« ZurückWeiter »
was as if a child should leave its home to pursue the rainbow, and then, breathless and hopeless, declare that it did not exist. Nor is the lesson less useful which may begained in observing the adoption of such a theory by Reynolds himself. It shows how completely an artist may be unconscious of the principles of his own work, and how he may be led by instinct to do all that is right, while he is misled by false logic to say all that is wrong. For nearly every word that Reynolds wrote was contrary to his own practice; he seems to have been born to teach all error by his precept, and all excellence by his example; he enforced with his lips generalization and idealism, while with his pencil he was tracing the patterns of the dresses of the belles of his day; he exhorted his pupils to attend only to the invariable, while he himself was occupied in distinguishing every variation of womanly temper; and he denied the existence of the beautiful, at the same instant that he arrested it as it passed, and perpetuated it for ever.
The knowing of rules and the exertion of judgment have a tendency to check and confuse the fancy in its flow; so that it will follow, that, in exact proportion as a master knows anything about rules of right and wrong, he is likely to be uninventive; and in exact proportion as he holds higher rank and has nobler inventive power, he will know less of rules; not despising them, but simply feeling that between him and them there is nothing in common, that dreams cannot be ruled—that as they come, so they must be caught, and they cannot be caught in any other shape than that they come in; and that he might as well attempt to rule a rainbow into rectitude, or cut notches in a moth's wings to hold it by, as in any wise attempt to modify, by rule, the forms of the involuntary vision.
And this, which by reason we have thus anticipated, is in reality universally so. There is no exception. The great men never know how or why they do things. They have no rules; cannot comprehend the nature of rules;–do not, usually, even know, in what they do, what is best or what is worst: to them it is all the same; something they cannot help saying or doing, —one piece of it as good as another, and none of it (it seems to them) worth much. The moment any man begins to talk about rules, in whatsoever art, you may know him for a secondrate man; and, if he talks about them much, he is a third-rate, or not an artist at all. To this rule there is no exception in any art; but it is perhaps better to be illustrated in the art of music than in that of painting. I fell by chance the other day upon a work of De Stendhal's, “Wies de Haydn, de Mozart, et de Metastase,” fuller of common sense than any book I ever read on the arts; though I see, by the slight references made occasionally to painting, that the author's knowledge therein is warped and limited by the elements of general teaching in the schools around him; and I have not yet, therefore, looked at what he has separately written on painting. But one or two passages out of this book on music are closely to our present purpose. “Counterpoint is related to mathematics: a fool, with patience, becomes a respectable savant in that; but for the part of genius, melody, it has no rules. No art is so utterly deprived of precepts for the production of the beautiful. So much the better for it and for us. Cimarosa, when first at Prague his air was executed, Pria che spunti in ciel l'Aurora, never heard "the pedants say to him, ‘Your air is fine, because you have followed such and such a rule established by Pergolese in such an one of his airs; but it would be finer still if you had conformed yourself to such another rule from which Galluppi never deviated.” Yes: “so much the better for it, and for us;” but I trust the time will soon come when melody in painting will be understood, no less than in music, and when people will find that, there also, the great melodists have no rules, and cannot have any, and that there are in this, as in sound, “no precepts for the production of the beautiful.” Again. “Behold, my friend, an example of that simple way of answering which embarrasses much. One asked him (Haydn) the reason for a harmony—for a passage's being assigned to one instrument rather than another; but all he ever answered was, “I have done it, because it does well.’” Farther on, De Stendhal relates an anecdote of Haydn ; I believe one well known, but so much to our purpose that I repeat it. Haydn had agreed to give some lessons in counterpoint to an English nobleman. “‘For our first lesson,’ said the pupil, already learned in theart—drawing at the same time aquatuor of Haydn's from his pocket,_*for our first lesson, may we examine this quatuor; and will you tell me the reasons of certain modulations, which I cannot entirely approve, because they are contrary to the principles?” Haydn, a little surprised, declared himself réady to answer. The nobleman began; and at the very first measures found matter for objection. Haydn, who invented habitually, and who was the contrary of a pedant, found himself much embarrassed, and answered always, “I have done that because it has a good effect. I have put that passage there because it does well. The Englishman, who judged that these answers proved nothing, recommenced his proofs, and demonstrated to him, by very good reasons, that this quatuor was good for nothing. “But, my lord, arrange this quatuor then to your fancy, play it so, and you will see which of the two ways is the best.” “But why is yours the best which is contrary to the rules?” “Because it is the pleasantest.’ The nobleman replied. Haydn at last lost patience, and said, ‘I see, my lord, it is you who have the goodness to give lessons to me, and truly I am forced to confess to you that I do not deserve the honor.” The partizan of the rules departed, still astonished that in following the rules to the letter one cannot infallibly produce a ‘Matrimonio Segreto.’”
This anecdote, whether in all points true or not, is in its tendency most instructive, except only in that it makes one false inference or admission, namely, that a good composition can be contrary to the rules. It may be contrary to certain principles, supposed in ignorance to be general; but every great composition is in perfect harmony with all true rules, and involves thousands too delicate for ear, or eye, or thought, to trace; still it is possible to reason, with infinite pleasure and profit, about these principles, when the thing is once done; only, all our reasoning will not enable any one to do another thing like it, because all reasoning falls infinitely short of the divine instinct. Thus we may reason wisely over the way a bee builds its comb, and be profited by finding out certain things about the angles of it. But the bee knows nothing about those matters. It builds its comb in a far more inevitable way. And, from a bee to Paul Veronese, all master-workers work with this awful, this inspired unconsciousness.
I said just now that there was no exception to this law, that the great men never knew how or why they did things. It is, of course, only with caution that such a broad statement should be made; but I have seen much of different kinds of artists, and I have always found the knowledge of, and attention to, rules so accurately in the inverse ratio to the power of the painter, that I have myself no doubt that the law is constant, and that men's smallness may be trigonometrically estimated by the attention which, in their work, they pay to principles, especially principles of composition. The general way in which the great men speak is of “trying to do” this or that, just as a child would tell of something he had seen and could not utter.
And this is the reason for the somewhat singular, but very palpable truth that the Chinese, and Indians, and other semicivilized nations, can color better than we do, and that an Indian shawl or Chinese vase are still, in invention of color, inimitable by us. It is their glorious ignorance of all rules that does it; the pure and true instincts have play, and do their work,+instincts so subtle, that the least warping or compression breaks or blunts them; and the moment we begin teaching people any rules about color, and make them do this or that, we crush the instinct generally for ever. Hence, hitherto, it has been an actual necessity, in order to obtain power of coloring, that a nation should be half savage: everybody could color in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; but we were ruled and legalized into grey in the fifteenth;-only a little salt simplicity of their sea natures at Venice still keeping their precious, shell-fishy purpleness and power; and now that is gone; and nobody can color anywhere, except the Hindoos and Chinese; but that need not be so, and will not be so long; for, in a little while, people will find out their mistake, and give up talking about_rules of color, and then everybody will color again, as easily as they now talk.
Such, then, being the generally passive or instinctive character of right invention, it may be asked how these unmanageable instincts are to be rendered practically serviceable in historical or poetical painting, especially historical, in which between men who, like Horace Vernet, David, or Domenico Tintoret, would employ themselves in painting, more or less graphically, the outward verities of passing events—battles, councils, &c. —of their day (who, supposing them to work worthily of their mission, would become, properly so called, historical or narrative painters); and men who sought, in scenes of perhaps less outward importance, “noble grounds for noble emotion;”— who would be, in a certain separate sense, poetical painters;