From all that has been stated in the last chapter, picturesqueness appears to hold a station between beauty and sublimity; and, on that count, perhaps, is more frequently, and more happily blended with them both, than they are with each other. It is, however, perfectly distinct from either. Beauty and picturesqueness are indeed evidently founded on very opposite qualities; the one on smoothness, the other on roughness; the one on gradual, the other on sudden variation; the one on ideas of youth and freshness, the other on those of age, and even of decay.
But as most of the qualities of visible beauty are made known to us through the medium of another sense, the sight itself is hardly more to be considered than the touch, in regard to all those sensations which are excited by beautiful forms; and the distinction between the beautiful and the picturesque will, perhaps, be most strongly pointed out by means of the latter sense. I am aware that this is liable to a gross and obvious ridicule; but, for that reason, none but gross and commonplace minds will dwell upon it.
Mr. Burke has observed, that "men are carried to the sex in general, as it is the sex, and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to particulars by personal beauty;" he adds, "I call beauty a social quality; for where women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them--and there are so many that do so--they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them."1
These sentiments of tenderness and affection, nature has taught us to express by caresses, by gentle pressure; these are the endearments we make use of, where sex is totally out of the question, to beautiful children, to beautiful animals, and even to things inanimate; and where the size and character, as in trees, buildings, &c., exclude any such relation, still something of the same difference of impression between them and rugged objects appears to subsist; that impression, however, is diminished, as the size of any beautiful object is increased; and as it approaches towards grandeur and magnificence, it recedes from loveliness.
As the eye borrows many of its sensations from the touch, so that again seems to borrow others from the sight. Soft, fresh, and beautiful colours, though "not sensible to feeling as to sight," give us an inclination to try their effect on the touch; whereas, if the colour be not beautiful, that inclination, I believe, is always diminished, and in objects merely picturesque, and void of all beauty, is rarely excited. I have read, indeed, in some fairy tale; of a country, where age and wrinkles were loved and caressed, and youth and freshness neglected; but in real life, I fancy, the most picturesque old woman, however her admirer may ogle her on that account, is perfectly safe from his caresses.
It has been observed in a former part, that symmetry, which perfectly accords with the beautiful, is in the same degree adverse to the picturesque; and this circumstance forms a strongly marked distinction between the two characters. The general symmetry which prevails in the forms of animals is obvious; but as no precise standard of it in each species has been made or acknowledged, any slight deviation from what is most usual is scarcely attended to. In the human form, however, from our being more nearly interested in all that belongs to it, symmetry has been more accurately defined; and, as far as human observation and selection can fix a standard for beauty, it has been fixed by the Grecian sculptors. That standard is acknowledged in all the most civilized parts of Europe: a near approach to it, makes the person to be called regularly beautiful; a departure from it, whatever striking and attractive peculiarity it may bestow, is still a departure from that perfection of ideal beauty, so diligently sought after, and so nearly attained by those great artists, from the few precious remains of whose works, we have gained some idea of the refined art which raised them to such high eminence; for by their means we have learned to distinguish what is most exquisite and perfect, from the more ordinary degrees of excellence.
There are several expressions in the language of a neighbouring people, of lively imagination, and distinguished gallantry and attention to the other sex, which seem to imply an uncertain idea of some character, which was not precisely beauty, but which, from whatever causes, produced striking and pleasing effects: such are une physionomie de fantaisie, and the well-known expression un certain je ne sais quoi; it is also common to say of a woman--que sans etre belle elle est piquante- -a word, by the by, that in many points answers very exactly to the picturesque. The amusing history of Roxalana and the Sultan, is also the history of the piquant, which is fully exemplified in her person and her manners: Marmontel certainly did not intend to give the petit nez retrousse as a beautiful feature; but to show how much such a striking irregularity might accord and co-operate with the same sort of irregularity in the character of the mind. The playful, unequal, coquettish Roxalana, full of sudden turns and caprices, is opposed to the beautiful, tender, and constant Elvira; and the effects of irritation, to those of softness and languor: the tendency of the qualities of beauty alone towards monotony, are no less happily insinuated.
Although there are generally received standards with respect to animals, yet those who have been in the habit of breeding them and of attending to their forms, have fixed to themselves certain standards of perfection. Mr. Bakewell, like Phidias or Apelles, had probably formed in his mind an idea of perfection beyond what he had seen in nature; and which, like them, though be a different process, he was constantly endeavoring to embody. It may be said, that this perfection relates only to their disposition to produce fat upon the most profitable parts--a very garazier-like and material idea of beauty it fairly must be owned; but still, if a standard of shape (from whatever cause) be acknowledged, and called beautiful, any departure from that settled correspondence and symmetry of parts, will certainly, within that jurisdiction, be considered as a an irregularity in the form, and a consequent departure from beauty, however striking the object may be in its general appearance. More marked and sudden deviations from the general symmetry of animals, whether arising from particular conformation, from accident, or from the effects of age or disease, often very strongly attract the painter's notice, and are recorded by him; many of these would, on the contrary, by most men be called deformities, and not without reason. I shall hereafter have occasion to show the connection, as well as the distinction, that subsists between deformity and picturesqueness.
If we turn from animal to vegetable nature, many of the most beautiful flowers have a high degree of symmetry; so much so, that their colours appear to be laid on after a regular and finished design: but beauty is so much the prevailing character of flowers, that no one seeks for any thing picturesque among them. In trees, on the other hand, every thing appears so loose and irregular, that symmetry seems out of the question; yet still the same analogy subsists. Cowley has very accurately enumerated the chief qualities of beauty, in his description of what he considers as one of the most beautiful of trees--the lime. He has not forgot symmetry in the catalogue of its charms, though it is probable that few readers will agree with him in admiring the degree or the style of it, which is displayed in the lime: but exact symmetry in all things was then extravagantly in fashion, as it is now--perhaps too violently--in disgrace.
Stat Philyra; haud omnes formosior altera surgit Inter Hamadryades; mollisima, candida, laevis, Et viridante coma, et bene olenti flore superba, Spartgit odoratum late atque aequaliter umbram.
If we take candida for clear, as candidi fontes; and viridante, as peculiarly fresh and verdant, we have every quality of beauty separately considered. A beautiful tree, considered in point of form only, must have a certain correspondence of parts, and a comparative regularity proportion; whereas inequality and irregularity alone will give to a tree a picturesque appearance, more especially if the effects of age as well as of accident are conspicuous: when, for instance, some of the limbs are shattered, and the broken stump remains in the void space; when others, half twisted round by winds, hand downwards; while; while others again shoot in an opposite direction, and perhaps some large bough projects sideways from below the stag- headed top, and then suddenly turns upwards, and rise above it. The general proportions of such trees, whether tall or short, thick or slender, is not material to their character as picturesque objects; but where beauty, elegance, and gracefulness are concerned, a short thick proportion will not give an idea of those qualities. There certainly are a great variety of pleasing forms and proportions in trees, and different men have different predilections, just as they have with respect to their own species; but I never knew any person, who, if he observed at all, was not struck with the gracefulness and elegance of a tree, whose proportion was rather tall, whose stem had an easy sweep, but which returned again in such a manner, that the whole appeared completely poised and balanced, and whose boughs wore in some degree pendent, but towards their extremities made a gentle curve upwards: if to such a form you add fresh foliage and bark, you have every quality assigned to beauty.
In the last chapter I described the process by which a beautiful artificial object becomes picturesque: I will now show the similar effect of the same kind of process in natural objects; and, more fully to illustrate the subject, will compare at the same moment the effect of that process on animate and inanimate objects. It cannot be said that there is much general analogy between a tree and a human figure; but there is a great deal in the particular qualities which make them either beautiful or picturesque. Almost all the qualities of beauty, as might naturally be expected, belong to youth; and, among them all, none is more consonant to our ideas of beauty, or gives so general an impression of it as freshness;--without it, the most perfect form wants its most precious finish; wherever it begins to depart, wherever marks of age, or of unhealthiness appear, though other effects, other sympathies, other characters may arise, there must be a diminution of beauty. Freshness, which equally belongs to vegetable and animal beauty, is one of the most striking and attractive qualities in the general appearance of a beautiful object; whether of a tree in its most flourishing state, or of a human figure in its highest perfection. In either, the smallest diminution of that quality, from age or disease, is a manifest diminution of beauty; for, as it was remarked by a writer of the highest eminence, venustas et pulchritudo corporis secerni non protest a valetudine.2 Besides the relation, which in point of freshness in the general appearance, a beautiful plant or a beautiful person bear to each other, there is likewise a correspondence in particular parts--the luxuriancy of foliage, answers to that of hair; the delicate smoothness of bark, to that of the skin; and the clear, even tender colour of it, to that of the complexion. There is also, in the bark and the skin, though much more sensibly in the latter, another beauty arising from a look of softness and suppleness, so opposite to the hard and dry appearance, which, as well as roughness, is brought on by age; and which peculiar softness--arising in this case from the free circulation of juices to every part, and in contra-distinction to what is dry, though yielding to pressure--is well expressed by the Greek word [*****]; a word whose meaning I shall have occasion to dwell more fully upon hereafter.3 The earliest, and most perceptible, attacks of time, are made on the bark, and on the skin; which at first, however, merely lose their evenness of surface, and perfect clearness of colour: by degrees, the lines grow stronger in each; the tint more dingy; often unequal and in spots; and, in proportion as either trees or men advance towards decay, the regular progress of time, and often the effects of accident, occasion great and partial changes in their forms. In trees, the various hollows and inequalities which are produced by some parts failing, and others in consequence of falling in; from accidental marks and protuberances, and from other circumstances which a long course of years gives rise to, are obvious; and many correspondent changes from similar causes in the human form, are no less obvious. By such changes, that nice symmetry and correspondence of parts so essential to beauty, is in both destroyed; in both, the hand of time roughens the surface, and traces still deeper furrows; a few leaves, a few hairs, are thinly scattered on their summits; that light, airy aspiring look of youth is gone, and both seem shrunk and tottering, and ready to fall with the next blast.
Such is the change from beauty--and to what? surely not to a higher, or an equal degree, or to a different style of beauty. No--nor to any thing that resembles it: and yet, that both these objects, even in this last state, have often strong attractions for painters--their works afford sufficient testimony; and they are called picturesque--the general application of the term to such objects, makes equally clear; and that they totally differ from what is beautiful--the common feelings of mankind no less convincingly prove. One misapprehension I would wish to guard against. I do not mean to infer, from the instances I have given, that an object, to be picturesque, must be old and decayed; but that the most beautiful objects will become so from the effects of age and decay; and I believe it is equally true, that those which are naturally of a strongly marked and peculiar character, are likely to become still more picturesque by the process I have mentioned.
I have now very fully stated the principal circumstances by which the picturesque is separated from the beautiful. It is equally distinct from the sublime; for, though there are some qualities common to them both, yet they differ in many essential points, and proceed from very different causes. In the first place, greatness of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime. I would by no means lay too much stress on greatness of dimension, but what Mr. Burke has observed with regard to buildings is true of many natural objects, such as rocks, cascades, &c., where the scale is too diminutive, no greatness of manner will give them grandeur. The picturesque has no connection with dimension of any kind, and is as often found in the smallest as in the largest objects. The sublime, being founded on principles of awe and terror, never descends to any thing light or playful; the picturesque, whose characteristics are intricacy and variety, is equally adapted to the grandest and to the gayest scenery. Infinity is one of the most efficient causes of the sublime: the boundless ocean, for that reason, inspires awful sensations; to give it picturesqueness you must destroy that cause of its sublimity, for it is on the shape and disposition of its boundaries that the picturesque must in great measure depend.
Uniformity, which is so great an enemy to the picturesque, is not only compatible with the sublime, but often the cause of it. That general, equal gloom which is spread over all nature before a storm, with the stillness, so nobly described by Shakspeare, is in the highest degree sublime--
"And as we often see, against a storm,
A silence in the heavens, the wrack stand still,
The bold winds speechless, and the orb itself
As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
Does rend the region"
The picturesque requires greater variety, and does not show itself the dreadful thunder has rent the region, has tossed the clouds into a thousand towering forms, and opened, as it were, the recesses of the sky. A blaze of light unmixed with shade, on the same principles, tends to the sublime only. Milton has placed light, in its most glorious brightness, as an inaccessible barrier round the throne of the Almighty--
"For God is light,
And never but in unapproached light
Dwelt from eternity."
And such is the power he has given even to its diminished splendour--
"That the brightest seraphim
Approach not, but with both wings veil their eyes."
In one place, indeed, he has introduced very picturesque circumstances in his sublime representation of the Deity, but it is of the Deity in wrath; it is when, from the weakness and narrowness of our conceptions, we give the names and the effects of our passions to the all-perfect Creator:--
"And clouds began
To darken all the hill, and smoke to roll
In dusky wreaths reluctant flames, the sign
Of wrath awakened."
In general, however, where the glory, power, or majesty of God are represented, he has avoided that variety of form and of colouring which might take off from simple and uniform grandeur, and has encompassed the divine essence with unapproached Iight, or with the majesty of darkness.
Again, if we descend to earth, a perpendicular rock, of vast bulk and height, though bare and unbroken, or a deep chasm, under the same circumstances, are objects which produce awful sensations; but without some variety and intricacy, either in themselves or their accompaniments, they will not be picturesque. Lastly, a most essential difference between the two characters is, that the sublime, by its solemnity, takes off from tho loveliness of beauty, whereas the picturesque renders it more captivating. This last difference is happily pointed out and illustrated in the most ingenious and pleasing of all fictions, that of Venus Cestus. Juno, however beautiful, had no captivating charms till she had put on the magic girdle--in other words, till she had exchanged her stately dignity for playfulness and coquetry.
According to Mr. Burke,4 the passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment is that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended with sonic degree of horror; the sublime, also, being founded on ideas of pain and terror, like them operates by stretching the fibres beyond their natural tone. The passion excited by beauty complacency; it acts by relaxing the fibres somewhat below their natural tone, and this is accompanied by an inward sense of melting and languor. I have heard this part of Mr. Burke's book criticised, on a supposition that pleasure is more generally produced from the stimulated than from their being relaxed. To me it appears, that Mr. Burke is right with respect to that pleasure which is the effect of beauty, or whatever has an analogy to beauty, according to the principles he has laid down.
If we examine our feelings on a warm genial day, in a spot full of the softest beauties of nature, the fragrance of spring breathing around us--pleasure then seems to be our natural state, to be received not sought after; it is the happiness of existing to sensations of delight only--we are unwilling to move, almost to think, and desire only to feel, to enjoy. In pursuing the same train of ideas, I may add that the effect of the picturesque is curiosity; an effect which, though less splendid and powerful, has a more general influence. Those who have felt the excitement produced by the intricacies of wild romantic mountainous scenes, can tell how curiosity, while it prompts us to scale every rocky promontory, to explore every new recess, by its active agency cops the fibres to their full tone; and thus picturesqueness, when mixed with either of the other characters, corrects the languor of beauty, or the tension of sublimity. But as the nature of every corrective must effect of what it is to correct, so does the picturesque when united to either of the others. It is the coquetry of nature--it makes beauty more amusing, more varied, more playful, but also
"Less winningly soft, less amiably mild."
Again, by its variety, its intricacy, its partial concealments, it excites that active curiosity which gives play to the mind, loosening those iron bonds with which astonishment chains up its faculties. This seems to be perfectly applicable to tragi-comedy, and is at once its apology and condemnation. Whatever relieves the mind from a strong impression, of course weakens that impression.
Where characters, however distinct in their nature, are perpetually mixed together in such various degrees and manners, it is not always easy to draw the exact line of separation; I think, however, we may conclude, that where an object, or a set of objects, are without smoothness or grandeur, but from their intricacy, their sudden and irregular deviations, their variety of forms, tints, and lights and shadows, are interesting to a cultivated eye, they are simply picturesque. Such, for instance, are the rough banks that often enclose a by-road or a hollow lane: imagine the size of these banks and the space between them to be increased, till the lane becomes a deep dell, the coves, large caverns, the peeping stones, hanging rocks, so that the whole may impress an idea of awe and grandeur--the sublime will then be mixed with the picturesque, though the scale only, not the style of the scenery would be changed. On the other hand, if parts of the banks were smooth and gently sloping, or if in the middle space the turf were soft and close bitten, or if a gentle stream passed between them, whose clear, unbroken surface reflected all their varieties--the beautiful and the picturesque, by means of that softness and smoothness, would then be united.
I may here observe, that as softness is become a visible quality as well as smoothness, so also, from the same kind of sympathy, it is a principle of beauty in many visible objects; but as the hardest bodies are those which receive the highest polish, and consequently the highest degree of smoothness, there must be a number of objects in which smoothness and softness are for that reason incompatible. The one, however, is not unfrequently mistaken for the other, and I have more than once heard of pictures which were so smoothly finished that they looked like ivory, commended for their softness.
The skin of a delicate woman is an example of softness and smoothness united; but if by art a higher polish be given to the skin, the softness, and in that case I may add the beauty, is destroyed. Fur, moss, hair, wool, &c. are comparatively rough, but they are soft, and yield to pressure, and therefore take off from the appearance of hardness, and also edginess. A stone or rock, when polished by water, is smoother, but less soft than when covered with moss; and upon this principle the wooded banks of a river have often a softer general effect than the bare shaven border of a canal. There is the same difference between the grass of a pleasure-ground mowed to the quick, and that of a fresh meadow; and it frequently happens, that continual mowing destroys the verdure as well as the softness. So much does excessive attachment to one principle destroy its own ends.
Before I end this chapter, I wish to say a few words with respect to my adoption of Mr. Burke's doctrine. It has been asserted that I have pre-supposed our ideas of the sublime and beautiful to be clearly settled,5 whereas the least attention to what I have written would have shown the contrary. As far as my own opinion is concerned, I certainly am convinced of the general truth and accuracy of Mr. Burke's system, for the foundation of my own; but I must be very ignorant of human nature, to suppose "our ideas clearly settled" on any question of that kind. I therefore have always spoken cautiously, and even doubtingly, to avoid the imputation of judging for others; I have said, if we agree with Mr. Burke, according to Mr. Burke; and in the next chapter to this, I have stated that Mr. Burke has done a great deal towards settling the vague and contradictory ideas, &c. These passages so very plainly show how little I presumed to suppose our ideas were clearly settled, that no person who had read the book with any degree of attention could have made such a remark; and I must say--that whoever does venture to criticise what he has not considered, is much more his own enemy than the author's.
By way of convincing his readers that Mr. Burke's ideas of the sublime are unworthy of being attended to, Mr. G. Mason has the following remark, which I have taken care to copy very exactly:-- "The majority of thinking and learned men whom it has been my lot to converse with on such subjects, are as well persuaded of terror's being the cause of sublime, as that Tenterden steeple is of Goodwin sands." As Mr. Mason seems very conversant with the classics, as well as with English authors, and as the sublime in poetry has been discussed by writers of high authority, and the sublimity of many passages very generally acknowledged, I could wish that he and his learned friends would take the trouble of examining such passages in Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, and all the poets who are most eminent for their sublimity; and should they find, as surely they will, that almost all of them are founded upon terror, or on those modifications of it which Mr. Burke has so admirably pointed out, they may, perhaps, be inclined to speak somewhat less contemptuously of his researches. They may even be led to reflect, what must have been the depth and penetration of that man's mind, who, scarcely arrived at manhood, clearly saw how one great principle, acknowledged cause of the sublime in poetry, was likewise the most powerful cause of sublimity in all objects whatsoever; pursued it though all the works of art and of nature, and explained, illustrated, and adorned his discovery, with that ingenuity, and that brilliancy of language, in which he stands unrivalled.
A number of sublime passages in poetry will of course present themselves to a person so well read in the classics as Mr. Mason, but I will beg leave to remind him, and those who reject Mr. Burke's doctrine of a few instances, in which if terror be not the cause of the sublime, I have no idea of any cause of any effect. It is natural to begin by the great father of all poetry, and by a passage which Longinus has particularly dwelt upon: it is that celebrated one in the Iliad,6 where Homer has described Jupiter thundering above, Neptune shaking the earth beneath, and Pluto starting from his throne with terror, lest his secret and dreary abodes should be burst open to the day. From this short exposition the reader may judge what is the principle on which the sublimity of this passage is founded.
The most sublime passage, according to my idea, in Virgil, or perhaps in any other poet, is that magnificent personification of a thunder storm.
"Ipse Pater, media nimborum in nocte, corusca
Fulmina molitur dextra, quo maxima motu
Terro tremit, fugere, et mortalia corda
Per gentes humilis stravit pavor--Ille flagranti
Aut Atho aut Rhodopen, aut alta Cerunia telo
Divest these two passages of terror, what remains? In this last particularly, the sublime opposition between the cause and the effect of terror, more strongly than in any other, illustrates the principle. And I may here observe, that one circumstance which gives peculiar grandeur to personifications, is the attributing of natural events to the immediate action of some angry and powerful agent.
"Ipse Pater media, &c.
Neptunus muros saevoque emota tridente
Whenever Dante is mentioned, the inscription over the gates of hell, and the Conto Ugolino, are among the first things which occur. Paradise Lost is wrought up to a higher pitch of awful terror any other poem; to a mind full of poetical fire, he added the most studied attention to effect; and I think there is a singular instance of attention, and of the use he made of terror, in one of his most famous similes.
"As when the sun, new risen,
Looks through the horizontal misty air,
Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon
In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations."
The circumstances are perfectly applicable to the fallen archangel; but Milton possibly felt that the sun himself, when shorn of his beams in eclipse, was a less magnificent object than when in full splendour, therefore added that dignified image of terror,
"And with fear of change
It might even be conjectured, that he had literally added that last image; for the pause (which no poet took more pains to vary,) is the same as in the proceeding line, and the half verse which follows,
"Darken'd so, yet shone,"
would do equally well, in point of metre and of sense, after
"On half the nations."
From Shakspeare also, a number of detached passages might be quoted, to prove what surely needs no additional argument; but that most original creator, and most accurate observer, of whom no Englishman can speak, without enthusiasm, has furnished a more ample proof of the sublime effect of unremitting terror. Let those who have read, or seen his tragedies, consider which among them all is most strikingly sublime--which of them most powerfully seizes on the imagination, and rivets the attention--I believe almost every voice will give it for Macbeth. In that all is terror; and therefore either Aristotle, Longinus, Shakspeare, and Burke, or Mr. G. Mason, and his learned friends, have been totally wrong in their sublime, and of its causes.
That the same principle prevails in all natural scenery, has been so fully and clearly explained by Mr. Burke, that what is placed further arguments seem superfluous; yet, in it sometimes happens that what is placed in a different, though less striking light, may chance to make an impression on particular minds, I will mention a few things which have occurred to me. I am persuaded that it would be difficult to conceive any set of objects, to which, however grand in themselves, an addition of terror would not give a higher degree of sublimity ; and surely that must be a cause, and a principal cause, the increase of which increases the effect--the absence of which, weakens, or destroys it. The sea is at all times a grand object; need I say how much that grandeur is increased by the violence of another element, and again, by thunder and lightning? Why are rocks and precipices more sublime, when the tide dashes at the foot of them, forbidding all access, or cutting off all retreat, than when we can with ease approach, or retire from them? How is it that Shakespeare has heightened the sublimity of Dover Cliff, so much beyond what the real scene exhibits? by terror; he has placed terror above on the brink of the abyss; in the middle where
"Half way down
Hangs one who gathers samphire--dreadful trade!"
And even on the beach below, drawing an idea of terror from the comparative deficiency of one sense:
"The murmuring surge
That on the unnumber'd idle pebbles chafes, Cannot be heard so high;--I'll look no more Lest my brain turn."
The nearer any grand or terrible objects in nature press upon the mind, (provided that mind is able to contemplate them with awe, but without abject fear,) the more sublime will be their effects. The most savage rocks, precipices, and cataracts, as they keep their stations, are only awful; but should an earthquake shake their foundations, and open a now gulf beneath the cataract--he, who removed from immediate danger, could dare at such a moment to gaze on such a spectacle, would surely have sensations of a much higher kind, than those which were impressed upon him when all was still and unmoved.
Of the three characters, two only are in any degree subject to the improver; to create the sublime is above our contracted powers, though we may sometimes heighten, and at all times lower its effects by art. It is, therefore, on a proper attention to the beautiful and the picturesque, that the art of improving real landscapes must depend.
[There may be instances, indeed, in which the sublime may, in one sense be created, so far at least as any one locality may be considered--I mean by the bringing into view some grand object, by the removal of some obstacle of fence, of ground, or of wood, which may exclude it from observation. I know a case, where a friend of mine by the judicious removal of ground, has opened up a view of a grand expansive branch of the ocean so as to bring it, as it were, under the windows of his mansion, though it is, in reality, several miles off. The view of sublime rocks, or mountains, or of magnificent waterfalls, or rivers, or lakes, is often lost for want of a little boldness in the sacrifice of a few trees. But no part of the art of landscape gardening requires greater caution, or more judgment than this, for rashness or ignorance may, perhaps, in a few hours, do such damage as ages may be required to repair. As for any attempt actually to create a sublime object, that would indeed be as absurd and presumptuous, as it would be certain of failure.--E.]
As beauty is the most pleasing of all ideas to the human mind, it is very natural that it should be most sought after, and that the name should have been applied to every species of excellence. Mr. Burke has done a great deal towards settling the vague and contradictory ideas which were entertained on that subject, by investigating its principal causes and effects; but as the best things are often perverted to the worst purposes, so his admirable treatise has, perhaps, been one cause of the insipidity which has prevailed under the name of improvement. Few places have any claim to sublimity, and where nature has not given them that character, art is ineffectual; beauty, therefore, is the great object, and improvers have learned, from the highest authority, that two of its principal causes are smoothness, and gradual variation; these qualities are in themselves very seducing, but they are still more so, when applied to the surface of the ground, from its being in every man's power to produce them; it requires neither taste, nor invention, but merely the mechanical hand and eye of many a common labourer; and he who can make a nice asparagus bed, has one of the most essential qualifications of an improver, and may soon learn the whole mystery of slopes and hanging levels.
If the principles of the beautiful, according to Mr. Burke, and those of the picturesque according to my ideas, be just, it seldom happens that those two qualities are perfectly unmixed; and I believe, it is for want of observing how nature has blended them, and from attempting to make objects beautiful by dint of smoothness and flowing lines, that so much insipidity has arisen.
[It has arisen, and ever will arise from any attempt to produce beauty by there mere employment of any one of its qualities only, when, to produce its perfection, it is necessary to select and combine them, and this too in such a manner as that the associations produced by them shall not be incongruous, but be perfectly in harmony with the nature and character of the object. As the composition of beauty, therefore, must be varied in each individual case, it would be vain to lay down a general rule for compounding it, as one would give a receipt for making a particular pudding. I conceive that it is in the tact, and discrimination, and judgment displayed in the selection, and composition of objects to produce beauty, that the faculty of what is called good taste consists. The smallest reflection upon the examples of Sir Uvedale Price brings forward in the few following paragraphs of this Chapter, will at once show that something more than mere smoothness, at least, is required to constitute beauty Nay, he proves that a due proportion of roughness is equally essential; and I conceive that it would be equally easy to prove, that all the different ingredients proposed by others, may, in certain objects, be found individually operating in combination with others towards the composition of beauty.--E.]
The most enchanting object the eye of man can behold--that which immediately presents itself to his imagination when beauty is mentioned--that, in comparison of which all other beauty appears tasteless and uninteresting--is tho face of a beautiful woman; and there, where nature has fixed the throne of beauty, the very seat of its empire, observe how she has guarded it, in her most perfect models, from its two dangerous foes, insipidity and monotony.
The eye-brows, and the eye-lashes, by their projecting shade over the transparent surface of the eye, and above all the hair, by its comparative roughness and its partial concealments, accompany and relieve the softness, clearness, and smoothness of all the rest; where the hair has no natural roughness, it is often artificially curled and crisped, and it cannot be supposed that both sexes have often so often mistaken in what would best become them. As the general surface of a beautiful face is soft and smooth, its general form consists of lines that insensibly melt into each other; yet if we may judge from those remains of ancient arts, which are considered as models of beauty, the Grecian sculptors were of opinion that a line nearly straight of the nose and forehead was required, to give a zest to all the other waving lines of the face.
Flowers are the most delicate and beautiful of all inanimate objects; but their queen the rose, grows on a rough thorny bush with jagged leaves. The moss rose has the addition of a rough hairy fringe, which almost makes a part of the flower itself. The arbutus, with its fruit, its pendent flowers, and rich glossy foliage, is perhaps the most beautiful of all the hardier evergreen shrubs; but the bark of it is rugged, and the leaves, which like those of the rose, are sawed at the edges, have those edges pointed upwards, and clustering in spikes; and it may possibly be from that circumstance, and from the boughs having the same upright tendency, that Virgil calls it arbutus horrida, or, as it stands in some manuscripts, horrens. Among the foreign oaks, maples, &c. those are particularly esteemed, the leaves of which (according to a common, though perhaps contradictory phrase) are beautifully jagged.
The oriental plane has always been reckoned a tree of tho greatest beauty; Xerxes' passion for one of them is well known, as also the high estimation they were held in by the Greeks and Romans. The surface of their leaves is smooth and glossy, and of a bright pleasant green; but they are so deeply indented, and so full of sharp angles, that the tree itself is often distinguished by the name of the true jagged oriental plane.
The vine leaf has, in all respects, a strong resemblance to the leaf of the plane; and that extreme richness of effect, which every body must be struck with in them both, is greatly owing to those sharp angles, to those sudden variations, so contrary to the idea of beauty when considered by itself. The leaf of the Burgundy vine is rough, and its inferiority, in point of beauty, to the smooth-leaved vines, is, I think, very apparent, and clearly owing to that circumstance. On the other hand, a cluster of fine grapes, in point of form, tint, and light and shadow, is a specimen of unmixed beauty; and the vine with its fruit, may be cited as one of the most striking instances of the union of the two characters, in which, however, that of beauty infinitely prevails; and who will venture to assert, that the charm of the whole would be greater, by separating them--by taking off all the angles, and sharp points, and making the outline of the leaves as round and flowing as that of the fruit? The effect of these jagged points and angles is more strongly marked in sculpture-- especially in vases of metal--where the vine leaf, if imprudently handled, would at least prove that sharpness is very contrary to the beautiful in feeling; and the analogy between the two senses is surely very just. It may also be remarked, that in all such works sharpness of execution is a term of high praise.
I must here observe (and I must beg to call the reader's attention to what, in my idea, throws a strong light on the whole of the subject,) that almost all ornaments are rough, and most of them sharp, which is a mode of roughness; and, considered analogically, the most contrary to beauty of any mode. But as the ornaments are rough, so the ground is generally smooth; which shows, that though smoothness be tho most essential quality of beauty, without which it can scarcely exist--yet that roughness, in its different modes and degrees, is the ornament, the fringe of beauty, that which gives it life and spirit, and preserves it from baldness and insipidity.
A moment's consideration, indeed, will show us, that the obvious, the only process in ornamenting any smooth surface, independently of colour, must be that of making it less smooth, that is, comparatively rough: there must be different degrees of roughness, of sharpness, of projections the character of those ornaments that have been admired for ages. The column is smooth; the ornamental part, the capital, is rough: of a building smooth, the frieze and cornice rough and suddenly projecting: it is so in vases, in embroidery, in every thing that admits of ornament; and as ornament is the most prominent and striking part of a beautiful whole, it is frequently taken for the most essential part, and obtains the first place in descriptions. Thus Virgil in speaking of a part of dress highly ornamented says,
"Pallam gemmis auroque rigentem."
And Dryden in the same spirit, when describing the cup that contained the heart of Guiscard, calls it,
"A goblet rich with gems, and rough with gold."
A plain stone building, may not only be very beautiful, but by many persons be thought peculiarly so from its simplicity; but were an architect to decorate the shafts, as well as the capitals of his columns, and all the smooth stone work of his house or temple, there are few people who would not be sensible of the difference between a beautiful building, and one richly ornamented. This, in my mind, is the spirit of that famous reproof of Apelles (among all the painters of antiquity the most renowned for beauty) to one of his scholars who was loading a Helen with ornaments; "Young man," said he, "not being able to paint her beautiful, you have made her rich."
All that has just been said on the effect, which, in objects of sight, a due proportion of roughness and sharpness gives to smoothness, as likewise on the danger of making these two qualities too predominant, may, I think, be very aptly illustrated by means of another sense. Discords in music, which are analogous to sharp and angular objects of sight, are introduced by the most judicious composers, in their accompaniments to the sweetest and most flowing melodies, in order to relieve the ear from that languor and weariness, which Iong continued smoothness always brings on. But, on the other hand, should a composer, from too great a fondness for discords and extraneous modulations, neglect the flow and smoothness of melody, or should he smother a sweet and simple air beneath a load even of the richest harmony, he would resemble an architect, who, from a false notion of the picturesque, should destroy all repose and continuity in his designs, by the number of breaks and projections, or should try to improve some elegant and simple building, by loading it with a profusion of ornaments. The must beautiful and melodious of all sounds, that of the human voice in its highest perfection, appears to the greatest advantage when there is some degree of sharpness in the instrument which accompanies it; as in the harp, the violin, or the harpsichord: the flute, and even the organ have too much of the same quality of sound; they give no relief to the voice; it is like accompanying smooth water with smooth banks; yet will any one say, that separately considered, the sound of the harp or the violin is as beautiful as that of a fine human voice, or that they ought to be classed together? or that discords are as beautiful as concords, or that both are beautiful, because when they are mixed with judgment, the whole is more delightful? Does not this show that what is very justly called beautiful, from the essential qualities of beauty being predominant, is frequently, nay generally composite; and that we act against the constant practice of nature and of judicious art, when we endeavour to make objects more beautiful, by depriving them of what gives beauty some of its most powerful attractions?
[But why does the human voice affect us more powerfully than the sound of a musical instrument? Is it because its tones are finer, more delicate, or more powerful? I suspect not. The most magnificent human voices can be excelled in all these particulars by certain instruments, when played on by the best performers. The greater influence which the human voice possesses over us, arises from the circumstance of its being the human voice. For, as the influence which instrumental music has over us, arises from the association which its tones awaken with the feelings and passions of human nature, so it follows, that the human voice, as being more immediately connected with these, must be in itself a superior vehicle for their expression. It has also the immense advantage of being able to give utterance to those sentiments of poetry, with which the notes have been harmoniously associated. In support of this view, the experience of every one must bear witness to the fact, that it is by no means always the finest voice, considering it as an instrument, that most deeply touches the human heart, and that feeling and powerful expression, will always awaken more chords of sympathy, and more general emotions in the minds of the authors, than the finest toned voices can possibly do without it. Nay, the very power which instrumental music possesses over us, depends entirely on the extent to which this mental feeling and expression can be imitated.--E.]
1. Sublime and Beautiful, p. 66.
2. Cicero de Officiis, Lib. 1.
3. In the appendix.
4. Sublime and Beautiful, Part II. Sec I.
5. Essay on Design in Gardening, by Mr. George Mason, page 201.
6. Iliad, b. xx., 1.56.