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and comfortable in their individual preferences without dignifying those preferences with the name of critical judgments. It is curious that criticism is generally understood to mean finding faults; a really good criticism would consist much more in finding meritsnor need it for that reason become tame; at least I know that the best critic that ever lived, Goethe, scarcely ever blames anybody.
But whether or no you believe in Artcriticism, be sure that I am not going to give you to-night any of those dogmatic judgments which professed artists or critics have perhaps a right to give. I am an humble inquirer in this field, wishing my own sensibilities were greater than they are. I am not going to apply critical canons, nor yet to lay down new ones; my great object is to make persons who have never thought upon the subject aware that there are laws in Art, and laws which, if they are thoughtful, they may discover for themselves.
the short time allotted to me I shall only be able to treat a few of the most elementary laws, and throughout I propose to speak of all the arts together, or, as I may say, not of the arts, but of Art.
Let us begin by considering what we understand by Art. The word is one which we use constantly in speaking of painting, sculpture, and architecture, less commonly, but still often, in speaking of poetry and music. These are the different arts.
Each of them differs in some respects from every other, but in some points all of them are alike. Now that in which all the arts resemble each other, what is common to all the arts, is called Art.
What is that one thing which shows itself in all alike, whether we are dealing with stone, as in sculpture, or with words, as in poetry; with canvas, as in painting, or with sounds, as in music! To answer this question is to make a beginning in the intelligent study of
With every power that we have we can do two things: we can work, and we can play. Every power that we
have is at the same time useful to us and delightful to us. Even when we are applying them to the furtherance of our personal objects, the activity of them gives us pleasure; and when we have no useful end to which to apply them, it is still pleasant to us to use them; the activity of them gives us pleasure for its own sake. There is no motion of our body or mind which we use in work, which we do not also use in play or amusement. If we walk in order to arrive at the place where our interest requires us to be, we also walk about the fields for enjoyment. we apply our combining and analysing powers to solve the problems of mathematics, we use them sometimes also in solving double acrostics.
If this is clear, let me now go a step further, and say that as all the serious activities of man fall into certain large classes, and as each class of activities has its own method and rules, so is it with what I may call his sportive activities. What these large classes are in the former case we all know. Men's serious activities are war, manufactures, trade, science. But what are the classes or kinds into which man's activities fall when he sports with them? They are manifold, but among them are painting, sculpture, poetry, music, or what we call the arts.
This fundamental doctrine, that all Art is play or sport, and exists for pleasure, is easily misconceived, and therefore often denied. To see it clearly we should consider the simplest cases of Art, not the most famous or splendid examples. If I wanted to discover what is the object of dinner, it would not be wise to take the case of a great public banquet. If I did so, I should be in danger of supposing that the object of dinner was the display of plate or the making of speeches, and that eating and drinking were mere accidents of it. My best plan would be to consider why the tired pedestrian puts up at the wayside inn. In the same way, in order to discover the object of music, let us not consider Mendelssohn's "Elijah;" this might lead us to suppose that the object of music is
the inculcation of religious truth; but let us consider why the labourer whistles at his work. If I took "Faust" or "Hamlet" as examples of the drama, I might suppose the drama had a philosophical object; I understand the drama better when I consider a Christmas party making up a charade. In these simple, natural actions we see the naked notion in which the arts begin. We are present at the birth of the Muses, and we see that they are not the daughters of Memory, but the daughters of Joy. Such examples show us how, with all our faculties, we naturally play as well as work. They show that the voice is not only useful to speak with, but also delightful to sing with; the foot cannot only walk, but also dance; the hand can paint, as well as work or write; and, to take more complicated instances, the gift of speech, the serious use of which is to impart thought and facts to each other, is also used for delight and satisfaction in rhythmical forms, and this becomes poetry; finally the whole variety of our serious life is reproduced for delight in the drama.
Let me endeavour to meet some of the objections which are commonly brought against this view. You may notice that artists themselves sometimes reject it as degrading to their profession. As highminded men, and by their very function men of elevated views, they cannot bear to think that the pursuit to which their lives are devoted is a mere sport or amusement. Such a view seems to degrade them below men of business who work for a serious end, and to give them the character of idlers in the community. And this seems to them as unjust as it is humiliating, for they feel themselves not only not inferior, but distinctly superior in dignity to mere businessmen, not only not idlers, but the holders of a high and almost sacred function in the community, the priesthood of the Beautiful and Becoming.
In thinking so they are perfectly right, and the feeling which in all ages has attached a certain sacredness to the character of the artist is quite reasonable.
But because all Art is play, it does not follow that the artist is simply one who amuses himself. It is true that he is this in the first instance, and, if he were no more, he might be justly called an unprofitable idler. But he amuses others besides himself, and thus he is a benefactor. He is the general purveyor of joy to the whole community. We know that the great secret of wealth was long ago discovered in the division of labour. It was discovered that if, instead of making our coats and shoes for ourselves, we commissioned certain persons to spend their whole lives in making coats and shoes for us, the result was that we got better coats and shoes than we could have ventured to imagine before, because they were now made by persons whose genius specially inclined them to this pursuit, and by persons whose skill was perfected by perpetual practice. Well, this division of labour extends further than we sometimes remark. It includes the arts of enjoyment. As we commission the merchant to supply us with merchandise, so do we commission the artist to explore the realms of joy for us, to discover and bring home, or else to contrive, new joys for us.
The artist, then, is master of the revels, director of the amusements to the community. Will this satisfy him? It evidently satisfied Shakespeare. He seems to have been contented and happy in regarding all the world as a stage, so long as his stage might be all the world. Still I think many artists would be discontented. Where is the dignity, where is the sacredness, they ask, of such a position? We shall find the answer if we consider in what way the position is gained. It is the reward of an intrinsic superiority of nature, a superiority in the power of enjoying. Does not this place the artist at once high above the tradesman and the merchant? With a few accidental opportunities or a little capital, added to common shrewdness and perseverance, any man may succeed, and deserve to succeed, in trade. the artist's capital is in himself; it is the gift of nature, and incommunicable.
And what is this gift? It is the gift of joy. In other words, the power of remaining young longer than other people, perpetual youth. Will it not satisfy the artist that he should be regarded as one whom Nature has favoured with a more elastic spirit than others, as one who, because he retains his freshness when others have lost it in cares and details, becomes a fountain of freshness to the community? And if there is something sacred in the artist's intrinsic superiority, is there not also something sacred in his function? To regulate the pleasures of a community! It is to have a greater moral influence upon human beings than is directly possessed by any class of men except those who teach, and therefore no figure of speech can be more apt than that which compares the artist's function to a priesthood.
Still, when I repeat that Art is play, I feel that the maxim has not yet ceased to sound paradoxical, and that another objection of a different kind may be urged against it.
There is a stumbling-block in the trivial associations that are connected with the word "play." Play, people think, cannot be important or grand or solemn, and much of Art is important, grand, solemn; again, play can at any rate never be melancholy, yet much of Art is melancholy, tragic, pathetic. There is a sort of Art, they would say, which may fairly be called play because it is light and arausing. To this sort belong comedies, the painting of the Dutch school, &c. But there is another quite different sort, solemn and akin to religion, to which belong the poetry of Milton and Dante, and the painting of the Cartoons; this it would be most inappropriate to call play. I would ask such persons why, if one piece of Art differs from another so completely and essentially, we still call both Art? Evidently the lightest comedy and the most sombre tragedy have something in common, something which leads us to class them together as works of Art. What is this common quality? If you will not have it to be what I have maintained, and what we express when
we call them both plays, you ought not to be content with this negation; you ought not to rest satisfied until you have found some other common characteristic. But the shortest answer is that you misunderstand the word " play." Play is not by any means necessarily connected with mirth or the relaxation of the faculties. What can be more serious than a game at cricket? While the game is going forward wicket-keeper does not laugh or look about him; point does not chat with cover-point. What parties are more solemn than those that sit round a whist-table? The truth is that all the better sort of games, all those which really refresh and reinvigorate, are of the strenuous, intense kind; they relax some faculties, it is true, but they do so by straining others. Well! but, you will say, if play is an energetic exertion of the faculties, how does it differ from work? It differs in this, that the exertion used in play is exertion for its own sake; while that used in work is for some ulterior object.
Vigorous persons enjoy the vigorous use of their faculties, and of all their faculties. This is true far more universally than we are apt to suppose. The same impulse which leads us to stretch our limbs in racing and rowing, the same desire to feel and enjoy our powers, extends to the mind, and, beyond the mind, to the feelings and the moral sense. It devises for itself games or sports suited for each faculty, and for the higher faculties exercises of so exalted a kind that we scruple to call them sports. Such are the higher forms of poetry. They are the forms in which the imagination,-that is, the power of bringing before the mind forms and combinations like those which are furnished by experience-and the sympathies, or the power of feeling by reflection what other people, even imaginary people, feel,-exercise and amuse themselves. Like other sports, these amusements of the higher faculties will be with vigorous people vigorous. The imagination will draw upon all the wealth of earth and heaven; it will find its materials in whatever is most solemn,
most venerable, most terrible; it will play at bowls with the sun and moon. So too the power of sympathy, when it plays, will not be contented with pleasurable images, it will deliberately create griefs in order that it may share them. It will not be mirthful, for indeed sympathy, when it is strongly excited, is never mirthful. But not the less on that account is this activity of sympathy a sport, for it has no ulterior object, and ends in itself. It will not indeed be a sport to all. As in every school there are commonly weakly or effeminate boys who do not care to mix in the more vigorous sports of their schoolfellows, so will these larger and intellectual exercises of manhood be too strenuous and formidable for intellectual weaklings. Such are pleased with a ballad but fatigued with "Paradise Lost," because their imagination is not equal to a sustained flight; or their feelings are not lively enough, or their characters elevated enough, to enable them to enter into great and impressive situations, so that while they may feel a genuine interest in the Ticket of Leave Man," they are entirely unmoved by "Philip Van Artevelde." And indeed among the greater excursions of imagination are some which, to all but the most robust mind, are ponderous sport. When the powers of man are at the highest, his gambols are not less. mighty than his labours. Man, working, has contrived the Atlantic cable, but I declare that it astonishes me far more to think that for his mere amusement, that to entertain a vacant hour, he has created Othello and Lear, and I am more than astonished, I am awe-struck, at that inexplicable elasticity of his nature which enables him, instead of turning away from calamity and grief, or instead of merely defying them, actually to make them the material of his amusement, and to draw from the wildest agonies of the human spirit a pleasure which is not only not cruel but is in the highest degree pure and ennobling.
If now I may assume this fundamental position that Art is in all cases the same spirit of free self-delight, creating
for itself various forms and modes of expression, there follows immediately from it one great law, which notwithstanding is often violated. It is that every work of Art must be in its total effect pleasurable. Not that pain is to be excluded; as I have just remarked, pain is one of the principal instruments with which the tragic poet works. But it must be used as the painter uses shadow, that is, by way of contrast to light, and in order to set off or relieve light. Every work of Art is bad, however powerful, which leaves on the mind a predominant feeling of dissatisfaction, or disgust, or horror. And yet it is very common to hear works of Art judged simply by their power, by the amount of effect they produce, without regard to the quality of the effect. At Bologna, for example, there is a very powerful picture by Domenichino, of the Martyrdom of St. Agnes. Now to see a human being put to a violent death is a dreadful thing, and, as a general rule, I had rather not see even any representation of it. But when the death is martyrdom, when faith and hope triumph over bodily torture, then no doubt, instead of being merely painful, it becomes sublime. It then becomes a fair subject for Art, because the contemplation of it produces on the whole a predominant feeling of triumph and satisfaction. But the artist's special problem is to convey the sense of this victory of faith over pain. If he merely paints with great power the change produced in the human body by the agonies of death, he misses the mark altogether. And this was the effect produced on me by Domenichino's pic
I felt as I should feel if I saw a woman stabbed to the heart in the street. I thought I had seldom seen anything so powerful, and I wished I
had never seen it at all.
Another law which follows at once from the principle that Art exists for pleasure, is that all works of Art which have a practical purpose are not properly works of Art. It was a fashion a few years ago I think it is somewhat less fashionable now-if any body had a view
that he wished to put before the world, a new theory of politics or morals or religion, to dress it up in a novel. You remember how Young Englandism was put before the world in " "Coningsby." It was thought that people who might find a series of political dissertations dull, would read with pleasure that a brilliant young man of great expectations, conversing at Cambridge with a brilliant friend, expressed certain views about the Tory party; that he then visited a duke, and in conversation with the heir to the title discussed the prospects of nobility in England; then discussed manufactures with a Manchester millionaire; then the prospects of the Jewish race with an all-accomplished Hebrew capitalist. This was the plan of the story; the reader's imagination was filled with ducal palaces, splendid London and Paris parties, and love-scenes; only now and then was he expected to imbibe a little of the new political philosophy; but gradually the whole dose was administered; and, then the brilliant young man, his work being done, is translated to Parliament and a rich wife, and the story ends. Critics, who saw that the object of a novel is pleasure, and the object of a political discussion profit, justly pointed out that, considered as a work of Art, this and similar works were altogether vicious. It does not follow, however, that they are intrinsically bad, and that they ought not to be written. They are simply not works of Art, but if a man can recommend his views to the public by borrowing the machinery of Art, I know no reason why he should not do so. If people will take in a political doctrine when it is explained by a fictitious peer to a fictitious M.P., and will not take it in when the author delivers it in propriâ personâ, I know no reason why their peer and their M.P. should be grudged them, only I think that wrong opinions are better conveyed in this mode than right ones, and that hazy conceptions will get more advantage from it than clear ones.
It is by no means true that Art ought always in practice to be kept apart from
that which is not Art. On the contrary, there are large classes of the works of men which are partly artistic and partly not. All things that make what I may call the furniture of man's life are of this kind, the articles of utility that habitually surround him, from the clothes that he wears and the chairs that he sits on, to the halls in which he meets his fellowcitizens in council and the temples in which he worships. All such things exist in the first place for use and convenience, and so far are not artistic. Use, convenience, is the paramount law to which all such things are subject. It is a breach not so much of taste as of good sense when we wear clothes that trip us up, or give us colds, because they are graceful, put up with dark rooms for the sake of tracery in the windows, build lecture-halls or churches in which no human voice can make itself heard. But in all such matters, as soon as Use is fully satisfied Art takes her turn. Man likes to draw delight from the things that habitually surround him. Wherever his mind has freedom for enjoyment, there will he provide the materials of enjoyment, contrivances of Art which may exhilarate the sense. Hence arises the Art of Decoration, reaching its highest dignity in Architecture, which, therefore, differs from the other arts, such as Painting or Poetry, in this, that it is attached like a parasite to that which is not an Art, but a mechanical craft governed by convenience, namely, building. From this peculiarity in Architecture, there follow at once certain practical rules of criticism. For instance, a building may be as good as possible and yet not beautiful, for the conditions of utility may not allow much beauty; and, again, a building may be very beautiful and yet very bad, for the beauty may have been introduced in defiance of the conditions of utility.
Let me take another example of these mixed Arts, one in which I have always noticed men's critical judgments to be especially confused on account of their overlooking its mixed character-I mean Oratory. It is evident that this, in the first instance, is not an Art. It is not