« ForrigeFortsæt »
THE poles between which Æsthetic criticism has always oscillated, and will continue to oscillate, are Form and Expression, the objective and the subjective truths involved in Art, as in every other production of the human mind. A very ingenious and eloquent writer of the present day has had weight enough (between his reason and his passion) to bring the balance far down in the latter direction : the more need therefore to bring forward an older writer, whose learning is as decidedly, though less vehemently, the other way.
There is a use, however, to be served, by drawing notice, in the present state of things, to a writer of the former school, greater than the mere momentary dressing of a balance, never fated to maintain more than a momentary equilibrium. These variations, referring as they do to permanent distinctions, must be expected to continue. Nor, however far the study of art may be carried, can we expect that it will reach a point at which it will become an exact science, independent of the bias in the direction of objective or subjective truth existing in the critic's own mind. It is not, therefore, as contesting the views of Mr. Ruskin, that I venture to call attention to this treatise of Lessing.
But a true purpose may be served by simply bringing the converse truth into the same field with that on which our eyes are at present almost exclusively fixed. The caricatures of the PreRaphaelites have already done some intentional and also some unintended service to Art. By exhibiting the reigning doctrine in its full and almost unmitigated results, while they have clearly shewn (as I frankly admit them to have done) the truth on which it is founded, they have as distinctly, and it may
be feared to the general public more impressively, exhibited its inability to fulfil the mind's requirements of Art without the aid of a counter and modifying principle. It is therefore no undesirable thing to supply so fair and acute an exponent of that counter truth as Lessing is, even if it were only to give an expression and satisfaction to the revolted feelings of those whom the miserable meannesses alluded to have disgusted, and prevent them from disbelieving in the existence of Art as a subject of rational enquiry altogether.
But the advantage I meant was less this than the service which is always done to any imperfectly ascertained science by suggesting its historical aspect.
If Aristotle both began and completed the science of Logic, it is the single instance of such an achievement. In general a long tentative process, passing through the hands of many individuals, precedes the consummation of so great a work: there must be hewing of wood and drawing of water before the very foundations are laid, and the building itself shall be conceived by David and built by Solomon. The human mind will be seen (represented by a long succession of individuals) to climb from truth to truth (as we should more correctly say, speaking of nature, from fact to fact) toward the distant summit whence the whole subject is to become visible. It is its natural tendency when any new station is gained to be occupied with the novelty of its actual position or in the ardour of its ambition to turn its gaze only in the direction of its object. But if this be the wisely ordained necessity of those whose mission is to be themselves the active instruments of the achievement, undoubtedly it is equally the wisdom of the mere observer less to look forward than backward, less to divine what our future path may be than to compare our present position with our previous course. A complete result is by supposition at present unattainable; all we can do, therefore, is to grasp as many of the elements which will go to form that future result as possible. Every distinct impression of Æsthetic truth found to have been made either upon the general sense of men or upon our human nature represented by individuals of superior faculties, shews a reality, either subjective or objective, bearing upon the science, and so long as the science remains confessedly imperfect, the possession of more or less of such data becomes the closer or more distant approximation to the possession of the whole truth, seeing that when these data are sufficient they must contain the whole truth, whether the generalization which is to convert it into a science shall have actually taken place or not.