Page images
PDF
EPUB

the embryo state of the arts. Their figures of life and beauty denote the arts in their expanded bloom. The progress made is like that of a plant transferred from the field or wood, to the hot-house or the garden, where that which was a humble blossom on a thorny shrub, becomes a rose with deepened color and more splendid form-the queen of flowers. The humble sketch of the savage is the first in that series of attempts which results in a finely wrought picture. He aims only to convey thought; there are ideas in his mind, which, by the materials that nature affords him, he seeks to transmit to the mind of another; and this is the primary design of almost every attempt that man makes at imitation. The thoughts and feelings that teem in his soul first find utterance in language, revealing themselves in speech to the mental world. He employs next the expressive language of signs, and soon, by mere marks of imitation, begins bis alphabet of artificial expression. He rudely graves figures of men and things, and endeavors to make their position and arrangement tell the story of transpiring or past events. As the practice continues, changes creep in, arbitrary inarks are introduced to widen the range of expression ; and from this common origin may grow the arts of writing by pictures, by hieroglyphics, and by characters representing vocal sounds.

The arts of painting and sculpture never lose this primary design. Their germs sprang up simply for the utile of expressing thought. The skillful artist seeks the dulce of gratifying luxurious taste by investing thought with life and beauty. He creates an ideal form, and endeavors to transfer the beautiful conception laboring in his mind to the marble or the canvas. He must have as clear an apprehension of the idea he would develop, as the poet who would touch our sensibilities by his numbers, or the orator who would move us by his eloquence. The elegance with which thought and feeling are expressed constitute the attractive beauty of the piece. Thus there is a style in the fine arts as well as in writing. The colors on the canvas are but unmeaning stains, unless they breathe with thought: without expression the statue is but a marble block.

We may now view the peculiar advantages and proper sphere of each of these arts, and of writing, as the medium of thought. The most proper field of painting is to express the beautiful. The sensible objects which excite emotions of pleasure in the mind by their loveliness, are the subjects to warm the fancy and employ the art of the painter, The features of the human countenance, beaming with expression and intelligence, the graceful form, the symmetrical edifice, the landscape, may all be vividly represented to the mind on the breathing canvas. But painting, although most pleased to linger among the beautiful, does not confine itself here, but often attempts to delineate objects of sublimity and grandeur. The sky blackened by the tempest which is spreading desolation beneath, the forked lightning which plays among the sable drapery of the sky and reveals the rolling billows tossing the desparing mariners, have often been rivaled by the colors of the painter. Many of the passions which agitate the human breast he may depict in the countenance which comes from his hand, almost glowing

with the flush of life and illumined by the immortal spirit. In the features appears ambition, with its high purpose and inflexible determination, or benevolence with its heavenly expression. Malice and revenge frown in the contracted brow, scorn exerts its withering power in the curling lip, and envy scowls in every feature of the distorted countenance ; sportive humor appears playing about the flexible mouth and expanded brow, giving the whole visage its mirthful expression.

Painting has indeed great scope for the display of its power, and a wide field in which to select its subjects. These it presents directly to the sight—the sense through which impressions are most forcibly made ou the inind. The idea of a landscape, with much of its beautiful scenery, its hills and vales, its green wood and silvery stream, is conveyed to the mind at a single glance, with a strength which description might despair of equaling, except to one of the most active fancy. An eye-witness might exhaust all his resources of language in relating the horrors of a battle, and still fail of conveying an adequate idea of the scene to those unaccustomed to the din of arms and the fury of the conflict. But on the canvas the whole scene is spread before us. We stand on an eminence from which we behold the field of strife. The heavy columns meet in deadly conflict; the shock arrests the advance of the bands ; carnage rages with fury, and the crimson blood dyes the ground. A lingering death depicts agony on the features of the wounded; their groans almost reach our ears; our feelings are absorbed in the scene, and we are almost hurried into the belief that the reality is before us. Such is the power of painting to convey a vivid impression of the things it represents.

The field of sculpture is more limited. This art is incapable of expressing any extensive scenes of ordinary occurrence. The landing of the pilgrims, which forms a fine subject for the painter, with the ship in the distance, the bay, the snow-mantled hills, and the bleak sky, would mock the art of the sculptor, except, perhaps, in the branch of it called relief, which in some respects resembles painting. A battle represented by a group of statues in the act of engaging in deadly conflict, would be a violation of true taste. Sculpture has not so wide a field in its power of representing in the features the passions of the mind. A frowning brow or an angry countenance wrought in the marble of almost ethereal whiteness would excite disgust; the leer of envy or the expression of scorn would offend every correct taste ; the playful smile of mirth would degrade the noble art.

But if the true province of sculpture is less extensive than that of painting, if it cannot express as great a variety of ideas, it can exhibit those of the most noble and exalted character far more forcibly. The effort most congenial to it, is the representation of calm dignity and noble elevation of soul in the human countenance, and the rounding of the person in the most beautiful proportion. Were a man to be described at the moment when anger or revenge had thrown its discomposing lines over his features, or mirth clothed them with a sunny smile, the painter might there find a subject of his pleasing art. But were he to be represented with his feelings in the calmness of repose,

the fire of his intellect unobscured by the dark clouds of passion, and his countenance reflecting the living spirit, the image of its Makerthat were an object to warm the fancy and inspire the enthusiasm of the sculptor. He forms in his mind the image to be copied in marble, and with thrilling delight in the perfection of the living picture, seizes the chisel and commences his labor on the rude mass before him. Anxiously he watches the progress of the work, and when, after much toil and care, he realizes the triumph of his art, with what ecstasy does he view the exact copy of the original! The brow bearing the marks of intellectual greatness and magnanimity of soul, the lips indicating firmness of character, every feature conspiring to express the noble qualities that adorn humanity, are before him, and attest the consummate power of his art. As we stand before the marble, and recognize the majestic form of some benefactor of our country or race, we gaze with enthusiastic rapture on the representation, and almost forgetting it is but cold and lifeless stone, clothe it with the attributes of life. Fancy almost persuades us that those limbs have motion,--those features power to express the varying feelings of the soul,—that mouth a tongue about to address us in words of breathing eloquence. Or perhaps we almost imagine, that having become a celestial inhabitant, he has descended to earth adorned with the flowing robes of the upper city; or that his earthly form, freed from every thing repulsive in death, and retaining only its loveliness, is invested with permanent beauty.

Such feelings, however, are experienced only when we are wrought to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, and suffer our imagination to gain the mastery over our reason. The greatest effect which the view of a perfect statue has on most minds, is to convey a correct and vivid idea of the character presented, and to excite high adıniration of the power of the art and the skill of the artist. In statuary the human form can be perfectly represented to two of the senses. It would be difficult for one born blind, to conceive from the act of touch, how the prominences of the person can appear on the plain canvas; but in the statue, they would be perfectly obvious. In exhibiting colors sculpture makes no pretensions; it overlooks such minor distinctions, and is satisfied to express the noble feelings—the soul. Painting excites our admiration ; but sculpture heightens this feeling to reverence, almost to adoration. It strikes us with a degree of awe, being more ideal, ethereal, divine.

To the expressive power of writing we find it difficult to fix a limit. Almost every idea which has ever sprung into existence in the mind, from the earliest impressions of the child to the sublime conceptions of a Newton, might be embodied in words, which might be placed in permanent characters upon the written page. Language is equally well suited to the description of the material creation,-of the events of history,-of the actions performed on the theatre of life,—of abstract truths. And writing is the body enclosing language as the soul vivifying its envelop. The sounds which convey ideas, and are fleeting as the breath of man, are associated in constant fellowship with artificial shapes, displaying thought to those who behold them. The letters are

informed with mental life. Writing feels a confidence in its power to record all the kinds of ideas and feelings that arise in the soul. As a far-running vehicle of knowledge, nothing is more fit than the characters flowing from the “pen of a ready writer.” They are the panorama of thought. Painting has indeed been used to perpetuate the knowledge of historical events ; and in the Mexican empire, it was the principal medium of intelligence, though very imperfect. It can represent an action only in a fixed state. The description of a single day's events in our revolution would require a vast number of paintings. How would the battle of Bunker Hill, with the many and rapid events of that glorious day, be described by this means? The embarking of the enemy, their passage across the bay, the landing, the forming of the troops in array of battle, the conflagration of the neighboring town, and the other scenes of the action, would require in their delineation as many different paintings. But in the written descriptions, the mind is conducted through each successive scene by easy transitions, while the imagination being kindled forms for itself a living, moving picture. It may not indeed be excited as by a painting which brings the subjects directly to the sight—the impression may be less forcible and less firmly fixed in the mind—but the history would be learned more correctly, and the ideas conveyed have a closer connection. It is a drama in which we see not only the great actions and personages, but the smaller circumstances of the shifting scenes, the joints on which turn the grand events. A play with which we are unacquainted is made more intelligible by an attentive reading, than by the most gorgeous representation. The latter is most pleasing when it exhibits a familiar and favorite piece. Such is the relation of historical painting to historical writing. And in the description of natural scenery—what painter could draw a more lovely picture than that delineated by Milton in his description of Eden? A painter might draw the objects as they appear in the camera of the poet's verse. Thus the bard assists the painter; and the painter in turn contributes to inspire the lay of the poet. The deeds of heroes are best described by the historian, or the living strains of the bard. The achievements of Achilles need not a painter to give them finer touches than Homer has done, nor those of Æneas a more skillful delineator than Virgil. But in describing the persons of the heroes themselves, writing must yield to its sister arts. The ancients have told us of the form of Alexander, of the turn of his head and the quickness of his eye, of his fair countenance and fragrant breath : but could we view the paintings of him by Apelles, or his statues by Lysippus, we should feel the inadequacy of language to give us a perfect idea of the countenance and form of the conqueror. But writing will perpetuate ideas a longer space of time. The statue stands alone, a single work of art, and when time crumbles it, is forever lost. The colors of the painting fade away no more to brighten on the canvas. But written works, multiplied by the pen and the press, will remain to the end of time.

Sculpture, then, produces works which most resemble the objects they represent; is the most exalted means of describing the most noble objects, and impresses them forcibly on the mind. Painting is wider in its range, less ethereal and exalted in its nature, and, presenting its objects to the sense of sight, strongly affects the beholder. Writing has the power of expressing the whole range of thought, but in a manner less forcible and impressive.

A curious thing it is,-this impressing the mind on marble,-on canvas,-on paper. A thought—what is it? An impalpable, spiritual something, seemingly too ethereal to be caught by our gross instruments, and, more swiftly winged than the lightnings, too light to be detained, even could it once be taken. Yet man holds it a prisoner. A few strokes of the chisel, and it is fixed in the stone. The brush glides over the canvas, and thought is fast imbedded in the colors. The pen disfigures the fair sheet with a few marks, and even in those most humble traces dwells divine, godlike thought.

THE GRAVE OF HEARTS.
Carols glad through sky are thrilling,

From a songster of the air,
Till he sees a vale of sadness ;-
Hearts of truth are buried there!

Solemn cypress-boughs o'erhanging,

Cast a dense and holy gloom ;
Clouds above with brows enshaded,

Softly weep upon the tomb.

Richly laden, comes Ambition,

Gazer on the sun till blind,
Sighless, throws away his treasure,

Leaves a heart of truth behind.

Years roll by and now returning,

Hoar Ambition totters slow,
Gropes to find his ancient treasure,

Strives in tears—’tis far below!

Let the true heart, never yielding,

Learn to live alone and bravo!
'Gainst the World's dead body struggle,

Beating lifelike in the grave !
Friendship here wings down immortal,

Love, with sweet and heav'nly art;
Linking in embrace celestial,

Bend above the Grave of Hearts.

« PreviousContinue »