Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

courage of rude warriors, and the dangers of savage life, will he not be affected, will not his sympathy be deeply excited ? But what ideas will strange and savage music convey to him? That which moves those to whom it is familiar by its accidental associations, may leave him in doubt, whether it describe love or anger ; doubtful, if it refer to the dangers of war, or the solemnities of religion.

This is the amount of the whole; poetry and painting may, and do, convey ideas, with which every sentient and reasonable being can sympathize; while no music is capable of any thing greater than an accidental association, a virtue and accomplishment which any thing inanimate, a stock or a stone, may possess. There may be, however, as I have hinted, a great variety of agreeable emotions produced from the associations of music, the tunes of former years, the peculiarity of place; but these are clearly quite accidental effects, sentiments which arise from peculiar, not from generally operating, causes.

I am, however, not altogether unwilling to admit, as the extent of the power of music, that it may quicken our sensibility, and give a direction to it, that it may both prepare the mind for being affected, and determine it to one set of affections more than another, to melancholy for instance, rather than merriment, composure than agitation, devotion than levity, and their contraries. These dispositions of the mind, once created, and no precise idea forced on the attention, every one fills up the vacuity by general and personal associations. İdeas arise more or less distinct, which harmonize with, and are in fact, the results of our own individual experience and knowledge. This is the true secret of the great popularity of instrumental music. To enjoy poetry and painting, we must sympathize with the author's or artist's meaning; we must perceive the intended effect and failing to grasp the author's peculiar train of thought, or the production ceases to please or interest. At an instrumental concert, these general affections of the mind may receive a particular direction in all, but each is left to supply the associations to his own peculiar taste, which the mind of every one individually affords from its own stock of ideas, large or small, appropriate or contradictory, as it may happen.

Thus in a slow movement of music, the general effect may certainly be of a pensive and melancholy character, but the thoughts which arise vary in all; one may recur to the measure, as descriptive of disappointed love, another of devotional piety, and a third of the approaching shades of evening, and the solemn effects of darkness and night. Pleasure, in all these cases, will be afforded, and not the less, because these quickly passing thoughts may be very slightly traced and undefined in their outline ; obscurity, in more instances than this, gratifies us, by giving us greater room for the exercise of our excited imaginations.

But I cannot venture to trespass one moment more on your patience by any further illustration. I would put the intellectual nature of music on this ground. Did any composer ever intend to

express any fixed ideas in his composition ? If any had that design, did they ever succeed? I believe not. We may put it to the proof, and ask of any number of lovers of instrumental music, what ideas a certain composition brought to mind; and I venture to say, no two shall ever agree in their representations. Nothing can more clearly show the equivocal nature of the mental operation of music; its effects on the mind are, in a word, characterized by nothing but wildness, uncertainty, and caprice.

But it is now time I should bring iny remarks to a conclusion. In drawing the original outline for this lecture, I had intended, with the inexperience of a young traveller, to have journeyed over a much larger space. I proposed to myself to follow out the questions which may naturally arise at this stage of our enquiry. If the excellence of the fine arts depends on acquired associations, which must be subject to change, to fashion, to the mutations of national manners and habits of thought, how is it that Homer and Virgil, who were the idols of Athens and Rome centuries ago, should, amidst every kind of change, have preserved their value, and now continue the delight of Paris and London? Upon what principle have many painters wrought, who, without any extraordinary interest of subject, bave rivetted the applause and emulation of succeeding generations of men? What, are these presiding principles of general and abstract nature to which I have referred in the case of sculpture, and the exact attention to which seems the only road to greatness in poets and painters, the only single and simple path to immortality?

These, and similar questions, I intended to have investigated, however bumbly, in the present lecture; but I soon found the pleasing prospect, which I had surveyed at a distance, to be more intricate, the roads to be more embarrassed and extended, than I had at all contemplated; and I am obliged to content myself with having performed only half the distance I had intended to traverse.

Op some future occasion, however, if the society should deem the subject agreeable, I shall be happy, with all humility, to lay before it some further thoughts in continuation of the present enquiry; a subject, the interest and importance of which, I hope, will not be judged of only from the present very imperfect mode of conducting it.

In the mean while, there arise in my mind one or two obvious thoughts which may serve as an application of the whole—a kind of moral addressed particularly to the members of our association, or the members of similar societies who may happen to be present. We have seen, that it is only to a mind already stored and furnished that any thing can convey sentiments of beauty and delight; we clearly perceive that poets may imagine and painters execute, but that we must have a knowledge, an acquired knowledge I may add, which forms the materials upon which they are to operate. It seems plain, in short, that it requires a similar proportion of feeling in the mind of the connoisseur, as in that of the artist; and that to judge of, or receive pleasure from, the arts, we must be wise as well as sensitive men.!

Now, then, are we not in promoting this and similar associations, in labouring here, not only to refine and rectify each other's ideas, but to furnish ourselves with an abundance of new ones; are we not, I say, doing that which we may reasonably expeet every day of our lives to feel the profit and delight of ? If I come here, and acquire a better knowledge of a character in history, am I not better qualified to receive pleasure from, and be a more distinguishing judge of, historical painting ? If I receive in our metaphysical discussions more correct notions of the workings of passion, and the chequered operations of the human mind, am I not better prepared for appreciating the finest kinds of poetry, in which these are described in new and beautiful successions of images ?

These pleasures are the chief aim of literature. The study of letters, no doubt, advances us in civilization; it may elerate us in society, and give us greater facilities for bestowing and receiving pleasure and instruction in conversation; it may purify and refine our morals—all valuable and important objects : but the chief end, after all, seems to me, that we personally increase our means of rational enjoyment---that by these acquisitions we infinitely multiply our agreeable emotions, and enable ourselves to extract pleasure from a greater variety of objects by innocent and delightful associations.

No knowledge can be justly considered useless; no knowledge, I may without hesitation add, but what increases our means of drawing agreeable recollections from the fine arts. There is one other remark, which I would draw from the present enquiry, while we see that all the arts afford pleasure on certain and unvarying principles, and that all their great effects are produced by a more close adherence to, and exact knowledge of, those principles; let us receive with marked suspicion and distrust all those loose representations which would cause us to believe excellence in the arts to be only attainable by what is called innate genius. I believe there cannot be a greater plague, a more noxious moral pestilence, befal us, than an operative belief in these untrue and unsupported notions. Like impious views of fatalism in religion, this literary fatality is a canker which corrodes and wastes every springing bud of knowledge and acquirement.

We delay to advance because we doubt our power; we desire to travel, yet rise not to encounter the fatigue. 'Under these impressions we languish out our days in feeble efforts, and unsuccessful, because weak and hesitating, attempts. It may be true that we are born with minds like our bodies, endowed with different degrees of strength; but that strength is our own, we have beyond all question the power to walk in any direction---our progress may be slow, but we are entirely at liberty to select our own road. We know that no royal nor exclusive path to knowledge exists, and in our advances to the republic of letters, every road is open to all. Nothing, in short, is denied to well-directed labor, and nothing obtained without it.

This much-abused term, genius, this idol of weakness and indolence, is supposed to be a power of producing excellencies out of the reach of the rules of art; but how entirely this idea falls to

the ground when we reflect on the variableness of the meaning of the term. Look at it in different stages of civilization and national improvement. He was thought a genius who could first describe the commonest events in any thing like metre, or could represent, however imperfect, the likeness of a man or animal by painting.

The standard of what constitutes a genius, is continually changing; what is thought a genius to-day, may lose that character to-morrow, through the general progress of society and civilization. The genius most worthy of admiration, is nothing more than a greater or less degree of advancement before the age in knowledge, a knowledge acquired by art and diligence, and not by inspiration.

We always incline to error in estimating great undertakings, or what are called works of genius, because we do not connect the result with the painful labor and toil which produced it. We are told that the inhabitants of those countries in which great architectural remains exist, and where the people have relapsed into barbarism, that they view these erections as the works of magicians and enchantment; they have no connecting ideas of the means by which they were produced, with the objects themselves. When we read a great poem, or oration, or view a fine picture, we too little accustom ourselves to connect the labor, the corrections, the toil, of the poet and orator, and the sketches, the trials, and disappointments of the artist, with the finished productions. We untruly regard them as the effects of a kind of unsought inspiration, and of an unattainable excellence, and not as the result of care and toil, the productions of perseverance and repeated experiment.

I wish we could all bear this more entirely in mind, and encourage ourselves to walk resolutely forward to that territory of knowledge we may select, and not wait until we are assured that we have chosen the road best adapted to our natural powers. There are none so weak in body, but may improve their strength by suitable diet and exercise ; and none, however great his powers, but may increase his mental vigor by art and practice, until that which was before a labor, shall become but a gentle and agreeable exercise.

I have not introduced these remarks as at all recommended by novelty, or as thoughts which have not already often occupied your attention. I consider them as naturally arising from the whole subject of investigation; and like some great truths in ethics and religion, are those fixed points to which we must often turn to guide us in our course. We cannot in literature and science, as well as morals, too often reflect on Lord Bacon's just observation, “ A man's “nature runs either to herbs or weeds, therefore let him seasonably “ water the one, and destroy the other.”

[blocks in formation]

I met a youngster ten years old

Upon a streamlet's side,
And that the lad was smart and bold,

It cannot be denied.
I said this youngster was but ten,

And this I can aver,
For I have read with curious pen

The Popish register.
This little fellow of ten years

Did long to pass the ridge,
And, lo ! a fallen tree uprears

A dangerous kind of bridge.
The streamlet at the time was deep,

Swell’d with autumnal rain;
And, like a living thing, did sweep

Along with might and main!
Said I, My little man, attend

To what I have to say;
It is the counsel of a friend,

Whose once white locks are grey.
At this, as if a magic spell

Controlled his glittering eye,
A look of bland expression fell

From that admiring boy!
Most haste, less speed;' then take the way

Through Farmer Hobnail's ground;
And tho'tis hard to brook delay,

'Twere far worse to be drown'd!" And now the grateful child exclaim'd,

Doffing his bonnet black,
“ I'll

go
the road

your honor nam'd,
“ And by that road come back !"
Now what surprised a thinking mind,

Was, that a lad of ten
Had patient spirit, sense refin'd,

Not often found in men !!

« PředchozíPokračovat »