandajo, they looked on the well-known figures of Ginevra di Benci and her maidens, as attendants in an interview between Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary, found themselves projected into the picture and made a part of it. The most marked characteristic of the Greek drama is the presence of the chorus. The chorus are always present, — watching events, talking to the actors, talking to the audience, talking to themselves, — all through the play, indeed, pour- ing forth a continual stream of musical chatter.
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And what are the chorus? The only intelligible explanation which has been given is that they represent the spectator. What the Greeks thus did artistically on their stage, we moderns have also sometimes done inartistically and unintentionally, but still to the same effect. We have had the audience seated on the stage, and sometimes, in the most. Dublin to the Cordelia of Mrs. Woffington, an Irish gentleman who was present actually ad- vanced, put his arm round the lady's waist, and thus held her while she replied to the reproaches of the old king.
The stage in the last century was sometimes so beset with the audience, that Juliet has been seen, says Tate Wilkinson, lying all solitary in the tomb of the Capulets with a couple of hundred of the audience about her. We should now contemplate such a practice with horror, as utterly destructive of stage illusion; and yet we must remember that it had its illusive aspect also, by confounding the dream that appeared on the stage with the familiar reaUties of life.
From all this, however, it follows that if the Greeks made a confusion between fact and fiction, art and nature, they were not peculiar What is in so doing. What is peculiar to them is this, thVcrieks. It was fairly rea- soned. The Greeks were the first to raise this subject of the truth of art into an important critical question which they transmitted to after times. This is not the place to enter into a dis- chapter cussion whether they were right or wrong, — 1 and whether fiction be or be not falsehood, manner of That discussion will be more fitly handled when "riSiy we come to examine the ethics of art.
Plato, as I have already said, exhausted his dialectical skill in showing the untruthfulness of art. He con- demned it as an imitation at third hand. Plato's statement as to the truth of art is thus grounded on his theory of ideas, and when that theory goes, one would imagine that the statement should go also.