« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
not here offered, were content to acquiesce in the popular cosmogony as affording the only possible basis for art at all. The medieval artist, by reason of the entrance through Christianity into this life of a revelation connecting it with a vast scheme, a revelation involving truths beyond precise comprehension, was carried into dealing with imperfectly ascertained knowledge, with human life as encircled by mystery, with the 'something from beyond his present being.' The Middle Ages painted man's destiny on earth in sombre colours, exalting by comparison the unstained light of heaven which it was man's privilege and duty to attain. In the hour of his trial and of his weakness, Christianity held out to him the promise of a divine assistance. His weakness was his only plea, and revelation the pledge of a heavenly home. Without a future to which he could thus flee for refuge in the season of affliction, forced back upon himself, the Greek exalted the life of untroubled Stoic or Epicurean acceptance of the gifts of fortune, of evil as of good. The dignity of man was thus accentuated, in contradistinction to his sin and frailty which were the key to the medieval economy of life. While then Greek art brought into necessary prominence the consolations open to the spirit in the eternal shapes of beauty offered in Nature to be enjoyed as long as life lasted, and left in the background the unexplored because inaccessible provinces of ultimate truths which served no end in art, Christian artists, because an opening had been made into that hitherto untravelled world, dwelt upon the glories that eye had not seen nor ear heard, and their art was the product of imagination conscious of an eternal life and abiding spiritual presences on earth.
The classic spirit in art is for ever associated with form
and calm and order; the medieval with colour, enthusiasm and mystery for the one believed in the senses, and fed them with beauty, keeping as its ideal, 'self-reverence, selfknowledge, self-control;' the other discredited the earthly senses, and starved them, and had for its ideal, selfabandonment, a knowledge of God, and spiritual rapture. Approaching truth by analysis, Greek art draws in outline. and speaks a direct language; approaching truth by intuition and faith, Christian art paints in colour, and speaks in symbol. The Greek, like Sophocles, believed in the real world with all its certainties. He saw all that he did see with unfailing clearness of vision; and the spirit of precision and simplicity bears rule in the sphere of his artistic creation. The Christian of the Middle Ages, like Dante, believed in an invisible world, with all its splendours and glories seen only by the eye of the soul; and inspired fervour, emotional glow, are the marks of his art. The light streaming from that other world transforms and irradiates this. Christian morality was a morality of personal devotion to a Divine Master, informed by the passionate desire for a harmony with the will of God, according to the law of love. In it the emotional element dominated the merely intellectual. Classic morality, at its highest point, with the Greek and Roman philosophers, was a morality of adherence to an impersonal law, a high resolve of the intellect to live in harmony with the order of the Kosmos, or, in the well-known phrase according to Nature.' Each attitude of mind due to its surrounding conditions had noble qualities of its own; and to the artistic expression of each belonged, as has been suggested, the noble qualities natural and proper to itself.
We are accustomed to call all great art classic, since the
qualities of repose, symmetry, and simplicity, possessed by the best Greek art, are qualities indispensable to high artistic creation, whatever others may be added to them. Thus Dante and Shakespere are classic, because, though they deal with vastly more complicated issues than Sophocles or Euripides allowed themselves, and permit their imaginations to push out into an ocean of mystery over which the Greek poets never voyaged, in spite of this, their poetical creation has the sharpness of outline, both in idea and language, of classic poetry dealing with much simpler issues. In the main conceptions, and in the details, of Dante and Shakespere, there are added to sharpness of outline, a passion and a depth, a glow of heat and colour, and a suggestiveness, for which it will be vain to look in any Greek writer. Thus Shakespere and Dante, and, indeed, all modern artists of the very first class, are both classic and romantic. They have the clear-cut serenity, the bareness of idea, the precision, the directness of appeal, such as is made by a statue by Phidias, with the wider range, the richness and the fervour of a painting by Raphael or Michael Angelo. In English literature, Milton is the great classic: not that he is unversed in the changed aspects of all human problems due to Christianity, but because he had imbibed the spirit of Greek art by long and close acquaintanceship with its best products. He is classic by his self-possession and by the simplicity of his motives, by the avoidance, in his character-drawing, of any lines save of outline delineation, by the clearness of his main scheme, and the subordination of parts to the whole, and by the sure, sustained dignity. of his metrical movement. Milton closes one and opens another era. When we come to the so-called Augustan age of English literature, to the so-called classical writers, Dryden
and Pope and Johnson, we find it classical in a sense, but not in the real sense. Dryden and Pope and Johnson possess the qualities of simplicity, repose, precision; but they are simple because they deal only with the surface-facts of life, calm because they have never known in themselves what it is to be profoundly moved, precise because they merely repeat in terser phrase the current opinions of the time. Simplicity, repose, precision, are only admirable and precious when threatened by imaginative wealth, emotional fervour, intellectual profundity-only admirable when preserved in spite of and amidst these splendid dangers. Pope and his followers were in perfect security from these dangers; and the classic qualities of their verse, therefore, nominal rather than real, cannot be rated high. The reaction against this pseudo-classicism had set in before Keats' bright star rose above the literary horizon; but it was left for him to break more utterly away from the traditions of the poetic method so long supreme than any other English poet, save, perhaps, Landor, born twenty years before him, and whose first volume was published in the year in which Keats was born. Keats' genius was not nourished upon contemporary literature. His first inspiration, like his poetic awakening, was due to Spenser and the 'Faery Queen.' The Elizabethans, not the men of Queen Anne's reign, were his ancestors. At school he was remarkable chiefly for his combative spirit, his delight in battle; but when Spenser's glorious planet swam into his ken, his destiny was determined from that hour poetry was supreme with him, he was pure poet. 'Had there been no such thing as literature, Keats would have dwindled into a cypher,' said De Quincey; but the record of his early life proves him to have been no sentimental girl, whose day - dreams are her most serious
occupation. At school he cared little for books, and was the leader in war. At fifteen years of age the tide turned, and he became a voracious reader; but, had there been no such thing as literature, he would probably have chosen a military life, and achieved distinction therein. It is not surprising that Spenser should have so fastened upon his imagination. The Poets' Poet,' with his magnificent superfluity of graces, his luxuriance of language and of melody, his splendours of colour, his seriousness of purpose intermingled with the magic thread of romance, fascinates, and will continue to fascinate, all imaginative minds. Keats was taken captive, Spenser's golden chain was riveted upon his wrist, and though at basis his genius was of Hellenic stamp, he was made willing bondman in the service of romanticism. Undisciplined as all Elizabethan poetry is, as compared with ancient models, Spenser is chief offender, the most undisciplined of all. The 'Faery Queen' is a poetic wilderness, a place of true enchantment; but a wilderness in which we easily lose our way, though without regret. Keats' early manner is the manner of Spenser; but it was not there that his real mastery lay. There meet in him the Renaissance feeling for beauty, the Hellenic delight in perfect form, and the new passion for Nature lately entered into the sphere of the poet. We find in him all these elements; but there can be little doubt that, as Hyperion' shows, the bent of mind towards simplicity would have in the end predominated, had he attained poetic maturity. The various elements are all present in him, but when he speaks in his most mature tone, it is the accent of Sophocles, not the accent of Spenser, we hear
'The moving waters at their priest-like task