Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

Jeremiah, Aristotle, Horace, and Virgil, Racine and Molierè, Bacon, Pope, Kant, Voltaire, Macaulay, Dickens, Tennyson. A survey of this kind induces a two-fold feeling. Gladly as one thinks of the community of geist, which has existed between the greatest men of all ages; glad as we are to confirm the discovery that noble, intellectual work, is the only thing that survives other kinds of work, until it becomes the only real evidence, to posterity, of a nation's past greatness; yet, this very association of Plato, for instance, with all the thinkers who have succeeded him-a comparison so decidedly favourable to Plato-leads to the discouraging conclusion that the sum of man's intellect is a fixed integer, and that its horizon does not extend with the years. Successive generations seem to be only distinguished from each other by their outward conditions, just as the quantity of physical energy in nature remains unchanged through all her changing aspects; she, too, has her dark ages of cloud and tempest, but when they have passed away, and the sun bursts forth again, it shines with the same light into the minds of the Chaldean poet, and of our own English Shakspere.

In discerning geist we must carefully guard against the not uncommon error of mistaking mere style for geist. Style is the best way of expressing thought; geist is the best way of thinking. I know of no better illustration of the perpetual confusion which arises between style and geist than the equally common confusion which is still made between religious observance and morality. The Pharisee measuring the width of his phylactery; the Ritualist jealous of his cope and his chasuble; the Baptist bathing in his mimic Jordan; these men, so apt to believe themselves and to make others believe that they are formulating great truths, become engrossed in the mere manner of expression, and leave vast ́unreached heights of goodness to others, who are indifferent to or ignorant of form, and care only for the end. In one of Leigh Hunt's poems an Arab asks the recording angel if his name is written amongst those who love the Lord, and, on being told that it is not, replies "then write me down, at least, as one who loves his fellowmen." The following night the angel returned, and showed him his name written in letters of gold above all the names of those whose company he aspired to. The rare passion of love of our fellowmen is in morals what geist is in culture; it takes the shortest

way to the best end. Geist is utterly independent of the mere form of expression, whether in literature, painting, or music. Neither the smooth epigram of Pope, nor the sinuous delicacy of Ruskin; neither the fidelity to detail of Meissonier, nor the academic accuracy of Alma Tadema, will induce geist. On the other hand, neither the careless and involved style of Carlyle, nor the entangled obscurity of Browning; neither the deficiency in drawing of Corot, nor the poverty of colour of Constable, conceals the living principle of geist which breathes in their work.

Of man's inventions language ranks first, and music ranks second. A faithful history of the origin and growth of language would be the most interesting book in the world, but unfortunately it is in the nature of things that it can never be written; we can write the story of the infancy of others, but we cannot write the story of our own infancy. The science, the mere grammar of music was discovered, if not by the Hebrews, at least by the Greeks; but the literature of music is less than a thousand years old. The Greeks discovered the curious affinity between music and mathematics, and then they handed it over to their thinkers, instead of giving it to their slaves and their soldiers. So it remained amongst them an obscure and unimportant science; it remained an alphabet and never became a language. It has been said that the melody of the Greek tongue was so rich in itself that no need of music was felt, and it is a curious coincidence that the Germans, who speak one of the least melodious of languages, have produced all the finest music. As far as we know there was no music as we understand it, there was certainly no geist, either in Hebrew hymns or Greek choruses, or in the Gregorian chants of the sixth century. In this sixth century a profound Italian scholar-whose name I was pleased to see yesterday in a cheap dictionary of biography-in the sixth century, a person named Boethius wrote a book in praise of the Greek theories of music, and thus did his best to perpetuate the science and to retard the art of music. It may be some satisfaction to know that that man suffered martyrdom. Century followed century, monks in their convents and thinkers in their closets went on writing about music in the same spirit that Professor Tyndall writes about sound, but they did nothing to advance music as an art. It is not until after the twelfth century, until the age of romance and chivalry and crusades, that we hear


the first real note of music; that a wedding took place between thought and sound; a wedding which was celebrated in the lightest of lyrics; a wedding wrapt in a mutual atmosphere of passion and fancy, but which, after the honeymoon, found love not less, but supplemented by affection and reason.


It is not a part of my task to continue the mere history of music beyond this. I want you to understand that geist is an attribute only of art, and that it was not until music emerged from being a science into being an art, that it escaped from the clutch of the philosopher to the embrace of the troubadour, that it was possible that it could be a medium of geist. would also be beside the question to speculate upon what that is in human consciousness which is so powerfully affected by music. Music neither reasons nor preaches; but it can lift its congregations into a region of rapturous unselfishness; it can awaken the devotional feeling which has slumbered for years; it can make you laugh, it can make you dream; it can talk to you, and it can make you feel very sad-sad with the luxurious sadness which knows not pain. I would rather go to a concert without a programme than to a picture gallery without a catalogue. The composers are more intelligible to me than the artists. I well remember once sitting at a Monday Popular Concert next to a blind man-an old man, an uneducated man, but a man full of the instincts of a fine culture. No one has reminded us more often than Matthew Arnold that mere knowledge has nothing to do with culture. It is not a question of what and how much you know. Culture is only concerned in asking you what you do with the knowledge you have, be it much or little. That blind man, with the fine instincts of culture, listened to Beethoven's symphony in C minor with an upturned face, upon which the emotions played as visibly as the ripples play upon a lake, and all the time he was conversing as distinctly with Beethoven as I am conversing with you. I had a programme which gave a syllabus of the music, and, at the end of the piece, I begged him to tell me what he conceived to be the meaning of the theme which recurs so often. After much hesitation, he said that it meant a warning which has come too late. That was a very remarkable answer, for Beethoven himself named the symphony "Fate knocking at the door." Set half a dozen different

artists to paint an allegory of "Fate knocking at the door;" and how many spectators will guess the theme of the pictures as nearly as my blind acquaintance guessed the theme of Beethoven?

What is geist in music, or rather, which is the music which is richest in geist? Dryden, that master of language, said that there were two kinds of music, the one raises a mortal up to heaven, and the other brings an angel down. The music of geist is the music which raises mortals up to heaven. Handel and Haydn,

Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, these are the apostles; Offenbach and Lecoque, Strauss and Verdi, these are the vestry-men. The only power possessed by the melody of the "Grand Duchess," is the power equally possessed by the pendulum of a kitchen clock, of tyrannising over the ear, only the one sound tickles the ear, and the other scratches it. The composer can please one sense with the harmony of sound, just as the artist can please another sense with the harmony of colour, and the difference between mere harmony and harmonious truth, is the difference between Whistler and Turner. To love the jingle of "Lalla Rookh❞ does not imply the instinct of culture, which can discern geist in poetry; to be awed and kept in suspense by the massive cadence of "Paradise Lost," may do. To have what is termed an ear for music, the gift of catching a new tune quickly does not imply a taste for music; to interpret the theme of a great symphony implies both taste and knowledge.

It is not without diffidence that I approach the subject of geist in art. I like artists; I like to visit their studios; I like to hear them talk of their wrongs. I should be sorry to add to those wrongs by anything I say this evening. Horace has said that poets are an irritable race; perhaps of artists he would have said that they are a sensitive race. It is because I like, artists so well, that I am disinterested enough to talk to them as if I did not care about hurting them.

All forms of art, but particularly the art of painting, appeal to three instincts of our nature: the sensuous instinct, the love of beauty of form and of colour; the intellectual instinct, the love of knowledge; and the emotional instinct, such as the sentiment of love or religious faith or any of the passions. A picture may appeal simultaneously to all these instincts, but to be a work of art it must appeal to at least one of them. For instance, in a

landscape it is not enough to give us a literal, photographic rendering of a scene, the artist must reveal in it some expression of the feeling which it produced in him, or we refuse to call it a work of art. In such works as Millais' Chill October and Winter Fuel it is impossible not to admire the technical skill, but it is only in a higher degree the technical skill of a painter and grainer, or of a hand lacemaker. A photograph would have reproduced the scene with even greater fidelity. On the other hand, look at a work by an artist well known in Manchester, the late J. B. Corot, and in spite of carelessness in composition and utter defectiveness of drawing, imperfect in everything excepting the complete harmony of tone and colour, and the air and space, the oxygen which fills his smallest canvas, and in his work you recognise the work of a poet. Mr. Arnold is fond of saying that culture is a desire to make reason and the love of God prevail. Does not an artist like Corot help to make the love of God prevail by constantly reminding us of the mystery and tenderness of the every day aspect of nature? The secret of the geist in Corot's pictures seems to lie in this. He does not care so much about the accurate rendering of every 'detail; he cares only for the broad effects, the fluttering foliage, the moving clouds, the true distances, the colour before. the forms; the things in a landscape that we see and dwell upon. It is because Corot sees these things in a nobler and a humbler spirit than we do, it is because David worshipped God in a nobler and a humbler spirit than we do, that we go to Corot and go to David, and herein lies their geist.

But there are artists who imitate Corot. They call themselves the "impressionalist" school, a curious title, because there are impressions of two kinds, and their imitations are apt to differ from the master in the same way that attempts to modernise the language of the Old Testament differ from the original. Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the only great man who ever lived who was utterly devoid of imagination, had a project of re-writing the Book of Job, because he said that the old style had become obsolete and disagreeable. This is a specimen of his improved version. The old verse is- "Then Satan answered the Lord, and said: Doth Job fear God for nought ?" Franklin makes this-"Does your Majesty imagine that Job's good conduct is the effect of mere personal affection and attachment?" Here is another


« AnteriorContinuar »