Principle in Art, Etc.

Principle in Art, Etc.
Title: Principle in Art, Etc.
Release Date: 2018-05-21
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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C O V E N T R Y   P A T M O R E





With one exception, namely the last Paper in the Collection, whichappeared in the Fortnightly Review, all these Essays were printed inthe St. James’s Gazette during the editorship of Mr. Greenwood. TheEssay on “Architectural Styles” contains a summary of principles which Istated, some thirty years ago, in various Articles, chiefly in theEdinburgh Review. As this Essay now stands, I hope that readers, whohave knowledge enough to enable them to judge, will find in it anexample of the kind of criticism which I have advocated earlier in thevolume.





I.Principle in Art 1
II.Real Apprehension6
III.Seers, Thinkers, and Talkers14
IV.Possibilities and Performances25
V.Cheerfulness in Life and Art31
VI.The Point of Rest in Art37
IX.Poetical Integrity56
X. The Poetry of Negation62
XI.The Limitations of Genius67
XII. Love and Poetry72
XIV.What Shelley was87{viii}
XVI.Rossetti as a Poet103
XVII. Mr. Swinburne’s Selections112
XVIII. Arthur Hugh Clough118
XIX. Emerson125
XX. Crabbe and Shelley134
XXI. Shall Smith have a Statue?141
XXII. Ideal and Material Greatness in Architecture146
XXIV.Architectural Styles160
XXV. Thoughts on Knowledge, Opinion, and Inequality202



It is not true, though it has so often been asserted, that criticism isof no use or of little use to art. This notion prevails so widely onlybecause—among us at least—criticism has not been criticism. Tocriticise is to judge; to judge requires judicial qualification; andthis is quite a different thing from a natural sensitiveness to beauty,however much that sensitiveness may have become heightened by conversewith refined and beautiful objects of nature and works of art.“Criticism,” which has been the outcome only of such sensitiveness andsuch converse, may be, and often is,—delightful reading, and isnaturally far more popular than criticism which is truly judicial. Thepseudo-criticism, of which we have had such floods during the pasthalf-century, delights by sympathy with, and perhaps expansion of, ourown sensations;{2} true criticism appeals to the intellect, and rebukesthe reader as often as it does the artist for his ignorance and hismistakes. Such criticism may not be able to produce good art; but badart collapses at the contact of its breath, as the steam in the cylinderof an engine collapses on each admission of the spray of cold water; andthus, although good criticism cannot produce art, it removes endlesshindrances to its production, and tends to provide art with its chiefmotive-power, a public prepared to acknowledge it. The enunciation of asingle principle has sometimes, almost at a blow, revolutionised notonly the technical practice of an art, but the popular taste with regardto it. Strawberry Hill Gothic vanished like a nightmare when Pugin forthe first time authoritatively asserted and proved that architecturaldecoration could never properly be an addition to constructive features,but only a fashioning of them. The truth was manifest at once to amateuras well as to architect; and this one principle proves to have containeda power even of popular culture far greater than all the splendid“sympathetic” criticism which followed during the next fifty years. Andit has done nothing but good, whereas the latter kind of writing,together with much good, has done much harm. Pugin’s insight did notenable him to discover the almost equally{3} clear and simple principlewhich governs the special form of decoration that properly characteriseseach of the great styles of architecture. Therefore, while his law ofconstructional decoration compelled all succeeding “critics” to keepwithin its bounds, they were still free to give the rein to mere fancyas to the nature of the decoration itself; and this has been becomingworse and worse in proportion as critics and architects of genius, butof no principle, have departed from the dry tradition of decorative formwhich prevailed in Pugin’s day, and which finds its orthodox expressionin Parker’s Glossary and the elementary works of Bloxam and Rickman.Sensitiveness or natural “taste,” apart from principle, is, in art, whatlove is apart from truth in morals. The stronger it is, the further itis likely to go wrong. Nothing can be more tenderly “felt” than a schoolof painting which is now much in favour; but, for want of knowledge andmasculine principle, it has come to delight in representing ugliness andcorruption in place of health and beauty. Venus or Hebe becomes, in itshands, nothing but a Dame aux Camélias in the last stage of moral andphysical deterioration. A few infallible and, when once uttered,self-evident principles would at once put a stop to this sort ofrepresentation among{4} artists; and the public would soon learn to berepelled by what now most attracts them, being thenceforward guided by acritical conscience, which is the condition of “good taste.”

There is little that is conclusive or fruitful in any of the criticismof the present day. The very name that it has chosen, “Æsthetics,”contains an implied admission of its lack of virility or principle. Wedo not think of Lessing’s Laocoön, which is one of the finest piecesof critical writing in the world, as belonging to “Æsthetics”; and, likeit, the critical sayings of Goethe and Coleridge seem to appertain to ascience deserving a nobler name—a science in which truth stands firstand feeling second, and of which the conclusions are demonstrable andirreversible. A critic of the present day, in attempting to describe thedifference between the usual construction of a passage by Fletcher andone by Shakespeare, would beat helplessly about the bush, telling usmany things about the different sorts of feelings awakened by the oneand by the other, and concluding, and desiring to conclude, nothing.Coleridge in a single sentence defines the difference, and establishesShakespeare’s immeasurable superiority with the clearness and finalityof a mathematical statement; and the delight of the reader ofShakespeare is for ever heightened be{5}cause it is less than before azeal without knowledge.

There already exists, in the writings and sayings of Aristotle, Hegel,Lessing, Goethe, and others, the greater part of the materials necessaryfor the formation of a body of Institutes of Art which would supersedeand extinguish nearly all the desultory chatter which now passes forcriticism, and which would go far to form a true and abiding populartaste—one which could render some reason for its likings anddislikings. The man, however, who could put such materials together andadd such as are wanting does not live; or at any rate he is not known.Hegel might have done it, had his artistic perception been as fine andstrong as his intellect; which would then have expressed its conclusionswithout the mist of obscurity in which, for nearly all readers, they areat present shrouded. In the meantime it would be well if the professedcritic would remember that criticism is not the expression, howeverpicturesque and glowing, of the faith that is in him, but the renderingof sound and intelligible reasons for that faith.{6}


“Man,” says Dr. Newman, “is not a reasoning animal; he is a seeing,feeling, contemplating, acting animal.” To see rightly is the first ofhuman qualities; right feeling and right acting are usually itsconsequences. There are two ways of seeing: one is to comprehend, whichis to see all round a thing, or to embrace it; one is to apprehend,which is to see it in part, or to take hold of it. A thing may be reallytaken hold of which is much too big for embracing. Real apprehensionimplies reality in that which is apprehended. You cannot “take hold” ofthat which is nothing. The notional grasp which some people seem to haveof clouds and mares’ nests is a totally different thing from realapprehension; though what this difference is could scarcely be madeclear to those who have no experience of the latter. A man may not beable to convey to another his real apprehension of{7} a thing; but therewill be something in his general character and way of discoursing whichwill convince you, if you too are a man acquainted with realities, thathe has truly got hold of what he professes to have got hold of, and youwill be wary of denying what he affirms. The man of real apprehensions,or the truly sensible man, has no opinions. Many things may be dubiousto him; but if he is compelled to act without knowledge, he does sopromptly, being prompt to discern which of the doubtful ways before himis the least questionable, on the ground of such evidence as he has. Asto what he sees to be true or right, he does not argue with the personwho differs from him upon a vital point, but only avoids his company,or, if he be of an irascible temperament, feels inclined to knock himdown. Of course there are some people who see things which do not exist;but this is lunacy, and beyond the scope of these remarks. Realapprehension is emphatically the quality which constitutes “good sense.”Common good sense has a real apprehension of innumerable things whichthose who add to good sense learning and reflection may comprehend; butthere is much that must for ever remain matter only of real apprehensionto the best seers; that is to say, everything in which the infinite hasa part, i.e. all religion, all virtue as distinguished from tem{8}poraryexpediency, the grounds of all true art, etc. A man may have an immenseacquaintance with facts; he may have all history and the whole circle ofthe sciences on the tip of his tongue; he may be the author of aclassical system of logic, or may have so cunningly elaborated a falsetheory of nature as to puzzle and infuriate the wisest of men: and yetmay not really apprehend any part of the truth of life which is properlyhuman knowledge. At the present time it is by politics chiefly that thedifference between the two great classes of men is made apparent. Forthe first time in English history, party limitations coincide almostexactly with the limitations which separate silly from sensible men. Ifyou talk with a sincere Gladstonian—and, wonderful to say, there arestill many such—you will soon find that he has no real apprehension ofanything. He only feebly and foolishly opines.

It is not to be concluded from what has been said that the possession ofthe apprehending faculty in any way supersedes the good of learning. Thepower of really apprehending is nothing in the absence of realities tobe apprehended. In the great field of ordinary social relationships andduties the subject-matter of such apprehension is largely supplied byindividual experience, and the exercise by most men of that faculty isin

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