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It were something beside my purpose to unfold and illustrate in detail the common principles of Art: I shall but endeavour to do this so far as may be needful for a due understanding of those principles as we have them embodied in the Shakespearian Drama.
The first of those principles, as I am to view them, is what I know not better how to designate than by the term Solidarity. By which I mean that the several parts of a given work must all stand in mutual sympathy and intelligence; or that the details must not only have each a force and meaning of their own, but must also be helpful, directly or remotely, to the force and meaning of the others; all being drawn together and made to coalesce in unity of effect by some one governing thought or paramount idea. This gives us what the philosophers of Art generally agree in calling an organic structure ; that is, a structure in which an inward vital law shapes and determines the outward form; all the parts being, moreover, assimilated and bound each to each by the life that builds the organiza
of conformity to the will of God, sought not for any end but itself.” — “It cannot indeed be denied that these two, culture or the love of beauty, religion or the love of godliness, appear in individuals, in races, in ages, as rival, often as conflicting, forces. The votary of beauty shrinks from religion as something stern and ungenial, the devout Puritan discards beauty as a snare; and even those who have hearts susceptible of both find that a practical crisis will come when a choice must be made whether of the two they will serve. The consciousness of this disunion has of late years been felt deeply, and by the most gifted minds. Painful often has the conflict been, when the natural love of beauty was leading one way, loyalty to that which is higher than beauty called another, and no practical escape was possible, except by the sacrifice of feelings which in themselves were innocent and beautiful. Only in recent times have we begun to feel strongly that both are good, that each without the other is so far imperfcct, and that some reconciliation, if it were possible, is a thing to be desired. Violent has been the reaction which this new consciousness has created. In the recoil from what they call Puritanism, or religion without culture, many have given themselves up to culture without religion, or, at best, with a very diluted form of religion. They have set up for worship the golden calf of art, and danced round it to the pipe which the great Goethe played. They have promulgated what they call the gospel of art, as Carlyle says, the windiest gospel ever yet preached, which never has saved and never will save any man from moral corruption."
tion, and so rendered mutually aidant, and at the same time conducive to the well-being of the whole. In a word, they must all have a purpose and a truth in common as well as each a truth and purpose of its own.
To illustrate this in a small instance, and perhaps the more intelligible for being small. — Critics had been wont to speak lightly, not to say sneeringly, of the Sonnet, as being but an elaborate trifle that cost more than it came to. Wordsworth undertook to vindicate the thing from this unjust reproach, as he considered it; and to that end he wrote the following:
“ Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frown'd,
Mindless of its just honours : with this key
Soul-animating strains, — alas, too few !” Now, here we have a place for every thing, and every thing in its place. There is nothing irrelevant, nothing ajar. The parts are not only each true and good and beautiful in themselves, but each is helpful to the others, and all to the author's purpose: every allusion, every image, every word, tells in furtherance of his aim. There need nothing be added, there must nothing be taken away. The argument at every step is clear and strong. The thing begins, proceeds, and ends, just as it ought; you cannot change a word in it without injuring it: the understanding, the imagination, the ear, are all satisfied with the result. And the specimen is itself a full triumph of the Sonnet, from the intellectual truth and beauty and sweetness which are here
put into it. So that, what with the argument, and what with the example, the vindication of the Sonnet is perfect. Accordingly, I believe no one has spoken lightly of the thing since that specimen was given to the public.
Many have written poetry, and good poetry too, who, notwithstanding, have not written, and could not write, a Poem. But this sonnet is, in its measure, a genuine poem; and as such I am willing to bear the responsibility of pronouncing it faultless. Wordsworth could do the Sonnet completely, and did it so in many instances : and he could do more than this; in several of his longer pieces the workmanship is perhaps equally faultless; as, for instance, in Laodamia and the Ode to Duty, which, to my sense, are perfect poems in their kind. But to do thus through so complex and multitudiuous a work as our higher specimens of the Gothic Drama, is a very different matter, - a thing far beyond the power of a Wordsworth. To combine and carry on together various distinct lines of thought, and various individual members of character, so that each shall constantly remember and respect the others, and this through a manifold, diversified, and intricate course of action; to keep all the parts true to the terms and relations of organic unity, each coming in and stopping just where it ought, each doing its share, and no more than its share, in the common plan, so as not to hinder the life or interfere with the rights of the others; to knit them all together in a'consistent and harmonious whole, with nothing of redundancy or of deficiency, nothing “overdone or come tardy off," - the members, moreover, all mutually interacting, all modifying and tempering one another; -- this is a task which it is given to few to achieve. For the difficulty of the work increases in a sort of geometrical ratio with the number and greatness of the parts; and when we come to such a work as Hamlet or Cymbeline or King Lear, few of us have heads long enough and strong enough to measure the difficulty of it.
Such, then, in my reckoning, is the first principle, I will not
say of artistic perfection, but of all true excellence in Art. And the same law, which thus requires that in a given work each earlier part shall prepare for what comes after, and each later part shall finish what went before, holds with equal force in all the forms of Art; for whether the parts be rendered or delivered in space, as in Painting and Architecture, or in time, as in Music, a Poem, or a Drama, makes no difference in this respect.
The second principle of Art which I am to consider is Originality. And by this I do not mean novelty or singularity, either in the general structure or in the particular materials, but something that has reference to the metho, and process of the work. The construction must proceed from the heart outwards, not the other way, and proceed in virtue of the inward life, not by any surface aggregation of parts, or by any outward pressure or rule.
In organic nature, every plant, and every animal, however cast in the mould of the species, and so kept from novelty or singularity, has an individual life of its own, which life is and must be original. It is a development from a germ; and the process of development is vital, and works by selection and assimilation of matter in accordance with the inward nature of the thing. And so in Art, a work, to be original, must grow from what the workman has inside of him, and what he sees of Nature and natural fact around him, and not by imitation of what others have done before him. So growing, the work will, to be sure, take the specific form and character; nevertheless it will have the essence of originality in the right sense of the term, because it will have originated from the author's mind, just as the offspring originates from the parent. And the result will be, not a showy, emphatic, superficial virtue, which is indeed a vice, but a solid, genuine, substantive virtue; that is, the thing will be just what it seems, and will mean just what it says. Moreover the greatness of the work, if it have any, will be more or less hidden in the order and temperance and harmony of the parts; so that the work will keep growing larger and richer
to you as you become familiar with it: whereas in case of a thing made in the unoriginal way, at a distance it will seem larger than it is, and will keep shrinking and dwarfing as you draw nearer to it; and perhaps, when you get fairly into it, it will prove to be no substance at all, but only a mass of shining vapour; or, if you undertake to grasp it, your hand will just close through it, as it would through a shadow.*
All this, however, is nowise to be understood as inferring that a great original artist must be an independent or isolated growth, without parents and brethren, and the natural aids and inspirations of society. This never was and never can be. Art-life must be had in common, or not at all. In this, as in other things, many minds must grow up together, else none can grow up. And no form of Art ever grew to perfection, or any thing near it, but that it was and long had been matter of strong national passion,
* This law of originality I have never seen better stated than by Coleridge, in a passage justifying the form of Shakespeare's dramas against a mode of criticism which has now, happily, gone out of use. “ The true ground,” says he, “ of the mistake lies in the confounding mechanical regularity with organic form. The form is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a predetermined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material; as when to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. The organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes, as it develops, itself from within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms: each exterior is the physiognomy of the being within, its true image reflected and thrown out from the concave mirror.” — With this may well be coupled Schlegel's remarks on the same point: “Form is mechanical when it is impressed upon any piece of matter by an outward operation, as an accidental addition without regard to the nature of the thing; as, for example, when we give any form at pleasure to a soft mass, to be retained after induration. Organic form on the contrary, is innate; it unfolds itself from within, and attains its determinate character along with the full development of the germ. Such forms are found in Nature universally, wherever living powers are in action. And in Art, as well as in Nature, the supreme artist, all genuine forms are organic, that is, are determined by the quality of the work. In short, the form is no other than a significant exterior, the physiognomy of a thing, — when not defaced by disturbing accidents, the speaking physiognomy, — which bears true witness of its hidden essence.”