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Take, for instance, one of the most perfect poems or pictures (I use the words as synonymous) which modern times have seen:-the “Old Shepherd's Chief-mourner.” Here the exquisite execution of the glossy and crisp hair of the dog, the bright sharp touching of the green bough beside it, the clear painting of the wood of the coffin and the folds of the blanket, are language—language clear and expressive in the highest degree. But the close pressure of the dog's breast against the wood, the convulsive clinging of the paws, which has dragged the blanket off the trestle, the total powerlessness of the head laid, close and motionless, upon its folds, the fixed and tearful fall of the eye in its utter hopelessness, the rigidity of repose which marks that there has been no motion nor change in the trance of agony since the last blow was struck on the coffin-lid, the quietness and gloom of the chamber, the spectacles marking the place where the Bible was last closed, indicating how lonely has been the life—how unwatched the departure of him who is now laid solitary in his sleep;-these are all thoughts— thoughts by which the picture is separated at once from hundreds of equal merit, as far as mere painting goes, by which it ranks as a work of high art, and stamps its author, not as the neat imitator of the texture of a skin, or the fold of a drapery, but as the Man of Mind.
It must be the part of the judicious critic carefully to distinguish what is language, and what is thought, and to rank and praise pictures chiefly for the latter, considering the former as a totally inferior excellence, and one which cannot be compared with nor weighed against thought in any way nor in any degree whatsoever. The picture which has the nobler and more numerous ideas, however awkwardly expressed, is a greater and a better picture than that which has the less noble and less numerous ideas, however beautifully expressed. No weight, nor mass, nor beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought. Three penstrokes of Raffaelle are a greater and a better picture than the most finished work that ever Carlo Dolci polished into inanity. A finished work of a great artist is only better than its sketch, if the sources of pleasure belonging to color and realization—valuable in themselves, are so employed as to increase the impressiveness of the thought. But if one atom of thought has vanished, all color, all finish, all execution, all ornament, are too dearly bought. Nothing but thought can pay for thought, and the instant that the increasing refinement or finish of the picture begins to be paid for by the loss of the faintest shadow of an idea, that instant all refinement or finish is an excrescence, and a deformity. . I think that all the sources of pleasure, or any other good, to be derived from works of art, may be referred to five distinct heads. I. Ideas of Power.—The perception or conception of the mental or bodily powers by which the work has been produced. II. Ideas of Imitation.—The perception that the thing produced resembles something else. III. Ideas of Truth.-The perception of faithfulness in a statement of facts by the thing produced. IV. Ideas of Beauty.—The perception of beauty, either in the thing produced, or in what it suggests or resembles. V. Ideas of Relation.—The perception of intellectual relations, in the thing produced, or in what it suggests or resembles. I shall briefly distinguish the nature and effects of each of these classes of ideas. I. Ideas of Power.—These are the simple perception of the mental or bodily powers exerted in the production of any work of art. According to the dignity and degree of the power perceived is the dignity of the idea; but the whole class of ideas is received by the intellect, and they excite the best of the moral feelings, veneration, and the desire of exertion. Men may let their great powers lie dormant, while they employ their mean and petty powers on mean and petty objects; but it is physically impossible to employ a great power, except on a great object. Consequently, wherever power of any kind or degree has been exerted, the marks and evidence of it are stamped upon its results: it is impossible that it should be lost or wasted, or without record, even in the “estimation of a hair:” and therefore, whatever has been the subject of a great power, bears about with it the image of that which created it, and is what is commonly called “excellent.” And this is the true meaning of the word excellent, as distinguished from the terms, “beautiful,” “useful,” “good,” etc.; and we shall always, in future, use the word excellent, as signifying that the thing to which it is applied required a great power for its production.
II. IDEAS OF IMITATION.
Whenever anything looks like what it is not, the resemblance being so great as nearly to deceive, we feel a kind of pleasurable surprise, an agreeable excitement of mind, exactly the same in its nature as that which we receive from juggling. Whenever we perceive this in something produced by art, that is to say, whenever the work is seen to resemble something which we know it is not, we receive what I call an idea of imitation. Why such ideas are pleasing, it would be out of our present purpose to inquire; we only know that there is no man who • does not feel pleasure in his animal nature from gentle surprise, and that such surprise can be excited in no more distinct man ner than by the evidence that a thing is not what it appears to be. Now two things are requisite to our complete and more pleasurable perception of this: first, that the resemblance be so perfect as to amount to a deception; secondly, that there be some means of proving at the same moment that it is a deception. The most perfect ideas and pleasures of imitation are, therefore, when one sense is contradicted by another, both bearing as positive evidence on the subject as each is capable of alone; as when the eye says a thing is round, and the finger says it is flat; they are, therefore, never felt in so high a degree as in painting, where appearance of projection, roughness, hair, velvet, etc., are given with a smooth surface, or in wax-work, where the first evidence of the senses is perpetually contradicted by their experience; but the moment we come to marble, our definition checks us, for a marble figure does not look like what it is not; it looks like marble, and like the form of a man, but then it is marble, and it is the form of a man. It does not look like a man, which it is not, but like the form of a man, which it is. Form is form, bond fide and actual, whether in marble or in flesh—not an imitation or resemblance of form, but real form. The chalk outline of the bough of a tree on paper, is not an imitation; it looks like chalk and paper—not like wood, and that which it suggests to the mind is not properly said to be like the form of a bough, it is the form of a bough.
III.-IDEAS OF TRUTH.
The word truth, as applied to art, signifies the faithful statement, either to the mind or senses, of any fact of naturo. We receive an idea of truth, then, when we perceive the faithfulness of such a statement. The difference between ideas of truth and of imitation lies chiefly in the following points. First,-Imitation can only be of something material, but truth has reference to statements both of the qualities of material-things, and of emotions, impressions, and thoughts. There is a moral as well as material truth, a truth of impression as well as of form, of thought as well as of matter; and the truth of impression and thought is a thousand times the more important of the two. Hence, truth is a term of universal application, but imitation is limited to that narrow field of art which takes cognizance only of material things. Secondly,–Truth may be stated by any signs or symbols which have a definite signification in the minds of those to whom they are addressed, although such signs be themselves no image nor likeness of anything. Whatever can excite in the mind the conception of certain facts, can give ideas of truth, though it be in no degree the imitation or resemblance of those facts. If there be—we do not say there is, but if there be in painting anything which operates, as words do, not by resembling anything, but by being taken as a symbol and substitute for it, and thus inducing the effect of it, then this channel of communication can convey uncorrupted truth, though it do not in any degree resemble the facts whose conception it induces. But ideas of imitation, of course, require the likeness of the object. They speak to the perceptive faculties only: truth to the conceptive. Thirdly,–And in consequence of what is above stated, an idea of truth exists in the statement of one attribute of anything, but an idea of imitation requires the resemblance of as many attributes as we are usually cognizant of in its real presence. The other day at Bruges, while I was endeavoring to set