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Art. V. - The Poetical Works of William WORDSWORTH.
Boston: Little, Brown, & Co. 1854. 7 vols. 16mo.
The admirers of Wordsworth, late Poet Laureate of her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, must have been pleased with Messrs. Little, Brown, & Co.'s beautiful and complete edition of his Poetical Works. These admirers are much more numerous than they were; but Wordsworth, we confess, has never been a favorite of ours, and we have been, and even are, barbarian enough to relish these cruel but witty lines of Byron :
“ Next comes the dull disciple of thy school,
The mild apostate from poetic rule,
is and verse is merely prose ;
Conceive the bard the hero of his story." Yet we are willing to concede that Byron is too severe, and that Wordsworth never deserved all the ridicule of which he was at one period the butt.
We are personally, no doubt, still under the influence of our early prejudices against him and his school, but we are disposed to be just, and we should like to be among the warmest of his admirers if we could. Most of our literary friends are Wordsworthians, and make, at least in fancy, annual pilgrimages to Rydal Mount.
We should like to sympathize with them, and not be looked upon by them as an untutored savage, or a literary heretic; but with all our endeavors, we can succeed only in part, - only so far as not to think it worth our while to quarrel with them on his account, or so far as to admit that Wordsworth tried hard to be a poet, and, if he has left us no considerable poem worthy of admiration throughout, he has manifested much true poetic sensibility, and written short passages and sin. gle lines not surpassed in their kind in our language.
But all this expresses only our individual taste and judgment, and is worthy of no respect from others. There is or should be some recognized standard by which to judge in matters of poetry as well as in other matters. But unhappily for us, we have in English no such standard, and consequently no scientific criticism. Alison has given us a work of some merit On Taste, Campbell says some good things in his Philosophy of Rhetoric, and much just criticism may be found scattered through the English and American quarterly reviews and other periodical literature; but all is unscientific, empirical, founded on habit, prejudice, or fashion, varying every hour. We have no science or philosophy of art. Till we have such a science or philosophy, we can have no good literary or artistic critics, and as long as we are mere sensists or psychologists, we can never have it. Burke was a great man, but his Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful is not worth naming, far less worth reading; for the author had a false system of metaphysics, and wrote his work on the supposition that the sublime and beautiful are mere subjective affections, or exist only in the order of conceptions and emotions, not in the order of reality, and are therefore psychological, not ontological. The Germans, indeed, have what they call Esthetic, or Æsthetics, but, as the word implies, they make the sublime and beautiful either sensations and emotions, or simply objects of the sensibility. Or if they rise higher, they base their science of art on a defective and false conception of being, and give us nothing but scientific ignorance, hardly superior, if indeed equal, to the practical good sense of English and American critics.
Art, according to the ancients, is imitative, and its aim is to give expression to the sublime and beautiful, or as we say now-a-days, all simply, to the beautiful. · Being imitative, we have first to settle what it is that it does or should imitate? The answer usually is, that Art should imitate nature. This is correct, if we understand by the nature to be imitated, the natura naturans, not the natura naturata of the Schoolmen. Its province is to imitate nature in her creative energy, and to realize, or to clothe with its own forms, the beautiful, which the soul of the artist beholds. The beautiful itself has an objective reality, and has been happily termed by an Italian, reviewing, in a French periodical, the works of Silvio Pellico, “the splendor of the true.” The splendor of the true is not substantially distinguishable from the true itself. The true in itself is identically Being, according to the definition of St. Augustine, not rejected by St. Thomas, and according to the older philosophers, who teach us that the summum verum and the summum ens are identical, as are the summum ens and the summum bonum. The verum, the ens, the bonum, taken simply and ontologically, are God, who is in himself the true, the beautiful, and the good. The beautiful regarded in itself as that, to use the language of Plato, by which all beautiful things are beautiful, is therefore indistinguishable from supreme being, supreme truth, supreme good, or God himself, save as the splendor is distinguishable from the resplendent, that is, formally but not really. Hence, as Art seeks to realize the beautiful, to embody or express it in its productions, a true science of Art must have an ontological basis, and is not possible without a true and adequate ontology.
We do not say there can be no Art without a true and adequate ontological philosophy. What we say is, that without such philosophy there can be no true and adequate science of Art, and therefore no really scientific criticism. The artist may produce without fully comprehending his process; genius is not always, perhaps seldom, able to explain itself. There is a truth in these lines of Emerson :
The true ontology is expressed in the first verse of Genesis : " In principio creavit Deus cælum et terram," — “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This ontology, this ideal element of every one of our judg. ments, the principle of all science as of all things, comprises three terms, and forms a complete judgment, subject, predicate, and copula. Reduced to the language of philosophy, the judgment is, Being - God — creates existences. Being is the subject, existence the predicate, and the creative act, which is the act of being, is the copula; for existences are united to being, that is, exist only by virtue of creation, or the act of real and necessary being, creating them from nothing. This divine judgment affirms itself to us in immediate intuition, and is the principle of all our intellectual as of all our physical life. As thus affirming itself to us, it is the ideal, and necessary, as distinguished from the sensible and contingent. From our intuition of it conjoined with experience flow all the sciences.
Now we may direct our contemplation more especially to one or another of these three terms.
We may contemplate being, so to speak, either as quiescent, or as in action, and we may contemplate the action, the creative act, either on the side of being in which is its origin, or on the side of existence which is its external terminus.* The contemplation of the creative act in its relation to God gives us the conception of the highest degree of the beautiful, that is, the sublime. Thus Longinus gives as the best and fullest expression of the sublime, the passage from Genesis, “ Dixitque Deus : Fiat lux. Et facta est lux;" “ And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." God spoke and it was, he commands and it stands fast. When contemplated in existences, which are the extrinsic form or terminus of the creative act, it gives rise to the conception of the beautiful in a lower form, to the beautiful proper, as distinguished from the sublime. The conception of this same judgment as superintelligible and supernaturally presented gives rise to the conception of the marvellous, which our philosophers generally underrate, and fail to explain.
God is our first cause, and our final cause. Hence in creation we must distinguish two cosmic cycles, the procession of existences by the creative act of being — not
We need not tell the intelligent reader that we are here doing little more than translating from Gioberti's Æsthetics.
by emanation from God, and their return, without being absorbed, to him as their final cause or end. God has created all things for the supreme Good, therefore for himself, for he and he alone is the supreme Good.
What we call the second cosmic cycle, or the return of existences to God, is their tendency to the supreme Good as the end for which they exist. Deus est similitudo rerum omnium, as we are taught by St. Thomas. God is the similitude, or idea exemplaris of all things, and therefore all created things, each in its degree and according to its nature, copies or imitates God. To copy or imitate the Divine activity in the first cycle is art; to copy or imitate the same activity in the second cycle is morality, ethics, if in the natural order; sanctity or holiness, if in the supernatural. With this imitation in the second cycle we have now no special concern, for we are now treating of art, not morality, or sanctity. Art
may be defined to be the imitation at an infinite distance, of course — of the Divine activity as first cause, or creator, and is therefore, in the order of second causes, creative. The aim of the artist, as distinguished from that of the artificer or mechanic, is to express, embody, or clothe with exterior forms, the ideal present to his intuitive apprehension. The philosopher contemplates the Ideal as the true, the moralist as the good, the artist as the beautiful. Philosophy is speculative, contemplates the three terms of the Ideal Judgment under the relation of being, and simply presents the truth. Art and morality are both practical; they contemplate the three terms under the relation of activity, and seek to copy or imitate this activity, art in the first cycle, and morality in the second. Since being is primary, the highest rank belongs to philosophy, or rather theology, whose object is the True; since the cycle of procession of existences from God precedes, and must precede, that of their return to him, art takes, and must take, the step of ethics. Nevertheless, under another point of view, as the end, the reason why, of an action must precede in the mind of the actor the action itself, ethics must take precedence of art, and the moral philosopher of the merely practical philosopher. But as the Divine action in the first cycle, by which existences are produced from nothing, that is, the creative activity, is the highest action conceivable by us in the intelligible order,
VOL. III. NO. IV.