Page images
PDF
EPUB

throughout is heavy, vulgar, and embarrassed, though the interest of the tragical scenes is too powerful to al. low us to attend to any inferior consideration.”

CHAP. XLVI.

FINE ARTS.

“ It says but little for our national curiosity," observed the Bachelor one morning as Egeria appeared with a copy of Ferro's work on the Fine Arts in her hand, “ that we should have held military possession of so interesting an island as Sicily for a number of years, without drawing any thing of importance from Sicilian literature.”

6. That was not so much the fault of the military gentlemen as of the Sicilian literature," replied the Nymph. « The truth is, that there is very little in the literature of Sicily worthy of being translated. The learned Sicilians prefer the Italian to their native language, in the same manner as the Scots do the English. It is only for purposes illustrative of local humour and particular nationalities, that the Sicilian authors employ the language of Signor Stopholo; that is, their mother-tongue, Signor Stopholo being the personification of the Sicilian character as John Bull is of the English. In pastoral poetry, however, the land of Theocritus may still lay claim to honour and distinction. The Idyls of Meli unite with the sweetness of the classic the delicacy of modern refinement; they are, indeed, very beautiful compositions, and possess an ease and charm in the euphony of the numbers which it would not be easy to imitate in translation. I know few madrigals more tender and expressive than the little piece beginning,

Sti silenzii, sta verdura."" " I was not aware before,” said Benedict, “ of what you mention relative to the difference between the Sicilian and Italian languages. I presume, therefore, that we are not to estimate the literary attainments of the Sicilians by what they have written in their own language so much as by what they have written in the Italian,”

6 Exactly so," replied the Nymph; " and the work which you now hold in your hand is an example in point. It is the best compendious view of the Fine Arts that has yet been published in any language; and it possesses this curious and singular merit, that the author adduces authority and historical fact for every opinion he delivers. It is less, however, a work of genius than of erudition; for it offers little that can be called either new or original, while it contains the essence of all that has been written and said on the subject.” - " I remember having heard something of the work before,” said Benedict. • “ Yes, I doubt not ; for a certain friend of yours has made a translation of the first discourse,” replied Egeria. “ It is not, however, a version of what the author has said, for he has not only here and there deviated from the text, but interwoven some of his own ideas on the subject, making it, in fact, more a theoretical disquisition than belongs to the historical

character of the original. I will read to you his essay."

THE FINE ARTS. “ The fine arts are the study and delight of all polished nations. They disarm the spirit of man of its natural ferocity, and they elevate the mind while they soften the-heart. Ignorance is but another name for barbarity, and the want of knowledge sharpens the appetite of violence. It was, indeed, a strange paradox of Rousseau, to maintain that mankind were happier when they resembled wild beasts than with all the enjoyments of civilized life, and that the cultivation of their intellectual faculties had tended to degrade their virtues. There can be no virtue but what is founded on a comprehensive estimate of the effects of human actions; and an animal under the guidance of instinct cannot form any such estimate.

“ The chief object of science is the discovery of truth, and of art the development of beauty. In the former, we trust to reason, and in the latter to imagination. But judgment and fancy are of mutual assistance in both studies. Science clears the obstructions which impede the progress of art, and art adorns and smooths the path of science. No discovery is made without some previous conjectural effort of the mind, some exertion of the imagination ; nor is any beauty unfolded where there has not been some pre-consideration of probable effects, some exertion of the reasoning faculties.

“As the human mind is pleased with the contemplation of what is true, and delighted with the appearance of what is beautiful, it may be assumed that the cultivation of science, and the improvement of art, originate in our love of pleasure. We commonly divide the objects of the two pursuits into distinct classes ; and we think, when we call scientific studies useful, and the productions of art only ornamental, that there is something intrinsically different in their respective natures. But if we examine our own feelings, and judge of science by its influence on ourselves, we shall be obliged to confess, that although less obviously, it is, in fact, as much recommended to us by the pleasures to which it ministers, as those arts that we regard as entirely devoted to the excitement of agreeable emotions.

“ Of all the arts, the art of building is that which most prominently attracts attention. Invented in the country, and brought to perfection in the town, it owes its origin, like every other human contrivance, to necessity. Man, naked at his birth, thrown upon the earth, exposed to the cold, the wet, and the heat, and to the concussion of other bodies, was constrained to seek artificial means of protection. The rain obliged him to fy for shelter to trees and caverns, the only habitations with which nature has provided her favourite; for, in the improvable faculties bestowed on his mind, she has furnished him with the means of constructing abodes suitable to himself and to the growth of his wants, as they increase by the improvement of his condition. The same instinct which led him to take refuge from the shower, taught him to prefer those trees of which the branches were most thickly interwoven,-and, when they were insufficient, to draw the boughs closer over his head. The process of reasoning from this experience, to the considerations which led him to form permanent bowers, requires no illustration.

“Every hypothesis, framed to account for the various styles of architecture, ascribes them to the form of the structures first raised by the inhabitants of the countries in which they respectively originated. The aisles of the Gothic cathedral, and that rich foliage of carving with which its vaults are embowered, cannot be seen without immediately suggesting the idea of a grove ;and in the structure of the Grecian temple, we may trace the characteristics of an edifice originally formed of trees hewn and pruned for the convenience of transportation ; for Grecee was not a woody country, like those northern regions which gave birth to Gothic architecture. In Egypt, where trees are still more rare than in Greece ; where, indeed, there is nothing that can be properly compared to our idea of a tree, we find the character of the architecture partaking of the features of what must have been the early habitations of a people necessitated by their inarborous climate, to make their permanent retreats and the sanctuaries of their gods in the hollows and caverns of the earth. The architecture which would arise among such a people we should expect to be dark, massy, and stupendous ; and, accord. ingly, we find in that of Egypt, and of other countries which resemble it in local circumstances, temples and labyrinths that rival in extent and intricacy the grottos of nature, and pyramids that emulate the everlasting hills in magnitude and durability. In the more oriental nations we find the same general principle, and in their permanent structures a similar resemblance to the features of what were probably the primeval habitations of the natives. In the light and pavilion-like appearance of the Chinese buildings, we may see the hereditary indications of a people that formerly resided in tents, and such temporary abodes as were likely to be constructed by the inhabitants of a country abounding in extensive plains, and of a climate unfavourable to the growth of trees, and yet not so hot as to oblige the natives to seek shelter in natural or artificial excavations.

“ The first savage who, in the construction of his hut, united a degree of symmetry with solidity, must be regarded as the inventor of architecture. Multiply

« PreviousContinue »