« AnteriorContinuar »
with similar material, and having the same object. But if a poet employs other materials, and aims at some new effect, the old rules will be found insufficient. They must be modified, or another principle discovered, which can be found only in that field whence Homer and Sophocles drew—that is, in nature and the heart of man. But, as we have seen, every writer, who would arrive at eminence, must produce something new either in matter or manner. Hence, every one who would be extensively useful, must draw the principles of his art from nature, his own heart, and experience, as well as from the practice of his predecessors. The rules derived from the experience and practice of successful authors, especially those of ancient times, are exceedingly valuable in guiding to proper sources, and right methods. It is to be presumed that the opinions harmoniously adopted by the best minds of the civilized world, for two thousand years, were not formed lightly, nor without good reason. And inasmuch as they were themselves drawn from nature, they must be well calculated to direct attention back to nature. But nothing valuable could be produced by following rigidly the baldness of the letter. The productive laws are to be found within our own hearts, and in the relations existing between ourselves and the external world. These are not created, but only illustrated by the practice of the good artist, and stated in the precepts of the just critic.
It may look like discouragement to tell the writer of the present day that he must make the same investigation for himself, which the author of three thousand years ago made; but there is no way of avoiding the task, consistent with success. At the same time, having now more helps and experiments before him, higher results may be attained by genius of inferior degree.
From the same point of view, the critic will learn that his ancient rules are not good for everything; that Aristotle or Quintilian, however excellent, is not a panacea for every literary ill, and that his own hastily formed notion is not to be taken for law: that instead of assuming an immovable position, away back on the fortifications of antiquity, or launching inconsiderate decisions from behind the entrenchments of a Review, it is his business to follow faithfully the footsteps of genius, and aid its onward progress.
And these remarks, if true in respect to literature, are, for the same reason, applicable to art in general. The new phases of humanity which are continually coming into view, demand correspondent features in art, and forbid repose in the quiet repetition of excellencies already attained. The style of Phidias has many a lesson for modern times, but Michael Angelo would not have been the world-renowned, had he learned no other. And nature is still teeming with ripening beauties, which art has not yet gathered in. Whoever aims at the highest excellence, therefore, needs first to make himself master of the rules already attained : secondly, to examine the foundation of these rules-follow them to their source, that he may comprehend their spirit: thirdly, to study these sources farther, for himself, that whatever novelty he contemplates in his works, may be equally well-founded in truth. And the work of criticism is to study the creations of genius, to compare them with already established rules, and with the laws in nature to which they appeal, to judge thereby of their truth, and to give definite expression to principles in the abstract.
In connection with our remarks upon the radical similarity of all men in matters of taste, it was stated, that, in minor things, there is infinite diversity. Having taken notice of some diversities, which contradict generally acknowledged principles, and which are of course in error, we shall now speak of others, which do not contradict general principles, and which are not erroneous; but rather developements, in particular directions, of those principles, and that in production as well as criticism.
To the ambitious, no praise is more dazzling than that of Originality; yet few seem to have any distinct conception of what it means. Content with the notion that it refers to something which makes him superior to all other men, the candidate for this honor seems to think that he must set at nought every law by which common mortals are governed, must keep himself ignorant of all rules of art, and work out a system entirely of his own; and that he must submit to no intellectual discipline, or plodding labor, as he calls it, for fear of cramping his genius—a delusion by no means uncommon among young men emulous of distinction in literature and art. And nothing is more likely to bar
to success. For even should one, by good fortune, strike upon a correct course, he has to repeat and discover for himself all that has been proved long before, and to spend years in laboring out a few truths which he might have acquired with more precision by the usual methods of study, in one hundredth part of the time. Some, in mistaking singularity for originality, give themselves up to all oddities, under the conceit that they are astonishing the world by their independence of thought, when they are merely amusing on-lookers, and grieving friends by their follies. According to this view, the original genius must do nothing as it would be done by any other human being. In dress and manner he will assume the most uncouth and ridiculous, for the purpose of being unlike ordinary mortals. And even this phase of the evil is an innocent weakness, compared with another, under which multitudes have dissipated and are dissipating their talents, in impiety and licentiousness. They would be unfettered, free, and original thinkers; and to reject everything that sober people believe, to spurn at evidence, and insult truth to her face, looks enough like original thought to pass for it, in the eyes of those who conceive of it only as something strange. From all manners, morals, and religion, which other men haye maintained, the original genius