Page images
PDF
EPUB

ustifiable in afterwards assigning his reasons for rejecting the parts omitted. Solon's second letter never reached either the Editor, or the writer of that part of the retrospect which censured his former letter, notwithstanding Solon's malicious insinuation, that his letter may have been lost without meeting the eve of either. Nothing is more unfair than dealing in insinuations. We trust the characters we have hitherto supported in life, will effectually shield us from all such unfair attacks. The writer, who substitutes insinuations instead of argument, forfeits all claims to be admitted into the lists of fair controversy.

For the Belfast Monthly Magazine.

IN

ON THE WORD PICTURESQUE.
SIR,

N their refined speculations on the nature and objects of taste, ingenious authors are apt to confuse their readers, and, at length, to grow confused themselves, by an excess of minute attention, which, in reality, brings the subject too close to the eye for clear and distinct vision. Truth lies in the natural view of things, not in the microscopical; and after dwelling long on the nice distinctions of philosophical criticism, we find it difficult, by this overstraining of the mental eye, to recognize, what had before, instantly, and instinctive y, excited our sympathy, or attracted our ad

miration.

[merged small][ocr errors]

good painter. "Ut pictura, poesis." That is, poetry is or ought to be a speaking picture, or picturesque, and poetic images are, chiefly, such lively and picturesque copies of visual impressions, which memory recals, and fancy combines, in the manner best calculated to attract, and fir attention.

The generality of poetic images have been so often brought before us, in wearisome iteration, that such images, themselves mere shadows of impressions of the sense, being thus still farther diluted as it were, into mere shadows of a shade, they lose all power of stimulating the memory, or exciting the imagination. The ear only, is visited by a succession of pleasing sounds, and the words pass over it, without any correspondent ideas; a chosen few have, however, the talent of inverting this order, and by a seeming creation, or by a happy combination, can communicate to the ideas of memory, or to the imagery of fancy, all the liveliness and full eflect of actual sensible impressions. "His ardent fancy, says Gibbon, kindled every idea to a sentiment, and every sentiment to a passion." The words, the ideas, the sensible impression, the correspondent feelings, form the links of the chain of association, which genius traverses, like the flame of electricity, with such rapidity indeed, that the effect of the whole on the reader of sensibility, is simultaneous. Hence, the power of ideal imagery, complicated as it is with its train of associations, often exceeds that of our simple, and unconnected sensations.

Whenever the attention of the reader is arrested by the descriptive, or figurative creations or combinations of the poet, in such a manner that the images excited partake in a great degree of the strength and vividness of the sen

sible impression, then the term Picturesque is properly applied. This word however, like most other terms, diverges from its original application, the scenery of nature, to the expression of many analogous ideas. Each word in our language may be said to have one direct or vertical meaning, and from that perpendicular, descend, in oblique lines, the metaphorical applications. These in all their grades, are but repeated examples of that great and constantly operating law of our nature, the associating principle. This principle may be compared to the cel lular substance in the anatomy of the body, which is the great conpecting medium of every organ of the human frame, and even of every part of the same organ; and it is matter of surprise, how the author of philosophical essays,* can be so hostile to the Hartleyan Hypothesis,

when his whole book, or at least the better part of it, is one continuel, and beautiful illustration of the agency and predominance of the associating principle, throughout all the philosophy of mind.

Now when the reader's attention is arrested; when he stops to admire; when the figurative language rivals the vivacity of visual impression, so as to make us think we actually saw, what is only recounted; the description, whether of nature in general, or of human nature, or of the works of art; it may still be properly called picturesque.

An example or two will best illustrate this, and as common examples, by use, pall upon the ear, and do not sufficiently excite atten

tion;
I shall endeavour to assist, by
their novelty, the picturesque effect.
The first is from Beaumont and
Fletcher, the second from Plautus.

• Dugald Stewart.

Fie! you have miss'd it here, Antiphila,
These colours are not dull, and pale enough,

To show a soul so full of misery,
As this sad lady's was-do it by me,
Put me on th' island.-

I stand upon the sea-beach, now, and think,
Mine arms, thus, and mine hair blown by

the wind

Wild as that desert, and let all about me
Be teachers of my story-do my face
If thou hadst ever feeling of a sorrow
Thus thus, Antiphila-strive to make me

look

[ocr errors]

Like sorrow's monument, and the trees

about me

Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks
Groan with continual surges, and behind

[blocks in formation]

A miserable life of this poor picture.

Here, the description is so lively that we summon up in our fanWe cy, the impressions of sense. do not rest on the words and words alone, as in the generality of cases, but we proceed from the signs to the things signified, by a pleasing effort of the mind, which is stimulated by novelty into action, instead of passively receiving, through the ear, a succession of sounding syllables. It is picturesque, and the following from old Piauis is not less

So.

How pleasing that a picture drawn two thousand years ago, should still be so fresh and lively in its colouring!

Dx...Quid vides? Sc. Mulierculas
Video, sedentes in scapha sola duas,
Neque gubernator usquam illis esse potuit.
Ut afflictantur misella! luge, quge, perbene,
Ab saxo avortet fluctus ad littus scapham,
Non vidisse undas me majores censeo.
Salvæ sunt, si illos fluctus devitaverint;
Nunc nunc, periculum est, ejecit alteram,
At in vado 'st; jam facile enabit. Eu-
gepa!

Viden alteram illam ut fluctus ejecit foras;
Surrexit, horsum se capessit: salva res.
Desilivit hæc autem altera in terram a

[blocks in formation]

re

This is certainly a picturesque description. We see the figures move on the retina of imagination, almost as distinctly as they would appear on the retina of the eye. I should think that this term retina may be derived, with more philosophical truth, from the verb " tineo" to retain, than from rete a net, to which the mere expansion of the optic nerve has little resemblance. It is now ascertained*, that the visual impressions from external objects, are really retained for a longer or shorter time, according to their vividness on the retina, considered as the expansion of the optic nerve; and it is more than probable, that the brain itself, that great mass of nerve, which is called the sensorium, has the organic power of retaining still longer the vestiges of impressions from external objects. When the power of attention is exerted, these vestiges of the original impressions are perceived, or it may be said, felt in the brain, or common sensorium, and are named ideas of memory, or if they happen to be combined, not as they were at first received, but in a new order of association, they are then denominated ideas of imagination.

In some cases of extreme sensibility, the effect of the original constitution, and not infrequently the effects of disease, these ideas become so vivid as to be mistaken for real impressions, and excite just the same sensations as are excited by surrounding objects. They then constitute the phrenzy of the poet, or the delirium of the common mau. In a less degree of sensibility, it is called a faithful memory or a lively imagination.

Of all the senses, the objects of

See the most ingenious paper of Dr. E. Darwin on ocular spectra, inserted in the Zoonomia.

sight, seem to leave the most permanent impressions; and the correspondent vestiges or ideas in the brain, are the most frequently, and therefore the most readily, summoned up, and recognized. In our dreams, which may be called the scattered and confuse vestiges of our senses, those of sight form always the principal assemblage, and dreams are therefore justly entitled to the epithet picturesque, being the floating pictures or copies of the impressions from external objects, which remain on the brain, during a state of semi or sub-excitement.

The term idea, or image has, indeed, given rise to a deceptive phraseology, apparently implying that the organic changes or phases of the brain which take place from the sensible impressions of external things, are as perfect resemblances and miniature copies of these objects, as the picture on the retina of the eye is of the external objects to which that organ is directed. A mere optical phenomenon, observed no doubt from the earliest times, confined to one of the senses only, but that one which has the most prevailing influence in our waking or sleeping states, has given rise to the long received theory of ideology, and has indeed modified all modern languages, in correspondence to that theory. Because there is a picture or image of external objects formed at the bottom of the eye, we have no reason to conclude that the organic change of the brain, whatever it may be, is from the transmission of a similar picture or image to the brain itself, under the new denomination of idea. Much less ground have we to apply a theory so unsupported by fact in regard to the sense of sight, to the other senses. ald of which however the same phraseology has been applied, founded on the particular phenomenon present

Το

ed on the bottom of the eye, by the refraction of light through its differ

ent humours. We talk of the ideas of taste, of touch, and of sounds, as well as of sight, and if we had said images, (a synonimous word,) the absurdity must appear manifest.

I should imagine the term vestiges, to be the most appropriate and truly descriptive, as applied to the changes produced on the brain by the impressions through the senses, not merely in their present and inmediate operation, but leaving behind these traces or vestiges, which are, in their natural order, called ideas of memory, and in a nove combination, the ideas of fancy. The most creative imagination is restricted to the materials supplied by the organs of sense, in its wildest combinations, and he who ascends " the brightest heaven of invention," must receive what may be called his raw materials, through the portals of the five senses, like the most common of mortals.

Whether awake, or in our dreams, the term Picturesque can with propriety be applied only to the impressions or the vestiges of the sense of sight. Our dreams are Picturesque, as being chiefly employed in the retracement of visual impressions, and the picturesque effect is the more lively from the absence, during sleep, of all impressions of the other senses. A man born blind, or who, like Dr. Blacklock, had become so, in his infancy, must be deprived of this nocturnal imagery, and, it is probable, is therefore less disposed to dream than other people. It is likely too, that after confinement, for a certain time, in total darkness, the vestiges of visual impression would become so completely effaced, that we should never dream of external objects as conveyed to us by the sight, which is now receiving such constant and reiterated stimulus,

.

during our waking hours, as will not entirely ceasc during our sleeping

ones.

There may be an application of the term Picturesque to Painting, and a picturesque landscape, &c. expresses only a choice, yet chaste selection of the most striking beau ties in the scenery of nature. The Picturesque in Poetry is such a lively description as arrests the attention, and makes us, in the faith of a warm fancy, and a feeling heart, almost mistake the vestiges on the brain, for the actual impressions of the sense. Thus to give another example or two:

Arcite is grimly visaged: yet his eye
Is like an engine bent, or a sharp wea

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

their queen.

Her legs were buskin'd, and the left be-
føre

In act to shoot: a silver bow she bore,
And on her back a painted quiver wore.
She trod a waxing moon that soon would
waine,

And drinking borrow'd life, be filled again.
With downcast eyes, as seeming to survey,
The dark dominions her alternate sway.

Our most picturesque poet, or ra-
ther the best miniature painter in
poetry, who has appeared of late
He seems,
years, is Dr. Darwin.
however, to have been led into a
faulty extreme, by dwelling almost
exclusively on visual impressions,
without borrowing much from those
other sources, which affect the common
sy apathies of our nature.

The term Picturesque is equally applicable to prose as to poetry, and a picturesque stile is perhaps the most desirable, by the impression it never fails to make on the reader. Let us take an example or two from Gibbon.

"In the more simple state of the Arabs, the nation is free, because

each of her sons disdains a base submission to the will of a master. His breast is fortified with the austere virtues of courage, patience, and sobriety: the love of independence prompts him to exercise the habits of self-command, and the fear of dishonour guards him from the meaner apprehensions of pain of danger, and of death. The gravity and firmness of his mind is conspicuous in his outward demeanor. His speech is slow, weighty and concise: he is seldom provoked to laughter; his only gesture is that of stroking his beard, the venerable symbol of manhood, and the sense of his own importance teaches him to accost his equals without levity, and his superiors without awe." A second picture from the same author, who unites the copiousness of Livy, with the condensation of Tacitus, and from whom it is most difficult to take a word away without destroying a beauty, or of adding a word without feebling the vigour of the sentiment.

ec

With a golden apple in his hand, he slowly walked between two lines of contending beauties: his eye was detained by the charms of Icasia, and in the aukwardness of a first declaration, the prince could only observe, that, in this world, women had been the cause of much eviland surely, sir, she pertly replied, they have likewise been the occasion of much good. This affectation of unseasonable wit displeased the imperial lover: he turned aside in disgust. Icasia concealed her mortification in a convent; and the modest silence of Theodora was rewarded with the golden apple.”

Thus the picturesque in poetry as in prose appears to be placed in the art or talent of summoning up the ideas or vestiges of visual impressions, in such a defined and forcible manner, as to affect us nearly in the same degree as actual sensations. I shall not dwell at present on the me

« PreviousContinue »