« PreviousContinue »
suggest to the actual spectator; so that it should contain no idea extraneous to the idea inherently possessed by the root-reality of the pictorial or descriptive theme; so that no vestige should remain of Mr. Ruskin's 'pathetic fallacy,' the ascription to nature of human moods, sympathies, or affinities. And what Mr. Ruskin has done, with always a leading reference to the art of Turner, Mr. Palgrave has attempted (the limitations he defines in his preface) with reference to poetry alone. He has recorded, by means of annotated quotations from the descriptive passages of the poets of successive ages, from the era of the Greek epic to that of the Tennysonian landscape, the standpoints of literary vision, a vision which, to a certain extent, was dominated by the same influences and swayed by the same tendencies as those affecting contemporaneous pictorial art.
Between the first and the last stages of such developements, between the representation of the symbolic ear of corn held in the hands of Ceres upon a Greek vase and the harvest-field of an open-air painter of modern France ; between the lotus, with its heart-shaped leaf rising above the sacred waters of the Nile or the Ganges, and the weed-grown pond of to-day's art, lie innumerable intermediate phases. And each phase may be said to exhibit more or less an accurate picture of the changes in the intellectual attitude adopted by man towards nature at large which lies at the base of all landscape art. They are, indeed, attitudes that often elude rigid classification. Yet, while the currents of men's thoughts and imaginations crossed and recrossed, fused, and interlinked one with another, two alternating tendencies are plainly apparent even to the least practised observer. Everywhere, and in all branches of landscape, reader or picture seer can detect unaided the wide chasm separating at all times the work of men whose view of nature and its embodiment in art is based primarily upon the relationship nature bears, the correspondences which may be found in her, to things within, beyond, or beside herself, from the work of those whose survey of natural forms and appearances is taken from a wholly diverse standpoint; who recognise no such relationships, no correspondences, mystical, symbolical, or sympathetic, who discard all ideas of associations divine or human, who view nature--so far as it may prove possible in herself and for herself alone.
Upon a clear comprehension of these two attitudes of mind-the one, broadly speaking, characteristic of ancient, the other of modern days--all judgement of landscape, either upon the canvas of the painter or the page of the writer, must assuredly be based, if the verdict is in any way to estimate in what measure the achievement corresponds to the aim, in what measure it embodies the artist's conception of the things of nature with his conception of the nature of things.
In the earliest phases of art, first symbolical, then mythical, belonging to ancient civilisations, of which the relics or the records have been fragmentarily preserved for the world of to-day, the representation of inanimate nature-landscape, in the accepted sense of the word-had little place, according to the received opinion of antiquarian specialists. During those remote epochs when the figures of the great nations of the East loom through the mist of ages, men's highest conception of nature, as it has been interpreted, written on stones and echoed in traditions, was a conception which regarded creation as the materialised form of universal life. "Toute vie fut considérée
comme matière, et toute matière comme vivante.'* Starting from such a conception, it is easily credible that the imaginations of men, as they came gradually, in the course of a natural developement, to recognise a severance between life and matter, between the form and the essence of vitality, between the phenomena produced and the force producing and regulating phenomena, should be riveted no longer upon the material substance before their eyes and in touch of their hands, but upon the evasive, unfetterable, indestructible life of which the stone they could shatter and shape, the tree they could plant and fell, the fire they could kindle, the water they could imprison, bore but the sacramental lineaments. Things thus seen changed their aspect. Where matter and life had been accepted as one and indivisible there crept in a new duality, a new separability. The visible substance men had primarily regarded as the very form of life, came to be regarded no more as the form but as the mask of life; as the veil secreting unseen presences. Earth, with its vegetable growths, its rocks and rivers, with all things that fashioned themselves, cloud, flame, and vapour, in, by, or from the elements, were no longer identified, except by popular superstitions, with the deities adored under their semblance. The fetish men had worshipped,
aite, came to be had primarilyew separa
* Creuzer: Religions de l'Antiquité (translated by Guigniaut). Paris : 1825-51.
the talisman they had venerated, as possessing inherent divine qualities, became for them only the manifestation or the consecrated emblem of godheads. La vie et la matière se séparent insensiblement l'une de l'autre... on distingua une matière grossière et visible, une matière subtile et invisible ; enfin l'élément spirituel et l'élément matériel firent entre eux un divorce complet- la matière
fut déclarée morte, l'esprit seul vivant.' So M. Guigniaut describes the process of one of the transitional phases of thought by which the idol of wood or stone, sacred in itself, was transmuted into the symbol, sacred by ascription only; the process by which the outward visible form became the mere image of the invisible actuality.
Language adopted the imagery, if it did not initiate it, in its primitive metaphors, art in its primitive embodiments. Symbolism, defined as "tout ce que représentait quelque
chose ou quelqu'un par convention ou par analogie ... 'une représentation qui ne vise pas à être une reproduction,' established its own systems of interpretation, redeeming nature-worship from the cruder idolatries of gross substances. While speech and art, each after its own manner, reflected and formulated ideas of imputed correspondences existing between things visible and things invisible, between the image and that which the image symbolised. And each after its own method crystallised such imagery and such symbolism in the inscriptions and the scriptures, in the carved or painted heraldries of primitive religions.
And, appealing thus to men’s religious imaginations, natural objects and those effects of colour, atmosphere, light and shadow, and distance we are accustomed to associate with the abstract idea of landscape would seem to have possessed little or no intrinsic interest for either the eyes or the minds of men. Ancient nations--Assyria, sensuous and savage, Egypt, with its profound wisdom and serene strength, India, with its network of intricate philosophy, even, though in a less degree, Greece, with its love of loveliness if they looked on sky or sea or earth, if they were conscious of the luminous expanses above them, of the infinite graduations of daylight and twilight and darkness, of the countless variations of cloud-forms and cloud-colours, of the tinted outlines of hills and mountains, the lights and shadows that wing their way over plains and fields, the phantom and fleeting panoramas of water reflexions, have left their impressions untranslated in pictorial art. And, accepting the consensus of opinion,
mulated nd art, eachder idolatterpretatio repro
light and sha the abstract 10 intrinsic int
ied by sy adored artic appreciati
we must conjecture that, if it be true that all emotional perception tends spontaneously towards expression, articulate or other, ancient races were for the most part emotionally, and therefore æsthetically, blind to all those things of which landscape art presents a decorative or imitative counterpart; that in the symbolic utilisation of nature's forms and semblances its actualities became virtually effaced from their perceptive vision.
Yet, if inanimate nature in and for itself made little or no impression upon the aesthetic appreciation of the ancient world, in primitive sacred art—the origin of all art—the place occupied by symbols drawn from natural growths and natural phenomena was necessarily large. In the great section of symbolic art belonging to early stages of those pantheistic faiths where the permeating idea was a conception of earth as the life-giver and life-producer, with light as the dominating vital influence, earth-forms, trees, fruits, and flowers, are no less continuously portrayed than are light-forms of sun, moon, and stars, and animal-forms of beast, bird, and fish. Trees of Life, under all manners and guises, meet us at every turn. The most cursory examination of the reproductions of ancient symbols exhibits them in every botanical variety. The date-palms, with their widespread signification, symbols de la nature généra(trice,'* the cone-shaped cypress, of which the cult was so widely diffused with interpretations varying according to its localisation in different climes and countries, the pomegranate, emblem of fecundity. The fig, the sycamore, the plane, the pine--all found their way into the symbolic world of art or language, with the ash of northern mythology, the mistletoe of Balder's death, the oaks of the oracles and of the Druids' groves, the apples of the Hesperides, the orchard of Iduna, the myrtle of Artemis, the laurel of Apollo, the olive of Minerva. Dans les 'mystères d’Eleusis on exhibait comme le grand, l'admirable, • le plus parfait objet de contemplation mystique un épi
parfaitile from th its heavism and ofs Horus, ciple
de blé,'t while from the remotest ages that floating water-plant the lotus, with its heart-shaped leaf and cup of white, red, or blue, the lotus of Sivaism and of Isis, in whose chalice Brahma slept, amongst whose petals Horus was cradled, symbolised for vast nations the feminine principle of all living things, and has stamped its sacred pattern on
* La Migration des Symboles. Goblet d'Alviella. Paris : 1891.
op Goblet d'Alviella,
aspects, obliteral features intod reproduc
pillar and column and wall of the temples of long-lost gods and on the tomb-palaces of long-dead kings.
And it is in these ever-recurrent symbols—howsoever variously they may be interpreted in respect to the religious creeds and beliefs with which they were associated or allied -that we may read some record of the attitude of vision from which the men of those remote epochs regarded things in their actual semblance and substance, seeking in such symbols God ' le grand Absent.' In them we may trace, if not the influence of a perpetually emphasised conception of the emblematical significance of nature upon the perceptive faculties of outward vision, at least its influence upon the principles of representation and reproduction in art. Resolving individual features into their most obvious typical aspects, obliterating particularities of form and colour, inducing an absolute indifference to truth of presentment in so far as such truth was unessential to the clear expression of the thing symbolised, the artist of those bygone ages developed the same tendencies towards simplification and conventionalisation which in later times characterised distinctively the decorative, heraldic, and ornamental arts of mediæval Europe. Nor are there wanting indications in the symbolic revivals of certain modern schools of art and literature that we still hold many an ancestral bequest handed down the centuries from a half-obliterated past. * Le symbolisme,' writes a recent literary critic, dans ce qu'il 'y a de plus profond ne consiste donc qu'à reproduire de
façon artificielle les démarches spontanées de l'imagination • primitive.'* And if the tendency in pictorial art of certain corresponding schools has not been precisely towards simplification, it has had this in common with the art of old—that all likeness to nature has been effaced when such likeness proved superfluous or detrimental to the intellectual appreciation of the significance of the things pictured.
But the symbolic periods of primitive thought were not destined to reign exclusively over the art and literature of the ancient world. New conceptions, as the centuries passed onwards, hovered around the old symbols. Matter and spirit were to enter upon a new stage of their partially dissolved alliance when human imagination à la fois • enfantine et créatrice' took a further step during the era of mythical personifications of nature and her forces. The myth, however, proved as efficient as the symbol in obscuring
ponding scha this in comen effaced when